Smokies sees more than 12M visitors despite virus closure

In this Sept. 15, 2016, photo, visitors take pictures of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a lookout point on the Foothills Parkway near Chilhowee, Tenn. Work is underway to complete the extension of scenic route running near the northern boundary of the park. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — Despite closing for more than a month because of COVID-19, Great Smoky Mountains National Park experienced its second busiest year on record last year.

The park had a total of 12,095,720 visits in 2020, according to a news release. It saw a record 12.5 million visitors in 2019, a 1.1 million increase over 2018.


But the surge in use at the park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border has brought problems with traffic, overflowing parking lots, crowded bathrooms, damage and litter.

Over the last year, park managers have worked with local communities and visitors to try to solve the challenges. Through virtual workshops and online comments, the park collected more than 2,000 ideas they are now using to develop a pilot project that will address congestion for at least one park destination in 2021.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park. In 2020, the next most-visited park was Yellowstone with 3.8 million visits.