Why is There No Great Smoky Mountains National Park Entrance Fee?
As you may have heard during your visits to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country. One of the reasons over 10 million people visit the Smokies each year is its affordability. Unlike other national parks, the GSMNP is completely free to enter. Have you ever wondered why there is no Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance fee? Visit My Smokies did a little digging to bring you the answer.
In the years leading up to the official chartering of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina started work on a modern highway that would connect the two states. With money from the state governments and local communities, Newfound Gap Road (US 411) was constructed. Stretching from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina, the road takes its name from Newfound Gap, the lowest mountain pass over the Smokies.
When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was formally established in 1934, the states transferred their ownership of Newfound Gap Road to the federal government. While North Carolina transferred its land through abandonment, Tennessee chose a different path. In the deed that signed the rights to Newfound Gap Road over to the federal government, the Volunteer State included a clause guaranteeing that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed” to travel the road. Tennessee wanted to ensure that the creation of the national park did not disrupt convenient interstate travel on the road, and the NPS was happy to oblige.
Over 80 years later, there is still no Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance fee. Here at Visit My Smokies, we are proud that the national park is accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial situation. The Smokies are just too beautiful not to share with the masses!
While we can’t predict the future, the chances of there ever being an entrance fee for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are very, very slim. If the National Park Service wanted to charge a fee, they would need the Tennessee legislature to change the details of the deed from the 1930s. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s current free status, and the millions of dollars that tourism adds to the local economy, we don’t see this happening anytime soon. There is currently no talk of trying to implement an entrance fee..and that’s the way we like it!
However, even though it’s free to enter the park and drive around, there is a parking fee. Parking passes are required for all vehicles that will remain parked for 15 minutes or longer. Daily parking passes are $5, weekly passes are $15, and annual passes are $40. You can purchase a parking tag at any of the visitor centers, the Gatlinburg Welcome Center, or the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.
Where Does the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Get Its Funding?
If the Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t charge an entrance fee, where do its funds come from? The short answer is that the GSMNP’s expenses are factored into the National Park Service’s annual budget, which is submitted to Congress for its approval. The parking fee will help balance the park’s budget and go toward improving the facilities and roads.
However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. In order to cover all of the park’s educational programs, historical preservation efforts, and repair work, the GSMNP also accepts donations from a number of non-profit organizations. Friends of the Smokies has raised over $47 million for the park since 1993, primarily by selling specialty license plates and hosting events. Another major contributor, the Great Smoky Mountains Association, raises over $7 million each year by selling products at 9 visitor center locations in and around the national park. If you love the fact that there is no Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance fee, be sure to support these incredible organizations!
To learn more about the Smokies, check out our Great Smoky Mountains National Park page!