ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed most park roads as well as its Elkmont and Cades Cove campgrounds after the National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook and red flag warning due to high fire risk caused by strong winds and hurricane-force gusts.
The closures took effect Monday, with park rangers notifying campers already in campgrounds and encouraging visitors in the park to leave as soon as possible.
Campgrounds, facilities and roads will remain closed until the high wind and red flag warnings expire, allowing park rangers to access roads and facilities, according to the National Park Service.
“Employee and visitor safety is our only priority,” Superintendent Cassius Cash said in the release. “We understand these closures are an inconvenience, but we are trying to eliminate as much risk as possible during this dangerous weather event.”
A red flag warning is in effect for the Smokies, which means very low humidity and stronger winds are expected to combine to produce an increased risk of fire danger. Great Smoky Mountains is already under a burn ban, prohibiting all campfires and charcoal use until further notice.
“With the recent dry conditions, these winds may cause extreme fire behavior and allow fires to spread rapidly,” the NWS red flag warning said.
The following roads are already closed:
- Newfound Gap (Highway 441 from Sugarlands Visitor Center to Smokemont Campground)
- Clingmans Dome Road
- Cherokee Orchard Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
- Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley
- Little River Road between the Townsend Wye to Sugarlands Visitor Center
- Laurel Creek Road and Cades Cove Loop Road
- Cataloochee Road
- Lakeview Drive
Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the country, with 12.9 million visitors in 2022. It covers a half-million acres of rugged, heavily forested terrain on the Western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee border.
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In November 2016, the Chimney Tops Fire, which started inside the park, was whipped by strong winds into nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where it killed 14 people.
Visitors should exercise extreme caution, check the park website for alerts and heed warnings from the National Weather Service and local emergency managers when making travel plans. Hikers should avoid hiking during the high wind warning.
The park is expected to provide an update on conditions and closures on Tuesday afternoon.
Ryley Ober is the Public Safety Reporter for Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @ryleyober