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The Appalachian Lodge
The entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Over 11 million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year. In fact, the Smokies are the most visited national park in the United States! Blessed with 900 miles of gorgeous hiking trails, numerous scenic roads, lovely picnic areas, and spectacular wildlife viewing, it’s no wonder that the Great Smoky Mountains are so popular. Of course, another reason so many people come to the Smokies each year is that the national park is completely free to enter.

While other national parks across the U.S. charge admission, there is no Great Smoky Mountains entrance fee. If you’ve ever wondered why this is the case, read on to learn the history behind the park’s policy.

We Owe it All to Newfound Gap Road

A car driving on Newfound Gap Road in the Smoky Mountains.

Newfound Gap Road was the first modern highway to connect Tennessee and North Carolina. Cutting through the heart of the Smokies, this scenic roadway was constructed in the years leading up to the official chartering of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Money for the highway was raised from the governments of both states and from local communities.

In 1934, when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was formally established, both North Carolina and Tennessee ceded ownership of Newfound Gap Road to the federal government. North Carolina elected to transfer its land through abandonment, but Tennessee did so in a different manner.

When the state legislature in Tennessee drafted a deed to turn the land over to the federal government, the lawmakers included a clause ensuring that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed” to travel Newfound Gap Road. Tennessee wanted to make sure that the creation of the national park didn’t inhibit interstate travel on the highway. The Volunteer State’s conditions were met and the rest, as they say, is history!

In September of 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke at the Rockefeller Memorial along Newfound Gap Road to officially dedicate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During his speech, President Roosevelt declared that the national park would be “for the permanent enjoyment of the people.” For nearly 80 years after this iconic speech, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has lived up to this promise by staying open to all people, regardless of their financial situation.

How the National Park Raises Money

A bridge over a scenic stream in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Since the Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not charge an entrance fee, it has benefited enormously from a number of nonprofits that raise money for the park’s educational programs, repair work, and historical preservation efforts. Friends of the Smokies has raised over $47 million for the park since 1993, mostly by selling specialty license plates and holding fundraising events. Additionally, the Great Smoky Mountains Association raises over $7 million each year by selling items at 9 visitor center locations in the national park. Picking up a souvenir at one of the visitor centers is a great way to support the park!

Where to Stay Near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Charming hotel room in the Appalachian Lodge in Gatlinburg.

Now that you know why there is no Great Smoky Mountains entrance fee, it’s time to start planning your next vacation! The Appy Lodge is just minutes from the entrance to the national park and steps away from all of the wonderful attractions, restaurants, and shops in downtown Gatlinburg, TN. Offering free parking, indoor and outdoor pools, complimentary breakfast, and walk-in showers, our hotel is the perfect home base for an escape in Gatlinburg. To schedule your getaway, browse our selection of Smoky Mountain hotel rooms!