Updated: Tornado Damage Leads To Closure of Some Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A tornado that knocked down and uprooted thousands of trees has forced the closure of at least 27 miles of hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The closures are highlighted in red on this map. NPS map.

Editor's note: This adds storm photos as well as an added trail closure.

Damage inflicted by an apparent tornado has forced the closure of some trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Park officials announced Thursday that a severe "EF 4" tornado churned through the northwestern corner of the park a week ago, causing extensive damage to at least eight trails. Most notably, the Abrams Falls Trail remains impassable due to "numerous blowdowns and over 40 areas where root balls were ripped out of the trail surface, leaving hot-tub sized craters," park officials said in a release. They hope to have the trail reopened by the Memorial Day Weekend.

After inspecting other areas, park managers announced the partial, and or full, closure of parts of seven trails totaling 27 miles.

Surveys by trail workers show more than 4,500 trees were downed by the wind storm last Wednesday, "with some areas resembling jackstraws for over a mile at a time. They also counted over a thousand areas where trees were blown down and their roots tore gaps in the trail," the park release said.

In addition to all of the Abrams Falls Trail, the following trails are now officially closed to both hikers and equestrians until further notice:

* Rabbit Creek Trail from its trailhead at Abrams Creek Ranger Station to Hannah Mountain Junction (although campsite #16 remains open)

* The 5.1 mile section of Rabbit Creek Trail between its trailhead at Cades Cove and the junction with Hannah Mountain Trail is now closed. That also results in the closure of campsite 15

* Hannah Mountain Trail from Rabbit Creek Trail to Abrams Creek

* Hatcher Mountain Trail – entire trail

* Beard Cane Trail – entire trail (backcountry campsites #3 and #11 are closed)

* Ace Gap Trail – entire trail

* Little Bottoms Trail from campsite #17 to the Hatcher Mtn. Trail Jct. (campsite #17 is open)

“We have closed the trails because the tangled trees and damaged surfaces make them extremely hazardous, said Clay Jordan, the park's chief ranger. “But to make matters worse, our ability to send rescuers in to extract anybody who is injured is seriously compromised.”

Park managers stress that no park roads are affected by the storm damage, and that the remainder of the park’s 800 miles of trails remain open. In the Cades Cove area, visitors were being encouraged to seek alternative trails. Access to Gregory Bald via Parson Branch Road is unaffected, the park release said.

Comments

I just got back from the Smokies and was in Gatlinburg during the storms (just horrific thunderstorms there). Rich Mountain Road out of Cades Cove was also closed last Thursday.

We had decided to go into Cherokee, NC with our grandchildren (4 & 9 yr.). Toward late afternoon we were going to watch for the elk to come down into the meadow there by the visitors center. But the rain started and it looked really stormy, so we decided to head back across the mountains and thought we might go to Cades Cove. By the time we reached Newfound Gap the storm was really bad and wind was getting dangerous. I pulled off into the parking area at Newfound Gap to wait out the storm, away from any trees. I didn't want a tree falling on us as we travelled through the park. That turned out to be a wise decision. My 4 yr old grandson asked as the wind was blowing leaves and dust and torrential rain passed us and rocking the van, " Granny is this what a tornado looks like?" I said "Yes, except the leaves and things would be going in circles instead of straight past us". When the winds died down we headed on down the mountain and found the road had numerous trees lying partially across the road. We thought maybe the storn didn't reach as far as Cades Cove, but when we got to Metcalf Bottoms picnic area we were turned back by ranger who said the road to Cades Cove was impassable and the road from there to Wears Valley was closed due to power lines down across it. So we worked our way back to the main visitor's center near Gatlinburg and headed back to Pigeon Forge. There we found the electric had been off for two hours due to storm damage, but was now back on. We just praise God 'he urged us' to go to Cherokee instead of Cades Cove that day which is our preferred area to visit with our grandchildren.