Smoky Mountain sunrise in fall
October 12, 2023

There are so many great things to do when you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! You can go hiking, take scenic drives, explore historical structures, and much more. While you’re doing all these fun things, there are also some things you should avoid doing. Here’s a list of ten things NOT to do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1. Don’t Get Too Close to Wildlife

black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Seeing wildlife like black bears, deer, and elk is one of the main reasons people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s really cool to get to see these animals in their natural habitat. However, you want to make sure you don’t get too close to them. These are wild animals, which means it can be dangerous for both you and them if you get too close. Please admire the wildlife from a distance of at least 50 yards.

2. Don’t Feed Wildlife

This goes along with the previous point. When you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’re entering the natural habitat of the animals that live there. These wild animals have everything they need to survive provided to them by nature, including food. If you feed the wildlife, these creatures become less afraid of humans as well as become conditioned to seek them out for food. This can lead to them hurting people and eventually needing to be put down so they can’t harm anyone.

3. Don’t Litter

Bear-proof trash can

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a lot of great places to have a picnic out in nature. If you bring a picnic lunch, snack, or other items into the national park, please make sure you don’t leave any litter. Trash can be very harmful to wildlife and the natural environment. It’s best to hold onto your trash until you find a trash can either in the national park or back at the place you’re staying.

4. Don’t Park on the Side of the Road

When you’re driving through the national park, you’ll see a lot of cool sights, from majestic mountain views to wildlife. You may want to stop to take a picture of something as you’re driving along. However, the roads are not wide enough for people to park on the side. If you do, you’ll cause traffic to slow down and potentially cause an accident. Instead, wait until you reach one of the many pull off areas along the road to stop to take pictures or stretch your legs.

5. Don’t Start a Hike Late in the Day

hikers on a trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the best activities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is hiking. With more than 850 miles of hiking trails, you’ll have plenty of options to explore. Just make sure you start your hike early enough to allow you to finish it with plenty of daylight left. You don’t want to find yourself trying to finish a hike after it gets dark, as this can lead to tripping over rocks and roots or losing your way. Research which trail you want to hike and then give yourself plenty of extra time to finish it before dark.

6. Don’t Forget to Bring Water and Snacks

You won’t find any convenience stores in the national park to purchase water, snacks, or other items you may have forgotten. It’s important to stay hydrated and keep your energy up as you’re exploring the mountains, especially if you’re going on a hike. Make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks to keep you hydrated and energized for the amount of time you’ll be in the national park.

7. Don’t Mark Rocks, Trees, or Structures

tree with carvings

You’ll come across rocks, trees, fences, and historic buildings as you explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some people feel the need to write on or carve their names or dates on these things to mark their visit. Doing this ruins the experience for future visitors and takes away from the timelessness of historic structures. It’s also vandalism, which means it can result in a fine or even jail time. Please also refrain from moving or stacking rocks or logs, as this can disrupt the natural flow of water and disturb the habitat of wildlife living in the area. It’s best to leave everything as you found it.

8. Don’t Bring Your Dog on Hiking Trails

Dogs are only allowed on two trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National park: the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. Dogs are not allowed on any other hiking trails in the national park. This is because the presence of dogs disturbs the wildlife. Their scent can indicate to small animals that a predator is nearby, causing them to hide when they should be venturing out to feed. Dogs may also chase wildlife away and make them feel threatened. Please only bring your furry friends on the two trails that allow pets.

9. Don’t Pick Wildflowers

wildflowers on top of mountain

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to a wide variety of plant life. There are a lot of interesting and beautiful plants and flowers growing in the mountains. While it may seem harmless to pick some wildflowers, it can actually cause a lot of damage. Not only is it illegal to remove plant life from the national park, it also can disrupt the natural balance. Other plants and animals may depend on those plants to survive.

10. Don’t Go Hiking Alone

Hiking is a fun activity that can make you feel connected with nature and more at peace with yourself. Even though hiking alone may sound like a pleasant idea, it’s important to always have a buddy with you. You never know what might happen, so it’s a good idea to have another person with you who can find help if needed. If you can’t find anyone to go hiking with you, at least make sure you let someone know where and when you will be on a trail. That way, someone will know when to expect you to check back in and where to find you if for some reason they don’t hear from you. Though unlikely, accidents are possible.

Places to Explore in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Now you know a few things to avoid doing when you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you’re looking for some great places to explore in the park, check out this list of popular places in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to discover beautiful views and interesting historic structures!