National Park Service Implements Shuttle Service to Laurel Falls Trail
If you have ever hiked the Laurel Falls Trail before, you may have been met with hundreds of other people wanting to hike the popular trail. It’s understandable why so many people want to hike the trail; it’s paved, there’s an incredible waterfall at the end, and it’s an easy hike! Unfortunately, that means there’s quite a bit of congestion along the trail and at the waterfall. The National Park Service just announced a pilot program designed to lessen the congestion at Laurel Falls Trail. Learn more about this program below:
Congestion Management Pilot Program
Between September 7 and October 3, 2021, a Congestion Management Pilot Program will launch for Laurel Falls Trail. The goal for the temporary pilot program is to gain information so the park staff can implement strategies to improve visitors’ experience, enhance safety measures, protect natural resources, and reduce congestion. After this trial period, the park staff will evaluate results and public feedback about the pilot program and come up with a long term plan to prevent congestion.
Changes to Visiting Laurel Falls
There are quite a few efforts being implemented that will try to improve crowding and congestion along the trail. Here are the major changes taking place during this trial period:
Reduce Roadside Parking
To combat congestion of the trail, the amount of roadside parking will be reduced. Signs, temporary physical barriers, and an increased number of staff members will be used to prevent people from parking alongside the road during the pilot program. These measures will run from Maloney Point to the parking area along Fighting Creek Gap Road.
People who want to hike Laurel Falls Trail will need to make a reservation. Guests will have the option of making a reservation for a parking spot for their vehicle, or they can make a reservation for a shuttle. Visitors will need to make reservations through www.recreation.gov, and there is a fee of $14 to cover administrative costs.
Use the Shuttle Service
The shuttle service will be through Rocky Top Tours. Visitors will park at the Ober Gatlinburg parking lot located at 300 Cottage Drive in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Shuttles run every half hour starting at 9:00 a.m. and the last shuttle will leave at 4:00 p.m. The shuttle will cost $5 per person. The parking lot charges $10 per vehicle.
More About the Pilot Program
Congestion along the Laurel Falls Trail isn’t new, and the NPS has been working on a plan for quite some time. Back in October 2020, a Visitor Experience Stewardship Engagement process was started. The NPS held various workshops with employees, the public, volunteers, and partners to get input on congestion and crowding in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
For Laurel Falls, there were over 220 submissions on improvements that could be made to enhance the experience of hiking the trail. Some of them included:
- Accessing safety information before hiking the trail
- Creating a designated flow of traffic to the waterfall
- Providing adequate space along the trail
As a way to combat these issues, participants in the workshops suggested:
- Reducing or eliminating roadside parking
- Charging a parking lot fee
- Updating the trail and falls viewing area
- Increasing amount of rangers and volunteers on the trail and parking area
- Providing information about congestion conditions to the public
These suggestions are where the ideas for the pilot program came from.
Visitors and guests are welcome to provide feedback on the pilot program. You can either comment online on the official pilot program website, or you can send comments via mail at:
Laurel Falls Trail Congestion Management Pilot Project
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Rd.
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
NPS is requesting that formal comments should be submitted no later than August 7, 2021.
Now you know more about the Congestion Management Pilot Program for Laurel Falls Trail. Are you excited to explore the Smokies when you’re in town? Learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park before you visit!