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 May 15, 2020

Local State of Emergency Declarations with Travel Impacts

NC reopening phase 1As of May 8, North Carolina moves into Phase One 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.

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 will update its Declaration of a State of Emergency this week to lift the ban currently in place on lodging rentals of less than 30 days, commissioners decided during their meeting this evening. However, the order will contain strong guidance regarding social distancing, 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.


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 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 is set to reopen 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. Visitor centers and campgrounds will remain closed, but the following areas will 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 

Blue Ridge Parkway

Beginning Saturday, May 9, 2020, the Blue Ridge Parkway will reopen gates providing motor vehicle access to the southernmost 14 miles of the park, from Milepost 454 – 469, in coordination with the Qualla Boundary and Great Smoky Mountains National Park planned reopening.

Beginning Friday, May 15, 2020, the Parkway will reopen gates providing motor vehicle access at the following locations in North Carolina, once initial seasonal mowing and road preparations are complete:

Milepost 292-296.5 near Blowing Rock, including Moses Cone Parking Area and Hwy 221 Bass Lake Parking Lot.
Milepost 298.6-308 through Grandfather Mountain area, including Rough Ridge and Linn Cove Viaduct
Milepost 316.4 Linville Falls Spur Road, including parking at Linville Falls trailheads
Milepost 334-342 including Crabtree Falls Area, near Little Switzerland, NC
Milepost 355-375.6 from Mt. Mitchell to Ox Creek, including Craggy Gardens
Milepost 377.4 Parking areas at Craven Gap (Town Mountain Rd) for MST Trail access
Milepost 384.7 Roadside parking at MST Trailheads at US 74A Parkway access ramps
Milepost 393-454 from French Broad River Overlook and south to Soco Gap

Cherohala Skyway

The Skyway has reopened.

Cataloochee Valley

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


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

The Appalachian Trail

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina have temporarily shut 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 will begin reopening trails and roads beginning 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) – CLOSED
  • 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)
  • 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) – CLOSED
  • Buncombe Horse (191) – CLOSED
  • 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)
  • Elk Falls – CLOSED


Smoky Mountain Attractions

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino

Harrah’s Cherokee officials announced in a press release its phased re-opening which will start on May 18.  “Areas such as the gaming floor, hotel, and some restaurants where social distancing can be practiced will be the first to open with significant limitations on occupancy.  Areas where social distancing is not possible such as the spa, valet, poker, buffet, and concerts will have to remain closed until it is appropriate to re-open.”  

According to information from the EBCI Joint Information Center, phase 1 of the casino opening, which is scheduled to last two weeks, will allow the following: 

* patrons by invitation only, with one guest 

* EBCI tribal members, with one guest 

* patrons will be screened prior to entering facilities 

* restaurants will open at 20 percent capacity 

* one hotel tower open at 30 percent capacity 


Nantahala Outdoor Center

Adventure Operations:

  • All NOC river and land based adventures are not scheduled to operate through May 21st.

Nantahala Main Campus (Restaurants, Lodging, General Store):

  • As of April 1st The Nantahala General Store will be closed through May 8th.
  • All NOC Restaurants, Lodging & the Outfitter’s Store will be closed through May 8th.

NOC Retail Stores:
NOC is offering limited retail availability via Drop shipping and pre-schedule pickups are possible for select products.

  • NOC’s Outfitter’s Store on the Nantahala River will be closed through May 8th.

Wilderness Medicine & Paddling Instruction Programs:

  • NOC Wilderness Medicine / SOLO Southeast programs between March 18th – May 15th are postponed.
  • Paddling School programs will not operate between March 16th – May 8th.

Special Events:

  • Wildwater World Championships in late April have been cancelled based on the European Travel ban established in early March, 2020.
  • US Open, in collaboration with the Nantahala Racing Club, has been cancelled for the weekend of March 28th.
  • NOC’s Spring Fling has been cancelled.

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

All passenger train operations are suspended through May 8, or until further notice.


Other attractions:

  • Swain County Visitors Center and Heritage Museum and
  • The Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians.


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