Park It Forward: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Parking Fees Effective March 1
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has seen a steady increase in visitors over the past several years. Last year, the park recorded its busiest year to date, bringing in a total of over 14 million guests. Over the past decade, there has been a visitation increase of over 57 percent. Because the park’s operational budget hasn’t seen a similar growth, they have been looking for ways to maintain the park so that guests receive the best possible experience. The result is the new Park It Forward program, which started March of 2023. Here is everything you need to know about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park parking fees:
Parking Tag Basics
Starting March 1, 2023, valid parking tags will be required for any vehicles parking inside the national park. Guests will need to display the parking tag on the dashboard of their vehicle any time they are parked and leave the vehicle unattended. There are three different tag durations that your group can choose from. A daily parking pass will cost $5 per vehicle, a week pass will be $15 and an annual pass can be purchased for $40. As you plan your trip, you will be able to purchase your parking pass online or onsite when you reach the park. These parking passes will be mandatory if your car is going to be parked for more than 15 minutes, meaning you won’t need one if you are just passing through the area.
How It Helps
The money generated from the new Park It Forward initiative will help to provide sustainable, year-round support for the park that focuses on improving the visitor experience. Some of the specific things that the money will be used for include protecting natural resources, maintaining hiking trails and roads, and updating existing historical structures. It will still be free to enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and you won’t have to pay to access park roads. Parking passes will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, including in the areas where overcrowding has become an issue.
Why the Added Fee?
The park’s budget, which is appropriated by Congress, does not increase based on visitation. While the number of visitors to the park has continued to increase, the budget has remained relatively unchanged. In order to balance the park’s budget, park managers have had to reduce some visitor services and decrease staff levels. The goal of the Park It Forward program is to get all the facilities and roads back to a pristine level, making your experience in the park more enjoyable. A few other examples of how these funds will be used include improving visitor safety by increasing park rangers, repairing and enhancing public park facilities, and restoring recreational habitats for wildlife and fishing. It is important to remember that 100% of the funds from the program will go directly back into preserving the park and ensuring the visitor experience remains top of the line.
How the Program Formed
The initial parking fee idea was proposed in April and it sparked tens of thousands of comments from all across the country. Of those respondents, nearly 57% were from the states of Tennessee and North Carolina. According to a press release, nearly 85% of responses expressed strong support for the program, or included constructive ideas on how to improve it. In the long run, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be able to significantly improve the visitor experience of the Smokies for just a small fee.
How to Purchase a Parking Tag?
Parking tags are now available for purchase! You have 2 options for purchasing your tag. The first option is to purchase your annual $40 parking tag online at Great Smoky Mountains Association. The second option is to purchase your tag in person at any of the visitor centers inside the national park, at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center, or the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont Store. If you are not wanting an annual tag, there are daily $5 tags or $15 weekly tags available for purchase. Starting on February 21st, you’ll also be able to purchase a parking tag through the recreation.gov website.
Things to Do in the Park
For those who have never experienced the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will be amazed by everything there is to see and do in the area. The park is home to dozens of wonderful scenic drives, including Cades Cove Loop Road, which is a prime destination for viewing the mountain scenery and wildlife. In addition, the park is home to over 800 miles of magnificent hiking trails, including trails to waterfalls, historic buildings, hidden gems, and much more.
Do you want to learn more about the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Explore everything you need to know about the most visited national park in the country! We look forward to seeing you soon in the Smokies!