camping

Where Should You Camp in the Great Smoky Mountains for an Unforgettable Experience?

By Olivia Williams

Do you love the sound of fire popping and crickets? Do you believe that there is nothing more beautiful than the mountains?

If so, trust me you should go now for camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ready for an adventure? Let’s find the most amazing places to camp in the Smoky Mountains.

The world-famous Great Smoky Mountains National Park is situated along the Tennessee–North Carolina border and is an outdoor lover’s dream. 

If you’ve never been to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’re basically missing out on the party of the year, every year! Picture this: 12 million people decide to visit a park, and you haven’t been one of them yet. 

What are you waiting for, an invitation? Well, consider this your official invite to join the crowd. Trust me, it’s the kind of place where even the bears line up for a good photo op!

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Let’s assume you accept this invitation and decide to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

What’s the very next step? Figuring out where you’re going to stay, of course! 

But just chill, because there are several great options available. You can choose from places like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Cherokee, Bryson City, or even go CAMPING!

While we have written travel guides for each of those towns, for this article, we are going to focus on camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

If you’re a fan of camping, you must be, or else you wouldn’t have stumbled upon this blog! Keep on reading, because we’ve got all the insider tips and essential info you need for an unforgettable camping experience in the national park.

What are The Best Places to Camp in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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In this section, we will help you decide where to camp in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and how to choose the perfect campsite.

If you plan on going backpacking, you will need to decide on a backpacking route and then choose campsites that meet your hiking goals. For example, if you want to hike around 10 miles per day, find campsites that are 10 miles apart, and then make reservations.

If you will be traveling to a campsite by car, you will have more options. When choosing where to camp, look at other activities in the area that you would like to do. Some popular towns to camp near include Bryson City and Gatlinburg.

Here are some of the best campsites in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that you can consider:

Cades Cove Campground

Near several of the must-see attractions in the Smoky Mountains is Cades Cove Campground. The Cades Cove Loop begins at this well-liked campground. The Cades Cove Loop offers plenty of hiking and bike routes in addition to numerous historically noteworthy buildings. The campground is an excellent starting point to view the fall foliage, wildflower blooms, and animals in the park. Nearby are horseback riding and a camp store.

Key info about Cades Cove Campground

  • Cost: $25 per night
  • Sites: 159 sites
  • Reservations?: Required (Recreation.gov)
  • Pets: Yes, but please review the (Park Pet Policy)
  • RVs?: 40 ft for RVs and 35 ft for trailers
  • Facilities: Fire pit, potable water, picnic table, flush toilets, disposal station, showers, sinks
  • Closest General Store: Cades Cove
  • Typical Fill Time: Reservation
  • Season: Year-round
  • Where: Find it on Maps
  • Who: +18654482472  

Deep Creek Campground

A fantastic campground on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is called Deep Creek Campground. Cherokee is just a short drive away from the campground. This campground is an excellent starting point for trekking waterfalls and engaging in other water sports. There are restaurants, a train museum, and river tubing in Bryson City, which is close by.

Key info about Deep Creek Campsite 

  • Cost: $25 per night
  • Sites: 25 sites
  • Reservations?: Required (Recreation.gov)
  • Pets: Yes, but please review the (Park Pet Policy)
  • RVs?: Up to 26 ft.
  • Facilities: Fire pit, potable water, picnic table, flush toilets, disposal station, showers, sinks
  • Closest General Store: Cherokee / Bryson City
  • Typical Fill Time: Reservation
  • Season: End of May to end of November
  • Where: Find it on Maps

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Elkmont Campground

Elkmont Campground is conveniently situated and an excellent starting point for exploring the area. Elkmont, the park’s largest campground, is tucked away in a woodland beside a mountain stream. You might even be able to secure one of the popular riverbank locations if you are fortunate. By staying at this campground, you may get a head start on exploring well-known hiking routes like Alum Cave.

Key info about Elkmont Campground 

  • Cost: $25 – $27 per night
  • Sites: 220 sites
  • Reservations?: Required (Recreation.gov)
  • Pets: Yes, but please review the (Park Pet Policy)
  • RVs?: Up to 35 ft for RVs and 32 ft for trailers
  • Facilities: Fire pit, potable water, picnic table, flush toilets, disposal station, showers, sinks
  • Closest General Store: Gatlinburg (concessions on-site include refreshments, firewood, ice cream, and snacks for sale)
  • Typical Fill Time: Reservation
  • Season: Early April to end of November
  • Where: Find it on Maps
  • Who: +18654305560

Smokemont Campground

Popular Smokemont Campground is situated along Newfound Gap Road on the park’s North Carolina side. This campground in the Smokies is close to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mingus Mill. Many of the campsites are sheltered by trees, and the campground is tucked back in the forest. There is a small nature trail to explore and a grassy space for activities at the campground.

