Great Smoky Mountains National Park is consistently the most visited national park in the country. It is situated within a day’s drive of between one-third and one-half the population of the United States and was visited more than 12.5 million times in 2019.
Providing a high-quality visitor experience has grown more challenging due to increasing visitation. Since 2009, annual visitation to the Smokies has increased by 32%, resulting in congested roadways, overflowing parking lots, roadside soil erosion, vegetation trampling, and long lines at restroom and visitor center facilities. Meanwhile, staffing levels have decreased, and funding have remained flat over the last ten years.
Park managers are committed to working hand-in-hand with gateway communities, business and non-profit partners, and visitors to find solutions that improve the quality of visitor experiences, address congestion, and maintain the tremendous economic engine our park provides in a manner that continues to protect park resources and values.
Visitor Experience Stewardship Outreach
In October 2020, the Park initiated a visitor experience stewardship engagement process. Park staff held eight virtual workshops with the public, employees, volunteers, and partners to collect their input on congestion and crowding in the park. As a part of the workshop, park staff presented information about the current state of the park and a visitor use expert presented congestion management solutions that have been implemented on public lands across the country and globe. Over 200 people attended the workshops and provided input on their ideal park experiences as well as their opinions on how sites could be better managed. Additionally, park staff collected feedback via the Planning, Environment & Public Comment (PEPC) system.
Laurel Falls Trail Selected as 2021 Focus SiteThe Visitor Experience Stewardship process is outlined in the infographic below. The feedback gathered through the virtual workshops and PEPC were analyzed, distilled and evaluated. Laurel Falls was selected as the focus site for 2021. The pilot project will take place Sept. 7 through Oct 3, 2021.
So, what did we hear from the public when we asked about a desirable visitor experience for Laurel Falls?
And what did the public recommend the park do to better manage the Laurel Falls site?
Laurel Falls Trail Congestion Management PilotWhen: September 7 through October 3, 2021
Where: Laurel Falls Trailhead parking areas
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country with over 12 million visitors in 2020.
Recent annual visitation is presented below. For complete records of National Park Service visitation and other statistics, check out the Public Use Statistics Office.
Visitor Experience Stewardship Newsletters
Last updated: September 14, 2021