KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been approved by the National Park Service to implement a new fee system that will help cover the cost of operating and maintaining the park as visitation continues to increase.
The “Park it Forward” program will include a new parking fee plus an increase in camping fees beginning next year.
The park shared the information about the decision on Monday. The annual tag will allow for parking throughout the park from the date of purchase and will be required to be displayed on any motor vehicle parked within the Smokies boundary starting on March 1, 2023.
The approved parking rates are $5 for a daily parking tag, $15 for a parking tag for up to seven days, and $40 for an annual parking tag.
Camping fees are also increasing. Backcountry camping fees will be $8 per night, with a maximum of $40 per camper. Frontcountry family campsite fees will be $30 per night for primitive sites and $36 per night for sites with electrical hookups. Group camps, horse camps, and picnic pavilions fees will primarily increase by between 20 and 30 percent depending on group size and location. Rates for daily rental of the Appalachian Clubhouse and Spence Cabin in Elkmont will be $300 and $200, respectively. For a complete listing of all front-country facility rates, visit the park website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2023-fees.htm
“Today marks a significant milestone in the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I’m honored to be a part of it,” Superintendent Cassius Cash said in the news release. “I have been incredibly encouraged by all the support, from across the country, and especially here in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, for the opportunity to invest in the future care of this treasured park. We take great pride in being the country’s most visited national park, but that distinction comes with tremendous strain on our infrastructure. Now we will have sustained resources to ensure this sacred place is protected for visitors to enjoy for generations to come.”
Officials say all revenue from the fees will stay in the park in order to “provide sustainable, year-round support focusing on improving the visitor experience, protecting resources, and maintaining trails, roads, historic structures, and facilities.”
All funds collected from the program will go directly back into preserving the park and improving the visitor experience.
Smokies officials also confirmed in the news release that the use of all park roads will remain toll-free. Parking tags will not be required for motorists who pass through the area or who park vehicles for less than fifteen minutes. The tags will not guarantee a parking spot at a specific location. Parking will continue to be available on a first-come, first-serve basis throughout the park.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the National Park Service system. Officials say that over the last decade, visitation increased by 57% to a record 14.1 million visits in 2021.
Smokies officials say with rising costs and more visitation, “additional revenue is critical to support the upkeep of the park. The new fee changes will provide an opportunity for park users to directly contribute towards protecting the park.”