Park announces group size limits for Whiteoak Sink

by Mar 21, 2022General Announcements0 comments


Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the implementation of group size limits for the Whiteoak Sink area during the 2022 wildflower season as a trial management action beginning Friday, April 1 through Sunday, May 8. Limiting group sizes will allow managers to determine if a reduction in group size can reduce trampling and soil compaction around sensitive plant populations, as well as social trail creation.

During this trial period, groups of more than eight people will not be allowed in the area at any time. The intent is to better protect sensitive wildflower species that can be damaged when large groups crowd around plants off-trail to take photos or closely view blooms. Individuals and small groups, less than eight people, may access the Whiteoak Sink area throughout the wildflower season. Volunteers will be available on-site to provide safe-viewing information and to collect monitoring data.

Since 2016, park managers have been monitoring sensitive wildflower species in the Whiteoak Sink area, an area that draws over 5,000 visitors during peak season. During the first year of monitoring, managers documented 62 plants that were damaged by trampling and the creation of 370 feet of new social trails by visitors trying to view or photograph individual plants.

Based on this monitoring, park managers implemented several strategies to protect this vulnerable ecosystem, including a trial group permit system in 2021 that was not effective. Helpful measures that remain in place include signage and a volunteer cadre who provide on-site information to help visitors safely view wildflowers and to understand the importance of remaining on trail to reduce soil compaction and trampling. With these efforts, plant trampling has been reduced by 80%. Social trail creation and soil compaction remain a concern that park management hope to further reduce through group size limitations.

For more information wildflowers in Smokies, visit the park website at
– National Park Service release