Visitation has increased every year since 2013 and has set a record every year since 2015, when 10.7 million visits surpassed the previous record of 10.28 million set in 1999. Last year, monthly visitation records were set in six out of 12 months — January, March, April, May, June and December. The January record of 496,743 visits came despite the fact that a government shutdown meant few visitors services were available in the park that month.
Before 2015, park visitation had not exceeded one million visitors per month until summer and fall. In 2019, 999,259 visits were recorded in April and 1,096,056 in May. Another traditional shoulder season month, September, has now exceeded one million visitors since 2015.
Visitors are more consistently reporting traffic congestion, busy restrooms and over-full parking areas throughout the year. These are some of the issues the park will be exploring over the next year in an effort to provide better access, experiences and stewardship of the park.
“I am very proud of our employees who work hard each day, along with our volunteers and partners, to help provide outstanding visitor experiences and to protect the resources that people come here to enjoy,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “With growing visitation, this has become more challenging. In 2020, we’ll be inviting people to help us thoughtfully look at how we can improve access and continue caring for this very special place.”
The park’s primary entrances near Gatlinburg, Townsend and Cherokee accounted for about two-thirds of total park visitation, and secondary park entrances experienced tremendous growth, due primarily to the new section of the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley. Over one million visitors enjoyed this new scenic driving experience.
More park visitation statistics are available at irma.nps.gov/Stats.