Stargazing Program in Cades Cove

Great Smoky Mountains Night time

Great Smoky Mountains Night Photography

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in cooperation with the Smoky Mountains Astronomical Society, will offer a 3-hour stargazing program in Cades Cove on Saturday, April 2 beginning at 7:30 p.m. Experienced astronomers and numerous telescopes will be on hand to provide a discovery of the spring sky’s position of stars, galaxies, and constellations, including the Milky Way. In case of rain or cloud cover where night skies are not visible, the program will be cancelled.

“It’s a great opportunity to gaze at the star-studded sky without the obstruction of artificial light as seen in developed areas outside the park,” said Park Ranger Mike Maslona. “People will be amazed at the vast depths of this planetary world and all that they can see in the complete darkness. This program mixes astronomy, legends, and the beauty of the stars to create a worthwhile exploration into the wonders of the heavens.”

Participants for the program will be directed to park near the orientation shelter at the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Road. A park ranger will walk with the group one-third of a mile to a nearby field to the viewing location. No vehicles are allowed to drive to the site.

Those planning to attend should dress warm and bring a flashlight. Participants might also like to bring a lawn chair or blanket for sitting, along with binoculars which can be used for stargazing. Carpooling is strongly encouraged.

This is one of very few opportunities to drive into Cades Cove at night to make images.  At any other time you would have to walk into the cove in order to make night time photos.

The program is subject to postponement due to rain or cloud cover. Call the day of the event to confirm that the program will take place at 865-448-4104.


Great Smoky Mountains Spring Opening Schedule 2016

Spring wildflowers in the Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains spring phicelia on Porters Creek Trail

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the spring opening schedule for park facilities for the 2016 season. As part of the schedule, officials also announced the Alum Cave Trail Restoration schedule which includes a Monday through Thursday closure of Alum Cave Trail and the Mt. Le Conte Backcountry Shelter beginning May 2 through November 17. Due to the construction process on the narrow trail, a full closure is necessary for the safety of both the crew and visitors. The shelter will be closed during the week to accommodate youth crews involved in the restoration work. The trail and shelter will be fully open each week on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday throughout the restoration process.

The full 2016 Facility Operating Schedule is listed below:

Secondary Roads are scheduled to open as follows:
•Forge Creek Road opened on March 6th
•Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail will open on March 25th
•Clingmans Dome Road will open on April 1st
•Round Bottom/Straight Fork Road will open April 1st
•Rich Mountain Road and Little Greenbrier Road will open on April 8th
•Parson’s Branch Road does not have a scheduled opening date at this time due to storm damage and safety concerns.

Cades Cove Loop Road will be closed for bicycle use only on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10:00 a.m. from May 11 through September 21.

Operating Hours for Visitor Centers – The three visitor centers are open daily, seven days a week. The operating hours through March are as follows:
•Sugarlands Visitor Center, near Gatlinburg, TN, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
•Cades Cove Visitor Center, near Townsend, TN, 9:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
•Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC, hours will be 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Hours are extended for each location as the season progresses. Clingmans Dome Visitor Information Center will open April 1.

Operating Hours for Backcountry Office – The Backcountry Office located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, near Gatlinburg, TN, is open every day from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Backcountry reservations and permits can also be obtained online at or by calling 865-436-1297.

Horse Camps at Round Bottom, Tow String and Anthony Creek will open April 1. Cataloochee will open on March 25 and Big Creek on April 8. Reservations are only available through The horse site fees are $20 at all horse camps except for Big Creek where it is $25.


NC Campgrounds Fee Open Group Sites Horse Camp ($20, $25)
Balsam Mountain $14 May 27 N/A
Big Creek $14 April 8 April 8 April 8
Cataloochee $20 March 25 March 25 March 25
Deep Creek $17 April 8 April 8
Round Bottom $20 April 1
*Smokemont $17, $20 Year-round May 15
Tow String $20 April 1

TN Campgrounds Fee Open Group Sites Horse Camp ($20, $25)
Abrams Creek $14 May 27 N/A
Anthony Creek $20 April 1
*Cades Cove $17, $20, $23 Year-round March 11
Cosby $14 April 8 April 8
*Elkmont $17, $20, $23 March 11 April 29
Look Rock Closed

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

Picnic Areas at Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms picnic areas are open year round. Chimneys picnic area will open on March 12 and Collins Creek picnic area will open on April 1. Big Creek and Cosby picnic areas will open April 8. Heintooga picnic area will open on May 27. Look Rock picnic area will remain closed for the year.

