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.
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 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.
We arrived at the Oconaluftee Visitor’s center. The entrance was barricaded and the buildings 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.
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.
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.
The Blue Ridge Parkway:
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park
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.