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 September 17, 2020

Local State of Emergency Declarations with Travel Impacts

North Carolina is in Phase 2.5 of a three phase plan for reopening the economy. A Stay at Home order remains in effect with some allowances for select businesses to reopen with limited capacity. Please note that face coverings are now required in public space, although there are some exceptions. More information about Phase 2.5 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

As of May 4, the curfew and 14-day isolation supplemental orders have been terminated. All lodging will reopen beginning Friday, May 8 at 5 pm. 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 currently in place 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 may re-open at 50 percent capacity while following strict cleaning and social distancing procedures. Several outdoor activities in Cherokee will open to the general public the same day including the Fire Mountain Trails, Cherokee Skate Park, and the Oconaluftee Island Park. Cherokee Enterprise Waters will open that day as well 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 on the interstate highways are closed for visitor information, but 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.

Roads: Newfound Gap Road, Gatlinburg By-pass, Little River Road, Wear Cove Road, Laurel Creek Road, Cades Cove Loop Road, Cherokee Orchard Road, Lakeview Drive Road, Deep Creek Road and trailheads 

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

Picnic Areas: Chimney Tops, Metcalf Bottoms, Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Collins Creek 

June 8 update: Some visitor centers and campgrounds are now open.

Horse Camps: Anthony Creek Horse Camp

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

Campgrounds: Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Smokemont

The Following Campgrounds Remain Closed:
Family Campgrounds: Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cataloochee, and Cosby. 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

Beginning June 13, 2020, the Blue Ridge Parkway reopened access to picnic areas, including restroom facilities, at the following locations:

– Craggy Gardens Picnic Area, 367.6 (port-o-johns)
– Mt. Pisgah Picnic Area, 407.8

Restrooms or portable toilets are also available at these additional locations:

– Craggy Gardens Visitor Center (port-o-johns), Milepost 364.5
– Folk Art Center (restrooms/water available while building is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10am-4pm), Milepost 382
– Graveyard Fields Trailhead (pit toilets), Milepost 418.8
– Waterrock Knob Visitor Center (pit toilets), Milepost 451.2

The following areas continue to be available:

• Additional portable toilets may be available at intermittent North Carolina park locations
• Select concession operations (additional details available on park website)
• All Parkway trails, and
• All other sections of the motor route in North Carolina and Virginia, except for a road closure from Milepost 115.5 to Milepost 135.9, from Explore Park Access Rd. to Adney Gap, due to multiple road hazards. For more information about this road closure and the timeline for repairs, please visit our road conditions page.

With public health in mind or due to maintenance concerns, the following seasonal visitor facilities remain closed:

• Campgrounds park-wide
• Visitor Centers park-wide
• Crabtree Falls Picnic Area in North Carolina

Cherohala Skyway

The Skyway has reopened.

Cataloochee Valley

Unrelated to COVID-19, all access to Cataloochee Valley will be closed for road repairs. Estimate reopening is August 2020.

Cherokee

Outdoor recreation areas including Mingo Falls, Soco Falls, picnic areas, and tribal backroads will reopened on May 15 for public access.

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 will began reopening trails and roads on May 14. Restrictions on dispersed camping are being partially lifted as Park Rangers assess campsites on a site-by-site basis. Below is a complete list of trails that are reopening unless otherwise indicated. More information on roads and recreation facilities can be found here.

Pisgah Ranger District 

  • Ivestor Gap (101)
  • Daniel Ridge Loop (105)
  • Looking Glass Rock (114)
  • Slick Rock Falls (117)
  • Cat Gap (120)
  • North Face (132)
  • Art Loeb – Davidson River to Joel Branch FSR5002 (146)
  • Art Loeb – Black Balsam Road FSR816 to Camp Daniel Boone (146)
  • Moore Cove (318)
  • Campground Connector (329)
  • Mt. Pisgah (355)
  • Graveyard Ridge (356)
  • Graveyard Ridge (356A)
  • Graveyard Fields (358)
  • Upper Falls (358A)
  • MST Access (358B)
  • Shining Creek (363)
  • John Rock (365)
  • Rainbow Falls (499)
  • Sunwall (601)
  • Hardtimes Gap (661)
  • Deer Lake Lodge and FSR491 (661)

Appalachian Ranger District

  • Big Butt (161)
  • Douglas Falls (162)
  • Walker Creek (165)
  • Elk Pen (166)
  • Snowball (170)
  • Elk Falls (172)
  • Upper Corner Rock (173)
  • Little Andy (174)
  • Perkins (175)
  • Bear Pen (176)
  • Black Mountain Crest (179) – CLOSED
  • Green Knob (182)
  • Stair Creek (183)
  • Laurel Gap (184)
  • Mount Mitchell (190)
  • Buncombe Horse (191)
  • Big Tom Gap (191A)
  • Roaring Fork Falls (195)
  • Setrock (197)
  • River Loop (200)
  • Fork Ridge (285)
  • Jerry Miller (286)
  • Green Ridge (287)
  • Hickey Fork (292)
  • Whiteoak (293)
  • Roundtop Ridge (295)
  • Shutin Creek (296)
  • Cherry Creek (300)
  • Cold Springs Horse (302)
  • Buckeye Ridge Horse (304)
  • Max Patch Loop (306)
  • Lover’s Leap (308)
  • Overmountain Victory Trail, from Roaring Creek to AT (308A)
  • Pump Gap Loop (309)
  • Laurel River (310)
  • Groundhog Creek (315)
  • Mountains to Sea (440)
  • Hemlock (1003)
  • Briar Bottom (1006)

 

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 has resumed operations with new safety protocols. See the video below for full details.

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.

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.