Ramsay Cascades Trail At Great Smoky Mountains National Park Temporarily Closed

The footbridge over Ramsey Prong was damaged by a fallen tree. NPS photo.

Storm damage to a footbridge that crosses Ramsey Prong in Great Smoky Mountains National Park will force closure of the Ramsey Cascades Trail into late April.

Park officials say recent high winds felled a large hemlock tree onto the 60-foot-long footbridge that crosses the stream. The tree destroyed the handrail for the bridge, which is about 12 feet above the river. The bridge was also cracked and separated from the foundation.

For more information about trail closures, please visit the park’s website or call the Backcountry Information Office at 865-436-1297.


A bridge is out, just like many are over in Cataloochee and they close a trail. Heaven forbid anyone should have to ford a stream. So let's not allow them to do so.

Perhaps you're familiar with the route in question and can offer some more details. The story says the bridge is 12 feet above the water and 60 feet long, and the photo suggests some fast water, so this doesn't sound like a casual stream crossing.

I don't know if fording the stream without the bridge can be done safely, or if a lot of hikers scrambling up and down the bank to ford the stream would results in undue damage and future erosion? One hiking site says the stream in question has "countless waterfalls and rapids."

It's easy to be critical of decisions to close the trail for about a 6-week period when we aren't responsible for protecting the resource or providing for visitor safety. Lawsuits would seen inevitable if the park left the trail open, knowing there was a potentially dangerous situation, and an accident then occurred.

On another recent story on the Traveler, there's been criticism for another park's failure to deal with a safety problem on a trail that resulted in a fatality, and a lot of taxpayer dollars were paid out as a result. We can't have it both ways - either the agency errs on the side of caution, or it ignores the problem at the risk of a serious incident, and hopes for the best.

Jim, Eagle Creek, also in the Smokies, has over 25 major crossings that meet or exceed this one. It has no such footbridges and never has. It is more remote and receives less traffic but a rescue there would be incredibly expensive. Should they permanently close Eagle Creek trail? It is understood that there are objective hazards in areas that are supposed to be managed as wilderness in the first place. How do you pick and choose what parts of the backcountry are too dangerous and off limits. Would you ever envision the NPS closing, for instance, the Cassin Route on Denali or the West Rib and forcing all climbers to go the standard West Buttress route? At what point do you quit holding people's hands and managing wilderness as designated wilderness. Placing a handicapped accessible toilet on Mt. Leconte, (only accessibile by strenuous hiking trails) is another example of NPS logic. (now that I've been educated about NPS FLREA abuses I can see it is just their way of paving the path for fees to hike Leconte) I never saw a handicapped accessible toilet at 14 thousand foot camp on Denali. Maybe that is in the works too since Jarvis upped the climbing fee for that peak in his continuing quest to secure the NPS for concessionaires.

Those are all good questions, and again, I don't know anything about the difficulty of the specific crossing in question without the bridge. Certainly every trail with hazards should not be closed.

The question becomes a little more difficult when users of a specific, fairly heavily used trail have come to expect a "safe" crossing via a bridge - and suddenly the bridge is no longer there. Is closing the trail in this situation for about 6 weeks to make it safer an unreasonable decision? Opinions will likely vary :-)

Jim, I have no knowledge of the trail or stream hazard being discussed here. I do know we have closed trails in western parks where bridges have been washed out over rivers that were just to dangerous to cross without the bridge in place. I have closed these trails myself in the position I held in Yosemite. I think you make a good point here. On the Mt. Lassen case, I do not think the issue, at least with me, was the lack of maintenance of a known hazard, it was the tampering/destruction of evidence and false declarations that aroused the ire of the court. I am acquainted with the incident and to some extent some of those involved. It was just a tragic incident compounded by some poor judgement and an alleged coverup.

I've been on Ramsey Cascade several times. Crossing the river without a bridge would be a challenge if you can't stand up. Then you aren't fording; you're swimming. Ramsey Cascade is a "top of the pops" destination, easy to find. I've seen completely unprepared families trying to walk the trail without a pack or even water.

Danny www.hikertohiker.com

Danny, There are many trails in the Smokies that are dangerous. Does that mean they should be closed? I mean, someone could fall off the jumpoff or Chimneys. Should Eagle Creek be permanently closed because of all the dangerous crossings? Instead of playing the role as continuing apologist for the NPS, how about considering the fact that many backcountry enthusiasts enjoy the thrill of navigating the objective hazards as they come without a government solution to fix the backcountry or make it off limits? I realize you are a guide in the Smokies but most of us do not need guiding and don't make our money off of having trails "groomed" for customers. Think of others when you make these types of non representative statements please.