Great Smoky Mountains National Park To Implement Backcountry Fee In February

Planning to backpack through Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Beginning February 13 you'll need to pay for the privilege as the park implements a user fee to help cover costs for managing its backcountry program.

The cost will be $4 per night per person, a cost some find unreasonable but which the park moved forward with after a lengthy public involvement process. Park officials say they'll use the fee money to provide increased customer service for backcountry trip planning, reservations, permits and the backcountry experience.

A park-specific reservation and permit system, to which users will have 24/7 access, will go live on February 13. It will allow 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.

Appalachian Trail thru-hikers may obtain a permit through the reservation system up to 30 days in advance of the date they anticipate being in the park and are required to carry a paper copy with them while they are hiking through the park. Their permit is valid up to 38 days from the date they obtain it.

Thru-Hikers have eight days (7 nights) to get through the park, and a break to rest or resupply in a nearby town does not negate one’s standing as a thru-hiker. There is a $20 cost for the Thru-Hiker Backcountry Permit.

"It is important to note that to qualify for an AT Thru-Hiker Permit, a person must begin and end their hike at least 50 miles from outside of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and only travel on the AT while in the park," park spokeswoman Molly Schroer said. "Anyone who does not meet these criteria will need to get a General Backcountry Permit."

Backcountry users will no longer be required to call the Backcountry Office to obtain reservations. Reservation and permit requests will also be accepted in person at the Backcountry Office, which is located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

Backcountry Office hours will be expanded with additional staff available to provide trip planning assistance both over the phone and in person. In addition, the park will expand its backcountry ranger presence to better protect park resources through enforcement of food-storage and other regulations and improved visitor education regarding Leave-No-Trace principles.

For more information about the changes, please visit the park’s website and follow the "Management" link on the left side of the page, or call the park’s Public Information Office at 865-436-1207. For general backcountry information or backcountry reservations, call the Backcountry Office at 865-436-1297.


The new backpacking reservation will certainly simplify trying to get reservations for a particular site.

The old system was so cumbersome and hit-and-miss. Also no more trying to figure out which site need advanced reservations and which ones are first-come first serve. It will even make the maps simpler. (National Geographic, are you listening?)


I'm not in favor of charging a fee for overnight backcountry use of the park. The backcountry is the very last place where user fees should be levied.

Also, I am not aware of any other park in the general region where a fee is charged for backpacking into public wilderness. Perhaps there are plans in the works to expand fee collection for backpacking in other park units as well?

If user fees are offered as a solution to the NPS budget crises, I wonder just where the stopping point will be? The possibilities seem limitless: Will we start charging for entrances to visitor centers? How about fees for guided hikes and evening programs? How about the installation of pay toilets in park comfort stations?

Like the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Big South Fork, the Obed River, and Cumberland Gap, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park operates without any fees collected at park entrance stations. I understand that Hwy 441 and the Little River Road are both off limits to fee collection due to legislative agreements with the State of TN.

But, how about charging a fee for use of the Cades Cove Loop? Certainly it costs the NPS much more to manage and maintain Cades Cove than it does to patrol, monitor, and issue permits for backpacking into the backcountry.

Perhaps the chance that fees levied on automobile access to Cades Cove might negatively effect park visitation, which in turn would impact local economies, would generate intense opposition from adjacent gateway communities?

Wow, what a shock. People who make money from the Smokies support the fee. This has been the case from the very beginning. Locals however, see this for what it is. A foot in the door for other fees and a way to run folks out of the backcountry. It doesn't seem to matter to out of town folks that our out of town superintendent lied, manipulated data and ignored all user input to charge forward with a tax for sleeping on the ground. On the website, is a list and timeline of Ditmanson's deception. I encourage everyone to read it and consider donating to this group. They are suing the NPS to stop the fee and need donations. I gave and hope others can do the same. When people see the truth, instead of swallowing whatever the NPS gives out as the weekly justification, you will walk into the disinfecting light. One particular NPS memo obtained clearly stipulates that, "there will be no increase in revenue as a result of this fee." That sure is interesting since they will raise a quarter million per year solely for a reservation system. Folks neither need nor want a reservation system, the current one works fine and there are no documented complaints about it. That reservation system will be a decent revenue generator but even more, there is language that limits the amount of time you can spend in the empty backcountry.

I have no respect for dayhikers who think backpackers need a fee. They will think fee when the NPS charges them to park, dayhike or see the fireflies. That was approved right after the backcountry fee was Ok'd.

I support southern forest watch in their upcoming lawsuit against the NPS. They are fighting the right fight against unelected bureaucrats who are imposing a tax.

