Dogs and Horses in the Smoky Mountains

1:18 p.m. on September 16, 2009 (EDT)
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Anyone know what the penalty is if a ranger catches you with your dog in the backcountry of Great Smoky Mountain National Park? I find the reasoning behind why dogs are not allowed in the park to be unfounded. The reasonings I have heard are that:

A)They may chase animals

B)They may get loose and become a feral pest

C)They spread a predator scent that can freak out the deer and bears

D)They can spread disease to coyotes


The first of these two can be easily avoided if you use a leash. C, seems like total crap to me because I don't see how the dogs scent can be any different from coyotes or the wolves that used to naturally dwell in the area (albeit a while back now for the wolves). D is the only reasonable concern, but realistically the smokies are not that isolated from the surrounding areas where dogs are allowed and the animals of the park are not confined to the park, therefore disease migration is inevitable either way. Not to mention if the dog is properly vaccinated there should be minimal viral transmissions and that leaves a few strains of bacterial infections that are possible to spread, none of which are life threatening to a healthy animal as to my knowledge.

If the park were truly concerned about animals impacting the environment then they wouldn't allow horses. Horses crap all over the trails, they eat native vegetation, they spread disease, and they destroy the trails and cause severe erosion(hooved mammals aren't even native to this continent). I understand why people like to bring them, and their historical significance. But dammit, if they can bring their horses, I am going to bring my dog.

3:48 p.m. on September 16, 2009 (EDT)
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Agreed. This rule is total crap.

5:52 p.m. on September 16, 2009 (EDT)
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I backpack with a dog several times a year, I've done this for quite a while. Most people underestimate how troublesome it can be, they also underestimate how differently their dog can act on the trail as opposed to the back yard. I only take my dog in remote areas of the Southern Appalachians.

It sounds like you have already been to the site, but here is the pets page:[br][/br]

The fine for feeding a bear is 1500.00, even by negligence. I do not know what the fine is for taking a dog on the trails, they are allowed in the front-country areas on a six ft. leash.

I would not take my dog in GSMNP even if it were allowed, just because there are too many people, and too many rules. My dog is very well trained and well conditioned, carries his own stuff and some of mine too. He stays on leash most of the time, but even off leash he stays right with me and minds me.

I have two friends who are / were Park Rangers, I can only tell you what I have been told, and I'm paraphrasing some:

-The high number of irresponsible dog owners who do not control their dogs & let their dogs cause problems, is a burden on the Rangers who are already over worked and understaffed. That is the single biggest reason why they are banned in certain areas & Parks.-

Part of the problem does seem to be that loose dogs do cause trouble with bears, either by chasing them or by marking trees (trespassing if you will).

There are feral dog packs in GA, TN, & NC. I don't think it is a legitimate reason to keep dogs out of the back-country though. Recently an elderly couple was attacked and killed by a pack.

Sadly, too many people just load Fido up in the back of the truck and take off on a vacation without understanding that dogs act differently in these places than they do around their home. Dogs need to be conditioned and trained for back-country travel in order for things to go smoothly. For those of us who are responsible dog owners, well, we have to pay the price I guess.

I would think that horse owners 'tend' to be more responsible, but there is no question that horses cause way more damage to the landscape than a dog could. Although I think they should have trails to ride on.

Two trails in GSMNP do allow leashed pets, but they are 2 miles and 1.5 miles in length.

The areas outside the Park such as Cherokee NF and Nantahala NF are a better pick for taking a dog IMO.

7:43 p.m. on September 16, 2009 (EDT)
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Oh boy, here we go. The Rangers probably have a whole slew of problems to deal with, including dogs, and so how can I attack them? I think it's a stupid rule, but then I think it's a stupid rule to require backpackers to camp at designated spots in a 500,000 acre forest. Why not close the roads and open up the Park to unlimited on-foot camping? Or try this: Dump the horses for a few years and allow dogs. See what happens. When you have an in-depth discussion about the legalities of backpacking with a dog and where to camp, it's time to find another place. Sadly, I think eventually the Nanny State will be controlling every forest and all backpacking trails like in the Smokies, so get ready.

