As of March 1, 2023, all visitors who are parking inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park are required to purchase and display a parking tag on their vehicle.
While the park is free to enter – there is no Great Smoky Mountains entrance fee – all visitors who are going to be parking inside the National Park boundaries for 15 minutes or longer are going to have to display a parking pass on their vehicle’s windshield or dashboard.
As a local, I see quite a bit of confusion swirling around this topic, so hopefully, this guide alleviates some of your concerns and addresses some of your burning questions relating to Great Smoky Mountain’s parking tag program, “Park It Forward.”
So what is this parking tag, how do you get one, and where do you display it? These three questions about the Great Smoky Mountains parking pass – and many more – are answered below!
Everything You Need to Know About the Great Smoky Mountains Parking Tag
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What is a Parking Tag?
A parking tag is a piece of paper or window cling that rests on your vehicle dashboard or sticks to your windshield, granting you permission to park inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boundaries for an allotted period of time.
When Do I Need a Parking Tag?
You will need to purchase and display a parking tag if you park anywhere inside the National Park boundaries for at least 15 minutes.
What Parking Tag Options Do I Have?
There are currently three parking tag options.
- Daily – $5
- Weekly- $15
- Annual – $40
Which Tag Should I Buy?
Visitors who will be in the park for just one day should choose the daily tag.
Visitors who will be in the park for three or more days in a consecutive week should choose the weekly tag.
Visitors who will be in the park for three weeks or more of the year (including local Tennessee and North Carolina residents who live close to the park) should choose the annual tag.
Where Can I Purchase a Parking Tag?
You can purchase tags in-person at sales locations or automated fee machines OR online with print and ship options.
Here are some more details about each option.
In-Person Sales Locations
Daily, weekly, and annual parking tags are available for purchase at the locations listed below. Hours may vary seasonally. Note that daily and weekly parking tags that are purchased in person must be used starting on the date of purchase. For advance purchases, choose the online options listed after the in-person locations and automated machines.
- Gatlinburg Welcome Center – 1011 Banner Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
- Sugarlands Visitor Center – 1420 Fighting Creek Gap Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
- Greenbrier Grocery – 2406 E. Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
- Townsend Visitor Center – 7606 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Townsend, TN 37882
- Cades Cove Visitor Center – 686 Cades Cove Loop Road, Townsend, TN 37882
- Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont Store – 9275 Tremont Road, Townsend, TN 37882
- Clingmans Dome Visitor Center – 7078 Clingmans Dome Road, Cherokee, NC 28719
- Oconaluftee Visitor Center – 1194 Newfound Gap Highway, Cherokee, NC 28719
- Swain County Visitor Center – 2 Everett Street, Bryson City, NC 28713
- Visit NC Smokies Visitor Center – 1110 Soco Road, Maggie Valley, NC 28751
In-Person Automated Fee Machines
Daily and weekly parking tags are available for purchase by credit card ONLY from automated fee machines available year-round, 24 hours a day. Daily and weekly parking tags that are purchased at automated fee machines must be used starting on the date of purchase. For advance purchases, choose the online options listed in the next section.
Automated Fee Machine Locations:
- Oconaluftee Visitor Center
- Deep Creek – Campground Kiosk
- Newfound Gap Overlook
- Sugarlands Visitor Center
- Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area
- Cades Cove Orientation Center
Online Purchase and Ship
This option is convenient for visitors who want to purchase an annual tag.
Buy yours online through Great Smoky Mountains Association here and get it delivered to your door!
The month you purchase your annual tag will be the month it expires in the following year.
Online Purchase and Print
This option is convenient for visitors who want to purchase daily or weekly tags in advance.
Buy yours online at recreation.gov.
At the time of purchase, you will be asked to enter the date(s) of your visit and the license plate number of the vehicle you will be driving. If you do not know your license plate number or you know you’ll be driving a rental car, please purchase your tag in person at the park – not online – at the time of your visit.
Daily and weekly tags can be purchased 6 months in advance.
Remember to print and display your tag. Park staff will not print the tag for you.
Can I Purchase Tags in Advance?
Yes. You can purchase daily and weekly tags up to 6 months in advance here. You must know your license plate number and the date(s) of your visit at the time of purchase. If you don’t know this information, please purchase your ticket in person at the time of your visit at one of the many sales locations or automated machines.
