Great Smoky Mountains National Park experienced the second busiest year on record in 2020, with more than 12 million visits.
Taking into consideration a full park closure this spring and partial closures through August due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the park had 12,095,720 visits.
It is the second time in park history that visitation exceeded 12 million visits, officials said.
Officials said that between June and December, the park had one million more visits than experienced during this same time period in 2019 and 2.3 million more visits than the 10-year average for this time period. Roads, trails, frontcountry campgrounds, and backcountry campsites were all busier than normal.
According to a press release, after the reopening of all frontcountry campgrounds in September, use increased more than 33% for the remainder of the year over the same time period in 2019. In the backcountry, camping increased 47% for the same time period between June and December in 2019. This surge in use follows a 20-year trend of increasing visitation in the Smokies.
Visitors are more consistently reporting extreme traffic congestion, busy restrooms, litter, and over-full parking areas throughout the year.
Park managers remind the public about the added importance of practicing 'Leave No Trace' principles during periods of high visitation.
Litter and food scraps are not only unsightly but also draw wildlife close to park roadways, resulting in hazardous situations for motorists and iconic animals like black bears.
For more information visit, https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/recreate-responsibly.htm.
Park managers are currently assessing the information collected and plan to implement a pilot project based on the ideas gathered to address use and congestion for at least one park destination in 2021.
For more information, visit https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/management/ves.htm.