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Great Smoky Mountains National Park announces Spring openings schedule

By Jeaneane Payne, Publisher

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will become fully alive again beginning Friday, March 9, 2012 when campgrounds and secondary roads are reopened. The Park Service closes some roads during the winter months because they become hazardous during inclement weather, including the popular Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail which is accessible from Gatlinburg, TN and Parson Branch Road, accessible from the Cades Cove area.

The secondary roads that are set to open on March 9 include: Little Greenbrier, Rich Mountain, Straight Fork/Round Bottom, Forge Creek, Parson Branch, and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

cades cove
Cades Cove. Image by Image Builders.

Clingmans Dome Road will open earlier than usual this year due to the mild winter we have experienced. That road will reopen on Friday, March 16. Heintooga Ridge and Balsam Mountain Roads will open on May 11.

Visitor Centers will be open daily. Sugarlands Visitor Center, located just outside of Gatlinburg, TN will be open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Cades Cove Visitor Center, located near Townsend, TN, will operate from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. The Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC, will be open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

Sugarlands Visitor Center offers educational opportunities with a wildlife museum, a film about the National Park, and a bookstore which sells books about the Park as well as CDs, DVDs, and jams and jellies. Park rangers are on hand at Sugarlands to answer your questions about the Park. Maps of the Park are also available for purchase.

Cades Cove Visitor Center offers a bookstore which sells books and collectibles. The center is located at the halfway point along the 11 mile loop road which follows many of the grades and turns of the old wagon roads, fording a stream now and then. Along the way you are likely to see wildlife: Black bear, deer and wild turkey year-round; lots of groundhogs in the summer.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center sits amidst a beautiful valley with an awesome backdrop of mountain vistas. Elk are often seen grazing in the field beside the center.

Campgrounds will begin opening on a staggered basis starting March 9. Reservations are required at Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont for the period from May 15-October 31 (for other dates the three campgrounds are first come, first served). All sites at Cataloochee Campground must be reserved throughout its season. Cosby Campground, which has mostly first-come, first-served campsites, has a limited number of reservable sites during its season. Camping fees range from $14 to $23 per site/night.

Campers have an opportunity to camp in "generator free" campsites at three campgrounds: Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont campgrounds. The generator-free loop sections of these campgrounds are reservable through

Campground Schedule 2012
Campground Fee Open Group Sites
North Carolina:      
Smokemont* $17, $20 Year 'round May 15
Balsam Mountain $14 May 11  
Deep Creek $17 April 1 April 1
Big Creek $14 April 1 April 1
Cataloochee $17 March 9 March 9
Cades Cove* $17, $20 Year-round March 9
Elkmont* $17, $20 March 9 March 9
Cosby $14 April 1 April 1
Look Rock $14 May 11  
Abrams Creek $14 May 11  
*$20 per site during the reservation period May 15 - October 31. At Elkmont, riverside sites are $23 during reservation period only.

Group Camping
Group Camping is available at seven campgrounds and reservations must be made through Group camping is available at Big Creek, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Cades Cove, and Smokemont. The cost for group camping ranges from $26 to $65 per site/night.

The Park's developed campgrounds of Cataloochee, Elkmont, Cades Cove, Smokemont, and some sites at Cosby are on the reservation system for at least a portion of their seasons. The system allows campers to reserve specific campsites and to make reservations 6 months in advance. Group campsites and picnic pavilions can be reserved up to 12 months in advance. To make reservations at the five campgrounds, and all group campsites, horse camps, and picnic shelters, visitors can go to or reservations can be booked by calling 877-444-6777.

Campground Concessions
The Cades Cove Campground Store will open March 3. The store provides groceries, camping supplies, firewood, ice, vending, limited food service, souvenirs, and bike rentals. The Cades Cove Store has multi-speed comfort or mountain bikes available for rent, in addition to single speed cruisers. The Elkmont Campground concession will open March 9. The concession provides firewood, ice, limited camper convenience items, and vending of soft drinks, newspapers, and snacks.

Horse Camps
Horse Camps at Anthony Creek, Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom, and Towstring will open April 1 and reservations are only available through The horse site fees are $20 at all horse camps except for Big Creek where it is $25.

Picnic Areas
There are 10 first-come, first-served picnic areas in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Open all year are Cades Cove, Greenbrier, Deep Creek, and Metcalf Bottoms. Chimneys Picnic Area will be the first to open on March 15. Big Creek, Collins Creek, and Cosby Picnic Areas will open shortly after on April 1. Heintooga and Look Rock are scheduled to open on May 11.

The Park's largest picnic pavilion is at Twin Creeks. Reservations are required can can be made only through Twin Creeks opens on April 1. Fees range from $35-$75 depending on the number of people.

Picnickers can reserve five other picnic pavilions on They are located at Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Metcalf Bottoms, and Greenbrier picnic areas. The cost is $20, except at Greenbrier where it is $10.

Horseback Riding
The Tennessee side of the Park has three horseback concessions: Smoky Mountain Riding Stable which opens on March 3; Sugarlands Riding Stable opens March 9; and Cades Cove is scheduled for opening on March 10.

In addition to horseback rides which cost $30 per horse per rider for one-hour rides, Cades Cove Riding Stable will offer their customary carriage rides and hay rides, and wheelchair accessible carriage and hay rides.

The Smokemont Riding Stable in North Carolina will open March 24. In addition to guided horseback rides, this facility will provide visitors with a chance to experience a horse-drawn wagon ride along the route of the historic Oconaluftee Turnpike.

LeConte Lodge, accessible only by trail, will open on March 19. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 865-429-5704, fax 865-774-0045 or e:mail One night at the lodge costs $121 per adult and $85 for children 10 and under (tax not included). The price includes two meals -- dinner and breakfast. Day hikers and backpackers can purchase a prepared bag or dining room lunch and snacks/beverages at the lodge. Reservations are required for the dining room lunch.

Published March 5, 2012

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