KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Great Smoky Mountains National Park leaders are continuing to evaluate strategies to improve the visitor experience at Laurel Falls, one of the park’s most popular destinations.

Review of visitor use management strategies for Laurel Falls remain ongoing following a 2021 pilot program that provided trailhead parking by reservation only and forbidding parking in undesignated areas along Little River Road.

According to a park release, 91% of commenters supported the pilot project. 97% of the parking reservations offered were sold and only 16% of reservation-holders did not show during their allotted time. Visitors experienced lower rates of litter and reduction in crowding during the pilot.

The Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan Environment Assessment will continue to consider management strategies such as those implemented during the project. Until that process is complete, no reservation or shuttle systems are planned for Laurel Falls.   

Participants of the Visitor Experience Stewardship engagement process proposed various management practices to improve the following:

  • Reduce or eliminating roadside parking
  • Charging a parking lot fee
  • Making repairs to the trail and falls viewing area
  • Increasing the presence of rangers and volunteers in the parking area and on the trail
  • Providing information to the public about congested conditions
  • Providing alternate transportation to the trailhead from the surrounding gateway communities

Laurel Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park and received more than 375,000 visits in 2020. The high volume of trail traffic has resulted in congestion along the trails, crowding at the falls, and unsafe conditions along Little River Road.