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Q: What’s the difference between Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies?

A: GSMA and FOTS are both non-profit organizations established to support Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The difference in our organizations is how we raise funds. Great Smoky Mountains Association raises most of its park support through sales at our 12 visitor center locations in and around the national park. We also receive nearly $1 million in membership dues each year from individuals, families and businesses. GSMA members receive a slate of benefits, including shopping discounts at this and many other national parks and a subscription to our award-winning “Smokies Life” magazine. And, as a 501(c)(3), we receive donations from generous supports.

Q: I've heard that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is considered the most visited national park in the country. How does the park count visitors without an entry fee?

A: The park has loop traffic counters on every park road that brings visitors into the park. The traffic counters record each vehicle that comes into the park on a daily basis and multiplies it by a factor of either 2.81 persons per vehicle for May through October or 2.5 persons per vehicle for November through April.  Correction factors are included in the equation to account for bus traffic and administrative traffic by employees.  The multipliers/factors are determined by actual surveys and physical counts that are done every 4 to 5 years by the Socio-Economic Studies Division of the National Park Service. 

Q: How often is Smokies Guide published and where can I get my copy?

A: Seasonally. “Smokies Guide,” the official park newspaper, is published at the start of each season in the Smokies: spring, summer, fall, and winter.  Digital “Smokies Guides” are found HERE. In addition to our digital “Smokies Guides”, the official park newspaper is available at all visitor center locations HERE. Current issues can be purchased online and mailed to you from HERE.

Q: How often is Smokies Life magazine published?

A: Bi-annually. Smokies Life, GSMA’s award-winning magazine covering a wide variety of topics related to the national park, is published in the spring and fall. GSMA members receive a free subscription to the magazine; others are invited to look for current and back issues at our visitor center locations and online HERE.

Q: Which Smokies Life magazine had that story about…?

A: A list of Smokies Life magazine stories can be found in the product descriptions for each edition found HERE.

Q: How often is the Bearpaw members' paper newsletter published?

A: Bi-annually. Bearpaw, GSMA’s members' printed newsletter, is published in the summer and winter. Look for it to arrive in June and November.

Q: Where are the visitor centers located and what are their hours of operation?

A: GSMA staff operates nine visitor center locations in and around this national park. Click HERE to find directions to each visitor center, their hours of operation, and their days open.


Q: What does it mean to "Get Rooted in the Smokies" or GRITS?

A: When you "Get Rooted in the Smokies," you join nearly 30,000 others who have committed financially to support the mission of GreatSmoky Mountains Association. Our membership levels are named for the trees that cover a vast majority of our park's 500,000 acres. They start with Acorns, then grow in financial commitment from Buckeye to Chestnut to Dogwood to Hemlock.

Q: What’s an Acorn membership?

A: An annual Acorn membership is our youth level membership, available for $15 for children up to age 14. Acorn members receive a membership card, a fun activity worksheet and a free book from our published titles for children. For more information on the benefits of becoming an Acorn, click HERE.

Q: What’s a Buckeye membership?

A: An annual Buckeye membership is available for $35 for individuals ages 15+, $50 for families of two or more, all residing at the same address. Buckeye members receive a long list of benefits described HERE.

Q: What’s a Dogwood membership?

A: A Dogwood membership is available for $200 per year, for an individual and $300 for two people at the same address - all with the goal of reaching $1,000/$1,500 in five years, at which time the level of membership is automatically upgraded to Hemlock. Dogwood members receive all the benefits of the Chestnut level, plus they receive a $50 coupon to use in any of our visitor center stores after their fourth payment is processed.

Q: What’s a Hemlock membership?

A: A Hemlock membership is available for $1,000 for an individual and $1,500 for two people at the same address - making them lifetime supporters of the Smokies. Hemlock members receive all the benefits of Dogwood members, plus they are entitled to attend all monthly “Branch Out Programs” at no cost to them. Other benefits of a Hemlock membership can be seen HERE.

