Guide to Camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Guide to Camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sleeping under the stars with a bubbling steam nearby. Sitting around a campfire with your family, free from the smart devices and screens that fill your days in civilization. Overnight camping can be an amazing experience, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best locations for it.

They offer a front country camping experience with access to flushing toilets and potable running water. They are also in close proximity to some of the park’s best attractions, including popular hiking trails, waterfalls, swimming holes, fishing locations and even horseback riding trails.

Our list also includes some of the park’s largest campgrounds as well as some of its more intimate camping locations. It covers all areas of the park including campgrounds on both the North Carolina and Tennessee sides.

Here are the best campgrounds in the Smokies.

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Campgrounds in the Smokies

Cades Cove Campground

  • Type : RV / Tent
  • Open : Year-round
  • Cost : $25 per night
  • Reservation : May to October

Located in one of the most popular parts of the park, Cades Cove Campground, located near the Townsend entrance of the park, sees many visitors each year with access to an 11-mile bike loop and such popular trails as Abram Falls.

Cades Cove features 159 campsites, all of which are drive-up with a maximum of two vehicles allowed. The maximum capacity for each campsite is two tents and six people. RV sites are limited to one motorhome, travel trailer, or pop-up camper 35 feet and under. There are no hookups at the campground, so be prepared to dry camp.

Sites can be reserved up to six months in advance from May through October and are first come first serve from November through April. The campground is open all year round and features campsites that have access to flush toilets and fresh drinking water.

An on-site camp store open from May to October sells basic supplies and offers bike rentals.

Elkmont Campground

  • Type : RV / Tent / Walk-in
  • Open : Year-round
  • Cost : $25 to $27 per night
  • Reservation : May to October

Elmont Campground features some 220 sites located about 8 miles from Gatlinburg.

It features 200 campsites for tents or RVs, each of which is equipped with a fire ring, tent pad, and camp table. Make sure to check the site descriptions before making a reservation as not all sites can support RVs as some of them have driveways with steep slopes.

As the Little River runs through this campground, make your reservations early or go at an off-season time to land one of the riverfront campsites.

Three hiking trails can be accessed from the campground including Little River Trail, Jakes Creek Trail, and Elkmont Nature Trail with the popular Laurel Falls Trail nearby.

There are 20 semi-primitive campsites for tents that require a short hike and walk-in. Elkmont includes on-site restrooms with flush toilets and cold running water. This campground does not have water, sewer, or electric hookups or offer a dump station.

So come prepared.

Abrams Creek Campground

  • Type : Tent
  • Open : Year-round
  • Cost : $17.50 per night
  • Reservation : May to October

Located in one of the more remote areas of the park, Abram’s Creek features a more peaceful camping experience away from the crowds. It offers just 16 sites for tents only. Hammocks are allowed but must be within the boundaries of the campsite and only use larger trees. Remember to use proper hammock straps to protect the trees.

The creek flows next to the campground, offering fishing and access to several hiking trails that lead to popular park attractions. Little Bottoms Trail skirts the campground and offers access to Abrams Falls. Hannah Mountain Trail is also accessible from the campground, giving hikers access to Gregory Bald.

Flush toilets and drinking water is available at the campground; however, there are no showers. Reservations are required for camping at Abram’s Creek and can be made up to six months in advance. A camp store offers basic food and beverages, necessities, firewood, and camping supplies.

Balsam Mountain Campground

  • Type : Tent / RV
  • Open : Year-round
  • Cost : $17.50 per night
  • Reservation : May to October

With just 42 campsites with six tent-only sites, Balsam Mountain is one of the smaller campgrounds in Great Smokies National Park.

Located at an elevation of 5,310 feet, on the park’s North Carolina side near Cherokee, temperatures are cooler at Balsam Mountain, with summertime temperatures rarely reaching higher than the 70s with temperatures dipping into the 50s at night.

At its high elevation, Balsam Mountain offers scenic views. Hiking trails include Flat Creek Trail, which leads to Flat Creek Falls. Elk are also commonly seen around the campground.

Balsam Mountain amenities include flush toilets and drinking water; however, there is no lighting at the campsite, so make sure to bring lanterns, headlamps, and flashlights for navigating after dark. There are no RV hookups at this campground.

Cataloochee Campground

  • Type : Tent / RV
  • Open : Year-round
  • Cost : $25 per night
  • Reservation : May to October

With just 27 campsites, Cataloochee Campground offers a secluded setting for camping, but with access to a variety of different attractions and activities.

