KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In April, gorgeous wildflowers draw thousands of visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park every year.
Cathy Schaller, of Kingston, brought her brother and his fiancée. They were visiting her from Wisconsin.
"It's just beautiful, beautiful here in the spring," she said. "Everybody should come to the park and look at the flowers."
In 2021, nearly 2 million people had visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through the end of March. That's up from the previous record of 1.7 million visitors set in 2019.
That many people in the park at once can be harmful to animals and wildflowers if people don't follow the rules.
"Make sure that you always stay on trail," said Jessie Snow with the National Park Service. "That's so you're not trampling those wildflowers and also you're not compacting the soil."
When people step on the soil, Snow said it gets pressed down and can make it difficult for things to grow. With so many visitors each year, it's important they leave no trace.
"If you see beautiful wildflowers, make sure you leave them for the next person and the next generation," Snow said. "We have flowers that bloom 12 months a year."
She also encouraged people to plan their trips to avoid crowds and peak visitation times.
"That's going to help you prevent doing things like roadside parking where you may accidentally be parking on some of those beautiful plants you came to enjoy," she said. "If you want to visit at a less busy time of year, that's always an option and you might see something new."
The National Park Service also encourages people to not share the locations of different wildflowers to help prevent overcrowding. There are more than 1,500 different species throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.