Dogs and The Smokies: What You Need to Know

There’s nothing quite like heading into the great outdoors with my best friends. Those best friends happen to have four legs and waggy tails, and while I wish they could accompany me everywhere, that isn’t always the case. Each year, many thru-hiker hopefuls set out from Springer with their furry friends by their sides. While a vast majority of the AT is pet friendly, there are a few exceptions. One of those is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or the Smokies.

Pet dogs are NOT allowed in the Smokies under any circumstances. The only dogs that are allowed in the park are service dogs (discussed later). Planning is key for managing your dog while traversing the Smokies during your thru. In this article, I hope to help you better understand the why’s and how’s of managing your canine hiking partner while you hike the Smokies.


Why Are Dogs Not Allowed?

There is a bit of controversy surrounding the fact that dogs aren’t allowed in GSMNP. However, despite how you feel about these rules, they are the rules. If you are using the park you have to agree to follow the rules. I reached out to GSMNP to get the scoop on exactly why this is a rule.

First of all, I was told that many national parks with large backcountry areas don’t generally allow dogs in these areas. Such parks include Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, and Rocky Mountains National Park, among others. This rule is in effect for several reasons. I’m quoting a park volunteer who took the time to answer all of my questions:

  1. Dogs can carry diseases into the park’s populations.
  2. Dogs can chase and threaten wildlife, scaring birds and other animals away from nesting, feeding, and resting sties.
  3. The scent left behind by a dog can signal the presence of a predator, disrupting or altering the behavior of park wildlife.
  4. Small animals may hide in their burrow the entire day after smelling a dog and may not return to feed.
  5. Dogs bark and disturb the quiet of the wilderness.
  6. Unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells can disturb even the calmest, friendliest, and best trained dogs, causing them to behave unpredictably or bark excessively.
  7. Pets may become prey for larger predators, such as coyotes and bears.  In addition, if your dog disturbs or enrages a bear, it may leas the angry bear directly to you.
  8. Dogs can also encounter insects that bite and transmit disease and plants that are poisonous or full of painful thorns and burrs.
  9. Many people, especially children, are frightened by dogs, even small ones.  Uncontrolled dogs can prevent a danger to other visitors.

As you can see, most of the rules are in place to protect either the wildlife in the area OR the dogs themselves from harm. National parks exist as a space to preserve the unique wildlife and plant life in that area. The park wants to do everything they can to maintain the natural state of the park. If having dogs around means the animals become more susceptible to disease or their natural patterns are disrupted, it makes sense to keep the dogs out.

The Smokies are nothing short of incredible. Follow the rules and enjoy it to its fullest while protecting its unique habitat.

The Smokies are nothing short of incredible. Follow the rules and enjoy it to its fullest while protecting its unique habitat.

Ok, that makes sense. But what am I supposed to do with my dog while I hike the Smokies?

There are several options available to hikers that answer this question. I posed this question to a group of thru-hiker hopefuls to scope out what they have chosen to do. I’ll discuss the more common answers here.

1. Skip the Park

This is probably the least desirable/most controversial answer I received. Most thru-hikers have an ultimate goal of hiking ALL of the Appalachian Trail. This includes the ~70 miles of trail that passes through the Smokies. Skipping this technically means you didn’t hike the whole trail. However, there are many reasons a hiker may choose this option.

Hiking Dogs

Hiking dogs are the best. Nearly 2000 miles of the Appalachian Trail are pet-friendly. The Smokies, however, are not. Photo: Hannah Williams-Touch

One is finances: it can cost a significant chunk of money to board a dog for the ~week that you’re hiking the park, plus there is the additional cost of either transporting your dog to you or transporting yourself to pick up the dog. Many hikers choose to skip this section, even if it means they may not be considered legitimate thru-hikers. This avoids the steep costs associated with other options.

If you’ve already hiked this section of the AT, maybe you don’t want to waste the time and money to do it again. Hikers may choose to opt-out of the Smokies to avoid being separated from the dog. This option still requires planning (and money) in terms of transportation. You have to find a way to get you and your dog from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap. However, it is not as expensive as a week of boarding and can be a good option for hikers on a budget.

The highest point in the Smokies and on the AT

If you skip the Smokies, you are unfortunately going to miss this – the view from the highest point on the AT, Clingman’s Dome.

