Get Ready to Pay More to Visit This National Park
Great Smoky Mountain National Park's staff blames increased visitors and flat budgets for the change in fees
Over the course of the last decade, visits to Great Smoky Mountain National Park have surged by 57%. In fact, 2021 trips to the Smokies (14.1 million) was more than Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone combined, according to the park’s website. That said, for infrastructural reasons, it isn’t equipped to handle the influx of visitors.
It’s why, starting in 2023, camping fees will increase and visitors will be required to purchase a parking pass. According to a new report from Afar, parking passes will soon cost $5 per day or $15 for a week, or an annual pass will be available for $40. Camping fees will also increase to $8 a night, with a maximum of $40 per person. At designated campsites, rates will go up to $36 per night for spots with electrical hookups and $30 for those without.
“The park’s budget, appropriated by Congress, does not increase based on visitation. Over the last decade, the park’s budget has remained relatively flat, in spite of increasing visitation. When adjusted for inflation, the buying power of those dollars has decreased significantly,” the website notes. “In order to balance the park’s budget each year, park managers have had to reduce visitor services and decrease staffing levels. All at a time when we need them more than ever. The implementation of the parking tag program, as well as frontcountry and backcountry fee increases is crucial to the park’s future.”
It is worth noting, however, that unlike almost all other parks — due to “a few historic legal actions” — Great Smoky Mountain National Park actually doesn’t charge an entrance fee. Further, those passing just through, or who park for less than 15 minutes, won’t be required to have a parking pass.
“If you want to come by the visitor center and use the bathroom, you don’t need a pass,” Superintendent Cassius Cash told the Associated Press. “We are trying to capture the costs of services used, not nickel-and-dime every vehicle. If you want to stop at an overlook and take a selfie with the beautiful scenery, you can still do that.”
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