Great Smoky Mountains National Park now requires visitors to pay for a parking tag if they plan to stop for more than 15 minutes.

Pursuant to the new Park It Forward Program, which launched March 1, 2023, daily parking tags are $5 while weekly and monthly tags are $15 and $40 respectively. Tags can be purchased at all park visitor centers and at automated fee machines at larger parking lots, including Newfound Gap. They are also available for purchase online – just be aware that a physical tag will be mailed to you.

Why Great Smoky Mountains National Park now requires you to pay to park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the Tennessee and North Carolina state line, was the most visited national park in the US in 2022, welcoming nearly 13 million visitors. “We see more people here every year than go to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined,” said park spokesperson Emily Davis. 

The park is unique among its peers because it has never charged an admission fee. Free entry is guaranteed pursuant to the park’s original deed, which contains a restriction preventing the charging of a toll on two key roads to the park: Newfound Gap Road and Little River Road.  

A hiker explores the Roaring Fork River and Grotto Falls on the Trillium Gap Trail through the old-growth hemlock forest and lush foliage on the steep hillsides of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. © Getty Images

Unfortunately, the park’s budget has not kept up with an explosion in visitation over the last ten years. New sources of funding are vital for meeting maintenance and staffing needs and protecting the park for future generations.

“100 percent of the revenue from the parking tag program will stay here in the park,” Davis said. “So visitors will start seeing more recreation technicians, more education rangers, more emergency responders and law enforcement staff in the park.” Funds will also be used for trail maintenance and custodial services. 

How to display your parking tag at Great Smoky National Park

The parking tag must be displayed in the vehicle, and the license plate number listed on the tag must correspond with that same vehicle. This means that the tags are non-transferable. Tags are valid park-wide, and a tag is required anytime and anywhere you park. Federal interagency passes, including the America the Beautiful Pass, do not cover the parking fee.

If you are simply driving through the park or stopping briefly, you do not need a tag. Vehicles with state-issued disabled placards or license plates are also exempt. 

For more details, visit the park's website.

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