2. Board your dog while hiking the Smokies and arrange dog transport around the park

This seems to be the most common/popular answer to the question of “what do I do with my dog while I’m hiking the Smokies?” Over the last few years, several places have popped up that will assist thru-hikers with managing their canine partners for the time period spent in GSMNP. Most of these work in such a way that the boarding facility picks up your dog at a pre-arranged location (usually Fontana Dam) and drops your dog off at the end of the park (Davenport Gap). In the next section, I’ll offer more information on specific services available for boarding.

In addition to letting you enjoy the Smokies to their fullest, this option also gives your furry friend a break to rest and recover. You’re 200 miles in when you hit the Smokies. A week off will help your pup gain some weight back, aid in muscle recovery, and give their paws some time to heal from any wear and tear.

3. Have a friend watch your pet for you

For those hikers who are lucky enough to have friends or family members that live relatively nearby, this can be a good option. You never know who might step up to help, so if you are considering this it may be a good idea to make a post on facebook or other social media sites scoping out potential friends/relatives that would be interested. Perhaps offer to pay them a small fee (or buy them beer, whatever works). Just make sure if you choose this option that your friend is fully aware of the responsibilities that go along with pet-sitting a dog.

Ok, I’ve decided what to do. Now how do I do it?

1. If you’ve decided to skip the Smokies by shuttling around

If you’ve opted to skip the park entirely, your biggest hurdle is going to be finding a shuttle driver that is pet friendly and willing to drive you that distance. This isn’t necessarily going to be cheap. Don’t count on being able to hitchhike, either. A straight hitch from Fontana all the way to Davenport Gap isn’t going to be easy. In fact, I’d really recommend getting your shuttle from Stecoah Gap due to it’s much greater ease of access for shuttle drivers. It’s probably going to cost you less than a pickup at Fontana. Either way, you really need to have a plan in place – you are not likely to have great cell signal from from Stecoah, Fontana, or Davenport Gap.

Here, Annikan the Setter enjoys the view from Blood Mountain. The entire Georgia section of the AT, including the approach trail, is dog-friendly! Photo: Kensie Arnold

I reached out to Ron of Highlands Shuttle Service to get a gauge for what to expect when getting this shuttle. He says: “A specific rate from Stecoah Gap or Fontana would depend to a certain extent on date and time, but $150.00 would be in the ballpark.” Advance notification is most always required.

So, if you’re planning on needing this shuttle, it would be in your best interest to call and book it well in advance, especially if you are passing through between May and October. Ron also mentioned that he only accepts dogs under 50lb, and the dog must be trained to ride in the owners lap and not go to the bathroom in the van in order to ride.
Some dog-friendly shuttle options that cover this area:
  • Ron of Highlands Shuttle Service – 423-625-0739
    • $150 ball-park fee
    • Dog must be trained to ride in owners lap during the trip
  • A Walk in the Woods (Gatlinburg based) – 865-436-8283
    • 70lb maximum weight – dog rides in a crate during the trip
    • Cost for pickup at Fontana and drop off at Davenport Gap is $236 (on a card) or $225 (cash) for up to 5 people, and there is a $20 extra fee for the dog. This price includes pickup at Fontana as early as 9am. Earlier can be arranged for an extra fee
    • Will pick up your dog from Fontana and deliver to a boarding facility in the Gatlinburg area (Barks and Recreation), then pick up your dog from boarding and return to you at Davenport Gap – call for prices and availability

2. If you’ve decided to board your dog while hiking the Smokies

This option allows your dog to have a bit of a rest while you hike the Smokies pet-free. The biggest hurdle when choosing a boarding facility is making sure that your pet is going to be WELL taken care of in a safe, minimal stress environment. I can’t stress enough here that the cheapest or most convenient option may not always be the best option for your dog. If you have a dog that is easily stressed, you’ll want to make sure you pick a place that is quiet, calm, and clean, and where your dog will have plenty of time to relax. If you have an ultra high energy dog that doesn’t do well being caged, you’ll want to make sure the facility you choose has safe options for exercise, such as playing fetch, swimming, or supervised group play.

Send your dog on a vacation and enjoy the Smokies in all of their glory.

I highly recommend checking references and calling around to find the best facility. Make sure the business you choose to care for you pet while you’re hiking understands that you may be unreachable in the event of an emergency (even with Verizon, cell service is spotty at best in the Smokies). I would never board my pet at a facility that didn’t have full insurance coverage. You also want to make sure they have arrangements with a veterinarian for emergency care.