The park’s largest picnic pavilion at Twin Creeks opens on April 1 and reservations are required through Twin Creeks’ fees range from $35-$75 depending on the number of people. In addition, picnickers can reserve five other picnic pavilions on 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 11; Sugarlands Riding Stable on March 4; and Cades Cove on March 5. In addition to horseback rides, Cades Cove Riding Stable will offer their customary carriage rides and hay rides which are wheelchair accessible. The Smokemont Riding Stable in North Carolina will open March 12 providing guided horseback rides along with horse-drawn wagon rides along the route of the historic Oconaluftee Turnpike.

LeConte Lodge, accessible only by trail, will open on March 21. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 865/429-5704, fax 865/774-0045 or email: One night at the lodge costs $132 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 lunch and snacks/beverages at the lodge. Please note that Alum Cave Trail will be closed Monday through Thursday beginning on May 2 through November 17 for trail restoration. Hikers will need to choose one of the other five trails to reach LeConte Lodge on those days.

Campground Concessions – The newly renovated Cades Cove Campground Store will open March 12. The store provides groceries, camping supplies, firewood, ice, vending, limited food service, souvenirs, and bike rentals. The Cades Cove Store has multi-speed comfort bikes, single speed cruisers, and electric assist bikes for rent. The Elkmont Campground concession opens on March 11. The concession provides firewood, ice, limited camper convenience items, and vending of soft drinks, newspapers, and snacks.


Controlled Burns in Cades Cove

Great Smoky Mountains Controlled burns planned for Cades Cove

Great Smoky Mountains Controlled burns planned for Cades Cove

Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian Piedmont Zone fire staff plan to conduct a series of controlled burns in Cades Cove on Monday, March 7 through Friday, March 11. Weather depending, these prescribed fire treatments will take place in four field units totaling 502 acres between Sparks Lane and the Cable Mill Visitor Center area.

“These controlled burns are critical for providing suitable habitat for plants and animals and reducing encroachment of undesired plants,” said Greg Salansky, National Park Zone Fire Management Officer. The goal of the controlled burn treatments in Cades Cove is to use fire to maintain open meadows, improve critical habitat for wildlife, reduce shrub and tree intrusion and exotic plant species, and to preserve the historic landscape of Cades Cove.

The Cades Cove loop road and historic structures will remain open to visitor use during controlled burn operations; however brief delays and temporary closures of adjacent roads and trails may occur to ensure public safety during fire operations. Visitors should expect to see fire activity and smoke during fire operations. Fire managers ask that motorists reduce speed in work zones.

If smoke is present, keep windows up and headlights on. Please do not stop on roadways.  Staff members will be present at overlooks to answer questions during the controlled burns.

While this is significant,  you should keep your plans if you intend on photographing in Cades Cove on these dates.  Many times the smoke from these fires can actually enhance your images.  And these controlled burns are weather dependent so there’s a chance that they could be cancelled all together.

For more information on fire activity, temporary closures, and safe viewing areas, please visit the park’s website at or follow fire updates on social media on Facebook at or Twitter at


Alum Cave Trail Restoration To Begin May 4th

Alum Cave Bluffs by Bob CarrGreat Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that a 2 year trail restoration project will begin May 4, 2015 on Alum Cave Trail,  one of the most popular trails for photographers in the National Park.  The trail and associated parking areas will be closed May 4th through November 19, excluding federal holidays, on Monday mornings at 7:00 am through Thursday evenings at 5:30pm weekly.  Due to the construction process on the narrow trail, a full closure is necessary for the safety of both the crew and visitors.  The trail will be fully open each week on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The Trails Forever crew will focus restoration efforts on several targeted locations along the 5-mile trail to improve visitor safety and stabilize eroding trail sections. Alum Cave Trail sees heavy use, it leads hikers to iconic areas including Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, Alum Cave Bluffs, Mt. Le Conte, and LeConte Lodge. Park rangers respond to numerous accidents along the trail each year, especially along the upper, narrow corridors. Continue reading


Park Officials Hopeful US 441 Will Reopen By June

Smoky Mountain road closure

Work beginning to rebuild Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg, TN. and Cherokee, NC. after landslide

Work is progressing to repair the landslide which has closed a section of Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Two key steps are underway to initiate the reconstruction of the road.

