Horseback Riding Overview: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Horses grazing in a field in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Horses grazing in a field in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (James Randklev/Photographer's Choice/Getty)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Highlights

  • This national park literally has hundreds of miles of trails for equestrians, including the only sections of the Appalachian Trail open to horseback riders. Also, five auto-accessible horse camps make riding the Smokies even easier. More than 40 backcountry campsites also welcome equestrians.
  • Leave Anthony Creek Horse Camp, and see the Smokies from bottom to top. Starting in Cades Cove, climb along a deeply forested, crashing Anthony Creek and ultimately intersect with the main crest of the Smokies and the famed Appalachian Trail. Once on the Appalachian Trail, outstanding views lie before you at Spence Field and Little Bald. Return to Cades Cove via Russell Field Trail with its section of old growth trees.
  • Take the Big Creek Trail up a gorgeous valley to Walnut Bottoms, then ascend to Low Gap and the Appalachian Trail. Take the Appalachian Trail past Mount Cammerer for great views, then descend to Davenport Gap, completing a 14-mile loop.
  • From Cataloochee Horse Camp, make a 16-mile circuit. Head up Pretty Hollow Trail to enter the spruce-fir highlands. Keep climbing to reach 5,800-foot Mount Sterling with its 360-degree views from a restored fire tower. Descend, enjoying old pioneer home sites on the Long Bunk and Little Cataloochee trails.
  • Round Bottom Horse Camp is the most remote of them all. From here, you can climb up to Balsam Mountain, enjoying the high country for miles while circling past Tricorner Knob then returning via Hughes Ridge. This is a long trek, around 25 miles, so consider one of the four backcountry campsites you will be passing as an overnight option.
  • Explore the greater Smokemont area from Tow String Horse Camp. Travel up Bradley Fork and make a loop using the Chasteen Creek Trail, or take the Newton Bald Trail into the upper elevations, and head over to Deep Creek and its all-encompassing beauty.

About 550 miles of the park's hiking trails are open to horses. There are five horse camps: Anthony Creek, Big Creek, Cataloochee, Roundbottom, and Towstring. Reservations and additional information on fees are available through the park information office.

The park also has four commercial stables within its borders. Ride a horse or relax during a hay or buggy ride from mid-March though the Thanksgiving season.

Cades Cove Riding Stables (423-448-6286): The nearby terrain is flat, great for beginners.

Deep Creek Stables (828-497-8504): In the southern North Carolina section, not far from Bryson City.

McCarter Stables (423-436-5354): Near Suglarlands Visitor Center. This area has the steepest hills.

Smokemount Riding Stables (828-497-5634): North Carolina, near Smokemount Campground.

If you want to experience a more traditional "outfitted" horseback trip, write to area chambers of commerce for names of commercial outfitters.


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