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If you are lucky enough to visit the Smoky Mountain National Park with your own horse, you will find some of the best riding and horse camping in the eastern US. More than 500 miles of dual purpose trails for both hiking and horseback riding crisscross the entire Smoky Mountain National Park.

There are campgrounds which allow you to drive right in and camp with your horse and wonderful secluded back county campsites where your horse is also welcome to stay the night.

Nothing beats horseback riding in the Smokies.
Nothing beats horseback riding in the Smokies.
Horses and rider alike love the Smoky Mountains.
Horses and riders love the Smoky Mountains.

Horseback riding regulations in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park:

In order to protect other who visitors of the park and of course the fragile environments as well the resident plants and animals of the park, there are some special regulations for equestrian visitors.

You are only allowed to ride your horse on specifically designated horse trails and cross country or off trail riding is strictly prohibited.

In order to protect the plant life in the Smokies National Park horses are not allowed to graze in the park. You must bring in food for your horse which can only be processed feed. You can not bring hay into the park which may contain seeds of non native plants. You must make sure to keep your feed where wildlife in the park can not gain access to it and unused food packed out with you when you leave the park.

When in the park you can not tie your horse closer than 100 feet to any stream, spring or water source. In order to water your horse away from any fresh water source in the park, bring a collapsible bucket along with you.

For further information on national park horseback regulations you can contact the park service at (865)436-1200.

Horseback riding on trails in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park:

Many of the hiking trails in the Smoky mountain national park are dual purpose: for hikers on foot and exploring the trails by horses. Obviously these dual purpose hiking trails are not to the most popular hiking destinations as there would be too many hikers versus horseback riders conflicts which on some trails could have disastrous results due, to steep winding narrow trails with no guard rails and steep drop offs.

Don't be dismayed, even though the horse trails might not be the most popular, there are still exceptional experiences you can have the park riding on the trails.

Many of the trails that you can ride your horse on in the national park are very steep and rugged even very experienced riders may find them a real challenge. Add to that the fact that many of these trails are very remote and difficult to maintain which can lead to dangerous conditions for horseback riding.

If downed trees, landslides, washouts or other damage to a trail makes it too dangerous to go on, turn around and report the damage to a ranger or visitor center. It is best to not go around obstacles as this will only cause further damage to the trail and the surrounding areas.

It is a good idea if you are planning to ride you horse in the park to get the latest official trail map for only $1 at any park visitor center which can also advise you of any dangerous conditions or closures of any trails.

Respect the trails when going horseback riding in the Smokies.
Respect trails when riding horses in the Smokies.
Horses relaxing after riding in Cades Cove.
Horses relaxing after riding in Cades Cove.

Smoky Mountain National Park Drive in Campsites for Horses:

There are five drive in horse camps in the Smoky Mountain National Park, four in North Carolina and one in the Tennessee section of the National Park.

  1. Anthony Creek campgrounds in the north western Tennessee section near Cades Cove
  2. Big Creek campgrounds in north eastern section in North Carolina Near Cosby TN
  3. Cataloochee campgrounds in south eastern section in North Carolina near Maggie Valley NC
  4. Round Bottom campgrounds in eastern section in North Carolina near Cherokee NC
  5. Tow String campgrounds in the southern section in North Carolina near the Cherokee NC entrance

Drive in horse camps have designated parking spots and most sites allow 2 vehicles and 2 trailers per site with a maximum occupancy of 6 people and 4 horses per site.

The horse camps amenities vary, but they are equipped with barbecue grills, picnic tables, horse hitching racks, refuse containers, and space for at least one tent.

All the horse camps have at least portable toilets and most do not have drinking water so bring your own. The Big Creek campgrounds have regular flush toilets and cold running water. For watering your horse you can either use water from a nearby stream or running water from some of the campsites.

The Big Creek Horse Camp is the only horse camping area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which has any accessibility accommodations for those who are disabled. There is one camp site available which is accessible as well as the restrooms. We can only hope that the national park service will continue to improve accessibility in all areas of the park so everyone can enjoy what the national park has offer without any needless hindrances.

The cost to camp in the park with your horse is $20 per site per night except for the Big Creek Horse campgrounds which is $25 a night.

The Smoky Mountain National Park drive in horse camps are open for camping from April to October and you must make a reservation in advance by calling (877)444-6776 from 10 am to 10 pm or by going online to http://www.Recreation.Gov. The national park service requests that you must make note of your reservation number as they require it when you arrive at the horse camp.

When making your reservation you must pay for your site right then as camping fees are not collected at the park. Credit cards are accepted as well as personal checks, but for personal checks you must make your reservation at least 20 days in advance of your arrival to the national park.

The park service takes cancellations of campsites seriously and will charge you a cancellation fee of one nights stay if you fail to show up to the campsite or cancel your reservation. If you wish to cancel your reservation or make any changes call (800)388-2733. If you are going to arrive late but still want your reservation held call (865)436-1230.

Horse stalls in the Big Creek campgrounds in NC.
Horse stalls in the Big Creek campgrounds in NC.

Smoky Mountain National Park Backcountry Campsites for Horses:

Individuals and groups camping with horses in the backcountry are subject to all backcountry regulations and may only use designated campsites where horses are allowed and not to exceed the camp sites capacity.

You must obtain a backcountry camping permit by making a reservation and paying for the campsite to stay the night in any backcountry campsites or shelters.

If there are hitchracks in the campsite where you are staying that is where your horses must be tied up. If there are no hitchracks, you must cross tie your horse so they are not able to chew on or damage any tress, shrubs or plants. It is prohibited for you to tie your horse to any tree in the park.

Some other backcountry rules for camping parties with horses are: