Backcountry Office & Permit System Restructuring
Great Smoky Mountains National Park changed the backcountry reservation and permitting process in February 2013. The changes include a $4 per person per night fee for backcountry camping. The fee will be used to provide increased customer service for backcountry trip planning, reservations, permits and the backcountry experience.
A park-specific reservation and permit system, which users will have 24/7 access to, allows backcountry campers to make reservations and obtain permits online from anywhere internet access is available. Reservations may be made at any time up to 30 days in advance, allowing maximum flexibility for those making last minute plans. Backcountry users are no longer be required to call the Backcountry Office to obtain reservations. Reservation and permit requests are also accepted in person at the Backcountry Office, which is located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Backcountry Office hours have been expanded with additional staff available to provide trip planning assistance both over the phone and in person. In addition, park rangers assigned exclusively to the backcountry are providing enhanced enforcement for issues such as wildlife violations and food storage.
Frequently Asked Questions
• Why is Great Smoky Mountains National Park implementing a fee for backcountry camping?
The fee will be used to provide increased customer service for backcountry trip planning, reservations, permitting and to improve the backcountry experience.
• How much is the fee?
The fee will be $4 per person per night, with a maximum of cost of $20 per person per permit, for up to seven nights.
• How will customer service be improved?
Backcountry users will have 24/7 access to an online reservation and permitting system. The system will allow users to make reservations and obtain permits online and print backcountry permits from anywhere internet access is available.
The reservation and permitting system will allow users to view campsite capacity and availability for every backcountry campsite and shelter in the park. • 24/7 access to the reservation and permitting system will allow backcountry users to obtain reservations and permits at any time starting 30 days in advance of a trip. The "up to the minute" capability of the reservation and permitting system will allow maximum flexibility for those making last minute plans to camp in the backcountry.
Backcountry Office hours will be expanded to provide increased access to trip planning assistance over the phone or in person. Permits may also be obtained in person in the Backcountry Office, which is located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Park rangers assigned solely to backcountry patrol will provide enhanced enforcement for issues such as wildlife violations and food storage.
• How will the changes affect my reservation, permitting and backcountry experience?
Currently, backcountry users must obtain a free permit for all overnight stays in the backcountry. Backcountry users are also required to make reservations for all shelters and some campsites by calling the Backcountry Office. Because of limited staff, multiple calls are usually required before one can actually speak to Backcountry Office staff to make a reservation.
Once changes are implemented, backcountry users will be able to obtain reservations and print permits at their convenience through an online system which may be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Backcountry users will also be able to more reliably reach staff in the Backcountry Office for assistance with trip planning.
• Are there any other benefits?
Yes. Through a combination of education and enforcement, park rangers assigned exclusively to the backcountry are expected to lead to better compliance with regulations and Leave No Trace ethics. Increased compliance with regulations and Leave No Trace also helps protect and preserve resources, such as wildlife, that most visitors highly value. All backcountry users stand to benefit from the changes.
In addition, by making all sites reservation-only, the new reservation system will have the capability to notify permit holders of site closures, safety issues and other emergency conditions via email and text messaging prior to beginning their trip.
• Will I be able to purchase an annual backcountry camping pass?
Backcountry fees will be collected under authority of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA). FLREA permits the creation of annual passes for park entrance fees but not other fees, such as backcountry use fees. Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not have an entrance fee.
• Will there be a reduced fee for children or for residents of Tennessee or North Carolina?
Under FLREA, children younger than 16 years of age are exempt from entrance fees but not other fees, such as those for backcountry use. FLREA does not authorize reduced fees for residents of states contiguous to the national park.
• Will the park institute a per person limit for backcountry fees paid in one year?
There will not be an annual, per person fee limit. However, there will be a per person fee limit of $20.00 per permit, for up to seven nights.
• Has the park considered charging for shelter use only, or only charging for sites that are currently on the reservation system?
Yes. The park has considered a variety of possibilities. Including all sites offers the best opportunity for improving customer service and the backcountry experience. The reservation and permitting system will allow backcountry users to check availability for and reserve any site or shelter in the national park.
• Will I be able to obtain a refund or make changes to my itinerary?
Refunds will be offered as a result of campsite closures and events such as prolonged road or trail closures due to significant weather events. Itinerary changes may be made by contacting the Backcountry Office. Backcountry permit holders may make changes one time, per permit, without incurring additional fees.
• Will there be a change to the annual maximum number of nights one can stay in the backcountry?
The park regulation limiting overnight backcountry stays to 30 nights per trip and 60 nights per year will not change. Permits may be obtained for up to 7 nights. Additional permits may be obtained for those wanting to camp more than 7 nights at one time.
• Can the reservation system be used to disseminate messages about closures, challenges of the park's backcountry, food storage or Leave No Trace?
Yes. The new reservation/permit system will automatically send an email message and/or text message to those holding reservations for sites that have been closed. Food storage instructions, general guidance about the challenges of the park's backcountry and Leave No Trace, as well as other educational and safety information will also be included in the system.
• What is the timeframe for implementing the fee and new reservation/permitting system?
It is anticipated the online reservation and permitting system will be available to the public within the first few months of 2013. The fee will be implemented at that time.
• How can I get more information?
For more information about the changes to backcountry reservations and permitting, contact the Public Affairs Office at Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 865-436-1207.
For general information about the backcountry, backcountry trip planning assistance or backcountry reservations, call the Backcountry Office at 865-436-1297.
Last updated: July 14, 2015