Find out if you need to provide your own food in advance and make arrangements to have that delivered. A pet food delivery service such as Amazon or Chewy can direct-ship your dog’s food to the facility. Check with the boarding facility and make sure this is OK before sending! Do your research (aka- CALL!) and find out which vaccines are required for boarding. Make sure you either have proof of those vaccines on your person or have them mailed or faxed directly from your veterinarian to the boarding facility. Also remember that some boarding facilities have breed restriction, weight limitations, or have rules on spaying and neutering. Make sure ahead of time that you know all of these restrictions.

Here are a few options for boarding your dog as well as some additional information about each facility:

Barks and Recreation 

This Gatlinburg-based facility will accept hiking dogs. I was unable to get them on the phone and at the time of publishing they had not returned my emails. From the research I did, I was able to determine that this facility does not do pick-up or drop-off so you have to figure that out on your own. They require proof of vaccinations (required are: Parainfluenza Virus, Rabies Virus, Canine Distemper Virus, Canine Parvo Virus, Infectious Canine Hepatitis), proof of spay or neuter for dogs over 6 months, and a negative fecal exam within a year. These are all things you will want to take care of before you leave for your hike.

Loving Care Kennels


Indoor/outdoor runs at Loving Care Kennels in Pigeon Forge

I was able to speak on the phone with the lovely woman who owns this kennel. While not the least expensive, I would absolutely trust her with my pet. This kennel is located in Pigeon Forge and has been providing boarding services to hiking dogs for 25 years. The prices in AWOL’s guide are not accurate. Updated prices are $375 for one dog and $550 for two dogs. This cost INCLUDES pick up (Fontana) and drop off (Davenport Gap), food, and daily care for your dog for up to 7 days. She will also accept dog food shipments if your pet is on a special diet.

If you need to send a mail drop, she can bring it to you on trail when she delivers your dog. She also said that she offers a grocery service: when you call to set your pickup date/time, give her a grocery list and she will pick up your resupply and bring it to you. Dogs over 25lb must be neutered and she does not accept unspayed females that are in heat. Call to find out about vaccination requirements.

Standing Bear Farm 

Standing Bear Farm is a popular option due to its proximity to the trail. The AT passes very near the property, and there is also a hostel on site. Standing Bear will pick your dog up from Fontana and have him waiting for you at the hostel when you arrive. The current cost is $250, but it was stressed that this is subject to change depending on season/duration of stay/etc. This cost does include dog food (Purina Dog Chow). At the time of publishing, I was unable to obtain information on facilities, vaccine or spay/neuter requirements. I would call ahead (before you begin your hike!) to check on these if you plan on using this facility.

3. My friend/family member is going to watch my pet. What else do I need to do?

Make sure said friend has a copy of vaccine and medical history for your dog. Provide them with phone numbers for the dog’s regular vet and an emergency veterinarian in the area. Your friend needs to be able to get in touch with someone if something terrible happens. If they can contact your parents, your significant other, or anyone who can help them make decisions about your dog it will ease their mind in the event of an emergency.

Hiking dog

There are thousands of miles of dog-friendly trails in the Appalachian Mountains. Don’t risk a fine/a criminal record/your integrity/the reputation of thru-hikers to bring your dog on the ~70 miles of trail within GSMNP. Photo: Katie Corbett

If possible, allow your dog to meet his/her caretakers beforehand. This will ease the transition. Make sure that you have your dog’s food either shipped to your friend or provided at an earlier date. Don’t expect your friends to buy this for your dog, especially if your dog has dietary restrictions. Make sure that your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations according to laws where your friend lives. You don’t want them getting in trouble because of you/your dog.

Pre-arrange pickup and drop off; again I recommend pickup at Stecoah Gap due to ease of access, rather than the remote Fontana Dam. Also remember that it is highly likely that you will not have cell phone signal to communicate changes in planning and scheduling. Try your best to set a time to meet and stick to that time to avoid complications.

What if my dog is a therapy dog/emotional support animal/service dog?

Therapy Dogs:

Therapy dogs DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT have public access rights. These are pets that have had some minor specialized training to be able to visit hospitals, schools, nursing homes, etc. to provide pet therapy to residents/students/patients. You don’t need a therapy dog to hike through the park. If your dog is a therapy dog, that’s wonderful! Congratulations on having an awesome, well-trained pet. But you can’t take it through the Smokies with you. Make other arrangements.

