GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — The Great Smoky Mountains National Park continues to break visitation records, and as more people come, visitors are seeing more off-roading vehicles and having a harder time to park in the national park.
Visitors, locals and park officials have noticed an increase of side-by-sides or other off-roading vehicles inside the park.
Caitlin Worth, spokesperson for the park, said those kind of vehicles are allowed in the park, and for the most part, they haven’t caused too many issues.
She said if the park service does receive complaints about the utility terrain vehicles, it’s usually about how loud they can be.
Worth said speed can also be an issue, but that goes for any vehicle, not just UTVs.
“We do have vehicle accidents in the park all the time and I think that a lot of times they are due to a couple of factors. Inattention and speed are some of the biggest contributors,” Worth said.
Worth said the park’s visitation was up by 30% in the last decade. As more visitors come in, there’s been more visitors riding in on UTVs.
“Yeah this is the first time we’ve seen more of those. We’ve seen a couple, but they’ve not been out of hand. You know, they’ve not been coming ramping through or running fast or anything like that. They’re going with the flow of traffic and they’re enjoying the scenery also,” Mike Smith, visiting from North Carolina, said.
Of course with more UTVs and regular visitors on the roads in the park, parking has become much harder to find on certain trails. Worth said that’s often the case with more popular trails, like Roaring Fork and some of the trails along Roaring Fork.
Because parking can be hard to find near the popular trails, drivers often create spots on their own, and Worth said that can damage the terrain.
“When vehicles of any type park off the side of the road, we do see damage to both the resource and we see impacts of potentially unsafe conditions just with people walking in the roadway,” Worth said.
Worth said her advice is to go very early or late afternoon, when the trails aren’t as busy. She said visiting earlier in the week will also help drivers miss the traffic and find spots to park more easily.
Even on a Friday afternoon, the Smiths were able to find a spot to pull over fairly easy. That’s because they didn’t stop at the more popular trails like Grotto Falls or Rainbow Falls.
“There were several areas that were very congested and then, like this place, we were just able to pull off,” Shera Smith said.
Further along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail several spots were open. Mike Smith said it’s just all about patience, and enjoying the views as you wait.
“If you can wait, it’s not a problem. You know, even where there’s a lot of traffic and parked vehicles, you can get in and out if you’re just patient. And in an area like this, why would you not be patient,” Mike Smith said.
Worth said the GSMNP started a monitoring program for things like parking around popular trails. For that program, they’re using volunteers, but those volunteers won’t be helping visitors locate a spot an easier. They’re just collecting data for the park service.