Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

After weeks of being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will start a phased reopening this Saturday May 9th.

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw a record 12.5 million visitors in 2019, a 1.1 million increase over 2018.

A news release from the park says monthly visitation records were set during January, March, April, May, June and December of last year. The park’s three primary entrances near Gatlinburg, Townsend and Cherokee saw increased use, with about two-thirds of visitors to the park using them. Additionally, a new section of the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley saw more than 1 million visitors, spurring growth in visits through secondary park entrances.

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — The Great Smoky Mountains National Park says it is allowing electronic bicycles everywhere regular bicycles are currently allowed.

According to the park, a new regulation allows cyclists to use low speed e-bikes in Class 1 or Class 2. Those provide electronic assistance until the rider reaches 20 miles per hour.

Thanks to the change, bicycles and e-bikes are now allowed on any park road where motor vehicles are allowed, including seasonally closed roads and several trails.

Lilly Knoepp

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited park in the country.  But all those visitors are not seeing its full history according to the park service. 

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are inviting the public to help with an effort to research the African American experience in southern Appalachia.

According to a news release, participants in open house events will have the opportunity to learn about the history of African Americans in the park and share their personal experiences or family stories.

Lilly Knoepp

  Horace Kephart is remembered as one of the seminal authors of Southern Appalachia. He was also a key player in the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The first-ever biography of his life was just published. Here’s more on the book, “Back of Beyond” - and his complex life -  from Swain County.


Matt Bush

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — A National Park Service report says that visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park spent $953 million in communities near the park last year.

A park news release says the spending came from the 11.4 million visitors to the park in 2018. The spending supported more than 13,700 jobs in the local area.

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw a record number of visitors in 2018.

According to the park, more than 11.4 million people visited last year, an increase of a little less than 1 percent from the previous year.

Park officials attribute the increase to the completion of a new section of the Foothills Parkway in November that opened new vistas to park visitors. The Smokies saw record visitation in the last two months of the year.

The National Park Service is asking  visitors for patience while crews clean up nearly a month's worth of debris from winter weather and lack of maintenance.   BPR’S Helen Chickering checked in with two people who have deep connections to the national parks here in Western North Carolina.  

Lilly Knoepp

  As the federal government remains partially shutdown for a third week, volunteers and nonprofits are stepping up to keep parks clean.


You’ve probably seen a Friends of the Smokies license plate on the back of a car. Funds from those plates help make up the $1.5 million the organization gives to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park each year.  But sometimes the need goes beyond those regular funds.


Lilly Knoepp

 The partial shutdown of the federal government is in to its third week. BPR headed out past the Great Smoky Mountain National Park on the edge of Macon Country to see what effects, if any, the shutdown is having on the area.


Standing Indian Campground is in the Nantahala National Forest. The campground is always closed this time of year but people are still able to access the trails within the forest.  So the area still has plenty of visitors. Right now downed limbs and trees litter the roads and trails at Standing Indian.

Lilly Knoepp

The United States is home to over 400 “park units.” That’s right. “Park units,” not parks.   


Dan Pierce is UNC-Asheville's National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Professor in the Humanities.  He's written several books on the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Pierce attributes his love of the park to first passing through it on Highway 441 when his family moved to Asheville from Arkansas in the 1950's.  His book Hazel Creek: The Life and Death of an Iconic Mountain Community, will be the subject of a

Funny Business In The Mountains Sees Growth

Nov 6, 2017

As long as there’s a stage, there’s really no telling where a comic can be found—even in areas like Western North Carolina—where local talent has flourishes, and local business captures part of a $300 million industry. BPR'S Davin Eldridge takes a look at the comedy scene of the mountains. 


Matt Bush BPR

Sometimes work doesn’t feel like work.  That was the case for an Asheville contractor and his employees last week as they rehabbed an historic cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities have charged two juveniles with starting an East Tennessee wildfire that killed 14 people and destroyed or damaged more than 1,700 buildings.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, local District Attorney General James Dunn and Great Smoky Mountains National Park announced charges at a news conference Wednesday.


For a few short weeks, every year, the mountains of Western North Carolina are renowned for their bright autumn leaves. The generations have brought to the region countless so-called “leaf-lookers” enthralled by their fiery shades of yellow and red come mid-October. Even this year, when area biologists are expecting fall leaves to be duller, and less-vibrant, all local economists can see on the horizon is the color of money for the mountains.

If you're on a North Carolina mountaintop on a sunny day this summer, expect a great view…  maybe the clearest in decades. State environmental officials say it’s the payoff from years of air quality improvements.