Great Smoky Mountains National Park Counted Nearly 9.7 Million Visitors In 2012

A large jump in visitation at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2012 over 2011 is being attributed to mild weather during the winter and spring months.

Park officials say that by December 31, 2012, 9,685,828 people had visited the park for recreational purposes. That's a 7.5 percent boost from 2011, when the yearly visited reached 9,008,835, and the highest number the Smokies has counted since 2000 when 10.1 million visited.

Park officials say the mild weather allowed or convinced more people to travel into the park and be outdoors due to the lack of ice and snow on the roads and trails. The mild weather in the shoulder seasons and warm summer set the tone for visitation as every month of 2012 saw an increase of visitors over those recorded in 2011, they add.

December 2012 visits were 480,527 compared with 471,603 as seen in December 2011. This is a 1.9 percent increase over December 2011. Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cheorkee, North Carolina, was closed due to ice and snow on all or part of six days during December, but the holiday season brought a large number of visitors to the park during the latter part of the month.

Here's a breakdown of entrance visitation tallies for 2012:

Gatlinburg: 175,205 visitors

Townsend: 65,156

Cherokee: 111,574

13 Outlying Areas: 128,592