5 Things to Do If Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Shut Down

January 19, 2018

Updated: Monday, January 22, 11:00am

Please understand that if you visit GSMNP during a government shut down, services will be limited. We ask that you visit responsibly and use caution and common sense. In the event of an accident or other emergency, fewer on-site staff could mean longer response times from rangers and first responders. The park will be kept open to the best of the limited staff’s ability, but for your safety and the safety of the park staff still working, please be aware of this unique circumstance.

We appreciate the ongoing support offered by those that visit, love, and care for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  During the government shutdown, the park will remain as accessible as possible and allowable by law and policy.  Roads and trails in the park that are seasonally open will remain open. There will not be any informational services, restrooms, or trash removal during this time period. Visitors should keep this in mind as they trip plan and make sure they are well prepared before driving or hiking across the park.

The park will only be conducting snow/ice removal on three park roadways that are considered thoroughfares to local communities: Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, the Spur between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and the Foothills Parkway West between Walland and Look Rock for the Top of the World community.  Currently, there are several secondary roads closed due to snow and ice. When road conditions improve, these roadways will reopen, but crews will not be plowing them during the shutdown period. Additionally, these roads may close throughout the shutdown period, as needed, for visitor safety due to inclement weather including snow, ice, downed trees, or rock slides.

Park Visitor Centers at Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, and Cades Cove will be closed. The park website will remain accessible, but it will not be updated with any current information.  Park social media accounts, including the SmokiesRoadsNPS Twitter account, will be suspended during the shutdown period.  For information, the media may reach out to npsmedia@nps.gov.

The park will not be operating any campgrounds or picnic areas during the government shutdown.  There will not be any access to restroom facilities or trash removal. In addition, the park cannot issue any new permits for backcountry camping.

Smokies Road Information as of 01/21/18 8:30 AM
The following are open: US 441, Spur, Little River, Laurel Creek, Cades Cove Loop, Foothills East and West, Tremont, Wear Cove Gap, Bypass, and Cherokee Orchard
The following are closed due to ice/snow: Upper Tremont, Cosby, Greenbrier, Lakeview Drive, and Toms Branch

Friday, January 19 1:00pm

When federal funding runs out at midnight Friday, if there is no spending plan in place, the federal government will begin to shut down non-essential operations. This will impact the National Park Service and Great Smoky Mountains National Park operations, but it is unclear the extent of this impact. When the government shut down in 2013, the park was closed. All recreation activities were suspended. Entrances, trailheads, backcountry, visitor facilities, lodges and campgrounds were closed.

It is possible that the government will shut down and national parks will remain open to some extent. For example, roads that have already been open will remain open and vault toilets will remain open. However services that require staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds and full service restrooms, will be closed. So park facilities in GSMNP like Sugarlands Visitor Center and Oconaluftee Visitor Center will be closed, but US-441/Newfound Gap Rd would remain open to visitors (depending on weather conditions). As of Friday afternoon, many roads are still closed due to this week’s snow and ice.

Please understand that if you visit GSMNP during a government shut down, services will be limited. We ask that you visit responsibly and use caution and common sense. In the event of an accident or other emergency, fewer on-site staff could mean longer response times from rangers and first responders. The park will be kept open to the best of the limited staff’s ability, but for your safety and the safety of the park staff still working, please be aware of this unique circumstance.

In the event of a government shut down, Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s website and social media sites will be inactive. Visitors to the park’s website will be redirected to www.doi.gov/shutdown. Friends of the Smokies’ website will not shut down, nor will our Facebook or Twitter accounts. We will post updates on social media as they become available. For questions about campground reservations, contact Recreation.gov at (888) 448-1474; for questions about backcountry campsite and shelter reservations (865) 436-1297.

Until we know more, here are 5 things you can do during a government shut down:

1. Hike in State Parks (TN & NC)

The best way to show appreciation and respect for the park we all love (and the employees who daily take care of it) is to hike elsewhere during a shut down.

As mentioned above, it’s possible that the park roads will remain open to visitors. Law enforcement officers will remain on duty, along with a few maintenance personnel.

The good news is, our state parks are open for business. Visit the website of Tennessee State Parks to see an impressive list of outdoor recreational activities you can enjoy including hiking, climbing, fishing, and so much more.

Around Knoxville you can take in the views at House Mountain, stroll along the French Broad River at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge, or walk beside the Tennessee River at Ijams Nature Center. Get a full list of this month’s running, hiking, biking, and kayaking events on the Outdoor Knoxville website.

Explore the Blue Ridge Natural Heritage Area on a dayhike + picnic excursion, go camping, or take a bike ride (just bundle up!). See North Carolina State Parks’ website for a full list of parks to explore and activities to enjoy.

2. Fun Things in the Smokies

If you are an official member of Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, get to know the merchants who participate in our membership discounts program. Take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, tour The Biltmore Estate, get in touch with your wild side at Knoxville Zoo, have dinner at the Park Grill Steakhouse, or immerse yourself in mountain culture at the Museum of Appalachia and as a card-carrying member of Friends of the Smokies, you will save money. Membership pays for itself, so if you are not a member, join today!

3. Shop for the Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park benefits from the philanthropic support of two official park partner organizations. You know us, Friends of the Smokies, and there is also Great Smoky Mountains Association. They are the park’s retail partner, and they operate the park bookstores.

While those in-park bookstores would be closed during a shut down, you can shop at the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center (in Kodak, TN), the Gatlinburg Welcome Center (on the Spur between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg), the Townsend Visitors Center or shop online to help support Great Smoky Mountains National Park with your purchases. Be sure to check out our official Friends of the Smokies merchandise collection too!

4. Contact Your Representatives

As of Friday morning, a short-term spending bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. It does not look likely that this bill will pass the U.S. Senate for the President to sign. A lack of any spending authorization bill would cause the government to shut down.

Use the following links to find and contact your representatives to let them know your thoughts about the government shut down and its effect on the National Park Service and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Current majority leaders in Congress are Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R).

Contact the White House

Contact your Senators

Contact your Representative

While we are on the subject, are you registered to vote?

5. Plan Your Next Visit

We are not yet certain that this government shut down will happen at midnight Friday night. It is possible that a spending bill will be passed and signed and the parks will remain open as normal. However, if that is not the case and the government does shut down, it’s important to remember that this will only be temporary. The parks will reopen. Businesses in our gateway communities will need your support. So, use this opportunity to plan your next visit to the Smokies!

Take a look at our events calendar to join us on a Classic Hike of the Smokies. Plan a day to volunteer with the Trails Forever crew working to rehabilitate Rainbow Falls Trail. Book your hotel room and buy your tickets to any of the local museums, theaters, theme parks, and more. We can’t wait to see you on your next vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains.

Bonus: DONATE!

You love the Smokies, we know you do. You may feel compelled to make a donation during this time in support of your favorite national park and we would absolutely appreciate that. Please know that your donations cannot and will not be used to reopen GSMNP in the event of a shut down or closure; that is not something that our nonprofit organization is allowed to fund and your donations are better spent on addressing the park’s most urgent needs.

In fact, your donations will support more than $1 million in critical park projects during 2018. You can see our full Park Support List here. Environmental education for local schoolchildren, management and research of black bears and elk, historic preservation of cabins and churches from Cades Cove to Cataloochee Valley — all these things and more need your generous support. Plus, this year we are raising an additional $1.25 million for an upgrade to the park’s emergency radio communications system in honor of our 25th anniversary.

So please, give generously. Click here to make a donation and support Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our work would not be possible without your donations, big or small.