There Are Lots of EVs on the Blue Ridge Parkway & at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Recently, I took a trip from New Mexico to North Carolina and then back to New Mexico. On the way out, I visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and on the way back I drove about half of the Blue Ridge Parkway before visiting the Smokies again and staying for a night.

One thing surprised me over and over: the sheer number of EVs I saw!

Seeing EVs at Other Parks Hasn’t Been Common

On my visits to other national parks over the years, I’ve often been the only EV driver there. This was true in 2019 when I visited the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest national parks, as there just weren’t any chargers (even Superchargers) there when I visited. 

After getting the Bolt EUV (a much easier vehicle to road trip in because it has liquid cooling), I’ve been to more parks, and rarely ever see another EV there. It was only on my most recent trips to Carlsbad Caverns and then Guadalupe Mountain National Park in an EV9 press car that I saw two other EVs in the same lot with me (a Mustang Mach-E, and a an F-150 Lightning).

It just seemed like an EV was a rare sight in all of the western national parks I commonly visit.

Heading East Meant A LOT More EVs In Parks

Image by NASA, Public Domain.

If you look at images of the 48 states at night from above, you can see there’s a line where the population density really just drops off. There are still some very large and dense cities west of that line from San Antonio through Dallas, Oklahoma City, Wichita and on up into the Dakotas, but the areas between the largest cities are dark until you get to the west coast. If you’re familiar with geography, it’s easy to spot places like el Paso, Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas on NASA’s image because they stand out so much.

Naturally, if a certain small percentage of people own EVs and you go from a place with less people to a place with more people, you end up seeing more EVs. Then, consider the economics of EV charging, that stations are more common as you head east, and you end up in a situation where the east has more EVs per capita than the rural west.

As I ventured that way, I’d see more EVs on the road in cities like Dallas or Texarkana, which is a thing out west, too. So, it didn’t really get my attention much when I saw another EV at a charging station at Hot Springs National Park.

Image by Jennifer Sensiba.

From Arkansas on into Tennessee, I would see EVs at the chargers in cities, and it just seemed like a city thing like you’d see in the west.

But, when I first got to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it dawned on me that I was seeing something really different. From the moment I entered the park near Townsend, Tennessee on Line Springs Road, I started seeing Teslas everywhere. At one point, every third car was a Tesla. It was a busy holiday weekend when I went through the first time, and parking was scarce at all of the trailheads. So, I’d see Rivians up on the sides of the roads and on traffic islands where most people couldn’t park.

It boggled my mind a little, but I was driving on windy roads and couldn’t get photos.

When I was on my way back from Durham toward New Mexico, I decided to spend more time in the parks. I started by going to Boone, North Carolina so I could take around half of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Again, almost as soon as I jumped on the Parkway I started seeing EVs all over. It seemed like every sixth or seventh car was a Model 3 or a Model Y, and many of the most popular overlooks had 2 or 3 EVs parked at them. I also saw several EVs at each campground we stayed at.

At the south end of the Parkway, we ended up back in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and found out that the heavy presence of EVs wasn’t a holiday weekend fluke. 

Every visitor center parking lot had several Teslas, and the occasional Rivian or other EV. The campground had several Tesla drivers there for the night camping, too. On our last day in the Appalachians, we went through the one-way loop at Cades Cove. We were super hungry, so we used a traffic pullout to set up our kitchen briefly and cook up a meal. During that time, at least 20 EVs passed by us, including the Rivian pictured at the top of the article.

When we got caught in a traffic jam there due to a bear sighting, we spotted more Rivians and Teslas where people had stopped to get out. 

Why We Saw So Many EVs

After repeatedly seeing more EVs than I’m accustomed to seeing, I thought a lot about why this was. Here are some of the things I figured out, and why it’s a good sign for EVs in general:

First off, we have to keep in mind that the Blue Ridge Parkway is the top visited National Park Service unit. This is partly because it stretches across over 460 miles in two states, and many visitors don’t traverse the whole road. This means a rather wide net gets cast for visitors.

Next, we have to keep in mind that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is usually far and away the most visited national park. Again, with all of that traffic, you’ll see more EVs simply because there are so many cars.

Another factor is that both of these parks are in the eastern United States. EV adoption is higher than in the places closer to most western parks, there’s more infrastructure, and the population density near these parks is a lot higher. Again, more EVs on top of more people means even more EVs.

But, generally speaking, this is really a phenomenon of rising EV ownership in the general population. If we see a lot of EVs in popular places, than that means there are a lot of EVs everywhere. That’s a great sign for EV adoption.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 2018 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba