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Does The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Charge Visitors A Fee?

Top Visited National Park Does Not Charge Entrance Fee

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the top-visited National Park in the United States, attracts over eleven million visitors annually! Why? Reasons contributing to its first place position include geographical position relative to overall population, a well developed tourism industry in surrounding communities, the diverse range of activities, its plentiful hiking, and its free entrance fee. 

Yes, you read that correctly – there is not an entrance fee for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When compared to National Parks such as Yellowstone that charge a $20 per person fee, it seems like the Smoky Mountains National Park is losing about $200 million per year! Why on earth would the do such a crazy thing? The answer is closely tied to Newfound Gap Road.

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Newfound Gap Road – The Reason The Smoky Mountains Are Free

Prior to the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the states of Tennessee and North Carolina jointly funded and built Newfound Gap Road (US411). This new highway connected the mountain towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Cherokee North Carolina. The federal government procuring ownership of this road was an essential piece of creating the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

When the federal government approached the two states, North Carolina immediately deeded the land over without resistance to save on annual road maintenance. On the other hand, Tennessee deeded the land with an eternal land deed restriction.

Tennessee negotiated a deal with the federal government that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed…” to travel Newfound Gap Road. At the time, the motivation was likely rooted in free interstate transportation for the citizens of Tennessee. However, the byproduct was the creation of a National Park with no entrance fee. To this day, the Smoky Mountains are one of the only fee-free National Parks!

Will A Fee Be Imposed In The Future?

No.* The reason for the asterisk is that nothing is 100% certain. However, according to the original agreement, the only way that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park could charge a fee is if Tennessee legislature were introduced that removed the eternal deed restriction. Since the Great Smoky Mountains National Park contributes billions in annual revenue to the local economies, it is not likely that the fee free status will ever be changed.