Whiteoak Sink Group Hiking Permits
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Whiteoak Sink area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a limestone basin surrounded by steep hills that comes alive as a natural botanical garden showcasing more than 30 varieties of native wildflowers in April each year. To help protect this fragile area from damage, please be aware of new visitation and group permit guidelines below and plan your visit accordingly. Groups with a minimum of 8 and maximum of 12 people are required to reserve a group hiking permit for one of two time slots available for a weekday; groups of 8 or more are prohibited from entering the Whiteoak Sink area on weekends. Individuals or small groups of 2-7 people do not need a permit.
Permit & Season Information
During the peak wildflower season, April 12 to April 30, and for the safety of our visitors and the wildflowers, the following regulations will be in effect for visiting Whiteoak Sink:
- A weekday hiking permit is required for groups. A group is defined as a minimum of 8 to a maximum of 12 people entering the area at the same time. Individuals or groups of 7 or fewer people do not need a hiking permit.
- You must reserve a permit online. Reservations open on March 11 at 10:00 am EST. Only 2 permits will be issued for each weekday (7-10 am and 2-5 pm EST). Permits are not valid for use on Saturday’s or Sunday’s. Permits are issued first-come, first-served. Limit of 2 permits per person per season.
- Print the permit from your email and bring it onsite to present to a park representative upon request. The permit allows the group access to the Whiteoak Sink area where the manway intersects with Schoolhouse Gap Trail on the date and time specified on the permit.
Need to Know
- Permit for Groups of 8-12 is required from April 12-30: A printed permit must be in the possession of the permittee at the time of the activity associated with the Whiteoak Sink. A copy of the entire permit, including the permit conditions, must be presented to park staff upon request.
- Area Use: Permit holder will ensure no natural, historic, or cultural features are injured because of their activities. The area(s) authorized for use under this authorization must be left in substantially the same condition as it was prior to the activities authorized herein. Hikers must stay on the main hiking path.
- Commercial Use: Commercial organizations must contact the park's Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) program manager at (865) 436-1296 to obtain a Whiteoak Sink Group Hiking Permit. CUA holders are prohibited from obtaining a Whiteoak Sink Group Hiking Permit through Recreation.gov. A separate, permitting system is in place for CUA holders.
- Unauthorized Locations: The permit holder is prohibited from entering any area designated as closed in the Superintendent's compendium (Section 1.5). Hiking is permitted on the primary Whiteoak Sink manway path only. Off-trail, or social trail use is strictly prohibited as this activity deteriorates natural resources in the area. The holder is prohibited from going within 50 yards of the cave openings to protect human health and vulnerable bat populations.
- Preservation of Natural Resources: Pursuant to 36 CFR 2.1 (a)(1)(ii) It is unlawful to possess, destroy, injure, or remove plants or the parts or products thereof from their natural state. Violators will be prosecuted.
- Noise: The month of April is a critically sensitive time for bats as they emerge from hibernation, exiting the cave to feed and returning to the caves to resume daily topor bouts. As the bats recover from this physiological stress, they are very sensitive to disturbances. Disturbances can cause bats to use up energy reserves which are needed to recover from hibernation, as well as, white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that impacts hibernating bats. Please be respectful and keep noise to a minimum while visiting Whiteoak Sink.
- Photography: Photographing wildflowers is restricted to staying on the main hiking path. Efforts to obtain close-up photographs of showy wildflowers causes social trail creation, soil compaction, and plant trampling. Please do your part to ensure these sensitive wildflower populations remain in the area by staying on the designated path.
- Drones: The use of an unmanned aircraft (UAS) or drone of any kind is strictly prohibited.
- Trash: Visitors are responsible for removing all trash associated with their visit to the park.
- Human Waste: Groups are required to abide by all park rules regarding proper disposal of human waste to prevent the pollution of water sources, the spread of disease, and the aesthetic degradation of the park. Improper disposal of human waste is a violation of park regulations, and violators are subject to fines.
- Wildlife: Willfully approaching within 50 yards of bear or elk, or within any distance that results in their disturbance or displacement, is prohibited. Harassing (e.g., intentional touching, teasing, frightening or disturbing) or feeding wildlife is prohibited pursuant to 36 CFR 2.2(a)(2).
- Parking: All vehicles associated with the permitted activity must park in established parking lots or roadside pull outs. Parking spaces at Schoolhouse Gap Trailhead are limited and permit holders are not guaranteed a parking space. Vehicles parked along the road shoulders MUST not obstruct or impede traffic flow. All four tires must be completely off the roadway. Vehicles that obstruct traffic will be towed at the owner’s expense and may be issued a citation. Parking spaces may not be reserved or blocked off, nor can parked vehicles interfere with normal public use. Carpooling is encouraged.
- Stock Animals: The use of stock animals (e.g., horses or llamas) is prohibited.
Group Hiking Permit Fees:
Recreation Fee: $50.00 recreation fee for a Whiteoak Sink Group Hiking Permit
Reservation Fee: There is a non-refundable $6.00 reservation fee for every permit. Fees cannot be transferred to other dates. No rain checks or credits.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Entrance Fee: No entry fees are required to enter any portion of the park.
Cancellation Policy: Although the $6.00 reservation fee is non-refundable, the $50.00 recreation fee will be refunded if the permit is cancelled prior to the printing of the permit. It is not possible to cancel or refund a permit after the permit has been printed.
Change Policy: Changes in group size, group members, vehicle information (make, model and state), emergency contact information and comment box information can be changed up to the final printing of the permit. After the permit is printed, no changes to the permit can be made.
420 Fighting Creek Gap Road Gatlinburg TN 37738