Great Smoky Mountains National Park experienced the busiest year on record with 14,137,812 visits. Visitation exceeded the 2019 record by 1.5 million visits and 2020 visitation by more than 2 million visits. The park has increasingly become a year-round destination with eight monthly visitation records set during winter and spring months in 2021.
“In the last decade, park visitation has increased by 57%,” said Acting Superintendent Alan Sumeriski. “While increasing visitation presents complex challenges, we are honored to care for a park that is special to so many people. We remain committed to developing innovative solutions to provide the necessary support for visitor services and resource protection.”
Roads, trails, frontcountry campgrounds, and backcountry campgrounds were all busier than normal in 2021. Frontcountry camping increased 40%, while backcountry camping increased 20%. The park continues to experience its highest visitation in the summer and fall with peaks in July and October. However, visitation levels in the winter and spring months are rapidly increasing. In 2021, the park set individual monthly visitation records in January through June, November, and December. During the winter months, December through February, the park had 600,000 more visits than the ten-year average for this time period. During the spring months, March through May, the park had 1.2 million more visits than the ten-year average for this time period.
Operational costs associated with serving more visitors and protecting resources continue to rise. Annual, year-round needs present significant funding and staffing challenges. To help meet critical needs this year, the Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association are providing more than $4 million in aid. The park is also slated to receive project-specific, short-term funds to help chip away at the maintenance backlog in campgrounds, wastewater systems, and along roads and trails. Construction timelines and project details for significant rehabilitation work are expected to be announced over the next few weeks for several projects.
Park managers will continue to work towards improving access and the visitor experience. For more information about these efforts, please visit https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/management/ves.htm. With more use, visitor stewardship is increasingly, important and it is imperative that park visitors help care for the park as part of their visit. To learn more about how to #recreateresponsibly and follow Leave No Trace principles, please visit the National Park Service’s website at https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/recreate-responsibly.htm.