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Great Smoky Mountains National Park Operating Hours & Seasons

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The Smoky Mountains, in Great Smoky Mountains ...

The Smoky Mountains, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s pretty difficult to close something down which is as large as Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and to be honest, why would you even bother? Yep, you’ve guessed it, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open 24 hours per day for 365 days per day (sometimes make that 366). Some of the secondary roads within the park, however, and other facilities including the campgrounds are not open all of the time, so if you’re planning a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park out of season, you’d better check this stuff out before you go.

Roads In and Around Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The main, or “primary” roads around the park are open all year round, unless they suffer temporary closures due to the weather or construction work. This includes the Newfound Gap Road (US-441), Little River Road and Cades Cove Loop Road.

Some secondary roads in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are, however, subject to seasonal closures. These dates are approximate, so if you’re thinking of visiting around that time you’d better double check before you leave home.

  • Balsam Mountain – is open between May 11 and October 31, although all buses, RV’s and motorhomes are prohibited from using this road, which is one-way and gravel.
  • Cades Cove Loop Road – I know that I’ve already said that this road is open all year round (subject to the weather), but it does close on Wednesday and Saturday mornings (up until 10am) between May 9 and September 26, which allows cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy the cove in peace and safety. Apart from that this road is open year round between sunrise and sunset.
  • Clingmans Dome – this road opens between March 16 and November 30

When the road at Clingmans Dome is open, make sure that you don’t leave any food in the car!

  • Forge Creek Road – is subject to closure from December through until mid April because of mud, mud, not so glorious mud!
  • Heintooga Ridge Road – is only open between May 11 and October 31.
  • Little Greenbrier – opens March 9 until December 31
  • Parson Branch – opens between March 9 and November 18, however, there are no buses, motorhomes or RV’s permitted to use this gravel, one-way road. Whenever Forge Creek Road is closed because of the mud this road isn’t actually accessible to motor vehicles at all.
  • Rich Mountain – is open between March 9 and November 18, but once again this one-way, gravel road is out of bounds to buses, RV’s and motorhomes.
  • Roaring Fork – open between March 9 and November 30 for vehicles except buses, RV’s and motorhomes.
  • Roundbottom / Straight Fork – is open from around March 9 until November 12.

Remember – these dates are all weather permitting!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Centers

There are four visitors centers located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and to be absolutely honest, they’re the best place to start your visit, especially if it’s your first venture to the park. The visitor centers inside the park are at Cades Cove, Sugarlands, Oconaluftee and Clingmans Dome – there are also some visitor information centers outside the park in Sevierville, Gatlinburg and Townsend.

Cades Cove Visitor Center – is open every day except Christmas, well, everybody needs a day off at least once a year! I’ts located on the 11 mile Cades Cove Loop Road, close to the mid-point of the road. The opening hours are as follows;

  • Jan – 9am – 4pm
  • Feb – 9am – 5pm
  • March – 9am – 6pm
  • April through to Aug – 9am – 7pm
  • Sept and Oct – 9am – 6pm
  • Nov – 9am – 5pm
  • Dec – 9am – 4.30pm

Oconaluftee Visitor Center – is also open every day except Christmas, and is a couple of miles inside the park to the north of Cherokee, NC on US-441. This Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor Center has the following opening hours;

  • Jan and Feb – 8am – 4.30pm
  • March – 8am – 5pm
  • April and May – 8am – 6pm
  • Jun through to Aug – 8am – 7pm
  • Sept and Oct – 8am – 6pm
  • Nov – 8am – 5pm
  • Dec – 8am – 4.30pm


Sugarlands Visitor Center – also opens for visitors every day except Christmas day. This visitor center is a couple of miles to the south of Gatlinburg on US-441. Opening hours are;

  • Jan and Feb – 8am – 4.30pm
  • March – 8am – 5pm
  • April and May – 8am – 6pm
  • Jun through to Aug – 8am – 7pm
  • Sept and Oct – 8am – 6pm
  • Nov – 8am – 5pm
  • Dec – 8am – 4.30pm

Clingmans Dome Visitor Center – this Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitor center does have seasonal opening hours only. Located at the Clingmans Dome trailhead, around 7 miles off US-441 on the Clingmans Dome Road, it is open;

  • April – Oct – 10am – 6pm
  • Nov – 9.30am – 5pm

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Picnic Areas

There are many picnic areas located around Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at;

  • Big Creek – open April 1 – Oct 31
  • Chimneys – open Mar 25 – Nov 25
  • Cades Cove – open year round
  • Collins Creek – open April 1 – Oct 31
  • Cosby – open April 1 – Oct 31
  • Deep Creek – open year round
  • Greenbrier – open year round
  • Heintooga – open May 11 – Oct 8
  • Look Rock – open May 11 – Oct 31
  • Metcalf Bottoms – open year round
  • Twin Creeks – open April 1 – Oct 31

Please remember, both at picnic sites and anywhere throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that it is illegal to feed bears or other wildlife . . . yep, you heard it right, ILLEGAL. Clean up the picnic area after you have finished, including the ground around the table, the grill, just clean up everywhere.

That was certainly well spotted, you’ve gotta’ keep a good look out to see bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, because they’re sure there!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Campgrounds

There’s a great choice of both back country campgrounds (for those who like to hike into the back country to camp) and front country campgrounds (for those who prefer to drive) at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are also group camps available, as well as horse camps.

Developed Front Country Campgrounds at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A total of 10 maintained front country campgrounds are available at the park, at;

  • Abrams Creek – open between May 11 and Oct 31
  • Balsam Mountain – open between May 11 and Oct 8
  • Big Creek – open April 1 until October 31
  • Cades Cove – open year round
  • Cataloochee – open March 9 until October 31
  • Cosby – open April 1 until October 31
  • Deep Creek – open April 1 until October 31
  • Elkmont – open March 9 until November 30
  • Look Rock – open November 30 until October 31
  • Smokemont – open year round

Back country camping at Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a year-round affair, with many different areas and shelters where you can spend the night, you do, however, have to stay at these designated campsites and shelters when camping in the back country. Some of them even require advance reservation.

Group Campgrounds at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There are seven areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where groups may camp, which can accommodate tents only. These are at;

  • Big Creek – 1 site open April 1 – Oct 31
  • Cades Cove – 4 sites in total (1 with pavilion) March 9 – Oct 31
  • Cataloochee – 3 sites open March 9 – Oct 31
  • Cosby – 3 sites open April 1 – Oct 31
  • Deep Creek – 3 sites open April 1 – Oct 31
  • Elkmont – 4 sites in total, March 9 – Oct 31
  • Smokemont – 3 sites open May 15 – Oct 31

Horse Camps in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Horse back is a great way to travel around Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and there are five sites within the park in which you can camp, with your horse, providing access to the wonderful back country trails within the park. These sites are;

  • Anthony Creek – open April 1 – Nov 13
  • Big Creek – open April 1 – Oct 31
  • Cataloochee – open April 1 – Nov 13
  • Round Bottom – open April 1 – Oct 31
  • Tow String – open April 1 – Oct 31


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