Danny Bernstein's comment is, at best, misleading if not downright ingenuous. For folks such as myself, someone who has camped in the backcountry of the Smokes for a full six decades, the old system worked fine for most sites (those which did not require reservations). Far from being cumbersome, you simply picked up a form, filled it out, left the requisite information, and were good to go. Moreover, for locals living in what is a decidedly impoverished region (Swain County contains well over 40% of the entire Park's acreage and is one of the poorest counties in N. C.), the fee is a real financial burden. For example, I personally know, quite well, a family of campers with three children. Twenty bucks a night is a significant amount of money for them.

Beyond that, what Ms. Bernstein fails to note is that most vocal supporters of this (and there aren't many living in the area around the Park) have a financial interest in being sycophants. In fact, I believe she leads hikes in the Park.The Park handled this whole situation poorly from the get-go, with so-called hearings being a sham, with the justification for the fee changing repeatedly, with the original justification being a flat-out falsehood as the Park's own statistics showed (they said the backcountry was overcrowded), and with the arrogance of Park officials being shameful.

Small wonder there's a lawsuit in the offing, and one other point might be made. The date for "pay to enjoy the Park the people donated" is almost at hand and unless something has changed in the last day or two, the system for reservations isn't even functional.

Jim Casada


I won't get into the specifics of reserving a site at Great Smoky, but 1) Danny Bernstein has to the best of my knowledge no financial interest in this matter. She leads hikes, for free, for Friends of the Smokies, and 2) this sort of fee isn't unusual in the Park System, at least not in the West.

And for folks traveling long distances, the security of having a reservation lends considerable peace of mind.

Does that make it right? Depends on whom you ask. Check out the debate over similar fees and reservations at Voyageurs National Park.

Now, there would seem to be at least two solutions for those opposed to the backcountry fee at Great Smoky: One, get the legislatures of both Tennessee and North Carolina to back off on their stance that no fee should be charged for traveling Newfound Gap Road, or urge the Park Service to get creative with other fees they can levy to raise revenues, such as Owen suggests above.

Going forward, let's all please try to keep personalities out of your comments and focus instead on the problem and possible solutions.

And just to be clear, my comment is neither an endorsement nor a criticism of the fee situation at Great Smoky. If we take a stance, it will clearly be identified as a Traveler's View.

What was so "cumbersome" about the previous reservation system? Dialing a 1-800 number? And was it really that difficult interpreting which campsites are reservation only and which are first-come, first-served? The red campsite numbers indicate reservation-required and the green ones don’t require one. Not terribly complex.

For $48 that my family wkd trip will cost me (or +$100 for the Boy Scout troop) I’ll gladly go to the trouble of dialing an 800 number and interpreting colored numbers.

And NPS has already stated that the fees collected will only cover the cost of the reservation system. So the talk of this funding "expanded ranger presence" is just rubbish.

I will add that if this fee was going toward trail and/or campsite maintenance, I think most backpackers would be much more accepting of this. In reality I think we all know it's just a test run for a bevy of GSMNP fees to come.

It seems very strange to me as well that if the old system were so complained about, as insinuated by Ms. Bernstein, there would be a documented trail of complaints. As it stands, the Southern Forest Watch has copies of all the complaints and NONE of them mentioned anything to do with the reservation system. (I guess she was too busy to register a formal complaint, as were many others) As a matter of fact, in the past several years there were but 15 total complaints and none of them had to do with the reservation system. Most had to do with horses and signage. Horses don't have to pay a fee to damage the trails. You are correct, Tom. This is a smoke and mirrors show, a pre determined farce of public input with a pre determined outcome. But what do we stupid hillbillies know. Thank God for the federal government and elitist outsiders who know what is best for true backcountry campers that are self sufficient and require no "trip planning" or hand holding. Now the shelters will be free for the guide services to take their Clients and other people will just head up to Leconte and stay at the concession. The only place on the Appalachian Trail that requires a credit card to pass is the Smokies. Unbelievable. Kephart, Broome, Masa Col Chapman and every pioneer that forfeited their homestead are rolling over in their graves.

From the outset this entire "fee implementation" has been embroiled in deceptions and controversy. A quote from above is a prime example,

"The cost will be $4 per night per person, a cost some find unreasonable but which the park moved forward with after a lengthy public involvement process.".

Notice the last phrase, "after a lengthy process", I presume this is a reference to the time allowed for public comments either in support or opposed to such fees. This was actually as i understand it, an abbreviated process in that it was shortened and the comments in opposition ran at a rate of 11 to 1, against. Later those "in charge" misrepresented this situation and spoke of the overwhelming support for the that does not in reality exist as can be documented on paper.

As has already been mentioned, these fees are just the start. One comment above mentions something to the effect of since other parks charge such fees, it is only reasonable for the Smokies to be just like other parks and charge fees. The GSMNP, was never intended to "be just like the others" was bought by private and public donations and intended to remain free for public access and use. IMHO, these fees for backpackers are simply a trial baloon and there will be others to follow, after all greed knows no bounds.

