The Impact of COVID-19 in the Smoky Mountains

covid-19 travel information for north carolina smoky mountains

Covid-19 has impacted the way we live, and the way we travel. While you’re still safer staying at home, the great outdoors provide much needed relief from quarantine fatigue. When planning your vacation to the North Carolina Smoky Mountains remember that many businesses have had to modify hours and operations. You’ll want to call ahead to ensure you’ll be able to enjoy certain experiences.

Here, you’ll need to follow the three W’s. 1.  Expect to wait in lines to enter businesses. 2. Wear a mask when indoors and in any communities that request they be used on sidewalks. 3. Wash your hands frequently. Here’s some other information to know.

Last updated on December 11, 2020

Local State of Emergency Declarations with Travel Impacts

North Carolina has implemented new executive order effective December 11. A Stay at Home order remains in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily. All businesses are required to be closed during this time. Alcohol  sales are prohibited from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day.

Businesses are allowed to be open with limited capacity. Please note that face coverings are now required in all public indoor settings.

More information about current restrictions can be found here.

Graham County

Travel restrictions into the county have been removed, however all nonresidents must observe a 14 days self-quarantine, or for the duration of their visit if it is for less than 14 days. Be prepared to bring your own supplies and groceries to sustain the 14-day quarantine.

Swain County

Swain County is following the state’s guidelines. Restaurants, breweries and wineries are open with restrictions. Attractions are open – many are at 50% capacity. For lodging, please bring as much food, drink and supplies with you as possible. This will lessen the impact on their groceries and other stores that have been and are still experiencing shortages. Also, please help to mitigate any spread in their community by practicing proper social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitizing, and the use of protective face coverings as you enjoy our county and trails. The small businesses that have been closed are eager to welcome you!

Jackson County

Jackson County updated its Declaration of a State of Emergency to lift the ban on lodging rentals of less than 30 days, but added strong guidance regarding social distancing and mask wearing.

Macon County

The Chamber Visitor Center has reopened. The hours of operation are Monday – Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Local businesses will display signs to let visitors know if they are open.

Cherokee

On May 15, retail establishments, hotels, and campgrounds re-opened at 50 percent capacity while following strict cleaning and social distancing procedures. Several outdoor activities in Cherokee are open to the general public including the Fire Mountain Trails, Cherokee Skate Park, and the Oconaluftee Island Park. Cherokee Enterprise Waters is open for fishing for people not enrolled with the EBCI. Fishing permits may be purchased on-line at www.fishcherokee.com or from a local fishing permit vendor.

Rest Areas

All NCDOT’s 58 Rest Areas’ restroom facilities statewide remain open 24 hours per day for travelers’ relief. State Welcome Centers also remain open for restrooms 24 hours per day.

UPDATE: The Smoky Mountain Visitor Center in Franklin, NC reopened on Saturday, May 9.

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

Beginning on Saturday, May 9, the park will begin reopening in phases. Exercise caution while exploring the park, and be sure to read the announcement from the National Park Service before visiting as not all trails will be open.

These roads are currently open:

Abrams Creek Campground Road
Balsam Mountain Road
Big Creek Road
Cades Cove Loop Road (Road will open daily at 8:00 a.m. Closed to motor vehicles on Wednesdays from June 17 to September 30, 2020 for bicylces and pedestrians only.)
Cataloochee Road (To Palmer Chapel only due to road washout.)
Cherokee Orchard Road
Clingmans Dome Road
Cosby Road
Deep Creek Road
Elkmont Road
Foothills Parkway
Forge Creek Road
Gatlinburg Bypass
Greenbrier Road (Due to roadwork, open to Ramsey Cascades Trailhead only.)
Heintooga Round Bottom Road
Highway 284
Lakeview Drive
Laurel Creek Road
Little Greenbrier Road
Little River Road
Newfound Gap Road/Highway 441
Rich Mountain Road
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Straight Fork Road
Tom Branch Road
Tow String Road
Tremont Road
Twentymile Road
Upper Tremont Road
Wear Cove Gap Road

Restrooms: Clingmans Dome, Sugarlands Visitor Center, Newfound Gap, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Cades Cove Cable Mill, Abram Falls Trailhead, Rainbow Falls Trailhead, Alum Cavem and picnic areas 

Picnic Areas: Big Creek, Chimney Tops, Collins Creek and Pavilion, Metcalf Bottoms, Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier (pavilion is closed), Metcalf Bottoms and Pavilion, Twin Creeks Pavilion. **Note that pavilions must be reserved through Recreation.gov

Horse Camps: Anthony Creek Horse Camp, Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom, Tow String

Visitor Centers: Cable Mill in Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, Mingus Mill near Oconaluftee, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Sugarlands Visitor Center

Campgrounds: Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek*, Cades Cove*, Cataloochee*, Cosby*, Deep Creek*, Elkmont*, Smokemont*

*The Following Campgrounds Remain Closed:
Group Campgrounds: Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Horse Camps: Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom, and Tow String.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Campgrounds, Visitor Centers, and Picnic Areas are now closed for the winter. Most sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway, including the southern section through the Smoky Mountains are closed for the winter. Hikers and cyclists can still access the Parkway at road closure points to enjoy mountain views without traffic.

Areas that remain open to vehicles are from mile marker 389 to mile marker 402 as well as mile marker 385 to 376. Points of interest along these open sections include the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, the Folk Art Center, and the North Carolina Arboretum.

Cherohala Skyway

The Skyway is open.

Cataloochee Valley

Roads into Cataloochee Valley have recently reopened. This is a great place to park and watch as wild elk graze in the fields.

Cherokee

Outdoor recreation areas including Mingo Falls, Soco Falls, picnic areas, and tribal backroads are open.

The Appalachian Trail

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina have reopened trailhead and access points to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, but restroom facilities remain unavailable. Shelters will remain closed at this time. 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 has closed shelters and restrooms. As winter weather begins there will be road closures. Before traveling into the Nantahala National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, or Grandfather Ranger District, be sure to look here for alerts about road closures.

More information on roads and recreation facilities can be found here.

 

Smoky Mountain Attractions

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino

Harrah’s Cherokee as officially reopened. They’ve rearranged the casino floor to provide more space between the games. In addition to their social distancing strategies, there are other protocols in place including mandatory masks for all guests. You can find the full list of safety requirements here.

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Nantahala Outdoor Center resumed operations this year with new safety protocols. See the video below for full details. The season has ended for whitewater adventures, but they do offer winter activities like survival classes.

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

Passenger train operations have resumed with 50% capacity. Please be sure to review their full safety guidelines prior to your trip. New this year, they have extended their schedule with new winter season train rides into the Nantahala Gorge.

Other attractions:

  • Swain County Visitors Center and Heritage Museum – Now Open
  • The Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians – Now Open at 50% Capacity
  • The Museum of the Cherokee Indian – Open

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