9:40 p.m. on September 16, 2009 (EDT)
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Unfortunately it does seem that way, regulations getting tighter and tighter, and I whole heartedly agree with you on the backpacking sites. That is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion, most importantly for me, it restricts the planning of multi day trips when you have to plan around where you can and cannot camp. Many times I will take a look at trails and distances and I will think where I would need to camp, but there are no designated campsites anywhere near!

10:40 p.m. on September 16, 2009 (EDT)
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Exactly the reason I prefer wilderness areas over parks. A lot less rules, no permits, a lot less traffic, etc.

Best of all, camp anywhere you like, within reason. Just follow LNT guidelines, and you do have to be more self reliant in more remote areas, but I'll take that over the crowds, permits, and rules!

9:52 a.m. on September 17, 2009 (EDT)
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Ya, but then you have to worry about getting shot by some 14 yr with a hunting rifle.

Trout, can you recommend some wilderness areas in TN that are comparable in spectacle with the Smokies for which to bring a dog? Only one, I have found is the Roan Highlands, but you only get away from the crowds when you go there in January/February. Big South Fork is nice too, but the mountains are mainly just plateau bluffs.

8:08 p.m. on September 17, 2009 (EDT)
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Big South Fork is on the Cumberland Plateau / Escarpment area, thus the bluffs. Also in that area try 'Savage Gulf State Natural Area'

If you have not been to Savage Gulf yet, go!

The area allows pets on leash, has canyon trails, rim trails, plateau trails, couple good waterfalls, and lots of cool stuff to see. There is also 'Hobs Cabin' up on the plateau where you can stay, but I think it is first come first serve, can't remember for sure. Lots of trails and loops to choose from. Great place.

You would also like the 640,000 acre 'Cherokee National Forest' which does allow pets on leash.

The Cherokee is split into a North and South section which are just above and below GSMNP. In Fact the Cherokee is in the same mountain range as the GSMNP. The Smokey mountains are actually a sub range of the Unaka mountain range. If you have been to the Roan Highlands you were in the Unaka Mountains.

Further East but still in the Unakas is Pisgah NF, with Linville Gorge, Mackay Mountain Backcountry (very remote ridge trails), and Max Patch Mountain (AT crosses it) as got to see places.


Also try Nantahala in the Unicoi Mountains of NC. "Land of the noon day sun" is the names meaning.

The Joyce Kilmer / Slickrock wilderness area has great ridge and valley trails.

Also has the 70 mile Bartram Trail.


These areas are better in winter/ off season, if you ask me. Especially the bigger watersheds that support rafting, great places when it gets cold! No rafters.

However you are right, some of these places do allow hunting, but it is quite possible to plan trips before or after hunting periods if that is a problem.

5:10 p.m. on September 20, 2009 (EDT)
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Primary cause for the rule: irresponsible dog owners. And I have seen them - not enough supervision or control, and not cleaning after them.

Fido may be a gentle friend at home, but dogs often act differently in the wilderness, out of their home range. Many owners, as mentioned above, just load the dog and go and don't even consider how the dog will act on the trail when it meets other people, so they are unprepared (and sometimes surprised) when the dog acts up or raises it hackles to strangers. So the rangers would rather ban dogs altogether than deal with possible problems they bring.

And yes, horses are far more destructive to trails, but they do not often decide to guard and protect their owners when they see a stranger on the trail.

I speak as a backpacker and a dog owner (large German Shepherd). But I have seen how my dog can act differently, and unexpectedly, when confronting strangers in unusual circumstances. She is a good dog, actually fairly docile, but she is too big for me to take the chance of something happening out on the trail. Also the fact that the scent of deer triggers something innate in her, and she might decide she wants to get it.

8:55 p.m. on September 20, 2009 (EDT)
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I love the widerness and i have 4 dogs.Sad part is that more often than not most dogs and dog owners i meet on trails are not in "control".Many dog owners feel that their love for the species should be how everyone feels.It is not.Also most dog owners,mostly males,think they have their dog,or dogs,under control at all times even when off leash,they do not.As has been stated if all owners were super responsable and respected the rights of all those they come across,even the non dog lovers,then maybe we could change things.There are times and places for all things human and not but this is something everyone will never agree 100% with.ymmv

2:52 p.m. on September 25, 2009 (EDT)
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I met a lost dog on the AT in the G.Smoky NP. He was so glad to see me he came charging at me. I do not think horese are allowed on the AT in the Park except at a few designated trail crossings.

