national park entrance
April 23, 2024

The Smoky Mountains Parking Pass was introduced in early 2023 as a way to generate year-round financial support for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While entry to the park continues to be free, every dollar of the parking fees is being allocated to park improvements. The park has already generated more than $10 million in recreation fee revenue, which includes both parking pass sales and camping fees. Here are the top 4 ways that the Smoky Mountains parking pass is helping to improve the national park:

1. Enhanced Visitor Experience

laurel falls

The Smoky Mountains Parking Pass program is enhancing the overall visitor experience so that you can have a more enjoyable time in the park! The recreation fee revenue will fund the construction of 50 new parking places at Laurel Falls Trailhead that will begin later in 2024. Revenue will also be used to rehabilitate Mingus Mill, a historic gristmill near Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and provide accessible amenities and campsites at Look Rock Campground. The park is also replacing steel bear-proof dumpsters across the park and will increase the cleaning cycle at some of the park’s most used restroom facilities.

2. Increased Park Ranger Presence

Another one of the top ways that the Smoky Mountains parking pass is helping to improve the national park is with increased park ranger presence. There were 8 roving park rangers hired in March of 2023 to travel across the park and provide information to visitors. Since that time, these rangers have made over 117,000 visitor contacts, picked up more than 612 pounds of trash, and assisted with dozens of search and rescue missions, motor vehicle accidents, and wildlife incidents! In addition to these roving park rangers, remember that you can also visit one of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor Centers to speak to a park ranger!

3. Better Maintenance of Roads and Facilities

road in the smokies

The National Park has hired additional maintenance employees with parking fee revenue to help better maintain the roads, bridges, and tunnels throughout the park! These maintenance crews will be able to repair road shoulders, patch potholes, and replace damaged signs and fences more quickly across the park. The park will also use recreation fee revenue for campground and picnic area maintenance to replace horse stalls at Tow String Horse Camp, resurface the Cosby access road, and replace sidewalks in the Cosby picnic area. Future recreation fee funds will allow the park to continue to make improvements at several of the park’s campgrounds.

4. Improved Visitor Safety

The funds from sales of the Smoky Mountains Parking Pass are also improving visitor safety, as they have allowed the park to start a Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR) team! This team of seven rangers can be found on the park’s trails, and their goal is to reduce search and rescue missions through visitor preparation, education, and information. They are also highly trained medics and EMS professionals who will respond to search and rescue incidents throughout the park!

Remember that the Smoky Mountains Parking Pass is very reasonable and only required if you plan to park anywhere within the National Park for more than 15 minutes. However, if you prefer to avoid the parking fees and hassles of parking, consider these hiking shuttles that provide easy access to Great Smoky Mountains National Park!