Saturday, April 18, 2009

Is Bear Pepper Spray Legal or Illegal to have in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

With more than 2 black bear per square mile and around 900 miles of hiking trails and roadways in the Great Smoky Mountains national park, your chances of having a bear encounter up close or from a distance are quite good. Because of this many hikers and campers carry cans of bear pepper spray they have purchased from either outfitters or online.

the Great Smoky Mountains national park has more than 2 black bear per square mile

Regardless of what these stores or web sites are telling you, it is ILLEGAL to carry, posses or use any form of bear spray, pepper spray, mace or any other irritant gas spray in the Great Smoky Mountains national park. This is not just a "park rule" but a weapons law on federal property - not something you want to break at any cost.

Don't kill the messenger as I was in complete shock when I learned of this through the kindness of a park employee who read on one of my web sites my recommendation to purchase and carry bear spray when hiking or camping in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

It's pretty obvious to anyone who hikes or goes camping in the Great Smoky Mountains national park that it is against the law to have a loaded firearm in the park. There are signs at every trailhead and this general rule - make that law - applies to most national parks.

The fact that guns are prohibited from the Great Smoky Mountains national park also appears on the back of park maps, in written park literature, is stated in lectures given by both park personal and volunteers and on the parks web site.

What is virtually impossible for the average park visitor to find anywhere is the fact that you can not carry bear spray or on your person - that includes in your backpack while in the park.

Even more confusing is the fact that if you do a general search on the Great Smoky Mountains national park web site under "National Park Service for the term "bear spray" it describes the use of bear spray in other national parks.

many hikers and campers carry cans of bear pepper spray

Yesterday I went to a handful of local outfitters or their web sites in the Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville area and they all have bear pepper spray for sale. When I asked not one told me I could not carry bear spray in the park.

As a mater of fact one of the best known outfitters in Gatlinburg whose store is so close it is almost in the GSM national park has on their web site "Bear Spray & Personal Protection For A Safe Hike In Great Smoky Mountains National Park Or In Your Own Neighborhood".

To be further confusing many other companies online, web sites, hiker forums etc all advocate the use of Bear Pepper Spray in national parks - often specifically referencing the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

As mater of fact it is also used as a reason why guns should not be needed against a bear attack in a national park. I myself recommended it many times as a viable non lethal alternative to guns with a far lower chance of serious collateral damage to others.

I see Appalachian Trail through hikers in the Great Smoky Mountains national park as a group unknowingly breaking this law quite regularly and since their travels take them through various jurisdictions with varying laws they are at a greater risk of being caught up in breaking this weapons law on federal property.

In case you are wondering what the exact law is and if it has been misinterpreted by me here it is:



Sec. 2.4 Weapons, traps and nets.

(a)(1) Except as otherwise provided in this section and parts 7 (special regulations) and 13 (Alaska regulations), the following are prohibited:
(i) Possessing a weapon, trap or net
(ii) Carrying a weapon, trap or net
(iii) Using a weapon, trap or net
Definition of a weapon is described below:




Sec. 1.4 What terms do I need to know?
Weapon means a firearm, compressed gas or spring-powered pistol or rifle, bow and arrow, crossbow, blowgun, speargun, hand-thrown spear, slingshot, irritant gas device, explosive device, or any other implement designed to discharge missiles, and includes a weapon the possession of which is prohibited under the laws of the State in which the park area or portion thereof is located.

If you have purchased bear pepper spray through one of my web sites for use only in the GSMNP and you wish to return it, contact me through the site and I will arrange for you to be able to return it for a full refund.

If you own bear spray, don't bring it into the Great Smoky Mountains national park and I suggest you call any other place you wish to carry it before you bring it there.

If you are not happy with the law banning the use of Bear Spray in the GSMNP, don't harass the park employees, complain to your congressman or Washington.

