This National Park Is Testing Reservations & Parking Fees
Prepare to pay up.
America's National Parks draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park is among the most popular, yet it's free to enter. That won't be changing any time soon, but visitors should expect to pay up to park.
The National Park Service (NPS) revealed that Great Smoky Mountains National Park will begin charging $14 per vehicle for timed-entry parking to access Laurel Falls. It's part of a pilot program, kicking off September 7 and running through October 3. Those who plan to try and get away with parking roadside and skipping out on the fee will have to find another way. Barriers and staff will be in place to prevent that from happening.
Those who don't want to pay that much to park can park in Gatlinburg and take a Rocky Top Tours shuttle to the fall's entry point. Shuttle seats are $5, and shuttles run every 30 minutes.
NPS is hopeful that the pilot program will help control crowding on the scenic trail. It's located less than 10 miles from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, drawing a hefty crowd of tourists daily. More than 12 million people visited the mountain range last year alone, according to USA Today. Hopefully, visitors won't have to deal with long waits or massive crowds with new regulations in place.
"Since 2009, annual visitation to the Smokies has increased by 32%, resulting in congested roadways, overflowing parking lots, roadside soil erosion, vegetation trampling, and long lines at restroom and visitor center facilities," NPS said. "Meanwhile, staffing levels have decreased, and funding have remained flat over the last ten years."
Another thing NPS is testing at Great Smoky Mountains National Park is parking reservations. Guests who visit the park's Laurel Falls will have to reserve a spot at Recreation.gov. NPS started requiring vehicle reservations at other parks over the summer to manage crowding at Acadia National Park and Glacier National Park's Going-the-Sun Road.
Other national parks in the US are considering adding new fees to deal with crowds as well. Zion National Park and Indiana Dunes National Park are taking public comment on their fee proposals currently. Great Smoky Mountains National Park sought feedback via virtual workshops, and the majority of the public suggests a parking lot fee and no more roadside parking. It's worth noting that frequent visitors have since shared some mixed feelings about the Laurel Falls Trail Congestion Management Pilot.