Where Are Dogs Allowed in Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee?

Planning an adventure in eastern Tennessee with your pup? Considering the Great Smoky Mountain National Park? While our National Parks offer incredible sights and recreation, they aren’t the most dog-friendly. Cherokee National Forest, which surrounds Great Smoky Mountain National Park, is a better choice with dogs.

So, where are dogs allowed in Cherokee National Forest? Dogs on a six-foot leash are welcome everywhere in the park with the EXCEPTION of beaches, designated swimming areas, or in any national forest buildings.

Cherokee National Forest (CNF) is a large park with many distinct districts. Although CNF a guide like ours would be very handy to read BEFORE you set out on your adventure. In this post, we will discuss some of the most popular dog-friendly spots in the CNF.

Before We Go On

Whilst we have tried to be as accurate as possible at the time of writing this article, things can change. At certain times of the year, temporary policies regarding leashes and specific trails may change, specifically during hunting seasons. That’s why it is always smart to contact each district office and confirm where are dogs allowed in CNF.

DistrictPhone NumberAddress
Unaka Ranger District Office(423) 638-41094900 Asheville Highway, Greenville, TN 37743
Watauga Ranger District Office(423) 735-1500 4400 Unicoi Drive, Unicoi, TN 37692
Tellico Ranger District Office(423) 253-8400250 Ranger Station Road, Tellico Plains TN 37385
Ocoee Ranger District Office(423) 338-33003171 Highway 64, Benton TN 37307-5823

Opening times: Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Official USDA Forest Service Dog Policy 

Dogs are allowed in most areas of the CNF.

Check with the District Office to confirm pets are allowed while planning your trip.

Pets are not allowed at swimming areas or beaches.

On the trail

  • If you bring your dog hiking, keep it physically restraint at all times.
  • The CNF is a multiple-use forest, which means you and your dog may meet horseback riders, mountain bikers, and four-wheelers on the trail.
  • Use a leash to control your pet and minimize conflicts.
  • Hiking is hard work for a dog, especially if it’s not used to long hikes in hot weather. Watch your dog for signs of stress and fatigue, and give it plenty of water and rest.

In the campground

  • Dogs must be on a leash and under control.
  • Be sure to provide adequate food and water.
  • Pick up after your dog. Bring plastic bags to dispose of pet fecal waste.
  • Don’t leave dog food out while you are away or after you leave. This will attract wildlife to developed campgrounds jeopardizing your safety and others.
  • Don’t leave your dog unattended in the campground.
  • Confirm that dogs are allowed in the area you want to go to in the CNF before you leave home.

Cherokee National Forest Northern Districts

Unaka Ranger District Office

DistrictPhone NumberAddress
Unaka Ranger District Office(423) 638-41094900 Asheville Highway, Greenville, TN 37743

Hours of opening: Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

A beautiful 180,000 acres of CNF is located in the northern-most Unaka Ranger District.

Several developed campgrounds and unlimited opportunities for year-round dispersed camping make this a popular destination for nature lovers traveling with dogs.

This section of the park is most widely known for epic whitewater rafting and many accesses to the much-beloved Appalachian Trail

Watauga Ranger District Office

DistrictPhone NumberAddress
Watauga Ranger District Office(423) 735-1500 4400 Unicoi Drive, Unicoi, TN 37692

Hours of opening: Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

In one of the more mountainous areas of the CNF, elevations range from 1500 feet in the valleys to over 4800 feet.

Within the Watauga District, visitors will find nearly 200 developed campsites and more than 180 miles of trails.

If you and your pup are up for the challenge of incline hiking, this area is ripe with hikes that will wear you both out.

Tellico Ranger District Office

DistrictPhone NumberAddress
Tellico Ranger District Office(423) 253-8400250 Ranger Station Road, Tellico Plains TN 37385

Hours of opening: Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

One of the major attractions of the Tellico Ranger District is the Cherohala Skyway, a National Scenic Byway linking CNF and Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. Every good doggie loves a car ride, and this one is extraordinary. Starting at an elevation of 900 feet, this 52-mile trek through some of Tennessee’s most stunning scenery crosses the highest bridge in the Southeast and climbs to more than 5000 feet. Scenic overlooks dot the byway allowing for plenty of photo ops and room to stretch your paws.

