The National Park Service (NPS) has announced as of March 2023, visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be required to pay a parking fee. The fee will apply to all visitors who park in designated areas within the park and is intended to help cover the costs of park maintenance and infrastructure improvements.
The parking fee is part of the NPS's efforts to address the growing demand for park services and infrastructure and the increased costs of maintaining these facilities. The fee will be used to improve visitor facilities, roads, trails, and campgrounds and support conservation efforts in the park.
The Park it Forward parking tag program and increased camping fees begin soon. Parking tags will be required to be displayed on any motor vehicle parked within the park boundary beginning March 1, 2023. Approved parking rates are $5 for a daily parking tag, $15 for a parking tag for up to seven days, and $40 for an annual parking tag. All revenue will stay in the park to provide sustainable, year-round support focusing on improving the visitor experience, protecting resources, and maintaining trails, roads, historic structures, and facilities.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located in Tennessee and North Carolina, is the most-visited national park in the United States, attracting millions of visitors each year. Introducing the parking fee is part of a more significant effort by the NPS to ensure that the park remains accessible and well-maintained for future generations.
“Today marks a significant milestone in the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I’m honored to be a part of it. I have been incredibly encouraged by all the support, from across the country, and especially here in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, for the opportunity to invest in the future care of this treasured park. We take great pride in being the country’s most visited national park, but that distinction comes with tremendous strain on our infrastructure. Now we will have sustained resources to ensure this sacred place is protected for visitors to enjoy for generations to come.” - Superintendent Cassius Cash
The Park it Forward and camping fee proposal was initially announced in April 2022, and the public was encouraged to submit its comments formally. This invitation generated 3,677 correspondences, and 15,512 independent comments were identified, categorized, and assessed as part of the review process. Correspondence was received from all 50 states. Overall, 85% expressed either strong support or included constructive ideas to improve the program. None of these voiced oppositions to the fee itself. About 41% and 16% of all correspondences were from Tennessee and North Carolina residents. Support from the six counties bordering the park varied with 82% of Blount County, 73% of Sevier County, 90% of Cocke County, 60% of Graham County, NC, 60% of Swain County, NC, and 85% of Haywood County, NC residents who submitted feedback expressing either support or neutrality for the new parking fee.
The most prevalent comment regarding tag duration was support for an annual tag. In response, the Director of the National Park Service has authorized permission for the park to offer an annual tag, which will allow parking throughout the park from the date of purchase. While any visitor may purchase an annual parking tag, the approval for this option was sought by park leadership specifically for residents who are more likely to visit multiple times throughout the year. Park managers will continue incorporating substantive feedback into the Park it Forward implementation plan. Operational details, including where to purchase Park it Forward tags, will be posted on the park’s website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2023-fees.htm.
Use of all park roads will remain toll-free. Parking tags will not be required for motorists who pass through the area or park for less than fifteen minutes. The tags will not guarantee a parking spot at a specific location. Parking will continue to be available on a first-come, first-served basis throughout the park. To enhance the visitor experience by improving motorist and pedestrian safety, increasing traffic flow, and protecting roadside resources, unsafe roadside parking will be eliminated in specific areas across the park.
Of the correspondences related to camping, 78% expressed support for backcountry fee increases, and 82% expressed support for front-country fee increases. Backcountry camping fees will be $8 per night, with a maximum of $40 per camper. Frontcountry family campsite fees will be $30 per night for primitive sites and $36 per night for sites with electrical hookups. Group camps, horse camps, and picnic pavilion fees will primarily increase by between 20 and 30 percent, depending on group size and location. Rates for daily rental of the Appalachian Clubhouse and Spence Cabin in Elkmont will be $300 and $200, respectively. For a complete listing of all front-country facility rates, please visit the park website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2023-fees.htm.
Year after year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park. Over the last decade, visitation increased by 57 percent to a record 14.1 million visits in 2021. With rising costs and more visitation, additional revenue is critical to support the park's upkeep. The new fee changes will allow park users to directly contribute towards protecting the park.
The Federal Lands and Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) provides the authority to charge these fees. All funds generated through these recreation fees will remain in the Smokies to directly support costs for managing and improving services for visitors, such as trail maintenance, custodial services, trash removal, and supporting more law enforcement staff across the park. Please visit the Fee Program webpage for more information about the public comment process.
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