As for my recommendation to the national park, I would consider adding a written notice that bear spray or any irritant gas device is illegal to posses in the GSMNP on:

  • Park bulletin boards - the first one being at the beginning of the AT in Fontana.
  • The black bear page on the parks web site
  • Printing it on future bear, hiking and camping literature
  • On the back of future issues of park maps where other park rules are located right next to where it says firearms are prohibited.

There are questions as to the effectiveness of Bear Spray and well as potential safety issues for those not properly trained in its use.

I also as that if you have a hiking or camping forum you post in, blog, MySpace or Facebook page you let others know about this law by linking to this page at:

As always comments are not only welcome but encouraged.

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Anonymous said...

The law changed last year. Check it out. It is no longer illegal to carry firearms in the Smokies. You really should get the facts straight instead of spreading more false information.

Smokies Hiker said...

Anonymous I am afraid you are wrong: Guns now illegal again in the GSMNPThe NPS never sent out a press release when the law changed.

Guess you may have been one of the people wandering around the park armed not knowing the law changed.

If anything will change again in regard to carrying guns in the GSMNP, they have until next Monday April 20th to do it.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree that a bear encounter is likely. I have hiked the majority of the major day hikes in the national park and have only seen bears while on a trail twice. Neither of those sightings had any chance of turning into a full fledged encounter. Precautions are great (if legal), but it's good to keep in mind that one's chances of seeing a bear are low and one's chances of interrupting a bear's behaviour are slim.

Anonymous said...

Well, if you are deep in the Park, miles from help, and you are attacked by a bear or a human, simply call out for a Ranger. They carry weapons...Lord knows why since they tell us the Park is so safe...and a Ranger will respond within a matter of days.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting and frankly, surprising story. Thanks.

Although I am glad that it is again illegal to carry firearms in the GSMNP, I do not see why people should not be able to carry bear spray if it makes them feel better.

I have hiked for at least a week every year for over 16 years - doing long dayhikes (longest was 35 miles - let me brag!).

I have only encountered bears about 5-6 times. There was no danger. But I am respectful of them. Show no fear and no aggression, but be prepared to turn around and do not bring elaborate picnics or food with a a strong, attractive smell line cans of fish, bacon, etc.


Smokies Hiker said...

Anonymous 8:59 PM

Let’s define encounter. I mean "to come upon face to face" not as in attack or in an adversarial manor.

Many who come to the park and hike like you will see few if any bear.

Just last week I lead a small group from the Rainbow Falls parking area via the Trillium Gap Trail to the Grotto Falls and back. Our group had 3 small loud children and yet when coming back just before dusk between the Grotto Falls Parking area and the Rainbow Falls parking area we had 1 lone bear, 1 mother with 2 cubs and 1 more lone bear all beneath us and the Roaring Fork Motor Trail – despite the fact the youngest was shouting "bear bear".


Great points and I hope I run into you on the trail one day.

Was the 35 miler the BCCG #77 hike in Lakeshore? That one beats me up every time. Start before dawn, get back at dusk or in the dark.

No "stinky foods" is a great suggestion. I actually rinse out my plastic in a stream before I pack out but I never bring tuna etc with me, although bear have an unbelievably keen sense of smell I am probably fooling myself as to the value of my garbage "rinses".

You triggered some other good ideas I will put on my bear safety page within the next week as other edits to the page are forthcoming.

What is disturbing is as much as I bought spray for my long distance deep backcountry solo hikes is the fact the 2 worst recent black bear attacks in the Great Smoky Mountains national park that come quickly to mind were not deep in backcountry but near the Rainbow Falls Parking area and in the Elkmont campgrounds – both places far from being secluded.

Connie said...

Thank you for this info, Smokies Hiker!!!

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Chris, I don't doubt the integrity of your friends information.

However, is it possible that he might be misinterpreting the law? A couple of questions I have on this:

1) Is bear spray indeed considered to be an "irritant gas device" as defined by law.

2) It doesn't make sense that GSMNP would be singled out for this law. Unless I'm missing something in the information you provided, but there isn't any mention of inclusions or exclusions as to which nat'l parks fall under the law (except AK). I raise this issue because the discussion over at Trip Advisor indicates that bear spray is legal in other parks.

