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entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Everything You Need to Know About the History of Entrance Fees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

January 27, 2023

As you know, guests are welcome to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park without paying an entrance fee. The result of this is that millions of visitors in the park’s history have been able to experience the gorgeous mountain views, stunning hiking trails, and everything else there is to do in the park. In order to understand more about this luxury, let’s take a look at the history of entrance fees in the national park:

Establishing the Foundation

The history of fees in the park, or lack thereof, dates all the way back to the early 1920s. During this time, local residents of Tennessee and North Carolina began educating the rest of the community about the value of having a national park. With the cooperation of major newspapers in Asheville and Knoxville, the word began to spread and the idea started to gain some major traction. This culminated in 1927 when the states of Tennessee and North Carolina each committed to paying $2 million in bond funds to purchase the land for the park. Other contributions from John D. Rockefeller Jr. and other civilians allowed the land to be purchased.

Loopholes in the Law

Park It Forward Campaign banner When it came time for the states to give the land over to the National Park Service, there were some stipulations attached that played a huge role in keeping the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park free. In 1951, the state of Tennessee transferred ownership of Newfound Gap Road and Little River Road to the NPS. However, the deed transferral prevented tolls to be placed on either road. A few years later, a federal law prevented the National Park Service from charging tolls on roads that were primary roads. Because of these two laws, there is still no entrance fee to the Smokies.

A Way to Maintain the Park

Because there is no entrance fee to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the National Park Service has had to find other ways to raise funds. As attendance has continued to increase over the past several years, the budget for maintaining the park has not. The latest solution is the new Park It Forward campaign that is set to begin on March 1, 2023. The new initiative requires visitors to have a physically displayed parking pass if they are parked for more than 15 minutes. Therefore, those who are just passing through the park will not be required to have a pass. If you plan to park your car anywhere in the national park, you can purchase a parking tag online, and there are options for daily, weekly, or annual passes.

About Our Smoky Mountain Rafting Trips

group rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors on the Pigeon RiverDuring your next visit to the Smoky Mountains, be sure to visit us for an exciting journey on the Pigeon River. We offer thrilling white water rafting trips that will take you through class III and class IV rapids. Whether you are traveling to the Smokies for a family vacation or a group trip, rafting is a fun activity for all ages! As a reminder, we have free parking for our rafting guests that does not require a permit.

A rafting trip is another fun way to experience the great outdoors before or after a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Be sure to browse through all our white water rafting trips to start planning your adventure on the Pigeon River. We look forward to seeing you this spring!