Parking at Great Smoky Mountains National Park will soon require a fee.
Starting March 1, 2023, vehicles parked in any lots within the preserve, which straddles the Tennessee–North Carolina border, will need to display a daily pass for $5 or a weekly pass (good for up to 7 days) for $15. For frequent visitors, there's an annual tag costing $40.
According to the National Park Service, the fee is needed to help maintain aging facilities and ease understaffing—problems made worse by the large numbers of people who come to the park each year. In 2021, the total was 14.1 million, more than Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite combined.
Cassius Cash, the park superintendent in the Smokies, told the Associated Press that although visitation numbers have gone up 57% over the last decade, government funding has remained relatively flat. And the park can't charge an entrance fee—in fact, that was one of the conditions when Tennessee and North Carolina turned the land over to the feds in the 1930s.
The new plan for parking fees looks an awful lot like a charge for admission, though motorists who simply pass through the park without stopping or who pause for a few minutes at a scenic lookout will not be charged the new fee, according to the National Park Service.
Parking passes will be sold online and onsite. Physical tags will need to be displayed in each vehicle at all designated parking spots within park boundaries.
Additionally, fees for backcountry camping permits will double next spring to $8 per night, for a maximum of $40 per camper. The rates for standard campgrounds are rising to $30 or $36; the higher fee is for sites with electrical hookups.
For more information, visit the National Park Service website for the Great Smoky Mountains.