If indeed bear spray is considered to be an "irritant gas device", then it would seem that it would be banned from all parks outside of AK - based on what I'm reading.

Do you have any clarification on any of this?



Smokies Hiker said...

Good question Jeff.

You are one of the people who knows I advocated the use of bear spray over lethal force and other non lethal measures.

My source for the law is Kim DeLozier the Supervisory Wildlife Biologist with the GSMNP.

He has decades of experience and it impossible that he has misinterpreted the law. His knowledge and credibility on a matter like this is impeccable.

While I may still have questions about the outcome of some bear managements techniques, his work in the park and the tremendous reduction in bear attacks has saved numerous human and countless bears lives.

Bear Spray which contains Capsaicin and/or Capsaicinoids is by its nature an irritant. That is how it works.

Mace is another chemical compound that would also be covered under this law.

I agree that a list of parks that do allow it and those that don't should be easily accessible by anyone looking for the information so they will be in compliance with this confusing weapons law on federal lands.

I am now told The Blue Ridge Parkway is also an example of national park property that does not allow bear spray.

Expect a forthcoming official statement shortly in regard "sonic" defense using compressed gasses as well.

I have received dozens of phone calls, many more emails and instant and direct messages from experienced law abiding hikers and campers who like me did research before buying bear spray and are in shock.

I have spent the last 2 days doing nothing but following up calls, emails and IM's and getting the word out.

Interesting to note that not one response was in real favor of the law. With gun laws in national parks people are very polarized.

That being said, just because you don't like a law doesn't mean you should break it.

Bram said...

It's been a long time since I did the Smokey Mountain section of the Application trail. I did have a bear encounter last time I was there. It was trying to get at the food in my pack which I had slung over a tree. It (she I think) did leave when I started making some noise.

I'm confused because one of the Ranger Stations there was encouraging hunters to kill feral pigs that were doing some real damage. I assume that would require a rifle or shotgun in the park. Maybe that was NC State land - who can keep track?

I will be carrying spray this summer in the White Mountains - my kids will be with me and I could care less what the rules are.

gmagsnphiker said...

Bureaucrats making criminals out of people with common sense... What's new?

Michael said...

It will be lawful to carry a CONCEALED gun in the park come February. It just passed with the credit card reform bill. In order to be able to carry a gun in the park, you will have to possess a concealed carry permit. That means you will have to go through firearms training and have extensive background checks. My wife and I have concealed carry permits and plan to carry our guns with us. Years ago, all the liberals said there would be wild west shootouts if the concealed carry law passed. This has just not materialized. What better person could you ask for to be able to carry a gun? A great law abiding citizen! I for one do not expect a ranger to come to my rescue miles from a trailhead when a nut decides he wants to harm my wife or myself. Also, what about the women killed by a bear back in 2000 or the little boy who got attacked by one last year on the trail? Does anybody think that a criminal will obey the no weapons law? When will liberals understand that the majority of firearm laws hurts good people and helps bad ones? Concerning the bear spray, I see alot of poeple carrying spray in plain sight while on the trail. I myself walked right by park personnel back in April with a big can of spray hanging on my pack. I will continue to do so.

Anonymous said...

Today is July 4th, 2009. I understand it is now legal to carry a handgun if you have a handgun permit. Is that true?

Smokies Hiker said...

Anonymous 7/4/09,

The firearms law did change yet again but it will not be legal to take a firearm into the Great Smoky mountains national park along with other national parks until the credit card reform bill takes effect in February of 2010.

I have a strong feeling that there will be attempted appeals to revoke this law due to the still standing environmental concerns that struck down the last law.

Anonymous said...

Last Paragraph states:
"Bear pepper spray may be carried by hikers within Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the strict purpose of protection against bodily harm from aggressive wildlife. It should not be applied to people, tents, packs, other equipment or surrounding area as a repellent. Bear pepper spray is a chemical formula designed specifically to deter aggressive or attacking bears. It must be commercially manufactured and labeled as “Bear Pepper Spray" and be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and individual states. Bear spray must contain between 1% to 2% of the active ingredients capsaicin and related capsaicinoids."