Q: I became a Lifetime member prior to April 2015. Does that mean I'm now considered a Hemlock member?

A: No. Most Lifetime members contributed to GSMA at the $500 level; their status and benefits were grandfathered in prior to the membership level changes in April 2015. Any Lifetime member who would like to upgrade to Hemlock may do so. Click HERE for details.

Q: Can I still purchase an “instalment” membership?

A: Yes and no. Our Dogwood level is considered an instalment plan, with a goal of attaining Hemlock status after five payments of $200 for an individual/$300 for two people at the same address within the timespan of five years.

Q: I was an instalment member prior to April 1, 2015. Can I continue to make instalment payments online?

A: No. Please call the Membership Department at 865.436.7318, Ext. 222 for information about retaining your active status toward Lifetime status. *NOTE: This program is no longer available for NEW members. We also will accept checks via mail.

Q: Can I still purchase a Lifetime membership?

A: Yes and no. Our Hemlock level is considered a "Lifetime of Support" for the Smokies. It is available for $1,000 for an individual/$1,500 for two people at the same address. It can also be attained by starting at the Dogwood level. The previous $500 Lifetime level is no longer offered.

Q: How do I upgrade my membership?

A: Most GSMA members join initially at the Buckeye, our basic level. Upgrades beyond Buckeye include Chestnut, Dogwood and Hemlock. Upgrades can be purchased at any of our visitor center locations, on our website (within 30 days of renewal) or by calling our Membership Department at 865.436.7318 ext. 254, 222, or by clicking HERE.

Q: I'm a Lifetime member. Can I upgrade to a Hemlock?

A: Yes! Lifetime members need only contribute an additional $500 per individual to become a Hemlock member. This can be done in one or multiple payments in no more than two years. As a Hemlock member, your benefits will change slightly. While your shopping discount will drop to 20% savings, you'll be entitled to attend all Branch Out events free of charge.

Q: How can I find out when my membership is set to expire?

A: Most membership levels remain active for year one from the original date of purchase. To find your expiration date, look on the back of your Get Rooted in the Smokies membership card, call us, email us or follow the following steps:

1.    Log into your online account as a "Returning Customer" with your email and password. (If you do not remember your password, use the "Forgot Password" option and an email will be sent to you with instructions on how to update it.)

2.    Click "My Account" found at the top section on our website's home page

3.    Your membership expiration date is listed on "My Account Dashboard" page 

Q: Are my membership dues tax-deductible?

A: A portion of each membership is tax-deductible, with that portion determined annually. Receipts for the upcoming tax year are available by email in January of each year.

Q: Who do I call for membership questions?

A: Your Membership Department staff is here to serve you Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. EST at 865.436.7318 ext. 254, 222 and 325.

Q: I recently renewed my membership (at a visitor center store, through the mail or online). When will my new card arrive?

A: New membership cards are mailed within 3-4 weeks of the renewal process. If that amount of time has passed and your card has not yet arrived, please give us a call or EMAIL us.

Q: Is choosing the auto-renew really that important?

A: Yes! When you choose to auto-renew your membership, you're helping us reduce printing, mailing and labor expenses. Our mission of support for Great Smoky Mountains National Park is enhanced when we operate as efficiently as possible. 

Q: I've misplaced my membership card. How do I get a new one?

A: Email us HERE or call us M-F, 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. EST at 865.436.7318 ext. 254, 349 and 325. Replacement cards are usually made available within 2-4 weeks after a request has been made.

Q: What is a Lookout League Membership?

A: GSMA is proud to receive support through annual memberships from businesses and organizations around the national park in both North Carolina and Tennessee. In return for joining GSMA at any of our Lookout League levels, we say “Thank You” with a list of benefits. Most of these businesses, in turn, show their support by offering discounts to our GRITS members. A list of business members can be found HERE.

Q: I know I receive a discount when shopping in the Smokies, but where else does my membership card earn discounts?