The Tellico Ranger District has eight developed campgrounds, 150 miles of hiking trails, and designated spots for dispersed camping.

Ocoee Ranger District Office

DistrictPhone NumberAddress
Ocoee Ranger District Office(423) 338-33003171 Highway 64, Benton TN 37307-5823

Hours of opening: Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

In the southeastern-most corner of Tennessee, the Ocoee Ranger District is popular with locals and visitors with ample recreation opportunities.

There are 3 Designated Wilderness Area located within CNF:

1. Little Frog Wilderness Area

2. Big Frog Wilderness Area, and

3. Cohutta Wilderness Area.

Designated Wilderness Areas are less developed, and while the hiking here is most grand, the trails are not as maintained.

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles are paramount to continued access for people and dogs in the wilderness areas, as well as the ongoing health of the eco-systems.

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles for enjoying and protecting the outdoor spaces in the U.S.A.

Are Dogs Allowed in Cherokee National Forest for Hiking?

All things being equal, the National Forests do tend to have more liberal policies when it comes to dogs on the trail.

For various reasons, most forests require leashes (six foot long) at all times while hiking. At CNF, leashes are for the safety of your dog. This is black bear territory. Luckily, black bears do their best to avoid human and canine interaction. But, even if you have the best dog in the whole wide world (as we all do) leash laws must be adhered to, for your safety, the dog’s safety, and the well-being of all the wildlife.

Dog Owners Favorite Trails in Cherokee National Forest

1. Benton Falls Trail, Reliance, Tennessee

Distance3 miles
DifficultyEasy
Elevation Gain291 feet
On/Off leash trail On-leash only
Length of dog leash requiredMinimum 6 foot long
RouteOut and Back
Trailhead coordinates35°09’00.0″N, 84°36’27.3″W
Nearest campground
Chilhowee Campground, Chilhowee Recreation Area

“Beautiful, easy hike! Waterfall is perfect for playing in. Only real changes in elevation are at the end where the falls are. Stairs are slippery, be careful! Good walk for kids and dogs and adults who may not be able to handle the tougher or more rocky trails.”

Erica Sosebee-Stewart, Alltrails.com Reviewer.

Benton Falls Trail is an easy out and back trail, ideal for any hiking experience level. The reward at the end is the gorgeous 65 foot, Benton Falls.

where are dogs allowed in cherokee national forest
Benton Falls, Reliance, Tennessee
The photo was taken by Wall Jeffery.
Photo Credit: Image shared here with the kind permission of Alltrails.com

The trail itself is relatively flat and mostly smooth clay/dirt. However, in the late fall and spring, sections of the trail may be quite muddy.

It is a wonderfully woody hike and offers relief from the heat of summer.

Also, the trail runs right by Chilhowee Lake, which is a great spot for a quick swim or a picnic lunch. Unfortunately, dogs are not welcome in the designated swimming areas, but there are plenty of other nice shady spots near the lake to settle in for a rest or snack. 

Kayaking down the Chilhowee Lake with Bill Swann and his family and their dog

2. Margarette Falls Trail, Greenville, Tennessee

Distance2.7 miles
DifficultyModerate
Elevation Gain751 feet
On/Off leash trail On-leash only
Length of dog leash requiredMinimum 6 foot long
RouteOut and Back
Trailhead coordinates36°04’14.7″N 82°43’05.9″W
Nearest campground
Old Forge Campground, Old Forge Recreation Area

“Went there last week with the whole family. 3 kids 9, 6, 4 years old and the dog. It was a beautiful hike. There was a few places we had to hold our 4 year old with 2 hands but it wasn’t bad. We stopped at the falls and let the kids play there for a bit. The dog jumped right into the water. While my husband went ahead to check the trail he said there was a trail going pass the falls but it be to hard on the kids. So we just went back. The kids had a blast and its beautiful. Worth going back.”

Erica Sosebee-Stewart, Alltrails.com Reviewer.

For the most part, Margarette Falls Trail is actually very easy.

Sadly, the last mile or so, where most of the elevation gain occurs, does become rocky and significantly more difficult with raised roots.

Despite the entirety of the hike offering natural beauty and tranquility, the true wow factor comes from the 60-foot fan-shaped falls at the very end.

