GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — Nearly 13 million visits were made last year to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — the second-busiest year since recordkeeping began in 1931.
That’s more visits than were made to Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon combined, the park service said in a press release Monday. Nearly two million visits were made just to Cades Cove last year, park data shows.
This marks the fourth time visits to the park topped 12 million. The data shows the busiest month was October, and the least busy was January.
The record number was released just two days before planned fee increases— including required parking passes — take effect on March 1. Officials say 100% of the revenue generated by the new revenue program will stay within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“The 2022 visitation report confirms what we have long known to be true—Great Smoky Mountains National Park continues to be a special place for millions of visitors,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “We are thinking about what average visitation over the last ten years means for the next ten years and how we will preserve a high-quality visitor experience as well as park resources.”
“The new Park it Forward parking tag program will generate much-needed revenues to improve visitor services and address longstanding maintenance needs in alignment with annual fluctuations in visitation,” park leadership said in the press release.
Under the new law, any vehicle parked anywhere in the park will need to display a $5 daily, $15 weekly, or $40 annual parking tag. Smokies parking tags can be purchased online or in person.
GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash says the program will fund the “next century of service,” including infrastructure and facilities, wastewater systems improvements, a larger law enforcement presence at the park, maintenance facilities, restrooms and more.
Areas of the park that saw the most visits in 2022 are as follows (rounded for simplicity):
- Gatlinburg Spur (between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge), 10.8 million
- Gatlinburg bypass, 7.1 million
- Sugarlands 3.9 million
- Oconaluftee, 2.5 million
- Cades Cove 1.99 million
- Townsend, 1.8 million
- Foothills Parkway West, 1.1 million
- Foothills Parkway East, 939k
- Cherokee Orchard, 781k
- Clingmans Dome visitors, 777k
- Wear Cove (Wears Valley), 612k
In addition to parking passes, backcountry camping fees are also increasing to $8 a night, while camping fees will increase to $30 and $36 a night beginning March 1.
More information can be found on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website.
Melissa Greene is the digital director at WATE 6 On Your Side. Melissa grew up in Wears Valley just a few hundred feet from the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After spending nearly 10 years at newspapers and stations in Texas, she returned home to Knoxville in Fall 2020. Read more of her work here.