And you can purchase annual tags at any time here. You don’t need to know your license plate number at the time of purchase. You will write your license plate number on the tag once you receive it in the mail. Instructions are included in the envelope.
How Do I Display My Parking Tag?
Annual parking tags must be displayed in the front, lower passenger side windshield.
Daily and weekly parking tags must be placed face-up on the front, lower passenger side dashboard.
Note that digital passes are NOT accepted anywhere in the park.
How Can I Display a Parking Tag on My Motorcycle?
Displaying the annual parking tag is easy. It’s a cling so it can adhere to the windshield.
Displaying the daily and weekly tags is a bit more tricky as they are made of paper. To ensure that it doesn’t blow away, you could tape it to the windshield. If it falls off or blows away, you will be responsible and you could receive a citation. Prepare proper adhesive supplies in advance.
What Happens If I Don’t Purchase and/or Display a Parking Tag?
According to the NPS, failure to comply with the parking tag requirements may result in one or more of the following:
- A warning.
- A citation.
- Your vehicle getting towed at your expense.
There are signs throughout the park, posted along roads, at the entrances, and at the visitor centers that announce the parking tag requirements. Many staff members are also working to educate and raise awareness of the program as well.
Can I Drive Through Cades Cove For Free?
If you only plan on driving the Cades Cove loop and making stops that are less than 15 minutes, then you don’t need a parking tag.
If you plan on hiking some of the trails and/or making stops that are 15 minutes or longer, you will need to purchase and display a parking tag.
How Can I Get a Free Parking Tag?
There are many exemptions to the parking pass. Park rangers will have the full list, but here are a few ways you can get a free pass or program exemption:
- Visit on an NPS fee-free day.
- Become a park volunteer.
- Have a state-issued disabled placard or license plate on your vehicle.
- Camp at one of the front-country campgrounds. NOTE: For parking tag exemption, your vehicle must stay at your campsite the entire time you’re in the park. If you wish to move your vehicle to anywhere else in the park including but not limited to trailheads, visitor centers, and overlooks, you will need to purchase and display a parking tag.
- Host an educational school group trip. You’ll have to get approval from a ranger by meeting the criteria, filling out a form, and giving at least 2 weeks’ notice. You’ll get a parking placard emailed to you for free if your group trip is approved. Visit the park website for more information; scroll down to the exemptions section.
- Any Tribal leader or citizen entering the park for traditional activities will receive a free tag.
- If you have an approved special use permit, you will be able to visit a family member at a cemetery and attend Decoration Days and family reunions for descendants across the park at no cost. Also, if you are a Decoration Day permit holder, you will be exempt from the parking tag requirements.
Can I Use My America the Beautiful National Parks Pass In Lieu of a Parking Tag?
No. America the Beautiful and any other National Parks Interagency passes are not accepted in lieu of a parking tag and do not provide a discount for the purchase of a parking tag.
Can I Transfer Parking Tags Between Vehicles?
No. You will need to purchase a separate tag for each vehicle that enters the park. Since the parking tag will have one vehicle’s license plate number on it, you won’t be able to display the tag on another vehicle with a different license plate number.
The vehicle’s license plate number must match the license plate number listed on the parking tag.
When Will My Parking Tag Expire?
Daily parking tags expire at 11:59 PM ET on the date of purchase.
Weekly parking tags expire at 11:59 PM ET 7 days from the date of purchase.
Annual tags are valid for 12 months from the month of purchase. For example, an annual parking tag purchased in March 2023 will be valid until March 31, 2024.
Are There Different Parking Tag Prices Based on Vehicle Size or Type?
No. The same parking tag options and prices apply to all motor vehicles, including motorcycles, UTVs, RVs, etc., regardless of size.
Please keep in mind that parking is extremely limited for oversized vehicles.
Is There a Discount For Residents of Local Counties?
No. The annual tag is designed specifically for locals! For just $40, locals can enjoy the park year-round. Get yours here.
Do I Have to Pay For Parking on Fee-Free Days?
No! Great Smoky Mountains participates in NPS fee-free days. Visitors do not need to display a valid parking tag on fee–free days.
