Tennessee National Parks Had a Staggering Amount of Visitors Last Year: See the Numbers

by Lauren Boisvert

Tourists and Tennessee residents alike flocked to the National Parks last year, bringing a staggering amount of revenue to local and state economies in 2021. A new report from the National Park Service states that 11 million visitors brought in $870 million by going to National Parks in the state.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park estimated $1.3 billion for both Tennessee and North Carolina. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Oneida, TN brought in $29.3 million, while Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Dover, TN brought in $16.9 million. Additionally, Murfreesboro’s Stones River National Battlefield brought in $23.8 million, according to WKRN out of Nashville.

National Park Spokesperson Dana Soehn said, “We’ve had an explosion of visitation, even just in the last couple of years kind of post-COVID 19. I think people were just seeking safe places to recreate and being outdoors provided that opportunity where you didn’t have to think about distancing and droplets and all of those things that have consumed our lives for the last couple of years. And it gave that sense of freedom, a place for people to come and enjoy that space with their families on their own.”

Tennessee National Parks Saw an Increase in Visitation Last Year, But What Impact Does That Have?

According to Soehn and the National Park Service, 2021 saw a 57% increase in park visitation at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with 14 million visits last year. In total, Nation Park visitors in Tennessee spent $271 million on lodging alone. Though, there are some concerns with overcrowding in the parks, now, with the flow of traffic being just one issue.

“We have a lot of concern about visitor safety. We have a lot of concern about the congestion and the traffic flow and also the impact on resources in the most congested areas,” said Soehn. “The Smokies has about 850 miles of trails, 380 miles of scenic roadways, plenty of places to explore. But we have a lot of people that concentrate use at about seven iconic locations in the Smokies.”

Visitors want to see the iconic views from the most-known trails. They want to snap those photos that they see on Pinterest and Facebook, and so they crowd those trails and overlooks. There are plenty of places to explore in the Great Smoky Mountains, but tourists tend to stick to the well-beaten path. This can cause overcrowding, especially on the roadways.

But, the tradeoff is with the influx of people comes an influx of jobs and revenue. The National Parks report states that visitors supported 11,800 jobs in Tennessee and created an additional $1.3 billion in economic output.