KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Parking barriers are returning to non-parking areas near the popular Laurel Falls trailhead as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park continues to work toward solving parking issues.
The barriers will be in place June 9 through Oct. 30, the park said on Thursday.
More than 100 vehicles are usually parked outside of the official parking areas, according to data collected by the National Park Service. The vehicles obstruct traffic flow, create blind spots for motorists and create a safety hazard for visitors walking to or from their vehicles, the park service said in a press release.
The popularity of the trail causes “a high level of use that has resulted in extreme congestion, crowding at the falls, and unsafe conditions along Little River Road” according to the NPS. The roadside parking also damages road edges, causes erosion, and can negatively impact nearby wildlife.
Last fall, the park evaluated ways to improve visitor safety, relieve congestion, better use protect park resources, and create a better visitor experience at the popular Laurel Falls Trail. During the project, parking was provided by reservation only and no parking was permitted in undesignated areas along Little River Road. Additionally, Rocky Top Tours provided shuttle access to the trailhead from Gatlinburg.
The NPS said the results of the project were positive with 91% of visitor feedback. In addition, crowding and litter at the falls decreased, the park service said.
For those wanting to visit Laurel Falls, the park service suggests
- Have an alternative destination in mind in case parking is not available
- Avoiding peak visitation time (10 a.m. and 3 p.m.)
In 2021, the park service said nearly 300,000 people visited the 1.3-mile trail.