Great Smoky Mountains National Park sign

History of Entrance Fees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Since the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visitors have been able to enjoy beautiful views, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and an extraordinary amount of history for free. Unlike other national parks across the country, you can visit the Smoky Mountains without paying an entrance fee. In order to learn more about why this has always been the case, let’s take a look at the history of the park:

Purchasing of the Land

In 1927, the state legislatures of Tennessee and North Carolina each committed $2 million in bond funds to purchase the land for the park. A year later, John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated the final $5 million dollars needed to buy the land in memory of his mother. However, the money donated by Rockefeller wasn’t the only contribution made. People from all walks of life stepped up to supplement the funds with the goal in mind of having a beautiful park they could visit. Once all the money was raised, the funds were transferred to the National Park Service. Amazingly, roughly 85% of the park lands were purchased from 18 logging companies. The remaining land was bought away from about 1,200 individual landowners. Without these land sales, the park would not be what it is today.

Legislation Behind the Free Entrance

Park It Forward Banner Many people wonder how the Great Smoky Mountains National Park got to the point where an entrance fee was not required. The answer boils down to a couple of important pieces of legislation. In 1951, the state of Tennessee transferred Newfound Gap Road and Little River Road to the national park. At this time, these were the main roads between Tennessee and North Carolina as it was before the creation of the Interstate Highway System. Then, a federal law was passed that prevented the National Park System from charging entrance fees where tolls were already prohibited on primary park roads. Because the two aforementioned roads were the primary roads to the park, the NPS to this day is unable to charge an entrance fee.

Active Fees in the Park

Although the National Park Service is unable to charge an entrance fee, there are a few fees that are in place to raise funds for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For many years, the park has charged fees for both front and backcountry camping. Beginning March 1, 2023, the GSMNP will also be instituting a parking fee. Known as the Park It Forward campaign, these new fees will be used as an important source of revenue allowing the park to maintain its services among the recent surge in visitation.

Our Smoky Mountain Campground

Camping in the Smoky MountainsOur campground in the Smoky Mountains is located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When you stay with us, you will enjoy wonderful amenities, such as a swimming pool, recreational activities, and beautiful views. We also have multiple lodging options available, including tent sites, RV sites, and beautiful camping cabins! If you plan to visit the national park during your stay with us, it is important to be prepared. You will be required to have a physical parking permit that must be displayed on the lower passenger side of your vehicle, and digital passes will not be accepted. While we do have a printer at our campground, the demand will be high, so we recommend purchasing and printing your passes ahead of time. Just as a reminder, our campground does not require a parking permit for our guests to park on our property.

As you plan your next trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, learn more about our campground in the Smokies and all the exciting things to do in the area! We look forward to seeing you soon!