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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a rarity within our country’s national park system. It’s the most visited of them all, and it’s one of the few that doesn’t require an admission fee. That was a stipulation attached to one of the early land donations that helped create GSMNP in the early decades of the 20th century.
And although admission fees per se still won’t be required in years to come, folks planning to visit the national park next year will have to fork over a few dollars for the privilege of parking within it. Park supervisors have created the Park It Forward program, which will institute parking fees and also increase camping fees beginning in 2023.
Parking tags will be required on any motor vehicle parked within the park boundary as of March 1. The rates will be $5 for a daily parking tag, $15 for a tag that’s valid for as many as seven days and $40 for an annual parking tag. All revenue will stay within the park, to help provide sustainable, year-round funding geared toward improving the visitor experience as well as protecting natural resources and maintaining trails, roads, historic structures and facilities.
While there will be a charge for parking anywhere within the park, the use of all roads will remain toll-free. Also, no parking fees will be charged for motorists parking for less than 15 minutes. So if you simply want to pull over onto a scenic overlook to take in the views, you may still do so at no cost. Purchasing a parking tag, however, will not guarantee a parking spot at any specific location, and all parking will continue to be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
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Pat and Don Kirchhoefer, ownes