Great Smoky Mountains National Park Announces Plan To Raise Campsite Rates, Parking Fees

by Taylor Cunningham

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will soon start charging visitors increased fees to offset “wear and tear” to the park.

At a Glance

  • The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is proposing a new fee structure to go into effect in 2023
  • Officials believe the extra revenue could help repair damage done by record-high attendance
  • A virtual meeting is scheduled to give the public a chance to voice concern over the plan

The Tennessee National Park to Raise Rates for the First time in a Decade

Since 2012, Smoky Mountains National Park has seen a 57% increase in visitors. And last year alone, 14.1 million people walked through the Tennessee grounds, which set a new record. As expected, the excess traffic did a number on the facilities.

So to help pay for repairs and also hire more staff, the park will start charging parking fees and also raise the rates for day-use cabin rentals, picnic pavilions, and campsites. The changes will go into effect in 2023.

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park is at a crossroads,” said park Superintendent Cassius Cash in the statement. “We’re proud to be the most visited National Park. But it does present challenges due to wear and tear on aging facilities and a strain on park resources and employees.”

The park is asking the public to weigh in on the plan by mail or phone through May 7th. And it has also scheduled a virtual meeting on April 14th that is open to everyone.

But Cash believes that the “modest” changes are “critically necessary” and would “enhance the visitor experience.” And he hopes that parkgoers agree.

The Proposed Plan Would Raise Costs up to 30% Inside the Great Smoky Mountains

If all goes as planned, visitors would pay $5 for daily parking, $15 for up to seven days in a lot, and $40 for an annual pass.

Drivers would have to display their tags in all motorized vehicles parked inside the park boundaries. But the pass would not give anyone access to specific locations. Parking would be first-come, first-serve throughout.

Also, visitors would no longer be allowed to park along roadsides. That way, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can protect the grounds and ease congestion around popular areas.

Backcountry camping fees would also jump from $4 per night to $8. However, the cost will max out at $40 a camper. The hike would be the first in 10 years even though the park hosts over 100,000 campers per year.

Frontcountry camping rates would also raise with the plan. Family campsites would cost $30 per night for primitive sites and $36 for sites with electrical hookups. Currently, such sites cost anywhere from $17.50 to $25.

And finally, horse and group camps, as well as picnic pavilions, would increase up to 30%. The cost will depend on size, date, and location.

The statement did add that it will still be free to enter the park and drive through its scenic tours.