The Impact of COVID-19 in the Smoky Mountains

covid-19 travel information for north carolina smoky mountains

Throughout the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, many businesses have had to make the difficult choice to temporarily close their doors for the greater good of keeping their community healthy. While spring is naturally a time when people are ready to get back to nature, the unprecedented situation we all face means that now is not the time to be traveling.

While the recommendation is that you stay at home and stay safe during this pandemic, there may be reasons you need to travel through the NC Smokies. In this case, here’s what you need to know.

Last updated on April 2, 2020

Local State of Emergency Declarations with Travel Impacts

Many counties in western North Carolina are now declaring states of emergency and putting restrictions on travel. Anyone passing through these counties should make sure to plan accordingly.

Graham County

Beginning on Friday, March 27, 2020, checkpoints will be established at entry points to Graham County and no visitors will be allowed access. Please see here for a list of highways with restricted access.

Jackson County and Swain County

All accommodations are now closed to visitors without a work-related reason for the stay. Proof of work will be required including a work ID badge and a letter from the employer stating the purpose of the work to be performed in the respective county.

Cherokee

The Qualla Boundary is currently only open to enrolled members and first descendants with valid ID, non-enrolled persons residing on the Qualla Boundary, non-enrolled employees of essential services and businesses, and delivery services.

Rest Areas

All NCDOT’s 58 Rest Areas’ restroom facilities statewide remain open 24 hours per day for travelers’ relief including the Smoky Mountain Visitor Center in Franklin, NC. State Welcome Centers on the interstate highways are closed for visitor information, but remain open for restrooms 24 hours per day.

Outdoor Closures & Updates

During this time of social distancing, the great outdoors at first seemed the best option to remain active. However, as people flocked to popular hiking trails, scenic lookouts, and waterfalls in droves it became clear that these too would need to be limited. While there are still ways to enjoy outdoor recreation, these more popular spots are have been closed.

We’ll update these as we learn more.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

All campgrounds, picnic areas and restaurants are closed. Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, and Cades Cove Visitor Centers remain closed until further notice.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The southernmost 14 miles of this scenic road have been closed. This spans from Milepost 455 to 469. There are some segments of this scene drive that remain accessible, but any public facility like picnic areas and bathrooms are closed.

Cherohala Skyway

Closed to all traffic.

Cataloochee Valley

Unrelated to COVID-19, all access to Cataloochee Valley will be closed from February 10 through May 20 for road repairs.

Cherokee – Fishing Season

The fishing season in Cherokee has been postponed until further notice. It is recommended that you don’t purchase permits at this time. Waters are not being stocked at this time.

The Appalachian Trail

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina are temporarily shutting down trailhead facilities and other access points to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to prevent groups from congregating and to protect public health and safety. These include the following popular spots. See the full list here.

  • Wayah Bald – Nantahala National Forest
  • Cheoah Bald – Nantahala National Forest
  • Hampton and Dennis Cove Trailheads (Laurel Falls) – Cherokee National Forest
  • Osborne Farm – Cherokee National Forest
  • Max Patch – Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests
  • Roan Mountain/Carvers Gap – Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests
  • Lovers Leap – Pisgah National Forest

National Forests

The National Forest Service says that the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests will remain open however recreation services at their facilities may be changed, suspended or offered through alternate approaches as they manage for the health and safety of our work force and the public. All campgrounds have been closed.

 

For the latest information on COVID-19, please check the website for the North Carolina Department of Health.