The Park Studies Unit of the National Park Service Social Science Division is in charge of conducting visitor surveys throughout the National Park System. They use customer satisfaction cards, focus groups and periodic in-depth Visitor Services Project (VSP) visitor studies.
Through these VSP in-depth surveys, park managers obtain accurate information about visitors - who they are, what they do, their needs, and opinions.
The most recent VSP studies for the Great Smoky Mountains were conducted during the summer and fall of 2008, with final reports being sent to park officials in 2009.
I pulled together a few stats that I thought were interesting, and compared them between the summer (late June) and fall (early October) surveys to see if there were any significant differences:
* The average length of stay for visitors to the Smoky Mountains was 1.8 days / 1.9 days.
* Interestingly, during the summer survey, North Carolina ranked only fifth as the state of origin among visitors. During the fall survey the state improved to third. So why are visitors from states like Florida, Ohio and Kentucky flocking to the Smokies more often than North Carolinians? Is it because there are comparable outdoor areas in places like Pisgah National Forest that are closer and easier to reach for the residents of NC? Tennessee, as you would expect, ranked first in both surveys.
* A total of 44% / 47% of all visitor groups said they spent less than 3 hours outside of their car while in the park!
* This coincides with 55% / 57% of all groups stating that they spent time driving the Cades Cove Loop Road.
* 3.6% / 2.8% of all visitor groups hiked to Laurel Falls during their visit.
* 64% / 60% spent time hiking, walking or backpacking while in the park (Interestingly, the 1996 study reported that only 46%/43% of visitors spent time participating in the same activities).
* 23% / 20% said that hiking was the most important activity during their visit.
You can view both studies by clicking on the summer and fall VSP reports.