A contract has been awarded for the first phase of work to APAC –Atlantic, Harrison Division to develop an access road to the slide area, remove debris, and stabilize the slope above the work area. This phase is estimated to cost around $200,000 and will prepare the site for the second phase of work which will involve a complete reconstruction of the roadway. This first phase began on January 28, and is expected to be completed in a few weeks. Continue reading


Newfound Gap Road – US 441 Closed Due to Landslide

Smoky Mountain landslide closes road

Great Smoky Mountains HWY 441 closed due to landslide

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) due to a landslide which undercut the road near mile marker 22 between Collins Creeks and Webb Overlook in North Carolina. The slide is estimated to be a 200 foot section of road extending 1000 foot down slope, but the full extent of the damage is not yet known. The closure is expected to be in effect for an extended period of time.

The park is evaluating the remainder of the roadway, but anticipates Newfound Gap Road will be opened to visitors from the Gatlinburg Entrance in Tennessee to Newfound Gap Parking lot as soon as it is possible. The road will be open to Smokemont on the North Carolina side. Continue reading


Sugarlands Visitor Center to be Renovated

Sugarlands Visitor Center will remain open to the public as it receives much needed renovations January 7 – March 31, 2013. The renovations will improve the layout of the main lobby and visitor contact area to better serve the 850,000 thousand visitors that come through the visitor center annually.

The new visitor contact area will create a sense of arrival and enhance visitor orientation as visitors are provided park information and directed to interactive exhibits that introduce them to park resources. Along with lighting system improvements, the new visitor information desk and exhibits will be laid out to have more open space allowing for better circulation and overall accessibility. New interactive exhibits in the lobby will focus attention on natural resource challenges like air quality and forest health. In addition, access to the popular natural history exhibits in the existing museum will be improved. Sustainable products will be used in the renovations. Continue reading


Smokies Announces Extensive Vista Clearing Project Starting April 1st

Clearing will create the opportunity for better landscape photos at Smoky Mountain overlook areas.

Whenever the National Park Service has surveyed visitors
to Great Smoky Mountains National Park about their planned activities,
the number one response has always been “viewing scenery –
scenic views.” Over the years the number and quality of those scenic
viewpoints along Park roads has gradually declined. When Park roads were
constructed, the forests had been extensively logged and often burned in
pre-Park days, leaving unobstructed views in every direction, but 75 years
of forest recovery has resulted in many of the scenic overlooks becoming
obscured by maturing trees.
Over the next few months a Park contractor will be rolling back this
“natural clock” by reopening 34 of the most popular roadside vistas along
the Park’s main roads. Park officials say that this will be the first
major vista-clearing initiative in decades. Continue reading


Discover Life in America’s Annual Conference, March 22-24 in Gatlinburg

World Famous Harvard Naturalist to Help Celebrate Effort to Catalog Every Living Species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 The search for life in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be celebrated at a unique gathering in Gatlinburg, March 22-24, hosted by Discover Life in America (DLIA). The All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory Conference brings experts and volunteers from around the world to the Glenstone Lodge for its 15th annual celebration of citizen science titled “The Roots of Biodiversity with Dr. E.O. Wilson.”

The main focus of the three-day conference is to highlight the research, conservation and educational efforts being made to understand, manage and restore the estimated 60,000 – 80,000 species in the Smoky Mountains, considered to be one of the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems. At the heart of this effort is the DLIA-organized All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI), a unique ecological undertaking to find and document every species of life in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, from ferns and fungi to birds and beetles. Continue reading