Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the spring opening schedule for park facilities for the 2016 season. As part of the schedule, officials also announced the Alum Cave Trail Restoration schedule, which includes a Monday through Thursday closure of Alum Cave Trail and the Mt. Le Conte Backcountry Shelter beginning May 2 through Nov. 17. Due to the construction process on the narrow trail, a full closure is necessary for the safety of both the crew and visitors. The shelter will be closed during the week to accommodate youth crews involved in the restoration work. The trail and shelter will be fully open each week on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday throughout the restoration process.
The full 2016 Great Smoky Mountains National Park Facility Operating Schedule is listed below:
Roads – Secondary Roads are scheduled to open as follows: Forge Creek Road opened on March 6; Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail will open on March 25; Clingmans Dome Road will open on April 1; Round Bottom/Straight Fork Road will open April 1; and Rich Mountain Road and Little Greenbrier Road will open on April 8. Due to storm damage and road hazards, Parson’s Branch Road does not have a scheduled opening date at this time.
Cades Cove Loop Road will be closed for bicycle use only on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 a.m. from May 11 through Sept. 21.
Operating Hours for Visitor Centers – The three visitor centers are open daily, seven days a week. The operating hours through March are as follows: Sugarlands Visitor Center, near Gatlinburg, TN, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Cades Cove Visitor Center, near Townsend, TN, 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m., and Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC, hours will be 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Hours are extended for each location as the season progresses. Clingmans Dome Visitor Information Center will open April 1.
Operating Hours for Backcountry Office – The Backcountry Office located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, near Gatlinburg, TN, is open every day from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Backcountry reservations and permits can also be obtained online at www.smokiespermits.nps.gov or by calling 865-436-1297.
Campgrounds will open on a staggered schedule starting March 11. See the following schedule for exact dates. Reservations are recommended at Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont for the period from May 15-Oct. 31 (for other dates, these three campgrounds are first come, first serve). Advance reservations are required at Cataloochee Campground throughout the entire season. Cosby Campground, which has mostly first-come, first-serve campsites, has a limited number of reservable sites during its season. Camping fees range from $14 to $23 per site per night.
Campers have an opportunity to camp in generator-free campsites at Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont campgrounds. The generator-free loop sections of these campgrounds are reservable through Recreation.gov.
Recreation.gov provides visitors an opportunity to make reservations to many federally-managed recreation areas, including National Park Service areas, all across the U.S. The park’s developed campgrounds of Cataloochee, Elkmont, Cades Cove, Smokemont, and some sites at Cosby are on the reservation system for at least a portion of their seasons. The system allows campers to reserve specific campsites and to make reservations 6 months in advance. Group campsites and picnic pavilions can be reserved up to 12 months in advance. Visitors can make reservations at the five campgrounds, all group campsites, horse camps, and picnic shelters by booking sites online at www.Recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.
Group Camping will be available at seven campgrounds (see schedule for opening dates) and reservations must be made through Recreation.gov. Group camping is available at Big Creek, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Cades Cove, and Smokemont. The cost for group camps ranges from $26 to $65 per site per night.
Horse Camps at Round Bottom, Tow String and Anthony Creek will open April 1. Cataloochee will open on March 25 and Big Creek on April 8. Reservations are only available through recreation.gov. The horse site fees are $20 at all horse camps except for Big Creek where it is $25.
Spring Opening Schedule for Campgrounds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
|NC Campgrounds||Fee||Open||Group Sites||Horse Camp ($20, $25)|
|Balsam Mountain||$14||May 27||N/A|
|Big Creek||$14||April 8||April 8||April 8|
|Cataloochee||$20||March 25||March 25||March 25|
|Deep Creek||$17||April 8||April 8|
|Round Bottom||$20||April 1|
|*Smokemont||$17, $20||Year-round||May 15|
|Tow String||$20||April 1|
|TN Campgrounds||Fee||Open||Group Sites||Horse Camp ($20, $25)|
|Abrams Creek||$14||May 27||N/A|
|Anthony Creek||$20||April 1|
|*Cades Cove||$17, $20, $23||Year-round||March 11|
|Cosby||$14||April 8||April 8|
|*Elkmont||$17, $20, $23||March 11||April 29|
*$20 per site during the reservation period May 15-October 31. At Elkmont, riverside sites are $23 during reservation period only.
Picnic Areas at Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms picnic areas are open year round. Chimneys picnic area will open on March 12 and Collins Creek picnic area will open on April 1. Big Creek and Cosby picnic areas will open April 8. Heintooga picnic area will open on May 27. Look Rock picnic area will remain closed for the year.
The park’s largest picnic pavilion at Twin Creeks opens on April 1 and reservations are required through Recreation.gov. Twin Creeks’ fees range from $35-$75 depending on the number of people. In addition, picnickers can reserve five other picnic pavilions on Recreation.gov. They are located at Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Metcalf Bottoms, and Greenbrier picnic areas. The cost is $20, except at Greenbrier where it is $10.
Horseback Riding – The opening dates for the three horseback concessions located on the Tennessee side of the Park are: Smoky Mountain Riding Stable on March 11; Sugarlands Riding Stable on March 4; and Cades Cove on March 5. In addition to horseback rides, Cades Cove Riding Stable will offer their customary carriage rides and hay rides which are wheelchair accessible. The Smokemont Riding Stable in North Carolina will open March 12 providing guided horseback rides along with horse-drawn wagon rides along the route of the historic Oconaluftee Turnpike.
LeConte Lodge, accessible only by trail, will open on March 21. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 865-429-5704, fax 865-774-0045 or email: [email protected]. One night at the lodge costs $132 per adult and $85 for children 10 and under (tax not included). The price includes two meals–dinner and breakfast. Day hikers and backpackers can purchase a prepared bag lunch and snacks/beverages at the lodge. Please note that Alum Cave Trail will be closed Monday through Thursday beginning on May 2 through Nov. 17 for trail restoration. Hikers will need to choose one of the other five trails to reach LeConte Lodge on those days.
Campground Concessions – The newly renovated Cades Cove Campground Store will open March 12. The store provides groceries, camping supplies, firewood, ice, vending, limited food service, souvenirs, and bike rentals. The Cades Cove Store has multi-speed comfort bikes, single speed cruisers, and electric assist bikes for rent. The Elkmont Campground concession opens on March 11. The concession provides firewood, ice, limited camper convenience items, and vending of soft drinks, newspapers, and snacks.
For more information on park events, please visit the park’s website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/calendar.htm.
Photos: Warren Bielenberg