Key info about Smokemont Campground 

  • Cost: $25 per night
  • Sites: 142 sites
  • Reservations?: Required (Recreation.gov)
  • Pets: Yes, but please review the (Park Pet Policy)
  • RVs?: Up to 40 ft for RVs and 35 ft for trailers
  • Facilities: Fire pit, potable water, picnic table, flush toilets, disposal station, showers, sinks
  • Closest General Store: Cherokee (firewood and vending machines are available at Smokemont Riding Stables)
  • Typical Fill Time: Reservation
  • Season: Year-round
  • Where: Find it on Maps
  • Who: +18284979270

Note: While these campgrounds are our top recommendations, there are 10 different campsites in the national park and over 100 backcountry sites. You are sure to find a campsite that works for you!

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What types of campgrounds are in the Great Smoky Mountains? 

Types of Campsites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Where you want to stay on your camping trip is one of the most crucial decisions you’ll have to make. 

Visitors can pick from a variety of campsite types in the national park, each providing a unique camping experience. Look through the campgrounds listed below:

Backcountry: Backpackers are the only people who can camp in this area. You will need to travel many miles into the park’s backcountry to get to the campsite.

Frontcountry: You can camp close to your car at the frontcountry campsites. This is a modern campground with flush toilets and cold running water in the restrooms. There is a picnic table and fire grate at every campground. The park’s frontcountry campsites are mostly surrounded by trees.

Group Campgrounds: These are the best options if you are traveling in a group of eight or more individuals! Frontcountry campgrounds are home to these spacious campsites.

Horse Camps: Make camp in one of the horse camps following a delightful horseback ride in the Smoky Mountains. These modest car-accessible campgrounds have hitch racks for horses in addition to basic camping amenities.

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Things To Do in the National Park

If you plan on going camping in the national park, the odds are good that you want to do other activities while you are there. Some of the best things to do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park include hiking, going on scenic drives, and visiting historical sites.

If you want to go hiking in the national park, we recommend visiting Clingman’s Dome, Cades Cove, and Deep Creek. Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the national park, Cades Cove allows you to step back in time, and Deep Creek is perfect for seeing waterfalls. You can also explore these:

In addition to hiking, there are several beautiful drives, scenic outlooks, and visitor centers to visit. Just remember to bring your camera!

What to Pack

Packing for camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Are you wondering what you should pack for a camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains? If so, this is for you!

Here is a list of the camping essentials you need to pack:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag
  • Pillow
  • Portable charger
  • Cooking equipment
  • Food and snacks
  • Drinks
  • Cooler
  • Bug spray
  • Toilet paper
  • Toiletries
  • First aid kit
  • Sunscreen

While this is a basic list to get you started, you may want to bring more if you prefer camping in luxury. Other good items to bring include camp chairs, a table, card games, and a grill.

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What to Wear

Bringing the appropriate clothing is crucial while preparing for a camping trip. If you wear the wrong clothes, you could have an uncomfortable or even dangerous experience.

Before you go camping in the Smokies, be sure to check the weather conditions and pack for the weather. Even if you don’t see rain in the forecast, you should still pack rain gear.

Also, keep in mind that higher elevations are colder than lower elevations. Make sure you bring enough clothing to stay warm, pack clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and don’t wear cotton.

Rules and Regulations

Let’s talk about the rules and regulations you must follow while camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which will depend on whether you are staying at a campground or engaging in backcountry camping.

Campsite Regulations

When staying at a campground, be sure to keep all food and drinks stored inside your vehicle or food storage locker. This is to prevent issues with black bears or other animals in the national park.

Also, be sure to make your reservations in advance, don’t have more than 6 people at a campsite. If you want to learn more about campsite regulations in the national park, visit the National Park Service website here. It’s also a good idea to check for any alerts or closures before you go.

Backcountry Camping Regulations

Backcountry campsites require hiking several miles and setting up camp in the wilderness. Most of the time, you can just show up while backpacking and camping, but the rules are different in the national park. Read more about the backcountry rules and regulations here on official website.

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you have to get permits to stay at backcountry sites. If you don’t, you face fines and/or jail time. But don’t worry, the permit application is simple!

Some other rules to keep in mind while backcountry camping are that you can only camp in designated areas, you can’t stay at a campsite for more than three nights, and all food must be stored using bear cables or boxes.

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Are You Ready to Go Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

If you are planning a camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you are in for a treat! The national park is full of beautiful views, fantastic campsites, and lots of things to do.

It is time to prepare and get ready to engage in an adventure, thereupon one can enter into one of America’s most captivating national parks. The beautiful Great Smoky Mountains await your arrival for this outstanding camping escapade that you will long live to remember.

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