7:48 p.m. on September 25, 2009 (EDT)
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Here is a link to the regulations and permits page of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy with some info for Horses and Dogs on the AT as it passes through GSMNP, and other areas as well:

2:21 a.m. on September 26, 2009 (EDT)
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I am not a follower of the philosophy that since there are irresponsible people, all must be punished. I see way more irresponsible hikers ruining trails, campsites and wilderness than a whole pack of wild dogs ever could. I have brought my dog to the smokies dozens of times and will continue to do so. That rule is garbage. Historical significance justifies horses . . . what is more historical than a man and his dog?

6:15 p.m. on September 26, 2009 (EDT)
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Trenary JL asks:

That rule is garbage. Historical significance justifies horses . . . what is more historical than a man and his dog?

POLITICS! If something does not make sense, usualy money or politics is involved IMO.

2:35 a.m. on October 5, 2009 (EDT)
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We love the GSMNP, it does have a ton of visitors but even when we hike in Cades Cove, LOTS OF VISITORS (mostly driving cars around Cades Cove - not on the trails), we hardly see anyone on the trails...maybe one to two at most? Odd, I don't know? We have mentioned to each other how odd it is that we don't see more people, almost everytime we go..... maybe it is the trails or loops we do or time of day? Either way, I HATE THE HORSE POOP!! That is a downfall..... and I wouldn't want to step in dog poop either.... I'm not politically motivated or motivated by anything other than my personal feelings.... I love dogs and horses but don't think they belong on all of the trails; HOWEVER, before you get mad at me, I think they need to make or reserve some trails for dogs and horses..... that way people have more choices and options and the trails that don't allow the horses and dogs can be for people like me..... I can see the point to the rule and agree with it, but I will say that horses need to be treated like the dogs! It isn't fair.

For the people who don't like the SM because of too many people....??? I don't know where all the people are but we don't seem to have that problem yet and we go every weekend!!!

12:34 p.m. on October 5, 2009 (EDT)
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I would have no problem with a rule that says you have to pack out your dogs poop or you at least have to make sure it is off the trail (my dog never craps on the trail anyways, she has always run off to the side with apparent instinctual trail etiquette, strangely enough I have run across people peeing in the middle of the trail before in the smokies).

4:15 p.m. on October 5, 2009 (EDT)
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HaHa, Yes stepping in poop is not pleasant for anyone!

I think a lot of the visitors to the GSMNP stay in the front country areas.

All creatures, human or not, should never poop on the trails! Oh wouldn't it be nice to live in a perfect world?

My dog is not allowed to poop on trails, or near streams, I make him follow the same rules I folow. I have however seen human poop on a couple trails before, you can tell by the white flag covering it. It's almost like they said: "I surrender, I can't walk another step without going!" Then they leave the white flag to tell their story.

Makes me mad to see any at all near trails, or streams. On horse trails, you just avoid the trails completely or play hopscotch, the backpack version.

4:46 p.m. on October 5, 2009 (EDT)
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I am not a follower of the philosophy that since there are irresponsible people, all must be punished. I see way more irresponsible hikers ruining trails, campsites and wilderness than a whole pack of wild dogs ever could. I have brought my dog to the smokies dozens of times and will continue to do so. That rule is garbage. Historical significance justifies horses . . . what is more historical than a man and his dog?

I too am a follower of that philosophy but at the same time i too have been nipped at,my dog bothered by aggresive dogs,stepped in dog poop on trails etc.Bottom line is with or without rules how do we enforce them in a society that likes to think we all can do what we want when and were we want.With such a large number of people and dogs there will always be some problems.Think of the thousands of dogs put down yearly.I volunteer for the Oregon SPCA and have a great love and respect for all living things but also as a responsible pet owner i do not feel i can just ignore rules and regulations just because i disagree with them.I can lobby and work to change them if i really feel they are wrong.I hve 3 dogs,just lost one to old age so i had 4 at one time,so i feel your passion.