A: GSMA is proud to receive support from more than 170 businesses in and around the Smokies through our Business Membership Program. Many of these businesses offer discounts to our Buckeye, Chestnut, Dogwood, Hemlock, Installment and Lifetime members. A list of these businesses is found HERE.

Q: How do I use my GRITS membership card to receive discounts at other national parks?

A: Many other public lands, like the Smokies, are supported by non-profit partner organizations likeGreatSmoky Mountains Association. As a group, these partner organizations offer reciprocal discounts to members of other associations. Discounts vary from association to association and proof of membership may be required for discounted purchases. Click HERE to find a list of associations that participate in the reciprocal program.

Q: As a member, do I need special instructions to use your website?

A: Yes. When using our website, please note that your membership sign-in is NOT the same as your web store sign in, which is found in the tan bar at the top of our website. Your membership sign-in is made available to you only after you've accessing one of these areas on our website:

-Membership Join/Renew (see below)

-Program Registration

-Legacy Fund Donations (upper left corner)

Registering in any one of these areas ensures you receive the full slate of benefits available to you. After you've registered your membership, online forms found in the three areas listed above will self-populate and prevent duplicate accounts from occurring.

When shopping online with us, a separate sign in is required to ensure your discount is applied to your shopping cart.***



Q: What are Branch Out programs?

A: As Great Smoky Mountains National Park's educational nonprofit partner, GSMA has designed Branch Out programs to help participants learn more about this park's natural and cultural resources. Programs are diverse - from group hikes along maintained trails to indoor presentations by local and regional experts. While we do our best to accommodate all, some programs may not be appropriate for everyone, especially longer, harder hikes.

  1. OAK Events – Observe. Ask. Know. – Learn more about our park’s and our region’s wondrous diversity of life through expert-led sessions focusing on naturally and culturally significant topics.
  2. Hiking 101 – Explore this hiker’s paradise. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known the world over as a paradise for people who like to walk in the mountains.
  3. Backpacking – Discover the ‘Back of Beyond.’ Spend days and nights in the backcountry apart from worldly distractions. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors and deepen your connection to nature.
  4. Acorn Adventures. Kids 14 years and younger and one chaperone are invited to leave the distractions of daily life behind and escape to the Smoky Mountains for a professionally guided educational adventure.

Q: Why does GSMA charge fees for Branch Out programs?

A: Program fees cover the cost of our leaders, most of whom are professional naturalists who earn their livings from working in the park. Your support through program fees also allows us to fund our mission, including:

  • - Interns: GSMA provides funds for college students and recent graduates to gain valuable work experience helping NPS protect our park's valuable cultural and natural resources.
  • - Landscape restoration - Vegetation managers monitor forests, grassy balds, meadows and wetlands over time. They work to eliminate or control invasive species, restore landscapes altered by past agriculture, and re-vegetate disturbed areas with native plant species.
  • - GSMA guides whose purpose is to help members of GSMA and the general public to strengthen their connection to the Smokies through educational, historical, interpretive and scientific projects.
  • - Publications and digital media, which include development costs and free publications available at our visitor centers and on GSMA’s social media outlets.

Q: How do I register for a program?

A: Each program includes a link to an online registration form. Payment is required in advance by credit card only. You may also register by phone at 865.436.7318 extension 349.

Q: What is the refund policy?

A: In most cases, refunds are not available. Instead, payments are considered a tax-deductible donation to our Legacy Fund when attendance is missed. Events travel rain or shine and follow Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service policies for weather and road conditions. When programs are cancelled by GSMA due to recommendations from GSMNP management, full refunds will be made available to those who request them.

Q: Is there other fine print I should be aware of related to event participation?

A: Yes. All event participants are required to indicate they've read, understand and agree to GSMA's waivers and policies during the registration process. Click HERE to read in advance of registering for our events.


Q: What is the Legacy Fund?

A: In 2010, GSMA embarked on a path that one day will allow us to give Great Smoky Mountains National Park not $2 million each year, but closer to $10 million. We'll achieve this ambitious goal when our Legacy Fund is fully funded.

