The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is showing its age, but the park service has a fix, parking passes

Officials said the proposed changes come as increased traffic threatens to harm the park.
Parking could soon cost you inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 10:30 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 6, 2022 at 12:15 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - You may soon have to pay a bit more to enjoy a day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Park officials are considering changing the park’s fee system. Officials said the proposed changes come as increased traffic threatens to harm the park.

If the proposed changes are enacted, existing fees for front-country and back-country campsites, picnic pavilions and day-use cabins will increase. Additionally, officials may enact a park-wide parking fee. The goal of the fees is to cut down on traffic.

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park is at a crossroads,” Superintendent Cassius Cash said. “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.”

Over the last decade, park visitation increased by 57% to a record 14.1 million visits in 2021. The proposed changes are aimed at keeping up with the wear and tear that comes with more visitors.

Officials are proposing that visitors pay for a park-wide parking pass. The passes would cost $5 a day, $15 for a week or $40 a year. Officials with the park said these prices are already lower than National Parks that already charge for parking; they say the average cost for those parks is $9 per day or $50 per year. Under the parking pass system, parking would still be first-come, first-serve, however officials would eliminate unofficial roadside parking. These changes would help protect resources, improve safety and help with traffic, they said.

Back-country camping fees would increase from $4 a night to $8 a night under the new system, with a maximum of $40 per camper. Front-country sites would now run $30 a night for primitive spaces and $36 a night for sites with electrical hookups.

Officials are asking the public for input on these decisions. You can let GSMNP officials know what you think via a virtual public meeting by logging in here on April 14 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. You can also leave an online comment by visiting this website.

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