One of the most common questions we are asked is, “Can I bring my dog with me on trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?” The simple answer is, “No!” But this is not all bad news, and there are places you may take your pet inside the park. Read on for further information and for the exceptions to this law.
Pets are treasured companions for a lot of people. Increasingly, families want the family dog by their side, even when they go on vacation.
Park Rangers want you to be happy, and they understand your pet is important to you. They are also responsible for more than 816 square miles of park filled with wild animals.
Due to the number of people traveling with their pets, the National Park Service created a pet policy, which is actually law. For the health and safety of all the critters, including yours, laws regulating where your dog can and cannot go are enforced.
The good news is that dogs are welcome in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads inside the park.
In addition, your dog is welcome to accompany you on two trails in the park: the Gatlinburg Trail in Tennessee and the Oconaluftee River Trail in North Carolina.
NOTE: Do not take your pet onto the trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you are caught, expect a fine of up to $5,000.
You may think it is not safe to walk your dog along mountain roads with busy summer traffic zipping by. However, when you visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park in slower seasons, less traffic is on the roads.
Additionally, some roads frequently close to vehicles in winter; yet they are always open to people walking their dogs.
People accompanied by a trained service dog, may bring it on trails. Do not claim that your dog is a service dog if it is not! New laws penalize persons for misrepresenting their animal as a service dog when it is not.
National Park Service policy defines a service animal as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The tasks performed by the animal must be directly related to the person’s disability.
Emotional Support Animals
Question: My doctor said I need an emotional support animal, is my emotional support animal allowed in the park? “No. Provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship does not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of what is defined as a service animal in the National Park Service policy.
Emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals can be any animal, not just a dog. The presence of these animals provides a calming effect for many people, but they do not qualify as service animals because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task.
Therefore, a park can treat an emotional support animal as a pet in accordance with its pet policy.”
Pet Policy Summary
Keep in mind that the park pet policies are not just suggestions, they are the law. There are legal consequences for not abiding by these pet policies and fines may be assessed to anyone not abiding by them.
- When your dog poops, you must remove said poop from the ground immediately and place it in the nearest trash container.
- Do not leave your pet in, or around, an unattended vehicle at any time or any place. We saw a news story recently where someone tied their dog to a vehicle and left it there while they hiked. This is a tragedy waiting to happen. Some wild animals see this as an opportunity to get an easy meal. Do we really need to say how wrong this is?
- Dogs must be on a leash of no more than 6 feet in length at all times.
- Dogs are not allowed on any trail in the park ($5,000 fine), with the exception of Gatlinburg Trail and Oconaluftee River Trail. You may bring your leashed pet with you on either of these two trails.
Six Reasons for the Pet Policy
The following is a list of six very important reasons for the pet policies concerning other people’s pets (because yours is pawfect). No, not really, they apply to everyone!
- Dogs can introduce disease into the park’s wildlife.
- Dogs upset the indigenous wildlife. Dogs chase and/or scare wildlife. They also leave a scent that might signal the presence of a predator and lead to disruptions in local wildlife behavior.
- A dog’s ‘normal’ behavior can be disturbed by unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells, and cause it to bark excessively or behave in unpredictable ways.
- Dogs can be prey for larger animals, hosts to disease transmitting insects, and victims of poisonous or thorn bearing plants.
- An uncontrolled dog can be a danger to other visitors in the park.
- Last but not least, dogs (big and little) frighten some people (big and little).
If you choose to bring your pet to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please abide by the pet policies put in place by the National Park Service. These policies exist to protect all animals and allow all vacationers to enjoy the park.