KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The first steps are underway to limit “unsafe” parking at trailheads throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The move comes ahead of a plan to require visitors to purchase parking passes when visiting, beginning March 1.

Visitors will still be able to park in the designated parking lots at trailheads, but said people need to plan ahead and have other arrangements in mind in case the parking lot is full.

Lanes on several roads near busy destinations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be temporarily closed this week for the installation of roadside barriers aimed at eliminating unsafe parking.

Annual visitation to the park has increased by 57% since 2011 leading to high use at several popular destinations within the park. According to the park, this high use has led to unsafe conditions for drivers and pedestrians, increased roadway congestion, and damaged roadsides.

Roadside parking near Laurel Falls (Photo via GSMNP)

The closures will allow crews to install “permanent roadside protection measures at busy park destinations to eliminate unsafe, damaging roadside parking.” The temporary, single-lane road closures began this week and will continue on weekdays through March at the following locations:

The measures include placing boulders, split-rail fencing, and wooden bollards. The park adds sections of Clingmans Dome Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail will also have protection measures installed.

“It’s critical that we protect iconic park destinations from the unintended consequences associated with too many people trying to squeeze into the same places at the same time on the same days,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Through this action, we’re helping ensure that people have the opportunity to safely visit in a manner that respects the country’s most visited national park.”      

Park officials said that visitors coming to one of these locations should have an alternative destination in mind in case they cannot find parking available. They add that “carefully choosing the time of day, time of year, and day of the week” can help people improve their chances of finding a parking space. For those who need help finding alternative destinations, staff at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and the Backcountry Office can help with trip planning seven days a week.

The park offers more than 800 miles of trails and more than 380 miles of scenic roadways meaning there is plenty of places to explore within the Smoky Mountains. WATE has created several guides of places to visit and things to do within the park.

These closures are a part of a bigger effort by the park to protect the park for future use and keep visitors safe. Another part of this effort includes the Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan. Currently, the park is asking for public input on an Environmental Assessment for this proposed plan. To learn more about the park’s congestion and visitor use management efforts, click here.