Thanks to Jared King for providing a link to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website that provides clarification on the rules pertaining to thru-hikers. Here's how the process will work:
• Backcountry permits for A.T. thru-hikers will be available online at www.smokiespermits.nps.gov.Also, I would assume that this policy will remain in place, as currently published on the Appalachian Trail NPS website:
• There will be a $20 charge for each permit.
• You must have a permit before backpacking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
• Permits may be obtained up to 30 days in advance of the date a thru hiker anticipates entering the Smokies.
• Permits will be valid for 38 days from the date issued for an up to 8 day hike through the Smokies. All other thru-hiker regulations remain in effect.
You may also get a permit in person at the park’s Backcountry Office (at the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg) or over the phone; with permits issued by fax, mail or email. For more information, please call 865-436-1297.
Shelter Policy - Park regulations require that you stay in a shelter......From Mar. 15 to June 15, four spaces at each A.T. shelter are reserved for thru-hikers. If the shelter is full, thru-hikers can tent close by. Only thru-hikers are allowed to tent next to shelters, so they are responsible for making room for those who have reservations in the shelters.
Hiking in the Smokies