Great Smoky Mountains National Park Ready For Spring Opening

It won't be long before the redbuds are blooming in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. NPS Photo.

Add Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the growing list of parks that are getting ready for their spring opening. In fact, many of the park's facilities open today, March 7.

Here's the rundown on facility and concession openings from park officials:

Roads – The secondary roads that are set to open on March 7 include: Little Greenbrier, Rich Mountain, Straight Fork/Round Bottom, and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The Parson Branch Road is scheduled to open March 11, the Clingmans Dome Road is set to open on April 1, and the Heintooga Ridge and Balsam Mountain Roads will open on May 9.

Operating Hours for Visitor Centers – The three visitor centers are open daily and the operating hours through March are as follows: Sugarlands Visitor Center, near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Cades Cove Visitor Center, near Townsend, Tennessee, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina, hours will be 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

The National Recreation Reservation System provides visitors an opportunity to make reservations to many federally-managed recreation areas, in addition to the National Park Service, all across the U.S. The system allows campers to reserve specific campsites and to make reservations 6 months in advance. In addition, group campsites and picnic pavilions can be reserved up to 12 months in advance. To make reservations at three of the Park’s developed campgrounds, group campsites, horse camps, and picnic shelters, visitors can go to this site or, alternatively, book reservations by calling 877-444-6777.

Great Smoky's campgrounds open on a staggered basis starting March 7.

* Three of the park’s 10 campgrounds are on the national reservation system from May 15-October 31: Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Cosby Campground has a limited number of sites you can reserve through the system. Camping fees are $14 per site at the smaller, more primitive campgrounds, and $17-$23 at the larger campgrounds.

* Campers have an opportunity to camp in “generator free” campsites at three campgrounds: Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont campgrounds. Campers can reserve a site in the generator-free loop sections of Cades Cove and Elkmont campgrounds. At Smokemont, while there is no separate generator free designation, loops A, B, and C are managed as tents only and generator free, and RV campers who prefer a generator-free site may reserve a site in those loops.

* Group Camping will be available at seven campgrounds and reservations must be made through the national reservation system. 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.

* Horse Camps at Anthony Creek, Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom, and Towstring will open April 1 and reservations are only available through the national reservation system. 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-serve picnic areas. Open all year are Big Creek, Cades Cove, Chimney Tops, Cosby, Greenbrier, Deep Creek, and Metcalf Bottoms. Collins Creek Picnic Area will open on March 7 and Heintooga and Look Rock are scheduled to open on May 9.

The Park’s largest picnic pavilion at Twin Creeks opens on April 1 and reservations are required through the national reservation system. Twin Creeks fees ranges from $35-$75 depending on the number of people. In addition, picnickers can reserve five other picnic pavilions on the national reservation system. 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 - Two riding stables will open on March 14. These are the Smoky Mountain Riding Stable and the Cades Cove Riding Stables. The opening dates for the Sugarlands Riding Stable and the Smokemont Riding Stables are unknown at this time. The opening of the Sugarlands Riding Stable is being delayed while new facilities are being constructed. The Smokemont Riding Stable will be opening later in the season due to the upcoming award of a new concession contract. In addition to horseback rides which cost $20 per horse per rider, Cades Cove Riding Stable also offers buggy rides ($7.50 per person) and hayrides ($6 per person), as well as special ranger-led hayrides ($8.00 per person).

* LeConte Lodge, accessible only by trail, will open on March 24. 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 $97 per adult and $76.50 for children 10 and under (tax not included). The price includes two meals--dinner and breakfast.

* Campground Concessions – The Cades Cove Campground Store is expected to open in late March or early April, following the award of a new concession contract. The Elkmont Campground concession will open March 7. The concession provides firewood, ice, and vending of soft drinks, newspapers, and snacks.