Forget all the other websites, GSM's Website say's it is ok, and I printed it up and carring it with me...with my Bear Spray.

P.s. i think there should be an update on this, so people arn't left panicking. Law's change as should blogs

Smokies Hiker said...


I had been advised months ago by higher ups in the park that the law on Bear Spray would change especially since guns will be allowed in the park as of February 2010.

No announcement was made publicly by the park and I commend the good catch on your part. I may not have caught that for months.

Though I plan to never use it, bear spray will now be part of my gear.

Anonymous said...

Today is May 13, 2010.

I understand that it is legal to carry concealed handgun with a permit in the GSMNP. Is it legal to possess/carry rifle or shotgun openly?

Smokies Hiker said...

Guns are now legal for some people in some areas of the Great Smoky Mountains national park. The laws differ if you are in Tennessee or if you are in North Carolina.

Be advised that other than law enforcement rangers no one will give you a straight or complete answer. Rangers taking you on a guided hiker, at information desks in visitor centers or park volunteers will NOT inform you of your legal rights.

You may find difficulty in finding what you can legally do even from law enforcement rangers who are the best-informed sources on gun regulations in the park.

Open carry of rifles and shotguns allowed? Yes in North Carolina if you are legally allowed to in that state NO for anyone in Tennessee. Where are the state lines? Good luck finding more than 1 of them marked.

Be advised that the “condition” of a long gun and even how it is carried on your person can change a legal carry to an illegal carry!

For more complete information and links to the actual state laws check out this story that guns are now legal in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

What would I suggest if you insist on brining a gun into the park? Legal concealed carry only.

Chris Hibbard

Anonymous said...

as of today, sept 2, 2010, it is legal to carry bear spray. I called the park ranger office. only thing is that it has to be labeled bear spray. it can be purchased at the park stores. there you all have it, so lets not argue about this anymore.

Brian said...

fixing to plan a month long hike on the trail myself and sugestions on a good online place to but a LIGHT backback??

Anonymous said...

I cannot speak about guns, but regarding bear spray, it is legal to carry bear spray in Great Smoky Mountains National park, at least as of Feb 21st 2011. Here are the excerpts from the URL

"...Bear pepper spray may be carried by hikers within Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the strict purpose of protection against bodily harm from aggressive wildlife. It should not be applied to people, tents, packs, other equipment or surrounding area as a repellent. Bear pepper spray is a chemical formula designed specifically to deter aggressive or attacking bears. It must be commercially manufactured and labeled as “Bear Pepper Spray" and be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and individual states. Bear spray must contain between 1% to 2% of the active ingredients capsaicin and related capsaicinoids...."

Anonymous said...

Seems to me the one place guns should still be legal to carry would be in the middle of nowhere. WTF good is having a gun doing anyone if it is unloaded and not accessible? Liberals

Anonymous said...

I disagree since it says "Bear pepper spray may be carried by hikers within Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the strict purpose of protection against bodily harm from aggressive wildlife" on the national park service's website.

Anonymous said...

It is absolutely LEGAL to carry Firearms and Bear Spray in Smokey National Park. The law changed in 2010. It's also on the the national park service's official Smokey Mountain Website and the bear spray is specifically talked about on a video by a Smokey Moutain Park Ranger when dealing with Bear attacks. You must, however, abide by the state law in which the park resides. The exceptions are that you cannot carry in to facilities or where it's posted in the park you can't carry firearms. Other than that, as long as you follow state, federal, and park rules, you are good to go.

NC Hiker said...

Bear pepper spray is legal to carry in the GSMNP. They have a bear alert on their website, and a link to a video (produced by the park service) on what to do if you are approached by a bear. Among other things it recommends hikers carry bear pepper spray and goes into detail on exactly what to purchase.