Let me encourage those inclined to support such fees, to at leasst search out the truth surrounding them, check out the information acquired by this organization through the "Freedom of Information" requests they have made for documents associated with these fees from the NPS, quiet eye opening!


First, I am not in favor of Backcountry fees.

Next: Owen Hoffman, you may be right about the others, but the last time I drove the Blue Ridge, I was charged $10.00 to get on at Front Royal. The rangers said the pass was good for (I think) the remainder of the year, but it was still an entrance fee.

Next: Kurt Repanshek, That was not a legislative action. That was an agreement made by the government with the property owners who volentarily gave up their homes so the park could be formed. That agreement was that there would never be an entrance fee for this park.

Freehiker, according to the park website, "When the state of Tennessee transferred ownership of Newfound Gap Road to the federal government, it stipulated that 'no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed…' to travel the road. ... Action by the Tennessee legislature would be required to lift this deed restriction if Great Smoky Mountains National Park ever wished to charge an entrance fee."

Freehiker@ Front Royal is the entrance to Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah does charge an entrance fee. The Blue Ridge Parkway, like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, does not.

I'm all for this fee. To have two fulltime park rangers patrolling the parks backcountry will be a benefit to all but those that set out to break the rules. I can't tell you how many times i've ran into people hiking their dogs through this park, people tossing tents at Greggory Bald during the azalea bloom, shelters along the AT stuffed with people many of which don't have a permit. Horses being in areas they shouldn't. Even the sounds of dogs being ran through the park to hunt bears illegally.These sort of things will start to get minimized over time if there is better protection with rangers in the backcountry.

Anyone that has spent a lot of time in the west hiking the parks out there has paid fees. I've spent years hiking in Yellowstones backcountry, and I always paid 25 to enter, and 25 to hike. This small contingency of whiners that obviously haven't been outside of the south, need to just buck up.

Most of these people will whine out of one side of their mouths about how beard cane, which got hit with an F4 tornado and is filled with tree fall and dangers is not getting fixed an hour after the storm, then in the same breath say that fees aren't needed. If they have revenue coming in these problems get solved much quicker. But then again, fixing a trail with that much dangerous tree fall isn't an easy task, to all but super skilled super heros like "the world's greatest smokies backpacker".

John you are not the only "true backcountry" camper out there. Buck up, buttercup. It's of my opinion that the park is long due for it to also have a entrance fee as well. 9 million people go through it. Highway 40 has long since taken over as the main commercial and freeway route for 441. 441 is now pretty much seen as the going-to-the-sun road of the Smokies.

Things evolve, and societies change. The main goal of a national park service is to protect the mountains and the wildlife. Which last time I checked, is becoming more and more fragmented in the east. The smokies are becoming a rare respite, and it needs better protection. 4.00 for a weekend out isn't going to kill you. It's obvious that you like to take advantage, but not provide for it's protection. You remind me of having the mindset of a freeloader.

Hey SmokyMountainMan,

Welcome to the NPT forum. I see you have been active for a day and seem to have some insight, however misguided, about the fees and lies used to push them. Explain to me how, for instance, that fees that are designated for a reservation system and a reservation system only will solve trail issues?

I don't expect an answer but will gladly point you in the direction of the park's own memorandums which stipulate that very thing. It will all come out in the lawsuit very soon. As for providing for the park, I am a park volunteer. Are you? I will be glad to produce copies of the hours of volunteer work I have done in the Smokies. I'd say put up or shut up, Kevin. Whereas you were paid to freeload in the park, I give back.

Oh, and do you really think that two rangers patrolling 800 miles of trails would make any kind of impact? By the time you "called" one from Gregorys bald, providing you got cell service, the offender would be gone.(I've spent considerable time up there and fail to see all those violations mentioned, guess I just picked the "right" times to be there, goes hand in hand with being local and in touch with the environment. Time to live in reality and not a fantasy that all of life's ills are cured by taxes and the government. True mountain folks are independent and have no need of outsiders and your opinions about how locals should lean on the federal government.

Of course this entire discourse is predicated upon the fallacy that this fee will fund backcountry rangers when we have documents clearly stating that the backcountry tax will go for the purpose of a reservation system and a reservation system only. More disinformation perpetuated by disingenous folks with dubious motivations. Makes me realize that we are striking at the heart of darkness and causing great discomfort in the halls of Sugarlands.

That is the smell of victory.

Just a reminder from the kindly moderator to keep a civil tone out there...;-)

I really don't need to defend myself to a guy that lives over 50 miles outside of the park, but pretends that is what makes him a "local". I live on the boundary of the GSMNP, I hike it all the time, and I have logged about a month of backcountry nights during last year. I know, if I log another 35 days over the next year with this fee system in place, that's 140.00 that goes to the park. A measley sum.

