The Smoky Mountain National Park Is Closed: A Few Alternatives


NOTE: The Great Smoky Mountain National Park will be open Wednesday, October 16 through Sunday, October 20 2013.  

Did you have a trip planned to Cades Cove, Clingman’s Dome, Abrams Falls, Smokemont, The Roaring Fork Motor Trail, and Treemont?  As you know by now, the Smoky Mountain National Park is closed due to the government shut-down.  But don’t panic.  Your vacation is not ruined.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, the most visited unit in the National Park Service, is open and offers some incredible experiences to rival those you had planned.  If you are staying in Galtinburg or Pigeon Forge, just come right across Newfound Gap on 441 and you’ll run into the Parkway in Cherokee, NC.

6 Parkway Must-Sees Closest To The Smokies


Oconaluftee Elk

Photo by Joey Anderson


1. The Elk At Oconaluftee

Did you know that elk have been reintroduced to the region?  The elk are abundant around the Oconaluftee Visitor Center (both Smoky Mountain and Parkway Visitor Centers are closed, but you can see them).  The elk are usually out early in the morning which makes this a great first stop on your Parkway ride.

Waterrock Knob Sunset

Waterrock Knob Sunset. Photo by Luis Diaz


2. Waterrock Knob

Waterrock Knob features a panoramic view of not only the Smokies to the southwest, but the many ridgelines of the Nantahala National Forest to the east. (NOTE: A reader pointed out that the entrance to the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center is blocked off, but the overlooks and areas for pull-off from the road side in this vicinity have extraordinary views.)

Richland Balsam Knob

Photo by Eric McCarty


3. Richland Balsam

Was Clingman’s Dome on your list?  Richland Balsam is the highest point on the Parkway and only 600 feet lower than the pinnacle at Clingman’s Dome.  (If you’d like to drive a couple hours more, the Parkway skirts the side of Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi.  Mount Mitchell has an observation deck similar to Clingman’s Dome.)


4. Graveyard Fields

Graveyard Fields is an extraordinary high mountain valley landscape unlike any other in the region.  A visitor confirmed on October 3rd that the trails are open so hiking to both waterfalls is available. The US Forest Service (not the National Park Service) manages the trail system, falls, and camp sites at Graveyard Fields. The facilities at Graveyard Fields are scheduled to undergo renovations starting in November.


5. Looking Glass Falls

We know you’re bummed that you won’t get to go to Abrams, Laurel, or Grotto Falls, but this one may be even better.  It was recently voted second favorite waterfall on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  (It’s actually a couple of miles off the Parkway on Hwy 276, but close enough to count.)

Juvenile Black Bear Mt Pisgah Blue Ridge Parkway

Photo by Kara Murphy


6. Mount Pisgah

While the Visitor Center may be closed, you can still enjoy the views from this unique vantage point.  You’ll see why George Vanderbilt constructed his hunting lodge on this mountain and hung out there quite a bit, as a break from his Biltmore castle in Asheville. You might even see a black bear on Mount Pisgah!


  1. Magan Etheridge says:

    We are coming up to the Blue Ridge Parkway next weekend as we do every year for our annual family gathering. I was wandering if you knew whether Linville Falls, Linville Caverns, and Brown Mountain Light (aka Wiseman’s View) will be open?

  2. Thanks for all these GREAT suggestions! You also saved our vacation planned for the end of next week!!

  3. brenda bradley says:

    40 years ago my grandfather Pete Stout worked for the parkway. He took us for an over night trip to a place he called the Soco House. Do You know anything about this old house. I cant find anything about it on line. Thanks

    • Hi Brenda. I’ll put out a tweet to see if we can dig up some information for you. There is a Soco falls at the southern end of the Parkway near GSMNP. Not sure about the house.

  4. On Oct. 1, this year we began our trip at Balsam and went across the Blue Ridge Parkway, getting off at the Asheville, NC exit…It was beautiful and the color was just beginning…stopped at many of the overlooks and took pictures (lovely)…and took time to visit Pisgah Inn…which was open (and still is today, Oct. 3)…Please take time to enjoy God’s awesome beauty along the Blue Ridge Parkway…It is AWESOME!!!

  5. Donna Stroupe says:

    We were hoping to hike Linville Falls this weekend, Oct. 5, is it open with all the government shut down going on?

    • Hi Donna,

      Much of the Linville Falls area is under US Forest Service jurisdiction and it is unclear whether trail access is limited at this time. There is a trailhead from HWY 183 which starts on a logging road and cuts off to go to the falls, so you can get to the falls without taking the Parkway spur. See the map at the bottom of this page. I have used that access in the winter when the Parkway was closed. It’s an enjoyable and easy hike.

      You can check back on our user-contributed government shutdown updates post for additional information before you leave.

      I hope you have a great time!

      • Alternate trailhead with a large parking area on FS 1238 (road to Wiseman’s View) barely a quarter mile off 183. That short trail (about another 1/4 mile) hits the Linville Falls Tr near the Upper Falls View.

  6. Donna Currin says:

    Thank you so much for the information! We were planning a trip to see Cades Cove and were so disappointed about the government shutdown. But your alternative offerings have saved the day!

  7. Cheryl Carlson says:

    We are coming down from Michigan for vacation in mid October and were planning to hike in GSMNP to Abrams Falls, Laurel Falls, Clingman’s Dome and the trail near it. Glad the Blue Ridge Parkway is still open. If GSMNP remains closed we will travel the Newfound Gap Road to the Blue Ridge Parkway and do most of those hikes you mentioned. Thanks for sharing this information.

    • Thanks for the note Cheryl! Glad this post was of help. We all hope you can enjoy GSMNP in a couple of weeks, but if not, the Parkway will be gorgeous at that time.

    • Cheryl, do the Black Balsam Bald-Tennent Mtn loop, which begins on a spur road about a mile west of Graveyard Fields. Great 360 degree open views and views SE into Graveyard Fields area.

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