Emotional Support Animals

Otherwise known as ESA’s, these are generally pets that are acknowledged to provide a certain level of comfort to their owner. An ESA has to have zero specialized training in order to be called an ESA. The owner of such a dog does not have to be legally disabled. Here’s the kicker: ESA’s DO NOT have public access rights. The only rights they are afforded beyond “just pets” is that they are allowed in non-pet friendly housing and in some cases are also allowed to ride in the cabins of airplanes. An ESA cannot accompany you through the Smokies. Make other arrangements.

Service Dogs

A lot of hikers call their dogs “service dogs” in order to make their trip easier with their dog. DON’T DO THIS! IT’S NOT COOL! If you think your dog is a service dog, you need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do you have a disability? (If the answer is no, your dog is not a service dog)
  2. Is your dog specifically trained to mitigate YOUR disability? (If the answer is no, your dog is not a service dog)
Service Dog

Service dogs are specially trained to help their disabled handlers live a more independent life. It’s highly unethical (and illegal) to impersonate a person with a disability to gain access to pet-exclusive establishments with your dog. Photo: Katie Corbett

In case this still isn’t clear, here’s an example:

My dog Sookie is a fully-trained guide dog (for the blind). I am not blind. Therefore, Sookie is not a service dog. I have a friend that uses a wheelchair. If she took Sookie from me, Sookie would STILL not be a service dog (she’s trained to help blind people, not people in wheelchairs). If I were blind, then Sookie would be a service (guide) dog.

So, if you are indeed disabled and your dog is indeed trained to mitigate your disability, then your dog IS a service dog – you can take it through the Smokies with you. Make sure you have it clearly labeled as such to avoid confusion and confrontation (sidenote – this isn’t required by law but is highly encouraged to make yours and everyone else’s lives easier). You do NOT have to have any special service dog ID, registration, certificate, etc. (but if you’re a legitimate service dog user, you definitely already know this).

If your dog is not trained to mitigate your disability and/or you do not have a disability, you cannot take your dog through the Smokies. Make other arrangements. For more information, see the service dogs page at

There you have it!

These are the most commonly asked questions about dogs and the smokies. Above everything, I hope that you enjoy your Appalachian Trail hike, appreciate the unique and diverse beauty of the Smokies, follow all rules, leave no trace, and have the time of your life with your canine best friend on the parts of the trail that are dog friendly. Get out and hike!

Hiking SNP

All ~500 miles of the Appalaichain Trail through Virginia, including Shenandoah National Park, are pet friendly! Photo: Christopher Johnson


Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 18

  • ~KC : Feb 28th

    Wonderful, thorough post. Loved the photos!


  • Eva Briggs : Mar 1st

    Last year, while hiking the Smokies, my dog stayed at Living Care Kennel. That was an excellent choice and everything worked out well.
    When I arrived at standing bear, it did not look like the dogs staying there were very well supervised. I believe the person who was in charge has left and been replaced, so that could be changed. But it was well worth the extra money that I spent to have my dog in a safe, secure environment at Loving Care Kennel.
    One difficulty I ran into was that there was no cell service in the Smokies, so I could not call easily a day in advance to tell the kennel when I would be exiting the Smokies. Luckily I had a Delorm InReach communicator. I was able to text my family, they did the phone calls, and then texted me back to confirm that the arrangements have been made. Also, as recommended by Baltimore Jack himself, I had the kennel bring the dog to me at standing bear hostel, not at the road which I believe was Davenport Gap. The thinking was, if it was raining or otherwise miserable, I would have shelter at standing bear while waiting for my dog to arrive. Otherwise I could have been standing out in the pouring rain unprotected, if the weather had been bad.

    • Tinkerbell : Mar 1st

      This is SUCH great advice!

    • Jennifer Stoneman : Aug 12th

      How is it taking a dog thru ny, nj nh and maine.
      Just curious because alot of it looked really rocky , steep and sketchy for dogs.

      • Erin Tuveson : Oct 25th

        It will depend on your dog. It is different for every dog just as it is for every hiker.
        NJ and NY were easy enough, the rocks weren’t to rugged, sometimes it just took a little more thought.
        In regards to NH and ME… they are tough and not for every dog. The rocks of NH will wear down the pads of their feet, and some of the rockfaces are very technical. My dog is part mountain in goat and navigated it all with ease.
        Check out another Trek blog post: How my dog survived a thru hike with me

  • J. Ford : Mar 2nd

    Well done. Exactly the questions I’ve always wanted to know.

