Great Smoky Mountains National Park Closing Some Campgrounds Due To Budget Cuts

Three front-country campgrounds at Great Smoky Mountains National Park won't open this year due to the budget cuts brought on by the federal government's inability to resolve taxing and spending differences.

Additionally, one horse camp and two picnic areas also will not open, and some other facilities will open later than normal, park officials say. The delayed openings are a direct result of staffing and hiring limitations that impacted the park’s ability to conduct preseason preparation work on its facilities, park officials said in a release Tuesday.

Facilities to remain closed in 2013 include the Look Rock Campground and Picnic Area and the Abrams Creek Campground in Tennessee, and the Balsam Mountain Campground and Picnic Area (including the associated Heintooga Ridge and Balsam Mountain Roads) and the Tow String Horse Camp in North Carolina.

“We regret this will cause inconvenience to park visitors,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson, “especially those who have enjoyed these more remote areas of the Smokies year after year. We have focused our workforce to maximize the utilization of facilities throughout the remainder of the park in order to serve and provide recreational opportunities for our millions of park visitors.”

Under the renewed schedule, the park's plans for facility and area openings are:

* Roads. Round Bottom/Straight Fork Road will open April 1; Parsons Branch and Rich Mountain Road will both open on April 5; Roaring Fork Nature Trail and Little Greenbrier are set to open April 1. Heintooga Ridge and Balsam Mountain Roads will be closed for the season.

Clingmans Dome Road has been open dependent on weather conditions since February 15, but will be officially open for the summer season on March 29.

* 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, TN, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Cades Cove Visitor Center, near Townsend, TN, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC, hours will be 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

* Operating Hours for Backcountry Office. The Backcountry Office located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, near Gatlinburg, TN, is open every day from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Backcountry reservations and permits can be obtained online at www.smokiespermits.nps.gov or by calling 865-436-1297.

Recreation.gov provides visitors an opportunity to make reservations to many federally-managed recreation areas, including National Park Service areas, all across the U.S. The park’s developed campgrounds of Cataloochee, Elkmont, Cades Cove, Smokemont, and some sites at Cosby are on the reservation system for at least a portion of their seasons. The system allows campers to reserve specific campsites and to make reservations 6 months in advance. Group campsites and picnic pavilions can be reserved up to 12 months in advance.

To make reservations at the five campgrounds, and all group campsites, horse camps, and picnic shelters, visitors can go to www.Recreation.gov or, alternatively, book reservations by calling 877-444-6777.

* Camping. The Smokies' campgrounds will open on a staggered schedule starting April 12. For the five campgrounds on Recreation.gov, reservations are required at Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont for the period from May 15-October 31 (for other dates the three campgrounds are first come, first serve); Cataloochee Campground--all sites must be reserved throughout its season; and Cosby Campground, which has mostly first-come, first-served campsites, has a limited number of reservable sites during its season. Camping fees range from $14 to $23 per site/night.

Campers have an opportunity to camp in “generator free” campsites at three campgrounds: Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont campgrounds. The generator-free loop sections of these campgrounds are reservable through Recreation.gov.

Group Camping will be available at seven campgrounds (see schedule for opening dates) and reservations must be made through Recreation.gov. 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, Cataloochee, and Round Bottom will open April 1 and at Big Creek on April 12. Tow Sting will be closed for the season. Reservations are only available through Recreation.gov. The horse site fees are $20 at all horse camps except for Big Creek where it is $25.

* Picnic Areas. There are eight first-come, first-serve picnic areas open during 2013. Open all year are Cades Cove, Greenbrier, Deep Creek, and Metcalf Bottoms. Chimneys picnic area will open on March 15 and Collins Creek will open on March 29. Big Creek and Cosby picnic areas will open shortly after on April 12. Heintooga and Look Rock will be closed for the season.

The park’s largest picnic pavilion at Twin Creeks opens on April 1 and reservations are required through Recreation.gov only. Twin Creeks fees range from $35-$75 depending on the number of people. In addition, picnickers can reserve five other picnic pavilions on Recreation.gov. 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. The opening dates for the three horseback concessions located on the Tennessee side of the Park are: Smoky Mountain Riding Stable on March 8; Sugarlands Riding Stable on March 8; and Cades Cove is scheduled on March 9. In addition to horseback rides, which cost $30 per horse per rider for one-hour rides, Cades Cove Riding Stable will offer its customary carriage rides and hay rides, and wheelchair accessible carriage and hay rides. The Smokemont Riding Stable in North Carolina will open March 23 and, in addition to guided horseback rides, will provide visitors with a chance to experience a horse-drawn wagon ride along the route of the historic Oconaluftee Turnpike.

* LeConte Lodge, accessible only by trail, will open on March 25. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 865/429-5704, fax 865/774-0045 or email: . One night at the lodge costs $126 per adult and $85 for children 10 and under (tax not included). The price includes two meals--dinner and breakfast. Day hikers and backpackers can purchase a prepared bag or dining room lunch and snacks/beverages at the lodge. Reservations are required for the dining room lunch.

* Campground Concessions. The Cades Cove Campground Store has been open since March 2. The store provides groceries, camping supplies, firewood, ice, vending, limited food service, souvenirs, and bike rentals. The Cades Cove Store has multi-speed comfort or mountain bikes available for rent, in addition to single speed cruisers. The Elkmont Campground concession opened on March 8. The concession provides firewood, ice, limited camper convenience items, and vending of soft drinks, newspapers, and snacks.

Campground Schedule

North Carolina:

Balsam Mountain................Closed for the Season

Big Creek........................$14/site..............Opens April 12

Cataloochee................... $20/site...............Opens March 15

Deep Creek.................... $17/site...............Opens April 12

*Smokemont....................$17/site off-season, $20 mid-May-October 31....Open year-round

Tennessee:

Abrams Creek....................Closed for the Season

*Cades Cove...................$17/site off-season, $20 mid-May-October 31....Open year-round

Cosby...........................$14/site.................Opens April 12

*Elkmont.......................$17/site off-season, $20 mid-May-October 31, open March

Look Rock......................Closed for the Season

*$20 per site during the reservation period May 15-October 31. At Elkmont, riverside sites are $23 during reservation period only.

Comments

This is a sad sad state of affairs that is affecting me personally.

With the closure of US 441 (Newfound Gap road) until May and the other road closures due to budget cuts, we've had to change our Friends of the Smokies hikes several times. We've just had to adapt.

But we'll still have a good hiking program.

Danny, it certainly is a sad state of affairs. But congratulations to you for not falling into the behavior of so many Americans whose reaction to inconvenience is to start shouting loud and sometimes nasty things. I'm thinking this is going to be a good test of character of many of our neighbors.

Most unfortunate that the government budget cuts are having such impact on our national parks. I suppose belt tightening is required by everyone. We'll all survive this. I'm just grateful for the national parks and they still exist for enjoyment by the public.