7:25 p.m. on October 5, 2009 (EDT)
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Lobbying takes too much time and effort. Life is too short to take the time wasting it lobbying against such a menial rule. I would rather just break it and pay the fine if caught and teach by example that a properly maintained dog is a pleasure or in the least a non-issue on the trail. I won't deny that this a lazy approach, but if I spent my time lobbying against everything I disagreed with, my life would suck . . . at least I put something up about it in this community of hikers :)


As far as societal rules, I just try to make sure I am not infringing on anyone elses convenience, rights, or safety (libertarian principles) and if beyond that the rule doesn't make sense to me I won't feel too bad about breaking it.

10:22 p.m. on November 7, 2009 (EST)
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I have read your posts....have you been caught yet? My hikes would be day hikes...relatively easy because I would be traveling with a child. I really want to bring my dog. I would be travelling in November - Thanksgiving after the leave rush, presumably. Think there would be a complain. In other words, the trails would be the more popular well close waterfalls, etc.

What do you you think? I hate to leave him behind.


10:37 p.m. on November 7, 2009 (EST)
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right on. but do you know what the penalty is.?

9:57 p.m. on November 8, 2009 (EST)
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I just do not go to the national parks. I live 30 miles from RMNP and have not been there in 20+ years. I would gladly buy a season pass and spend another $100 or more for a pass for my dog(make the dog pass valid Sept 1 thru May 31, the tourists can have June-August). They are missing out on revenue that they surely need.

11:06 a.m. on November 20, 2009 (EST)
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I have no clue what the penalty is . . . I was kind of hoping to get that answered in this thread but no one else seems to know either . . .

When I take mine I go way into the backcountry and it is usually during the dead of winter. She has even stayed in a few shelters before . . . but this is in Dec-Feb and my party is usually the only one's there and the few other people that have encountered us seem glad to see a friendly dog and I keep her leashed when around others just to be considerate. I wouldn't advise risking it on the popular trails though . . . most rangers are pretty cool and probably wouldn't care . . . but there is always that one who feels the need to exercise their ego on you and ruin your day.

If you do it anyways and get busted please share the consequences :)

3:26 p.m. on November 20, 2009 (EST)
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Right after irresponsible idiots, i can testify that dogs are the biggest nuisance in the Banff NP campground. You can't keep the people out, but a lot of trails are off-limits to dogs primarly for the user's safety, the dogs and finally the wildlife. It's an everyday chore just to try to keep the dog owners in check and answer to complaints about yapping dogs, missing dogs or dogs eaten by coyotes.

Keep in mind: a National Park is where a lot of inexperienced and beginners go to have their first glimpse of "real" wilderness. Banff is more of an extreme example because it's a very busy place, but the facts remain. I've seen folks take their dogs mountaineering, tripp on the leash and take the entire rope team down the hill, requiring SAR. Stupid? Very.

If you're an experienced packer with a well-trained dog i'm sure you've noticed a lot of ridicule behavior too, stuff you would never do.

9:42 p.m. on November 20, 2009 (EST)
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Trenary JL,

One of the reasons Dogs get banned from areas is because the owners can't control the dog for a variety of reasons, dogs simply act different in the backcountry than they do at home most times.

Another reason is because dog owners don't abide by the existing rules, this causes complaints and ties up Park or Forest Service personel who have more important things to do than babysit dog owners. Try to see things from their perspective.

I would encourage you to find a place that allows dogs, and enjoy the experience, responsibly.

10:42 a.m. on November 22, 2009 (EST)
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Fall Creek Falls offers 2 back country trails that you can take your leashed dog out on. Lower loop is rough enough that you really need to keep your dog leashed on the descent into the gorge.

I took my dog out on this trail back in August keeping her leashed the entire time and had no problems with her. We did however encounter some hikers with their dogs running unleashed and without a collar. It made for a fairly tense situation when I saw two dogs tearing down the trail at me looking more like feral dogs than domestics just to see them get within 15 feet and stop with tails wagging and owners yelling. I had my bear spray and knife drawn just prior to them stopping.

I can see why the NPS and NFS have the guidelines they have regarding dogs. Yeah it sucks for responsible owners and well trained dogs but it only takes one irresponsible owner and a poorly trained dog to ruin it for everyone.

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