Riding The Great Smoky Mountains
Some of the country’s most beautiful and breath taking mountain trails can be found in the Great Smoky Mountains around Gatlinburg, Tennessee. There are many trails with awe inspiring names like: Brushy Mountain Trail, Snake Den Ridge Trail, Camel Gap, Little Cataloochee Trail, Cabin Flats and Long Hungry Ridge. These are just a few of the many trails there are to choose from. The Great Smoky Mountains are some of the oldest and most beautiful mountains in the world, formed more than 200-300 million years ago.
Due to their Northeast to Southeast orientation they were able to escape the last ice age 10,000 years ago. Because the glaciers did not reach this far south, these ancient mountains have fostered a diversity of wildlife. One of the best ways to experience this gift of nature is from the back of a well trained horse. Whether you choose to bring your own horses or join one of the local outfitters on a planned trip, horseback riding offers a relaxing, safe, and relatively easy way to explore the trails and scenery offered within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the surrounding area.
Although there are many outfitters and stables in the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area, Cades Cove is the only officially authorized location. Offering guided tours that are not only on horseback, but also include carriage and hayrides. They emphasize family fun and promote a philosophy where everyone, regardless of riding experience can feel comfortable, confident, and enjoy the experience. Cades Cove features 6,800-acres of stunningly beautiful valley land surrounded by towering mountains; a prime wildlife viewing area.
You may find such creatures as the Wild turkey, raccoons, groundhogs and maybe even the elusive Black Bear. Just make sure if you’re coming to see that particular animal that you come during the spring, fall, or summer; when they’re not hibernating! The best viewing times are early mornings, while the Park is still quiet. Quiet or not, you are bound to see an abundance of white-tailed deer, squirrel, and a large variety of our feathered friends. Keep your heads up, your eyes open, your ears tuned, and your cameras turned on. Some of the most popular wildlife photography is done while riding on a horse.
A Popular Mode of Transportation
Horseback riding has been a popular mode of transportation for many centuries and just like in the past it still provides an ideal means of travel to those who do not prefer hiking or want to cover larger areas of terrain in shorter amounts of time. Sit back and let the gentle swaying of the sure-footed horse do the work while you enjoy the breath taking magnificence of this glorious landscape. The Cherokee Tribes once hunted this area for its abundance of wildlife. However they never stayed long, so as not to over hunt the area.
It is believed that the name, Cades Cove was taken from one of the village Chiefs called; Tsiya’hi or “Chief Kade”. In the 1930s the village and town were absorbed into the National Park and are now one of the most popular points of historical interest and destination. Six well preserved cabins, a working grist mill with a cantilever barn, three churches, and several small structures such as a corn crib and smokehouse make up what is left of this once prosperous town.
Rules and Regulations
Whether you choose to bring your own horse or join a group; go out for the afternoon or pack in for an 8-day stay; there are rules and regulations that must be followed so that everyone, including our 4-legged friends can be safe, happy, and enjoy the Park to the fullest of its resources. These are called “Backcountry Rules and Regulations”. Horses are prohibited on more than half the hiking trails in the Great Smoky National Park, but all maps are clearly marked with dots, which allow for horses. Dashes are for hikers only. Horses must be kept cross-tied to a hitching post at night.
They cannot be allowed to chew on trees or surrounding vegetation and must be tied at least 100 feet away from drinkable water sources and shelters. It is also recommended that horses not be able to reach anything they can toss or kick into fires. That may sound strange, but horses are very playful. All equipment and feed must be packed in and out as well and all hay must be certified weed free. Say no to noxious weeds. Llamas and donkeys are also allowed to be ridden in the back country.
No other animals including dogs (service dogs excluded) are permitted. Caution is suggested in the back country. The Park is maintained as a natural environment. The weather will determine trail conditions. Be ready for swollen streams that can prove dangerous, bridge outages, washouts, fallen trees, and trail erosion. Remember there is no cell service. Riding is discouraged from early December until May because of the seasonal nature of trail maintenance.
Bringing Your Own Horse
Those of you who prefer to bring your own horses must understand that there are extra rules and precautions that must be followed. You must obtain a back country permit; they are free and available from any visitor center, campground, or ranger station. This is to keep you safe. It allows the rangers to know where you plan to be, in case you don’t show up on time. Always let others know where you plan to ride, don’t change plans at the last minute, carry extra food and water, dress appropriately and always be aware of your surroundings. Maps and Regulations are available for free and should be well discussed in advance. Make detailed travel plans. Be safe! This isn’t a city park; there are things can hurt you.