Margarette Falls Trail
Margarette Falls, Greenville, Tennessee.
The photo was taken by Matthew Browne.
Photo Credit: Image shared here with the kind permission of Alltrails.com.

Pooches fit for a little challenge will love this hike as it has a number of creek crossings for splashing in and cooling down. 

3. Turtletown Falls Trail, Farner, Tennessee

Distance3.8 miles
DifficultyModerate
Elevation Gain547 feet
On/Off leash trail On-leash only
Length of dog leash requiredMinimum 6 foot long
RouteLoop
Trailhead coordinates35°09’36.4″N 84°20’20.5″W
Nearest campground
Thunder Rock Campground, Cherokee National Forest

Rated moderate because of the length, some stairs, and the elevation gain that occurs primarily in the second half of the trail.

There are plenty of creek crossings for the pups to splash in when the weather warrants a cool off. Although, you should be cautious after heavy rains when the water in the creeks and falls can be quite forceful.

Turtletown Falls Trail
Turtletown Falls Trail, Farner, Tennessee
The photo was taken by Emily Bradford.
Photo Credit: Image shared here with the kind permission of Alltrails.com.

Turtletown treats hikers to not one, but two gorgeous waterfalls, plenty of shade in the summer, gorgeous views of the Hiwassee River before the trees fill out in the spring, and fantastic foliage in the fall. Undeniably one of the best hikes in CNF for fit folks and doggos!

4. Appalachian Trail: Oliver Hollow Road to Watauga Dam, Hampton, Tennessee

Check for current alerts relating to the Appalachian trail by clicking here.

Distance5.5 miles
DifficultyModerate
Elevation Gain905 feet
On/Off leash trail On-leash only
Length of dog leash requiredMinimum 6 foot long
RouteOut and Back
Trailhead coordinates36°18’06.8″N 82°07’44.4″W
Nearest campground
Cardens Bluff Campground, Elizabethton, TN

“Good place to take your dog if they love having access to water. Fairly low traffic and good beach side hangout spots w/ good views. A little too close to civilization for my taste – otherwise would have gotten a higher score.”

Will M, Alltrails Reviewer.

While not many of us are likely to ever tackle all 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, there are plenty of entries and short sections to be explored.

A gorgeous five-mile stretch of the AT from Oliver Hollow Road to Watauga Dam has everything a human and pup could want to encounter. A large lake, intermittent water access, woody shaded sections, and a number of overlooks providing ample photo ops. In particular, from the mid-point across the dam, you have access to amazing views of the entire lake and terrific photo ops. 

Appalachian Trail
Appalachian Trail: Oliver Hollow Road to Watauga Dam, Hampton, Tennessee.
The photo was taken by Ty Linder from Kent, Ohio.
Photo Credit: Image shared here with the kind permission of Alltrails.com.

The area used to have a shelter for thru-hikers on the AT and was also open to overnight dispersed camping. Regrettably, due to increased bear activity, (the irresponsible actions of people), the AT shelter is closed, and dispersed camping priveledges have been suspended for the entire Oliver Hollow Area. Over the last few years, the trail itself has been intermittently closed to anyone not hiking through on the AT.

It would be a good idea to check with the Watauga Ranger District before heading out to the trail. As always, keep your dog leashed, carry bear spray, and be sure to clean up after yourself and your pup.

“Bears are opportunists and become habituated to campsites and picnic areas where food has been improperly discarded or stored and is easily available. Though naturally shy of people, they learn to associate people with food. Bears then learn to frequent the same areas where they may encounter humans. This is when concerns arise.”

Alice Cohen, Natural Resources Management Team Leader for the Watauga Ranger District

Wildlife That You Could Encounter in Cherokee National Forest

Snakes

Snakes are not an uncommon sight in CNF. However, the majority of the population are harmless to both you and your pup.

The snakes that you should be concerned with meeting up with on the trail are timber rattlers and copperheads. To keep yourself and your canine companion safe from potentially deadly snakebites, always take the following precautions:

  • Never climb or sit upon a log or rock without inspecting the area carefully. 
  • Avoid walking with your dog in tall grass.

If you see a snake, regardless of whether you can identify it as dangerous or not, keep your pup restrained and keep your distance.