Q: How do I give to the Legacy Fund?

A: GSMA members are invited twice a year to make an additional show of support for the Smokies: first, to accompany their annual renewal; and second, during what most would say is the park’s most spectacular time of year, the fall color season. Members can, however, choose to give donations at any time of year for any reason at our visitor center locations, on our website, or by calling us at 865.436.7318, Ext. 222 or 325.

Q: Are donations to the Legacy Fund tax-deductible?

A: Yes, Legacy Fund donations are 100% tax-deductible. Each donation received in a calendar year will result in a letter of appreciation in January of the next calendar year. This letter serves as validation of support at tax time.


Q: Is it safe to use a credit card to make purchases on the GSMA website?

A: Yes, all credit card information is encrypted and pages are protected by SSL certificate. Once you click the “buy” button, the order information, along with your credit card number, is sent directly through an encrypted connection to a merchant gateway, which checks the validity of the card, available funds, and tests for fraud.

Q: As a member, do I need special instructions to use your website?

A: Yes. When using our website, please note that your membership sign-in is NOT the same as your web store sign in.

When shopping online with us, a separate sign-in is required to ensure your discount is applied to your shopping cart. Please visit the helpdesk webpage for instructions on how to sign in on either portal. 

Q: Why should I log on to the site?

A: If you wish to make a merchandise purchases (not memberships, program registrations or donations) on our web store, please start with the Store Login. Active members should be automatically recognized and shown shopping discounts.

Q: I’m logged into my account, but I do not see discounted merchandise. Why?

A: Most likely because your membership has lapsed. To check if your membership has expired, sign into your account. Click on the My Account Link at the top of the webpage. You will see an alert in your dashboard if your membership has expired. 

Q: I am trying to reset my password but I never got an email. 

A: Please make sure to check your email folder labelled "Spam." It is possible that the email was accidentally sent there. If you still do not see it, you can email the helpdesk for a manual password reset. Please be aware that we can only resend the email for you to reset your password. Our system requires that a user must authenticate themselves by logging into their personal email to eliminate someone else from logging in with your information. 


Q: How does GSMA choose which retail products to sell in the national park stores?

A: Our Retail Director collects and accepts nominations for sale items throughout the year. Approximately three times a year, these items are brought before a committee comprised of mostly National Park Service staff - all experts in their fields. This committee votes yes or no on a product based on its subject matter and/or its relevance to the Smokies. Once an item has been approved, GSMA management, along with a subcommittee of our board of directors, decides how, when and for what duration to introduce an item into our stores based on a variety of factors, including time of year and warehousing logistics.

Q: Who do I call for questions pertaining to online orders?

A: Our Online Order Customer Service Department can be reached at 865.436.7318 ext. 226 Monday through Friday from 9 am - 4 pm EST. Our toll-free number is 888.898.9102. Our fax number is 865.436.6884. You can also email us at

Q: Can I return an item purchased at the Sugarlands visitor center to the Townsend visitor center?

A: Yes, you may return items purchased at any one visitor center location to another visitor center location. Please be sure to bring your receipt with you.

Q: Who do I call for a refund?

A: Our Customer Service Department can be reached at 865.436.7318, Ext. 226. Our toll-free number is 888.898.9102. You can also email us.

Q: How do I get an exchange for an online order?

A: Please be aware that due to Covid-19 restrictions, we are not accepting exchanges at this time. 

Q: Are teachers and librarians eligible for discounts at GSMA-operated National Park Service Visitor Center Bookstores?

A: Educators with school-issued identifications are eligible to receive a 40% discount on GSMA-produced publications that lend themselves to support of an age-appropriate curriculum. Likewise, librarians with similar credentials may purchase GSMA-published materials to add to their collections at a 40% savings. You can redeem this in stores at any of our locations or over the phone by calling 865.436.7318, Ext. 226.

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