KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — 2021 visitation broke records for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with 14,137,812 visits. Visitation exceeded the 2019 record by 1.5 million visits and 2020 visitation by more than 2 million visits according to the National Park Service.
Officials shared that the park saw visitation increase year-round with eight monthly visitation records set in January through June, November, and December. Even with the increasing visitation during winter and spring, the summer and fall still remain the most popular time for visitation in the park.
From December to February, the park had 600,000 more visits than the ten-year average for this time period and from March until May, the park had 1.2 million more visits than the ten-year average for this time period.
“In the last decade, park visitation has increased by 57%,” said Acting Superintendent Alan Sumeriski. “While increasing visitation presents complex challenges, we are honored to care for a park that is special to so many people. We remain committed to developing innovative solutions to provide the necessary support for visitor services and resource protection.”
The increased traffic caused the roads, trails, frontcountry campgrounds, and backcountry campgrounds to be busier than normal in 2021. In total, frontcountry camping increased 40%, while backcountry camping increased 20%.
With more visitors, comes higher operational costs associated with serving more visitors and protecting resources. To help meet critical needs for funding, the Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association are providing more than $4 million in aid. The park is also slated to receive project-specific, short-term funds to help complete the maintenance backlog in campgrounds, wastewater systems, and along roads and trails.
When compared with other national parks, the Great Smoky Mountains had the highest visitation in both 2020 and 2021. The next most visited park is Yellowstone which has around 9 million fewer visits than the Great Smoky Mountains.