Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Smokies Announces Implementation of Backcountry Camping Changes

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced today that changes to its current backcountry reservation and permitting process will take effect on February 13, 2013. As reported last March, the National Park Service approved the park's proposal to begin collecting fees for use of the park's backcountry campsites and shelters. The changes include a $4 per person, per night fee for backcountry camping. The fee will be used 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 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. 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 management 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. On February 13, backcountry reservations and permits will be available at www.smokiespermits.nps.gov.


Jeff
Hiking in the Smokies

16 comments:

Tom said...

It's disappointing NPS spends so much money on fancy renovations to their visitors center then turns around and charges folks to sleep on the ground with no amenities. Pay $32 for a family wkd trip just for the privilege of making a reservation online? Or $100+ for the scout troop? I had no problem with the current reservation system. And didn't NPS already say this fee would merely cover the cost of the reservation system? Seems like they are taking some liberties with the mention of extra backcountry ranger presence. No way this fee could cover that. There just aren't enough backcountry campers to generate that kind of revenue. And the backcountry numbers are falling...down 14% I read here last week. Vast majority of campsites are always almost empty.

Anonymous said...

So much for 30 days in advance as the site says "under construction". Big FAIL out of the gate.

Michelle said...

So If its a non reservations site, I guess no need to pay right? So sad.

Tom said...

Wish that were the case Michelle. All sites require the fee with this new system.

Anonymous said...

This sucks

Anonymous said...

Visitor Center upgrades are not paid for by NPS. Funding comes from Great Smoky Mountain Association.

Anonymous said...

How exactly does this affect AT Thru Hikers?

TRAIL Hiker said...

Bumping the last comment - how is this going to impact NOBO's and SOBO's in the coming season? I am not really looking forward to dropping even more money when I hit the Smokies on my Southbound this year.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Very good question. I know thru-hikers used to receive first priority - I would assume that policy remains in place, but I don't recall hearing anything with regards to that question. Your probably going to have to call the backcountry office on that one.

Jared King said...

My understanding is that the policy for thru-hikers will remain the same. From March 15 through June 15, 4 spots in each shelter will be "set aside" for thru-hikers. Additional thru-hikers will be allowed to tent camp beside the shelter and must give up spots for others hikers that have reservations. The reservation policy is slightly different. There will be a "thru-hiker reservation" that costs $20.

TRAIL Hiker said...

Looks like a call to the backcountry office is in order :) I don't mind paying a reasonable reservation fee - it's expected in most places (i.e., hostels, campgrounds, and various shelters). I'd just hate to see priority taken away and prices raised from/for those that are outdoors to truly experience nature as opposed to simply taking a weekend excursion. Thru-hikers don't ask for much, often give back more than they take, and foster outdoor education and conservation - in essence, their presence often pays for itself. All the same, I understand a fee system's benefits - just be certain that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Jared King said...

here's the detail that GSMNP just shared with the ATC:
http://www.appalachiantrail.org/hiking/trail-updates#smoky

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Jared - great find and info - thank you!

Anonymous said...

Trail Hiker-Why is it so many thru hikers think they are special? Why is your 3 month experiance any more special or important then a section hiker making a ten year trip or a weekender? You want to "truly experiance nature" I guess a section hiker does not? Geez, do you know how self important you sound?

Anonymous said...

Trail-Hiker is in no way trying to say thru-hikers are better than section hikers. He makes no such distinction. The smokies are the most visited national park in the country, yet have no entrance fee. It seems more to me like he is highlighting how the park's decision to create backcountry fees as a way of generating revenue to increase outdoor education and enforcement of policies stands sharply against the fact that most visitors to the park drive in and drive out.

Tyson Florey said...

Hopefully, this new change would benefit the campers and hikers. Thank you for this update.