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Weekend edition August 26, 2022 | Tom Ballard

You’ll soon have to pay to park in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

By Shannon Smith, Teknovation Assistant Editor, PYA

Starting in 2023, it will no longer be free to go for a hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At least not if you planned to park your car at the trailhead.

Why? Because the park is crowded, trails need maintenance, staff needs increasing, and the best way the national park found to increase the budget for all these things is to start charging for parking.

The Park it Forward parking tag program will go into effect on March 1, 2023.

Visitors will pay the following to park in the Smokies:

  • $5 for a daily parking tag
  • $15 for a parking tag up to seven days
  • $40 for an annual parking tag

The tags won’t guarantee a parking lot at any specific location, and parking will continue to be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Unsafe roadside parking will be eliminated in some areas of the park to increase safety, cut back on traffic, and protect roadside resources. There will be no charge for vehicles just driving through the park, or parking for less than 15 minutes.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park continues to be the most visited national park in the country, and it’s the only one of its size without an entry fee. Last year, the park reported a record 14.1 million visits.

All revenue will stay in the park to help improve visitor experience, protect resources, and maintain trails, roads, historic structures, and facilities. Some of those areas include additional funding for custodial services, trash removal, and supporting more law enforcement staffing across the park.

“Today marks a significant milestone in the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I’m honored to be a part of it,” said Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash. “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.”

These changes won’t come as a surprise to the thousands of people who submitted feedback when the park tested a pilot parking program. The park service received 15,512 comments about paid parking and said 85 percent of correspondences expressed either strong support or shared ideas to improve the program proposal. The most common comment was the desire for an annual tag.

Price increases will also impact camping permits. 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.

Again, this doesn’t go into effect until March 1, 2023. Updates and details on locations to purchase Park it Forward tags can be found here.

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