Have a look at this educational video about dog and snakes.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1988620661154871

Bears

Approximately 1500 American Black Bears call CNF home.

Naturally suspicious of humans, black bears have a tendency to steer clear by choice. Black bear attacks on humans are extremely rare, but you can protect yourself and your pup by adhering to these bear country rules:

  • Never hike alone
  • Hike during daylight
  • Carry a can of bear spray
  • Read trailhead signage regarding bear activity in the area
  • Do not allow small children or dogs to run ahead of you on the trail
  • Stay only on designated trails
  • Keep an eye out for bear scat, claw marks, and summer beds, fresh tracks, and stripped or torn apart logs and stumps.

Coyotes

Coyotes are wild canines. They are territorial, exhibiting some of the same behavior as your dog may when protecting his own territory.

Like the black bears, coyotes don’t set out to have conflicts with humans, but these are useful tips should you encounter one while hiking:

  • Do not let your dog loose
  • Never turn your back on a coyote
  • Maintain eye contact while backing away slowly
  • Wave your arms over your head while holding an article of clothing or backpack so that you appear larger.

Other wildlife

Other than North American black bears, timber rattlers, copperheads, and coyotes, the other wildlife in CNF pose much less of a threat.

Raccoons, skunks, bobcats, hundreds of bird species, white-tailed deer, woodchuck, opossum, beaver, frogs, toads, salamanders, and turtles all call the forest home. Of course, while these animals don’t generally pose a threat to humans, you should remember that you are a visitor in their home.

Keeping your dog restrained and at a distance will keep everyone safe and happy on the trail. 

What to Bring When Hiking With Dogs in Cherokee National Forest

The following should be part of your dog’s hiking must-have checklist: 

  • Collar or harness with ID tags 
  • Leash
  • Water or water filter
  • Collapsible bowl
  • A collar or harness light in case darkness creeps up on you
  • Antiseptic wipes, gauze, and tweezers (just in case!)
  • Poop bags

Are Dogs Allowed in Cherokee National Forest Campgrounds?

Camping is a favorite activity for visitors of Cherokee National Forest and their pups. Not only are there a large number of developed campgrounds, but there are also seemingly endless opportunities for dispersed and primitive camping throughout the park. Dogs must be kept on a six-foot leash at all times. Although it is not stipulated that they are confined to a crate at night, because of the wildlife, it is best if they overnight in your tent or camper with you. 

What to Bring When Hiking With Dogs in Cherokee National Forest

The following should be part of your dog’s hiking must-have checklist: 

  • Collar or harness with ID tags 
  • Leash
  • Water or water filter
  • Collapsible bowl
  • A collar or harness light in case darkness creeps up on you
  • Antiseptic wipes, gauze, and tweezers (just in case!)
  • Poop bags

Are Dogs Allowed in Cherokee National Forest Campgrounds?

Camping is a favorite activity for visitors of CNF and their pups.

Not only are there a large number of developed campgrounds, but there are also seemingly endless opportunities for dispersed and primitive camping throughout the park.

Dogs must be kept on a six-foot leash at all times.

Although it is not stipulated that they are confined to a crate at night, because of the wildlife, it is best if they overnight in your tent or camper with you. 

The Most Popular Campgrounds in Cherokee National Forest

Campground NameLocationLocation Coordinates
Little Oak CampgroundBristol, Tenessee36.52° N, 82.061° W
Round Mountain CampgroundDel Rio, Tennessee35.84° N, 82.953° W
North River CampgroundTellico Plains, Tennessee35.323° N, 84.128° W
Old Forge Recreation AreaGreenville, Tennessee36.09° N, 82.679° W
Cardens Bluff CampgroundElizabethton, Tennessee
36.312° N, 82.116° W
Dennis Cove Recreation AreaHampton, Tennessee36.257° N, 82.11° W

Little Oak Campground

Little Oak’s location on a peninsula jutting out into South Holston Lake gives a good number of campers to pitch a tent in a site right on the shore of the lake.

Seventy campsites accommodate tents, campers, and RVs up to thirty feet in length.

Restrooms with showers and drinking water are available within the campground and sites are equipped with fire rings/pits, picnic tables, and lantern posts.

