Archived Outdoors

Smokies proposes parkwide parking fee

Smokies proposes parkwide parking fee

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park today announced a groundbreaking proposal to charge a daily fee for parking and significantly increase existing frontcountry and backcountry fees within the enormously popular national park. A public comment period is now open, and a virtual public meeting is planned for Thursday, April 14.

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park is at a crossroads,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “We’re proud to be the most visited National Park, but it does present challenges due to wear and tear on aging facilities and a strain on park resources and employees. Parking tag sales, at a modest fee, would provide critically needed support to protect and enhance the visitor experience not just for tomorrow, but for generations to come. We appreciate the public’s input throughout this process.”  

The proposed daily parking fee is $5, with a seven-day tag available for $15 and an annual tag for $40. The park would remain free to enter — motorists using the park as a scenic drive or commuter route would not be charged. Passholders would have to display the tag in their car while parking it in designated parking spots within park boundaries, but the tag would not guarantee a parking spot at any specific location, with parking continuing to be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Unofficial roadside parking would be eliminated to help protect resources and improve safety and traffic flow.

The program aims to create a sustainable revenue source to address longstanding challenges associated with high use, year-round operational needs and resource protection. Fee revenue would support the care of well-loved resources including trails, picnic areas and historic landscapes across the park.  

Proposed rates were determined through comparing rates for similar access on public and private lands. The average parking rate in gateway communities where parking fees are charged is $15 per day and $68 per month. In National Park sites where parking fees are charged, the average rate is $9 per day and $50 per year.

Related Items

The park also wants to double backcountry camping fees, raising them from $4 to $8 per night, with a maximum of $40 per camper. Backcountry fees provide critical support for trip planning, seven-day-a-week backcountry office support and backcountry law enforcement patrol. These fees have not increased in 10 years, while use of sites has increased to more than 100,000 camper nights per year. 

Additionally, the proposal would standardize frontcountry fees across the park, because campground operational costs are now similar across the locations. The proposed fee for all campgrounds for family campsites would be $30 per night for primitive sites and $36 per night for sites with electrical hookups. Formerly, rates for campgrounds varied across campgrounds and ranged from $17.50 to $25 per night. Additional frontcountry fees proposed to be increased include group camps, horse camps and picnic pavilions by between 20 and 30 percent depending on size and location. Rates for daily rental of the Appalachian Clubhouse and Spence Cabin in Elkmont are proposed to be a standard daily rate, resulting in an average increase of the weekly rate and decrease of the weekend rate.

Year after year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the country’s 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 upkeep of the park. The park hopes the proposed fee changes will provide an opportunity for park users to directly contribute towards upkeep of the park.    

Under the Federal Lands and Recreation Enhancement Act the park may charge fees to provide funding to support a safe and enjoyable visitor experience. In addition to the repair, maintenance and enhancements of visitor facilities, the park would prioritize using the fee revenue to provide increased ranger presence and maintenance personnel across the park.

A virtual public meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, April 14, to take input on the proposal. The one-hour meeting will include an overview presentation and a question- and-answer session. To attend the meeting, log on at tinyurl.com/mttkdyxs or call in for listen-only mode at 929.436.2866, passcode 980 8025 4376#.  

Written comments will be accepted through May 7. Comment online at parkplanning.nps.gov/GRSMfeeproposal2023 or mail hard copy comments to Superintendent Cassius Cash, Attn: 2023 Smokies Fee Program Changes Proposal, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.

The rate change proposals are available at nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2023-fee-proposal.htm.

 

Leave a comment

13 comments

  • I can understand the park needing funds for people to park. The rates you have are fine. A lot of your visitors are low to middle income,& they are hurting because of Biden’s policies. Gas prices will probably decrease your visitors by a lot. The camper rates seem a little high, but I don’t know how much electricity they use per night. You have to take care of the park. I haven’t come in a number of years because of high prices of the cabin rentals prices. Do you get state,& federal funds to help take care of the park?

    posted by Charles D. Windham

    Saturday, 06/18/2022

  • I have family buried there, so you want to charge me to visit their graves? They were told there would never be a fee to go to the park. So, technically, you are not charging a fee to enter, but you are lying. By the way, how are you going to stop the illegal parking? You don’t seem to be able to stop it now.

    posted by Stephen Clabo

    Saturday, 06/18/2022

  • I have family buried there, so you want to charge me to visit their graves? They were told there would never be a fee to go to the park. So, technically, you are not charging a fee to enter, but you are lying. By the way, how are you going to stop the illegal parking? You don’t seem to be able to stop it now.

    posted by Stephen Clabo

    Saturday, 06/18/2022

  • I am not against the fees but do not understand why you wold charge someone that lives in the state as much as tourists or at least offer discount to the people that live in this state or maybe those that are lifetime members of the Great Smoky Mountains. We pay high taxes where other states may not. Please take this into consideration!

    posted by Lynn Wells

    Saturday, 06/18/2022

  • I am against the fees because it's just another to charge an entrance fee. If you go in the park you'll have to pay the fee because who goes through the park without stopping. Do you have to pay if you stop to go to the bathroom?

    posted by Brenda Long

    Friday, 04/15/2022

  • As long as fees collected are guaranteed to be used for the Smokies, then I understand the increases in fees and the additional ones. Hate to see it but understand the need.

    posted by Donna Mirris

    Thursday, 04/07/2022

  • My husband and I have visited the Smilies at least once a year for the last 30 years and have no problem with the parking fee.I hope it will be available to get online pre trip or at the hotel. There is way to many people at the visitor centers to try and get one from there.

    posted by Tracy Presley

    Thursday, 04/07/2022

  • If a parking is to be charged, and the plan is to eliminate "unofficial parking," then parking lots better be enlarged at places like Alum Cave and Laurel Falls. If people are being charged, then find they can't park, then there will be a backlash.

    posted by Quartermaster

    Thursday, 04/07/2022

  • Would the National Park Pass exempt those folks from this parking fee?

    posted by Ron Dundore

    Wednesday, 04/06/2022

  • The rates sound very reasonable to me. I love the Smokes and whole heartily suppose such a fee.

    posted by Floyd Dowdey

    Wednesday, 04/06/2022

  • Where do you get the park pass

    posted by Cheryl Durden

    Wednesday, 04/06/2022

  • I think the rates are reasonable and I hope those who love the mountains as I do will feel the same way. It's a small fee in exchange for it's rewards.

    posted by Pamela Bordeaux

    Wednesday, 04/06/2022

  • I think the rates are reasonable and I hope those who love the mountains as I do will feel the same way. It's a small fee in exchange for it's rewards.

    posted by Pamela Bordeaux

    Wednesday, 04/06/2022

Smokey Mountain News Logo
SUPPORT THE SMOKY MOUNTAIN NEWS AND
INDEPENDENT, AWARD-WINNING JOURNALISM
Go to top
Payment Information

/

At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.