Great Smoky Mountain National Park Closed Sign

The scoop on the closed Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountain National Park

UPDATE: Thanks to our Government working through the funding issues, both the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smokey Mountain National Parks have returned to their normal operating schedules.

We pulled lots of information together yesterday from a number of different sources on Facebook and the internet to provide you with as much information as we could on the details of the National Park closings here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But we weren’t sure it was 100% accurate.

To be 100%, we decided to drive through both parks and see for ourselves.  We dropped the kids off at school and headed straight for the The Blue Parkway this morning to confirm it was open and get the real scoop for you. We then headed down Highway 441 to Cherokee and drove into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park almost to Clingman’s Dome Road.

While there, we took lots of early foliage pictures as well, and we’ll be sharing those in a separate article coming soon.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway Clouds

The view from one of the Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks this morning around 8:30am.

We picked up the Parkway this morning just outside of Waynesville, NC and headed east towards Asheville. While The Blue Ridge Parkway is officially closed, it is accessible and you can drive on it. We drove all the way to Graveyard Fields (Milepost 418), and while we saw very few people, we really didn’t notice any significant difference. All gates were open, and all areas that we saw were accessible.

I have read that any side roads with Visitors Centers and blocked off.  This would include Waterrock Knob in our area. We didn’t go in that direction, and couldn’t completely confirm it, but based on some pictures we found yesterday, we’re confident it is blocked off.

While it was a weekday, and early in the morning, the one big advantage of the “closure” was that we were completely by ourselves most of the time. There was another photographer there that we kept bumping into, but hardly anyone else. If we passed 10 vehicles in total, I would be surprised. Generally it’s a bit more busy, even on a weekday. We didn’t see any rangers or park personnel.

If you are looking to travel The Blue Ridge Parkway and see the fall colors, you most certainly can.  Again, all of the facilities are closed, but the overlooks and trails all looked open.  We even saw people down by the falls at Graveyard fields.

We captured some breathtaking pictures this morning, the one above included.  We’ll be sharing more pictures with you in our upcoming fall foliage update and on our Facebook page.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Closed Sign

A sign that greeted us at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was a bit of a different story. As we entered on the Cherokee side, we were greeted by the electronic sign above flashing three messages: Park Closed, Highway 441 Open to Gatlinburg,  and No parking next 30 miles. The third one, No parking next 30 miles got our attention, and we were curious what we find as we continued in on 441.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Oconaluftee Visitor Center blocked off and empty.

We arrived at the Oconaluftee Visitor’s center. The entrance was barricaded and the buildings closed.

Picnic Areas Closed

Picnic area off 441 that is normally open during the day…closed.

As we continued into the park, many of the pull overs were open and people were in fact pulled over and taking pictures. The access road to the Mingus Mill was blocked off. A little further up, we noticed that the parking lots for all of the major trails into the park were blocked off with cones. All picnic areas and side access roads were also blocked off or the gates were closed.

Smokemont Campground Closed

Forest Rangers on guard at the entrance to Smokemont Campground

We reached the road into Smokemont Campground, and two rangers were stationed there. We pulled over to talk to them. They were kind enough to let me take their picture and even answered a few questions for me. Their main purpose for being there was to allow people out of Smokemont but not in. But after today, the gates will be completely closed.  They said all roads inside the park were closed, except 441.

I asked the rangers if people were allowed to use the overlooks and pull-offs to take pictures.  They said they are discouraging people from doing that, and wanted people to just use 441 as a route to Gatlinburg only. I asked if they were doing anything to enforce this, and they said that they were “informing people”.  They didn’t say anything about citations, however I would suspect that if you ignore their “informing”, you could receive a citation.

We expressed concern about not letting people use the trails, and they said it was purely for safety reasons. With the reduced staff, they just didn’t have the “man power” to keep people safe and assist them if they got in trouble.

We asked them about their jobs, and they said that today would be their last day working and getting paid until they were told to come back. They were not sure when that would be. We felt really bad for them and told them that we appreciated all that they do and we sincerely hoped they would get their jobs back soon. They seemed more upset for all of the park visitors not being able to use the park, and seemed incredibly empathetic.

We thanked the rangers for allowing us to take pictures and for answering our questions. Both of them were incredibly friendly and helpful and continued on up 441, deeper into the park.

Overlooks not blocked

Visitors enjoying the scenic overlooks in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

All of the scenic overlooks that we passed before Clingman’s Dome were open, and many people were using them and enjoying the views.  We intentionally stopped and took our time taking pictures to see if we would be approached. We were not.  In fact the two rangers we talked to were the only ones we saw.  441 was busy as usual with lots of people driving around and pulling over to view the scenery.

We didn’t make it up to Clingman’s Dome, we had to get back home to pick up our kids from school.  Our understanding is that the road to Clingman’s Dome is closed.

In Summary

The Blue Ridge Parkway:

  • The road is open and fully accessible
  • Visitor centers and all facilities are closed, this includes bathrooms
  • Some side roads are closed

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park

  • All internal roads, except 441 are closed and blocked off.
  • All picnic and camping areas are closed and gated off
  • Trails are closed, and their parking lots are blocked with cones
  • Overlooks and pull overs are open, but there is a “no parking” rule in place for the entire park.
  • Access to Cataloochee Valley is closed.

We did a lot of driving today, but my wife and I enjoyed our time out, saw some breath-taking views, took some great photos to share with you, and most importantly learned the real “scoop” on the park closures to keep you informed.   If you’re looking for some alternative ideas, there are still plenty of other ways to see the leaves here in the Blue Ridge.  But, you can still enjoy the Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountain National park, although you will be limited a bit.

Leave a Comment:

4 comments
Charles Keys says October 7, 2013

Excellent article full of so much useful information for The Great Smoky Mountain National Park and The Blue Ridge Parkway visitors. Going to share on my Blog and Facebook Page!

Reply
National Parks Shuts Down for Visitors | Back Roads LivingBack Roads Living says October 7, 2013

[…] Ridge Parkway for pictures and camping this time of year also. My friend Larry Deane over at the Blueridge Mountain Life web site has written an article on the Blue Ridge Parkway and The Great Smokey Mountain National […]

Reply
Charlene Scott says November 22, 2013

Why is it closed? Is it just for winter? Is Cades Cove closed? Why is this happening?

Reply
    Larry says November 26, 2013

    Hey Charlene, I need to update the article. It was closed due to the Government shutdown and is now reopen.

    Reply
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