Here are the NPS fee-free days in 2023:
- January 16: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- April 22: First day of National Park Week
- August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- September 23: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
Do Frontcountry and Backcountry Campers Have to Display a Parking Tag?
Backcountry campers must display a parking tag.
Frontcountry campers parked at their designated campsite are not required to have a parking tag. If they park anywhere else in the park, such as at a trailhead, overlook, visitor center, etc., a parking tag will be required.
Also, note that parking tags are required for extra vehicles that are parked at or near campsites. For example, if one vehicle is allowed per campsite, but you park two at or near your site, the second vehicle will need a parking tag. Information about how many vehicles are allowed at each facility is available on recreation.gov.
Do Picnic Pavilion Reservation Holders Have to Display a Parking Tag?
Yes. Picnic pavilion reservation holders are not exempt from the parking tag requirement.
What Will the Parking Tag Funds Be Used For?
100% of the revenue generated from the parking tag program stays right here in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to improve visitor services! They might use the money for things like adding more staff, improving parking lots, repairing trails, etc., all of which would benefit us – the visitors!
Could Parking Tags Sell Out?
No. Parking tag sales are not limited or capped.
However, if you purchase annual passes online, they could temporarily run out of stock, depending on demand. But don’t fear, they will be back in stock! If you can’t snag one online before your trip, you can always visit one of the many in-person sales locations or automated fee machines to purchase one.
What If I Will Be Driving a Rental Car? I Won’t Know My License Plate Number in Advance.
That’s okay! If you’ll be driving a rental car, please purchase your tag at the park – not online – at the time of your visit.
If you try to purchase your tag online, you will be prompted to enter your license plate number. Since you won’t know your plate number until your visit, you can just purchase your tag directly at the park. You’ll still need to know your license plate number when you visit one of the sales locations or pay stations, so make sure to jot it down!
If My License Plate Number Changes, Can I Keep the Same Parking Tag?
No. Each tag is only valid for one license plate number. Since the license plate number has to match the one on your parking tag, you will have to purchase a new tag if your plate number changes.
Does Having a Parking Tag Guarantee a Parking Spot?
No. Since there is no limit or cap to the number of parking tag sales, parking can still be limited in certain areas, especially at popular trailheads and overlooks.
For a better chance of finding parking, follow these tips:
- Arrive early. The park is open 24/7 weather permitting, so get to the park as early as you can. Come prepared to hike in the dark if you will arrive before sunrise.
- Stay late. Oftentimes, visitors disperse in the evening or after sunset, so you might find more solitude. Come prepared to hike in the dark!
- Avoid holidays and weekends.
- Visit in the winter.
- Hike the popular trails (Alum Cave, Mount LeConte, Rainbow Falls, Abrams Falls, etc.) in the off-season or at sunrise.
- Venture into lesser-known areas of the park.
→ READ NEXT: How to Avoid Crowds When Hiking
Am I Required to Purchase/Display a Parking Tag If I’m Driving Through or Parking For Less Than 15 Minutes?
Nope! You will not need to purchase and display a parking pass if you’re passing through or stopping at a visitor center or overlook for less than 15 minutes.
But I’d encourage you to do so! Get out, stretch your legs on a nice hike, stroll around a beautiful overlook, and enjoy a relaxing picnic with some epic views!
Are There Location-Specific Parking Tags?
No. There is only one type of parking tag (valid for either one day, one week, or one year). You don’t need to purchase separate parking tags for different sections of the park. Your tag will allow you to park “anywhere” in the park.
❗️I put the term “anywhere” in quotes because you must only park in designated areas. Do not park on the road or on road shoulders. Use designated lots only. If lots are full, come back at a different time.
How Far in Advance Can I Purchase My Daily and Weekly Parking Tags?
You can purchase daily and weekly tags on recreation.gov up to 6 months in advance. You can pre-select your date(s).
You can purchase annual tags at any time here. The month you purchase it will be the month that it expires in the following year.
What Material Are the Parking Tags?
Daily and weekly tags are paper.
Annual tags are window clings.
Overall, I am feeling very optimistic about this pilot program, Park It Forward. For a small fee from each visitor, the park’s funds will increase by millions, allowing the Smoky Mountains to see some much-needed improvements.
How do you feel about the parking pass? Have you purchased yours yet? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to reach out to me with any additional questions you might have!