For those of us who just adore our precious pets, and feel as if they are just as much our family as if they were human children, it is important to know where it is ok to take them with us. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park (along with most other National Parks) has very specific guidelines about where in the park it is ok to bring your pets, and about how to manage that privilege properly.
“Dogs are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads, but must be kept on a leash at all times. The leash must not exceed 6 feet in length. Dogs are only allowed on two short walking paths—the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. Pets are not allowed on any other park trails. Pet excrement must be immediately collected by the pet handler and disposed of in a trash receptacle. Pets should not be left unattended in vehicles or RVs.”
This may seem very restrictive, and you wish you could bring your dog up to Clingman’s Dome with you. Please believe us when we say that these regulations are in place for very specific and important reasons:
• Dogs can carry disease into the park’s wildlife populations.
• Dogs can chase and threaten wildlife, scaring birds and other animals away from nesting, feeding, and resting sites. The scent left behind by a dog can signal the presence of a predator, disrupting or altering the behavior of park wildlife. Small animals may hide in their burrow the entire day after smelling a dog and may not venture out to feed.
• Dogs bark and disturb the quiet of the wilderness. Unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells can disturb even the calmest, friendliest, and best-trained dog, causing them to behave unpredictably or bark excessively.
• Pets may become prey for larger predators such as coyotes and bears. In addition, if your dog disturbs and enrages a bear, it may lead the angry bear directly to you. Dogs can also encounter insects that bite and transmit disease and plants that are poisonous or full of painful thorns and burrs.
• Many people, especially children, are frightened by dogs, even small ones. Uncontrolled dogs can present a danger to other visitors.
Walking your dog on the roads may not be a very good idea, to be honest, during the summer, and when it’s busy. If, however, you make it here during a particularly slow season, or when many of the roads are closed to vehicles during the winter, you can take full advantage of those roads when there are not so many cars on them. And just because certain roads are closed to vehicles during the winter, doesn’t mean you can’t still walk your dog there! It’s like they are reserving them for you and your pooch!
Those who have need of service animals, are however, allowed to bring them on other trails in the Park. Unfortunately many people try to take advantage of this who do not really need a service animal. Currently park officials can only ask if the animal is preforming a service. Of course any sly person looking to sneak through a loophole could say “yes”, and be thinking, “They are providing me the service of their company.” New policies, however, will allow park officials to ask specifically what service is being provided, and the policies will define very specifically what a service animal is, and what possible services they may be providing, to allow officials to make a fair judgements on which animals will be allowed to proceed.
So let’s just say, for your own convenience, and the benefit of the Park and others trying to enjoy it, don’t try to sneak your beloved pet onto one of the trails where he is not allowed. It may ruin your plans when a park official has to ask you to remove your pet from the area. Even if you somehow get away with it, you could be harming the wonder of our National Park, or disturbing other people there to enjoy it. There are plenty of lovely places you can take your pets in the Park!