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Great Smoky Mountains is unusual among national parks for not having an entry fee. But starting next year, visiting it won’t necessarily be free: Beginning on March 1, 2023, vehicles that are parked within the park boundary for more than 15 minutes will required to display a permit. The cost of a day parking permit will be $5, a week-long permit will cost $15, and an annual pass will cost $40; the use of the park’s roads will continue to be toll-free.
In addition to new parking fees, visitors to GSMNP should expect backcountry camping to increase in price from $4 to $8 per person per night, up to a maximum $40 per person. Frontcountry dry campsites will cost $30 per night. Those with electric hookups will cost $36. And day rental rates for the Appalachian Clubhouse and Elkmont’s Spence Cabin will increase to $300 and $200 respectively.
The Park it Forward program is designed to provide income to improve the park experience while protecting its resources. According to the park release: “All revenue will stay in the park to provide sustainable, year-round support focusing on improving the visitor experience, protecting resources, and maintaining trails, roads, historic structures, and facilities.”
Earlier this year, the park encouraged the public to offer comments about the proposed program. The invitation yielded more than 15,000 comments from every state – about 85% of which expressed support for the program. One commonly requested change from the original proposal was an annual parking tag option to accommodate frequent visitation.
As the most visited national park in the nation, GSMNP faces unprecedented amounts of strain on park resources. Over the past 10 years, visitation to GSMNP increased by more than 50%. Since the Blue Ridge Parkway travels through the park, it receives more vehicular traffic than any other national park. In 2021 alone, the park hosted 14.1 million visitors.
The Park It Forward program may provide some much-needed support to accommodate continued growth to this iconic destination. As the program takes effect, park officials will continue tweaking it
“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,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “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.”