Five drive-in camp horse camps are available for those bringing their own animals. Camps are located at Cades Cove (Anthony Creek), Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom, and Towstring. Horse camps are open April-October. Please remember to be considerate of others. Keep our Park clean. Pack out what you pack in. Keep food and all other items that will attract bears and other wildlife in appropriate airtight containers. Do not leave food and/or trash lying around camp sight. Please do not feed the wildlife as this considerably shortens their life span and teaches dependence on humans. This in turn may lead to unwanted and unsafe interactions. All questions should be directed to camp ground employees, park personnel, or the local ranger stations. You can also look up safety tips online for figuring out how to handle these different animals.
Stables and Outfitters
For those of you who do not own their horses or are just looking for a break from the responsibilities; there are many stables and outfitters around Gatlinburg, TN and the surrounding areas. These professionals are all highly trained to provide you and your family with the perfect outdoor experience. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer horses and trails for all ages and abilities. Pick your perfect guided-tour with scenic nature spots and vistas, with rest stops and lodging ranging from camp fires to cabins. You can pick the length of your ride as well. Maybe you only want a quick two hour joy ride, while others might prefer to stay out for several days. It’s all available.
What will a guided tour be like? It starts with what trip you choose and how experienced you are. The trails are well maintained for safety of riders and horses and helmets are provided. An experienced guide will help you mount the horse using the help of simple loading ramps and they will also go over riding instructions with each person prior to setting out. Your guide will not only provide instructions, but they will provide a wonderful and entertaining historical account of the local region and wild life. Some trips may only last a few hours, where others might include a campfire dinner, or overnight stay.
All trips are geared toward relaxation and enjoyment. The Guides know that the best time to ride is when the flowers are blooming, the glow-bugs are dancing, the bears are roaming in the summer , gold and red leaves fill the autumn trees, and a glorious mantle of white cover the towering mountains and shade the quiet valleys below. Get ready for some picture-perfect photos! What about a beautiful mountain wedding?
Making your promise of love in one of the world’s oldest, most beautiful, untouched locations has got to be very lucky for the bride and groom. You just might be able to have your childhood dream of Prince Charming on a white horse, or in a carriage. Wouldn’t that be a great story to someday tell your children about?
Without A Horse
For those of you who want to experience the great outdoors without actually getting on one of our four-legged friends, there are many other options. Why not try a luxury carriage ride through the local countryside or maybe a family hayride under the stars? Want more? How does a Wild West Bonfire sound? Complete with campfire songs, hot dogs, games of corn hole and horseshoes, followed up by a leisurely moonlit hayride back to camp.
How about booking a cheap cabin around Gatlinburg, Tennessee? Let them treat you to one of their many dinner shows, complete with horse races, gunfights, fast draws, trick riding, and singing cowboys. Let the kids visit the petting farm while you relax. In the Great Smoky Mountain National Park there is something for everyone. You don’t have to know anything about horses or the outdoors to have a wonderful time here. There are pros to make sure you have the best time of your life, so when planning your next vacation, just remember that the Great Smoky Mountains has it all.
Where Horses are Allowed
Horses are only allowed on dotted trails in the park. Not on the dashed trails. Hikers may use both. There are only certain back country campsites and shelters that may be accessed by horseback riders. These campsites are: 3, 5, 13, 19, 20, 27, 28, 35, 36, 39, 41, 44, 49, 50, 52, 55, 57,60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 70, 71,77, 81, 82, 83, 85, 86, 90, 92, 95, 98, and 113. The shelters are: Davenport Gap, Cosby Knob, Tricorner Knob, Pecks Corner, Silers Bald, Spence Field, Russell Field, Mollies Ridge, Kephart, and Laurel Gap. All these shelters and campsites can be found on maps available at the park. Make sure to get one before going out so you know the appropriate places to go!
Whether you are coming for a few hours or a few days, the Great Smoky Mountains has the perfect trails for all outdoor enthusiasts. Rent one of the many local cabins or camp in the mountains, either way you are guaranteed the vacation of a life time.
If you do decide to rent a cabin, rest assured that you can find the perfect one for you. Don't worry if you’re on a budget, there are cheap but comfortable cabins to choose from. If you’re splurging during your vacation, you can rent one of the more luxurious ones. Some of the cabins are built with more modern-day amenities such as dishwashers. Some of them keep to the old ways and offer you insight into how people lived in the past. With the Internet being what it is, finding the perfect cabin is relatively easy. Just fire up your computer, pull up a browser, and search for cabins in Tennessee. You can find ones that have hot tubs, that allow pets, that are motorcycle accessible, and even more!
If you aren’t into cabins, there are chalets for you to choose from, and of course, there are plenty of hotels.
Wherever you decide to go, and whatever you decide to do, you’re going to have a great time in the Great Smoky Mountains. So bring your partner, bring your kids, and bring a camera. Because you’ll be making memories that will last a lifetime, and you don’t want to forget the awesome experience you’re sure to have, whether you decide to go horseback riding or not.