Why These 8 Popular Activities Are Now Banned in the Smoky Mountains

three men hang out in back of truck filming with phones

Commercial filming is banned in National Parks because it can be disturbing to other guests (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Local lists bans across the National Park that you should know

There’s a feeling that you get when you are deep in the Smoky Mountains, far from civilization and cell phone service. It’s a freedom, a connection to life before we were quite so linked to an interconnected society. But that freedom isn’t unlimited. There are rules to keep us and others safe, to protect the park for future generations and to protect the wildlife within. And so, in this article, I will discuss a few verboten things – banned in the Great Smoky Mountains.

After all, the National Park Service is tasked with protecting public safety but also protecting the National Park. The reasons for some bans are self-evident (don’t feed the wildlife) while others are a little more obscure (we can’t honk in the tunnel anymore). So without further ado, let’s look at the following things that have been banned in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

When you’re visiting the Smoky Mountains, it may feel like you’re in the wilderness. However, there are rules that were put in place for a reason. Many of these bans are in place to protect wildlife, other visitors and the park itself. Some bans are intuitive, like not disturbing the wildlife. Other bans are more confusing, like honking in tunnels.

1. Commercial filming

Next time you take out your camera to capture the running waters of a Smoky Mountain waterfall, make sure that it’s strictly for personal use. YouTube and Tik Tok stars have been fined for filming in national parks, as filming for any monetary gain is banned. National Parks are areas for public use that are protected by the government, so rules are being put in place to protect the area – and its visitors – from any potentially ditsracting behavior. However, the viewpoint is often debated, with court cases being appealed and overturned. Basically, it’s complicated. But current guidance from the National Park Service states that:

“Under federal law, all commercial filming that occurs within a unit of the National Park System requires a permit.”

National Park Service
campsites at the cades cove campground
Guests are not allowed to bring firewood from home into the park (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

2. Regular firewood 

My family heated the house with a wood-burning stove when I was a kid. Therefore, I grew up to be an accomplished wood splitter. For camping trips, while others would buy wood from the nearest camp store, I’d bring my own freshly chopped from home. The NPS does not allow that, however. No matter how proficient you are with an axe or sledgehammer and wedge, you can’t bring firewood you chopped anywhere. In other words, only heat-treated firewood that is bundled and certified by a Department of Agriculture – state or federal – may be brought to the park.

But why? My friends, meet the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive species of beetle from Northeast Asia that has been decimating the Smokies’ Ash forests. The borer and other destructive pests like to hide in firewood. Even if you’re camping outside the National Park, you shouldn’t bring firewood from other regions. Buy locally and help save the forest.

the spur tunnel with signs flanking both sides that read "no honking"
While honking is no longer allowed inside the Spur Tunnel, the rule has proven difficult to enforce (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

3. Honking in the tunnel between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge 

There’s a tunnel – if you’re Pigeon Forge bound from Gatlinburg on the road known as the Spur. We’d driven through it for years – decades, even. Usually when going through we honk. It’s just a bit of a family tradition. It perks up the kids and is just a goofy break on a road trip.

But not long ago, the National Park Service put up temporary no-honking signs while construction workers were on site, which was fair. I wouldn’t want to work in a tunnel all day with car after car honking horns. When workers left, the signs stayed. Then they were replaced by more permanent signs. Honking – at least in that tunnel – is now strictly against the rules. It’s banned. Why? Over the years, more residential developments have been built close to the tunnel. It seems the residents don’t much care for all that honking, and the ban stayed in place. Is honking banned in all the tunnels in the Smokies? It seems just that one.

Aerial View Pigeon Forge Traffic
Drones are often used in the cities surrounding the Smokies, but they are not allowed in the National Park (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

4. Drones and other unmanned aircraft

Did you know it’s against the rules to operate a drone or other unmanned aircraft in the National Park? I didn’t either. Of course, I don’t have a drone, so it wasn’t really on my radar. Why are they banned? Well, on the one hand, you could get some cool photos and footage in the National Park, especially with a high-quality drone. On the other hand, drones can be noisy and disruptive to both people and wildlife. There are also some indications that drones can pose a safety risk to other visitors and park officials. Special permits are available, but they can be hard to obtain. Also, the ban is enforceable even if you launch from outside the park if your drone disturbs park wildlife, creates a nuisance or crashes into National Park land.

Male Hiker with Labrador on a Trail
We love our pet companions, but they are not allowed on most trails (photo by Orion Productions/shutterstock.com)

5. Dogs and other pets (in most areas)

This isn’t a parkwide ban. Dogs and pets are permitted in many places in the park. You may have your dog in campgrounds, picnic areas and along the roads but they must always be on a leash. Dogs are banned from almost all trails in the Great Smoky Mountains except for the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee Trail – which are more walking paths than true trails. Dogs are banned from all the rest of the park’s trails.

Pets, you see, can be disruptive to wildlife in the park, either by chasing or threatening creatures or by leaving a scent that would signal the presence of a predator. Pets can also become food for the park’s real predators like coyotes or bears. The NPS also indicates that dogs in strange places tend to bark and can disturb other visitors’ experiences. Finally, some people are afraid of dogs and the Park Service wishes to provide them with access to the park without having to worry about being confronted by their dogs.

View of Mountains and Meadows and Clouds Cades Cove
Metal detectors are not allowed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

6. Metal and mineral detectors

This one seems self-evident to me. I can’t imagine people would think it was OK to go around detecting and digging stuff up in the park. Truthfully, there are probably some pretty good artifacts in places like Cades Cove. But people don’t come from hundreds of miles away to watch a handful of dudes sweeping their way across the Oliver Cabin Homestead.

A Deer Grazes on a Mowed Mound in Cades Cove
Though it should go without saying, do not disturb any of the wildlife (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

7. Disturbing the wildlife

I already mentioned feeding the wildlife, but disturbing the wildlife is a bad move as well. A couple of months ago, my family and I were in the Cove and watched as two dudes got out of their cars and marched off into a field to determine whether the deer gathered there were deer or fox. They were deer. They ran the animals off and ruined the experience for dozens of others who’d gathered to watch the wildlife.

I’m sure officials would tell you they also disturbed the deer – which they did – but I feel comfortable that the deer moved on. There have been, however, many wildlife encounters that have proven destructive or even deadly to the park’s real inhabitants. Keep your distance and keep yourself and the animals safe.

8. Fireworks

The reasoning behind this one may seem obvious. But using your own fireworks in any National Park, national forest or wildlife refuge is not allowed. They are a nuisance to humans and willfelife and could potentially be a fire hazard.

At the end of the day, we live in a society. Things tend to run better if we all obey the rules – even the ones we find a little silly or overblown. Even when we’re out, free in the wilderness of the Smokies, it is incumbent upon us to live by the rules, maybe especially then. We are stewards, after all, who have been gifted these wonderful, magic mountains and it’s our job to share them with our peers and protect them for future generations.

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