Dogs on the Gatlinburg Trail

For as long as our kids can recall, our family has spent one week per summer at an ocean beach. This year, we opted for something closer to home — a cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is free to all comers, but dogs are verboten on all trails but two: Oconaluftee and Gatlinburg. This afternoon we took our dogs on the Gatlinburg Trail. Snaking along the Little Pigeon River, the Gatlinburg Trail is nicely paved and pretty flat. If challenging trails are your thing, you probably wouldn’t be hiking with dogs anyway.

Bears are more active this month in the Smokies, or so they say. While bears usually avoid large dogs, my wife walked our dogs at the back of the line, just in case. We didn’t see any bears today. And more oddly, we didn’t see any people, either. It wasn’t until the trail crossed the West Prong of the Little Pigeon on a foot bridge that we encountered other humans. That was when we stopped to let the dogs drink, then turned back for the visitor center. We might have continued for the remainder of the trail, but the trail was about to merge with a busy road. What’s more, the tranquility of the part we had just traversed beckoned in a soft voice we could not resist.

Pausing on the bank of the Little Pigeon, the dogs cooled their paws and drank deeply while my son skipped stones across the river. Some folks complain that the GSMNP has too few dog-friendly trails, but the only dogs on the Gatlinburg trail this afternoon were ours. Maybe tomorrow we’ll crate the dogs and hike in search of the majestic scenery for which the Smokies are famous. I’m sure we’ll miss our dogs, but from what I’ve heard, the challenges of trekking through treacherous terrain with kids in tow will be interesting enough.

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