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Beginning on March 1, 2023, Appalachian Trail thru-hikers will have to pay double to hike through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Under the Park it Forward program the fee for a permit will increase from $20 to $40.
To qualify for a thru-hiker permit, hikers must begin and end their hike at least 50 miles outside of the park boundaries and limit their travels within the park to its 72-mile section of the Appalachian Trail.
The park first issued thru-hiker permits in 2013, and the system was immediately successful. Now, park officials issue about 3,000 of the permits every year. The park estimates its increase in permit costs will raise the money it brings in from the program from about $60,000 to $120,000 per year, allowing it to offset the costs associated with thru-hiker-specific services. All of the money raised will go towards park projects, like potentially increasing the number of ridge runners on the Smokies portion of the Appalachian Trail.
Over the past few years, visitation to Great Smoky Mountains National Park has exploded. In 2021 alone, the park hosted over 14 million people, which is an increase of roughly 5 million since 2011.
In addition to the price of thru-hiker permits going up, camping fees will increase ($8 per night in backcountry sites, $30 for designated sites without electrical hookups, and $36 for full electric) and the park will implement a new parking fee ($5 per day, $15 per week, or $40 annually). Great Smoky Mountains National Park is prohibited from charging an entry fee by federal law.
“Over the past decade, park visitation has skyrocketed by 57%,” park officials said in a report on the planned fee increase. “Because the park’s operational budget hasn’t seen similar growth, the increase in visitors is starting to take its toll with wear and tear on aging facilities and undue strain on limited staff.”
After initially announcing the intent to implement this new plan in April of this year, the park collected over 15,000 comments from contributors across all 50 states. According to the National Park Service, the overwhelming majority—more than 78%—expressed support for increasing fees.
The best way to avoid running into trouble with the new regulations? Plan ahead.. Those who are interested in camping in or thru-hiking through the Smokies next year can find additional information on the park’s site.