This is one of the forest’s more remote developed campgrounds and is ideal for anyone looking for quiet relaxation with gorgeous views of the lake and mountains beyond.

Sites are reservable through Recreation.gov for all peak and off-peak seasons between April and November.

Round Mountain Campground

At 3100 feet above sea level, this secluded campground is a perfect getaway during the heat of summer.

Situated near a stream, great for dogs that like to splash about. And surrounded with dense vegetation, campers love the privacy and tranquility provided by this off the beaten path treasure.

Sites are available on a first-come-first-serve for tents and campers between May and October.

Amenities include vault toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, and bear-proof garbage receptacles. 


North River Campground

Open from March through November, this spot has a more extended season and is ideal for hearty folks and pups that like a chilly early spring or late fall adventure.

North River is another off-the-beaten-path facility that delivers seclusion and tranquility.

Eleven spacious sites, ideal for tenting, are available first-come-first-serve and are equipped with picnic tables, fire rings, and lantern hooks.

However, there is no potable water available in the area, and you should come prepared with one gallon per day per person or pooch.

Old Forge Recreation Area

On the banks of Jennings Creek, ten secluded walk-in only tent sites offer a relatively primitive camping adventure.

Vault toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables are available, but there is no potable water available.

Of course, the creek has plenty of water to offer, provided you have a quality filtration system, and or water treatment drops.

Two hiking trails, leaving directly from the Old Forge Recreation Area, are perfect for humans and pups that like a bit of a challenge. 

Cardens Bluff Campground

Campers can make a reservation for this gorgeous 43-site campground overlooking Watauga Lake.

Perched on a peninsula, the campground offers stunning views of the lake and the undeveloped mountainous surrounding.

Primarily set up for tent camping, there are a few sites that can accommodate RVs and trailers less than 30 feet.

Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, and lantern hook, and the campground does provide potable water, flush toilets, and warm showers.

Cardens Bluff is an ideal home base for anyone interested in attempting backcountry hiking in Big Laurel Branch and Pond Mountain Wilderness.

It should be noted that most of the hiking in those areas is only suitable for very active, hearty, experienced hiking dogs.

Dennis Cove Recreation Area

Rustic and remote, Dennis Cove Recreation Area offers campers a true getaway.

Laurel Fork Creek borders the campground, which makes this an excellent spot for pups that like a cooling dip.

Sitting at 2650 feet above sea level and immersed in thick forest foliage, many folks like to escape the summer heat with a stay in Dennis Cove.

Reservations are highly recommended for this busy area during the dog days of summer.

Dennis Cove has all the amenities that make for a comfortable stay, including flush toilets, grills, fire rings, picnic tables, drinking water, and bear-proof garbage receptacles.

It’s A Wrap

If you were wondering, “Are dogs allowed in Cherokee National Forest?” You should now have all the information that you need to get started on planning a super trip for yourself and your four-legged adventure partner. The National Forest has so much to offer both humans and canines. As long as you follow the information on posted trailhead signs, park safety suggestions, and leash requirements to keep everyone happy and healthy. Whichever area of the park you decide to explore, you will surely be creating memories of a lifetime with your pup.

Where To Next?

Have the 4 trails we’ve covered in the Cherokee National Forest piqued your interest in taking your pooch hiking, backpacking or camping? If so, we have a number of other dog-friendly hiking guides just like this one as a useful resource for you.

DOG-FRIENDLY HIKING GUIDES
Name and link to the articleState covered
Can You Hike With Dogs In National Parks?Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Utah, Maine and Virginia
Top Rated Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails Near Grand Lake CoColorado
Hiking With Dogs Off-Leash in Colorado (15 Epic Hikes)Colorado

Author - Eileen

Eileen is dog mom to 2 Shetland Sheepdogs - Shellie and her pup Bernie. They enjoy a couple of walks each day plus 2-3 sessions with the frisbee or Chuck-it! She enjoys many road trips with her dogs. She has tent camped all over the U.S. The dogs love exploring new hiking trails. Regardless of the season, Eileen has plenty to share with you about outdoor dog life whether it's in the Rockies in winter, Massachusetts in the summer or Oregon and Minnesota in between. She loves to find new off-leash parks while traveling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Content