Camping in the Smokies
The Park has frontcountry (developed) and backcountry (backpacking) campsites. The procedures and facilities for each are different. There also are a limited number of Group Tent Camping areas.
Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains is primitive by design. The campsites are nestled in the woods and along rivers. Ten campgrounds are operated in the Park. Most are open from early spring through the first weekend in November.
Abrams Creek Campground
You don't just stumble into this well-kept secret. For those of you who
find it, it is worth your time. Located at the western edge of the
Smokies, Abrams Creek Campground may be off the beaten path, but nearby
there are plenty of footpaths, as well as a few other activities.
Located in a wooded flat along Abrams Creek, this campground provides a
relaxing setting not found in most national park campgrounds. The 16
sites are usually filled only on weekends and holidays. About half the
sites are creekside, but all are well shaded. Max RV length is 12'.
Balsam Mountain Campground was set up not long after the inception of the National Park in 1934. Back then, very few visitors drove or pulled oversized campers on the narrow winding roads. The vast majority tent camped. So when the Balsam Mountain campground was set up, builders had tent campers in mind. Today, we can camp in the fine tradition of the first park visitors. There are 46 sites with max RV length of 30'.
Big Creek Campground is the Smokies' smallest campground and its sole tent-only campground. This walk-in campground is set deep in the woods adjacent to the pure mountain waters of Big Creek. A small footpath leaves the parking area and loops the 12 campsites in the shade of tall hardwoods. Since it's a walk-in campground, you must tote your camping supplies anywhere from 100 to 300 feet.
Cades Cove Campground has 159 sites, two of which are wheelchair accessible. Sites can accommodate trailers up to 35' or motorhomes up to 40'. There are no hook-ups. 13x13' tent pads can accommodate two tents and six people. Flush toilets and cold running water are available at comfort stations; however, there are no showers. Sites include picnic tables, lantern hangers, and fire rings. At the Cades Cove Campground, cables are available for hoisting food 10 feet or higher and out of the reach of bears. Remember, there are no tame bears in the Great Smoky Mountain
Cataloochee has a primitive campground with 27 first-come, first-serve sites. it is open mid-March through October. Tent or RVs up to 31 feet. Group camping is also available.
Cosby Campground is a winner. Where else can you set up camp in the middle of history? In the summer, naturalist programs in the campground amphitheater offer campers a chance to learn more about the area from rangers and other park personnel. The campground's size allows campers to set up near or away from others to achieve their perfect degree of solitude. There are 165 site with a max RV length of 25'.
Deep Creek Campground area is celebrated for its streams and waterfalls. Hikers can choose from several loop hikes leading to the waterfalls. Mountain bikers can take advantage of one of the few park trails where bicycles are permitted. The one-mile stretch of water in the National Park set aside for tubing is divided into two sections.The upper section is narrower and offers the most white water. It also provides the most thrilling Deep Creek tubing. The lower section is wider and a bit calmer. It's perfect for younger kids and less-adventurous adults. The campground has 92 site with a max RV lenght of 26'.
Elkmont is the largest campground in the park, spread along the banks of the Little River beneath tall woods. It has a quieter atmosphere than Cades Cove, despite its size. It is the nearest campground to Gatlinburg. There are 220 sites with max length trailers 32' - Motor Homes 35'
Look Rock Campground is on the far western edge of the park, in pine-oak woods, 2,600 feet high on Chilhowee Mountain. It rarely fills and has no immediate nearby activities that can be engaged in without getting in the car. It is quiet, and is a campground of last resort if Cades Cove is full.
Smokemont Campground is attractive in itself, with a rustic atmosphere in a heavily wooded flat beside the Oconaluftee River. Hiking and fishing opportunities can be enjoyed from the campground and Newfound Gap Road avails access to the tourist town of Cherokee and the natural attractions inside the park. There are 142 sites with max length Trailers 35'- Motor Homes 40'.
Most campground information used on this page was found at GORP.
Cades Cove and Smokemont normally remain open throughout the year. Sites at Cades Cove, Elkmont, Cosby and Smokemont may be reserved for the period May 15 to October 31 through the National Park Service Reservation Service at 1-800-365-CAMP or on-line. The remaining seven campgrounds are first-come, first-serve.
All backcountry campers are required to have a backcountry permit. They are available free at most ranger stations and visitor centers. Anyone staying overnight in the backcountry must camp only in a designated sites or shelters. Campers need reservations to stay in any shelter or the 14 tent areas. A backcountry map, showing all the hiking trails, camping areas, and a list of rules, and regulations is available through the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association's online bookstore.
It would be a good idea to remember the Boy Scout Motto,"Be Prepared", before heading into the backcountry! Get a local weather forecast and be aware that the climate can change on you at any time. Proper clothing, food, water, and equipment are all a must. If you don't want to be sharing your food with a bear, food storage regulations should be followed.
Check with a ranger for detailed information about camping requirements!