The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Parking fees set for Smokies; camping costs will increase

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IMG 6088You might have to pay to park at some of these trailheads in Great Smoky Mountains National Park starting next year. These old trail badges are displayed in Fontana Village on the south side of the Smokies. Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

Smokies parking fees will generate $7 million in revenue for park infrastructure

GATLINBURG — Getting outside just got more expensive.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced Monday the park would proceed with plans for a $5/per day parking pass required of all cars staying in one spot for more than 15 minutes.

Weekly passes will be $15, and annual passes will be available for $40, according to a release from the park service. Fees will also increase $3 for backcountry and campground permits, meaning campers and backpackers will have to fork over $8 a night.

The changes will go into affect March 1, 2023.

Despite blowback from, for instance, some members of Blount County Commission, as previously reported by Hellbender Press, park officials said that public comments on the proposal indicating support for the Park it Forward measure was at least 73 percent in counties on the Tennessee side of the park. Swain and Graham counties in North Carolina were on the lower end of support at 60 percent.

“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.

All money generated through the fees will remain in the Smokies and support improvements in trail maintenance, garbage control and enhanced law enforcement, according to the park service.

Some exemptions are provided in the language of the parking fee schedule. For instance, Native American tribal members will not have to pay the fee. Other descendants of original inhabitants of the area that became the national park will not have to pay a fee to visit graveyards or cemeteries on decoration days.

Smokies public information officer Dana Soehn said the fees are expected to generate about $7 million a year based on survey data. She said that about 13 percent of visitors spend less than an hour outside of the car during a park visit, so they would technically not need a parking tag, presuming they traveled to multiple spots.

This story will be updated.

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