“Connecting today to yesterday. Preserving today for tomorrow.” Great Smoky Mountains Association provides financial support and labor to maintain Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Why is there a need for a non-profit like Great Smoky Mountains Association? I’m glad you asked.

Entrance Fee Free Park

All the largest parks in the National Park System receive funds through entrance fees which support park maintenance.

When Congress created the park back in 1934, Tennesee lawmakers insisted that they never charge a fee to use Newfound Gap Road. The road transverses the mountains and residents used it to travel back and forth to North Carolina. They believed a road use tax harmed Tennessee industries that depended on the road.

This stipulation resulted in free entrance to the park.

While a “no entrance fee” policy is great for visitors to the park, it puts a strain on the park’s budget. Great Smoky Mountains Association, in partnership with the National Park Service, helps overcome that deficit.

Since 1953, the mission of Great Smoky Mountains Association is to support the unending care and protection of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Their methodology includes research and teaching to promote understanding of the park’s needs. In addition, they utilize various funding mechanisms to pay for those needs.

Great Smoky Mountains Association Stores

Great Smoky Mountains Association owns and manages all the gift shops within the park. They use the proceeds to maintain the park. So when you make a purchase at one of their stores, you help the park!

The stores sell clothing, trail guides, hiking sticks, trail patches, books, posters, CDs and DVDs, trail snacks, and an assortment of souvenirs and gifts. There is even a section for children. We love visiting the stores and perusing all the quality products.

Find official GSMA stores inside the visitor centers:

  1. Cades Cove Visitor Center
  2. Clingmans Dome Visitor Center
  3. Oconaluftee Visitor Center & Museum
  4. Sugarlands Visitor Center & Museum
  5. An additional store is at Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont

Official GSMA stores outside the park:

  1. Gatlinburg Welcome Center
  2. Sevierville Visitor Center
  3. Swain Country Visitor Center & Museum
  4. Townsend Visitor Center

Smokies Guide

Great Smoky Mountains Association produces “Smokies Guide”, the official newspaper of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The “Smokies Guide” is free of charge at all the GSMA stores. It is a treasure trove of information. The guide includes maps, stories about wildlife, and park information.

Great Smoky Mountains Association Membership

Great Smoky Mountains Association invites the public to become a member. Membership is a great way to support the ongoing financial needs of the park. You can choose  from a number of membership levels.

Member benefits include a 15% discount at the GSMA stores, invitations to events, newsletters, hikes, and more. Association membership dues range from $15 to $1000 per year.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has received more than $32 million (2013 data) from GSMA, from retail sales and the membership program.

Branch Out Events | Great Smoky Mountains Association

One of the advantages of being a member in Great Smoky Mountains Association, is their monthly “Branch Out Events”. “Branch Out Events” are activities orchestrated to increase participants’ knowledge and appreciation of the park. Among the scheduled events are guided hikes and backpacking trips.

2017 Guided Hikes

Guided hikes are a great way to be introduced to hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Experienced guides take participants on educational hikes throughout the park.

Explore and learn about the backcountry together with other members. Gain a deeper appreciation for the park’s resources and what it takes to conserve and preserve them.

Hiking 101

From March to November, Great Smoky Mountains Association provides hiking opportunities to its members through the Hiking 101 program.

Each hike is limited to 20 members and hikers must sign up in advance. Spaces fill up quickly, so if you want to participate, sign up early.

Guides for the Hiking 101 events are GSMA staffers and member volunteers. Check the Great Smoky Mountains Association’s website for dates, times, and trail locations.

Cost for Hiking 101 Events

  1. Great Smoky Mountains Association members: $10
  2. Non-members and inactive members (includes an annual membership): $35
  3. Hemlock members: FREE

2017 Backpacking Trips

Just like the guided hikes, backpacking trips require membership in Great Smoky Mountains Association. There is an additional charge for these backpacking trips. Expect to pay between $125 to $350, depending on the number of days on the trail.

Women Only

In 2017, there are two backpacking trips for women only. The first, in April, is a beginner backpacker adventure.

Women desiring more confidence in the backcountry should sign up for this event. You may enter this event as a beginner, but you won’t leave a beginner!

This experience teaches you backpacking basics such as setting up camp, making sure your drinking water is safe, and how to store your food in the backcountry.

Backpackers learn how to deal effectively and confidently with challenges you might encounter and gain practical knowledge to care for yourself in the backcountry.

Experienced hikers are welcome on these adventures. If you just want to be outside during the Spring, this is a great opportunity to spend time with other women backpacking in the Smokies. Your knowledge and experience is a great example for beginners.

The second backpacking adventure, in July, is for intermediate level hikers with previous backpacking experience (required).


For 2017, there are two co-ed backpacking trips. The first is for the intermediate level backpacker and the second for intermediate to advanced.

For more information on Great Smoky Mountains Association memberships, or to register for backpacking trips and guided hikes, please visit their website.