The wilderness called- and the people answered. With the increased popularity of the National Parks in recent years, the National Park Service needed solutions for handling the sheer volume of visitors wishing to enjoy the most beautiful places in America. The Smokies are no exception; already the most visited of all the national parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park experienced record visitor traffic in 2021 and 2022. To help with the park’s infrastructure, the park service now has a parking tag requirement. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about the parking tag requirement, how to get yours, and the history and importance of preserving this beautiful area for generations to come.
Who needs a parking pass for Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Parking tags are necessary for any visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Those with handicap parking tags are not required to obtain a pass. There is still no entrance fee into the park, and those wanting to simply drive through the area will not require a parking pass. Tags are on a per-vehicle basis.
What do the parking tags for Great Smoky Mountains National Park look like?
Tags come in the form of a printable ticket that you display on your car’s dashboard, or a sticker to place on the windshield above the dash. The tag must be visible anytime you are parked within the National Park boundary. A pass is only valid for one vehicle, and it must match that vehicle’s license plate. Tags are good for either a day, a week, or an entire year, costing $5, $15, and $40, respectively.
When will parking tags be required?
The parking pass system began in March of 2023. You can already pre-order a 2024 annual parking pass online through the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Day and week-long tags can be purchased anytime through the national park website but must be printed ahead of your visit. If you are already in the area and need to get a pass quickly, there are kiosks throughout the park and surrounding areas which accept credit cards and will print your pass immediately.
Where can I buy a parking pass for the Smokies?
Tags can be purchased at multiple locations in the National Park, like at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Cades Cove Orientation Center. There are locations outside the park where tags can be purchased too, such as the Townsend and Gatlinburg visitor centers. The National Park website has a detailed map of all the possible locations where a tag can be purchased, as well as which locations are card-only.
Why does Great Smoky Mountains National Park require a parking pass?
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited of all the national parks in America. There are many reasons for this; the natural beauty, the fun things to do in the surrounding mountain towns, and the friendly local population. In recent years, and with the rise of social media influencers, people are more eager to get outside and explore than ever before. To keep accommodating mountain visitors year after year, the Park needed a solution to both regulate visitor traffic and generate funding for improving the Park’s infrastructure. The simple parking tag system will generate funding that aids in preserving the landscape and protecting the wildlife that call these mountains home.
How does a parking pass help the Smokies?
Protect the park! The Smoky Mountains contain so much more than just stunning views; they’re known to be home to the iconic black bear, as well as many other common animals, but did you know it is one of the most biodiverse habitats in America? This temperate rainforest is home to many species that are not found anywhere else. It is an important restorative home for elk in the Eastern United States, home to some of the last Eastern Chestnut trees, and home to so many crucial plant and animal species. The National Park Service wants to make sure these species are protected through the trials of climate change and other forms of human impact, and we can help them out! Simply by following park rules like staying on trail, leaving no trace, and keeping a respectful distance from wildlife, you can help limit any ecological disruptions during your visit to the National Park. Purchasing a parking tag is just one more step in being a supportive patron of the park and its continuation and helps ensure the region maintains its unique biodiversity.
Why is Great Smoky Mountains National Park no longer free to enter?
It is still free to enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park! By law, the National Park cannot charge an entrance fee to visitors wishing to enter the park’s boundary. This means the park relies on donations to fund research, maintenance, and improving infrastructure to better accommodate its 10 million visitors. Adding a small fee for parking helps to not only regulate visitors- especially to the most popular destinations within the Park- but also generate desperately needed funds to improve roads, campgrounds, bathrooms, and other guest amenities. As a visitor to this stunning region, we ask that you do your part to preserve and protect this incredible region for future generations to enjoy.