  • Kimberly : Mar 19th

    There’s some great advice and tips here. However, one statement is a bit misleading. While it is true that dogs are not permitted on the section of the AT that goes through the park, they are allowed in campgrounds and a few other areas. (While this is not helpful for hikers, it’s good to know for campers and other park visitors.)

    • Stacia : Oct 30th

      You are correct! I’m planning an update to this post since I finally heard back from Standing Bear farm after all these months. I intend to update that section as well to clarify. Thanks for you input!

  • Delia (89) : Jun 29th

    Buster and Willow went for a vacation while I did the Smokies. They stayed with Marni and Kevin at Smoky Mountain K-9. Marni and Kevin were awesome. They shuttled the dogs for me, and brought me resupply boxes on either end. When I did have a signal, updates would pop up on my phone so I could see how well my woofs were doing. I highly recommend them, and so do the woofs!

    The lady at Loving Care Kennels really seemed to have her sh*t together, too. We just liked Smoky Mountain K-9.

  • Ash : Jul 28th

    Personally, I’d just skip the 70 miles. I can go back and do the Smokies later, but it seems to me, when you’ve brought your best friend on this adventure with you, it’d really suck, and be stressful, to leave them behind for a week.

  • Erin Tuveson : Oct 25th

    Great write up about it. Thanks for being so clear about the difference in pets, ESA, therapy dogs, and service dogs.

    • Stacia : Oct 30th

      Thank you! Its a point of contention with me. Burns me up seeing how many hikers abuse this system every year.

  • James : Mar 9th

    In the description well above the comments, someone determined the definition of Service Animal. Their definition is not wrong, but not right. A “Service Dog” does not have to have a expensive bias training to be labeled “Service Dog”. “Service” doesn’t define an actual action, ie: blind or physically disabled to help his handler. So with that said, i will be contacting the bias service to clear up their bias. “Service Dogs” not service pets are completely different.

    Sorry for my rant, looking forward to start my first go at the AT this fall.

  • Derrick Holland : Oct 5th

    First, get your facts correct before writing an article. You said on several occasions, that pet dogs are not allowed IN GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK. This is completely false. I realize your article is primarily about hiking, and maybe it was assumed that everyone would apply that rule to the hiking trails only.

    However, comments like: “Pet dogs are NOT allowed in the Smokies under any circumstances”, and “The only dogs that are allowed in the park are service dogs (discussed later)”, are misleading and false. Dogs ARE allowed IN the Park, and are allowed on 2 of the hiking trails, which I did not see mentioned.

    I mean, seriously…how hard is it to get facts correct?

    • Stacia Bennett : Oct 5th

      Idk if you know what website you are on, but this article is about the GSMNP section of the Appalachian Trail. It’s not about the park in general and was written to address the concerns and questions of thru-hikers hiking the AT through GSMNP during their thru-hike. Other parts of the national park are outside the scope of this article.

      • Tony Salviano : Jun 24th

        As someone who has a service dog and has studied the rules vigorously, I suggest you go back and read them. You can not ask about the person’s disability specifically and you can’t play detective to try and discredit someone. I completely understand many take advantage of this but for those of us who need our dogs for assistance, someone who would approach us like your scenario would definitely set us off. You can ask (1) whether the animal is required because of a disability; and (2) what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. You can not ask further about someone’s disability. At that point you are harassing the handler.

        As a hiker with a disability, articles like this that are misleading, can definitely cause us problems and even harm if the wrong person reads them. It also discourages people with disabilities from getting out and exploring.

        All that being said I do think you had some good points about animal interactions and that definitely is something we should all be aware of.

        • Stacia Bennett : Jun 24th

          Hey Tony! Thanks for the input. You’re right: those are the only two questions you’re allowed to ask (I’m not a sd user but have worked extensively within the sd industry and with sd handlers so I’m very familiar with the laws). And just any old hiker doesn’t have any business asking them; that should be left up to park staff, if anything. I’m not sure what part of the article you’re interpreting as encouraging someone to approach a service dog user and interrogate them, or what part of the article you believe is misleading, but I do not suggest anyone interrogating a service dog user about anything.


What Do You Think?