And not everything is a conspiracy. The paranoia that you have is not healthy and you need to quit acting like your opinion matters more than anyone else, just because you live in the city of Knoxville. This park is not named John Q Private Part Time Reserve. It's GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK! I live for hiking and enjoying this environment just as you claim to do. However, everytime I go on forums or threads dedicated to any topic on the park, why is it that I always see you pop in, and always harass and then target anyone that doesn't agree with your opinions. Almost every website or topic dedicated to anything smokies has you on it, ranting and raving. And then of course, you always need to make sure you toss in a link to promote your website for donations! Sounds like you want to profit on being a negative nancy while promoting a fake NGO. I think you just like to troll for suckers.

You act like a bully and a sociopath at times, and it's definitely not cool.

It's also a bit laughable when you are talking to someone that has lived in real mountainous environments their entire life, compared to say a place like Knoxville where it's a city with some hills.

I've also backpacked, and mountaineered many thousands of miles in remote rugged territory around the States and in other countries. And visited more than 2/3rds of the National Parks in the system, many of which I spent time in the backcountry on long excursions. The backcountry is where i prefer to go, and i'm also smart enough to realize that these parks are not just started with a set boundary, then the park service just opens the doors, and let's it be a free-for-all with no rules. In order to enjoy these backcountry areas, they need a level of protection to maintain a wilderness quality. Without the protection, there is more poaching, more litter, more people breaking the rules. More destruction of the flora, and fauna. When people all the sudden realize "oohhh a ranger might be through here today", they maybe more respectful of the rules and maybe won't be tossing tents up in areas where they shouldn't be.

Now, let's look at the math. Let's say with the boost in the economy that is starting to happen that 100,000 people stay in the backcountry. With 9 million visitors, and with those stats seemingly increasing according to the mountain press, that sounds reasonable. Thats 400,000.00 in generated revenue. Do you realized what 400,000 could pay for? That's enough to cover a few rangers, a handful of seasonal trail crew personel to maintain or rebuild trails, and the database driven reservation website. Even if only 25,000 people stay in the backcountry, that's 100,000. That's still enough to cover 2 rangers and a database driven website. No way will it cost 100,000.00 a year to maintain a website like that. And if they are paying more than 20 to 30,000 a year, then they are getting ripped off. Even that is on the high end...

The backcountry is definitely in need of some better patroling. Anyone that has spent a lot of time in it, knows that it's not the "rosey" picture that you paint..

When I hiked the Grand Canyon on a through hike, I had a ranger check my permit at both of the backcountry campgrounds. This is commonplace in the west and no one complains. Like I said, buck up buttercup. The campgrounds were not overcrowded with squatters, but with people that reserved the site for the measley 5.00 a night fee.

Dont have to troll read hard to find a real one in you, SmokyMtnman. Let me know whenever you would like to sit down and discuss this in person. I know it won't happen because you have been given the same offer by others on the forums in which you have shown up with multiple aliases. Best just go back and enjoy the retirement we are paying for you, Kevin. Depositions are coming soon.

Reminds me of the maxim that if you repeat a lie long enough, people will believe it. If you are caught publicly saying that the fee is going to fund backcountry rangers as we have copies that it has been said on multiple forums, when the internal documents clearly contradict that fact, it could get real sticky for you mr. mountaineer.

You're delusional. I've come to the conclusion, that you really need a girlfriend. And no, my name is not Kevin.

3. How will customer service be improved?

• Park Ranger's assigned solely to backcountry patrol will provide enhanced enforcement for issues such as wildlife violations and food storage

Smkymtn dude,

By your own admission you have just violated the backcountry policy which stipulates you may only spend 60 days in the Smokies backcountry per calendar year. I guess we do need rangers to educate folks like you about the rules. Genius.

Where did I say that I spend more than 60 nights in the backcountry? I said I spent about a month in the backcountry wandering around. I was just slightly under half way to making the quota limit, and everytime I have a legal permit. As you usually do you twist things around, like a true misguided sociopath. For those that have reading comprehension problems, read again:

11. 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.

This post was edited to remove a gratuitous remark/link.--Ed.

How will this affect AT thru hikers?

ad hominum attacks and name calling and I'm the disturbed one? My offer still stands to discuss this face to face. I don't care if you spend more nights in the park than is legal. I don't think there should be a limit on the number of nights you spend in the backcountry.

ECbuck, AT thru hikers will have to pay a 20 dollar flat rate, making the Smokies the only place on the AT that requires a credit card. The ATC originally came out against the fee but Ditmanson gave them a house to stage operations from the Soak Ash land donation and that bought their silence.

ec, AT details in fourth and fifth grafs.

And SmokiesBackpacker and SmokyMountainMan, I've already asked for civility once...

This thread is being closed to comments due to a disregard for Traveler's Code of Conduct and two requests for civility.