The campground, located in the Cataloochee Valley just northeast of Cherokee, is surrounded by scenic mountain views with a plethora of hiking options, including Caldwell Fork, Rough Fork Trail, and Boogerman Trail. With its close proximity to the Cataloochee Basic, it’s also a popular fishing destination.

The Cataloochee Horse Camp, which offers horseback riding experience, is also nearby. Cataloochee Campground is also one of the more active locations for the park’s elk population.

The campground offers flush toilets and drinking water; however, there are no hookups or showers. RVs are limited to 31 feet and under. With its limited number of campsites and popular locations, make sure to reserve early. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance.

Smokemont Campground

  • Type : Tent / RV
  • Open : Year-round
  • Cost : $25 per night
  • Reservation : May to October

One of the larger campsites in the park, Smokemont Campground, which is located in Cherokee, offers 142 campsites for RVs and tents.

Smokemont offers some of the best scenery of the park’s campgrounds with its setting among older hardwoods, which provides beautiful scenery as well as protection from the summer sun. Bubbling streams and creek skirt the campground.

Several hiking trailheads are available in the campground including Smokemont Loop Trail, and Cabin Flats Trail.

lush toilets, sinks, and drinking water are available in the campground; however, there are no hookups for RVs. A dumpsite with portable water is open year-round.

Campsites are spacious with long driveways for trailers up to 35 feet. With its location close to the North Carolina park entrance, Smokemont is one of the popular campgrounds in the park, so make reservations early.

Deep Creek Campground

  • Type : Tent / RV
  • Open : Year-round
  • Cost : $25 per night
  • Reservation : May to October

With its close proximity to numerous waterfalls and trails, Deep Creek Campground, located in the southeastern part of the park, is an excellent location for those who love hiking. The campground features 92 sites with availability to flush toilets and drinking water.

Sites include tent pads, fire rings, and grills. No RV hookups are available. Hiking highlights include Deep Creek Trail and Indian Creek Trail which take you past two waterfalls. Deep Creek skirts the campground, creating opportunities for wading, fishing, and tubing.

Plan early enough and you might be able to land one of the 42 coveted tent-only sites that are creekside. Reservations are required at Deep Creek. With its close proximity to various water holes, it’s a popular destination in the summertime, so book early.

Big Creek Horse Camp

  • Type : Tent / RV
  • Open : Year-round
  • Cost : $29 per night
  • Reservation : May to October

This is the largest horse campground in the park and the only one with potable water and flushing toilets. Big Creek Horsecamp is located on the northeastern side of the park.

Attractions include access to miles of some of the best horse-friendly trails in the park. Big Creek Trailhead is a popular trail that is onsite. This trail, which is covered in wildflowers in the spring, can be traveled on horseback or by foot and features access to Mouse Creek Falls, a 35-foot waterfall.

The Appalachian Trail is also nearby and can be reached via Chestnut Branch Trail, which is walking distance from the camp.

In addition to bathrooms, amenities include horse stalls and hitching areas for horses. Campers must have a horse to use this campground.

Camping Tips for Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  1. Book early for summer and fall camping. These are extremely popular times and the park fills up quickly. Given the increase in popularity of camping, which offers a comparatively safe option to other types of travel since the outbreak of Covid-19, it’s especially crucial to plan well ahead of time.
  2. Research the campground. Don’t just pick a site randomly. Many of the campgrounds offer both tent sites and RV sites, but some are only suitable for one or the other with some features drives that are too steep for RVs. Some campgrounds also offer plum waterfront sites next to rivers and streams that can be had if you book early.
  3. Check the elevation. Campgrounds at the park range from under 2,000 feet to over 5,00 feet in elevation. This means a difference of up to 20 degrees in temperature difference. This impacts what clothes and supplies you need to camp comfortably and safely, so make sure to check out what weather you can expect at the campground before making a reservation.
  4. Make sure your RV is dry camp ready. If you camp with an RV, keep in mind that none of the campgrounds in the park offer electrical, water, or sewer hookups, and only a few offer dump sites. This means your rig needs to be prepared for dry camping with plenty of space in your tanks for freshwater and greywater. Limit your onboard bathroom use and take advantage of the facilities that are on most sites. Pick your sites wisely. An RV with no electricity for AC or alternative heat source turns into an oven in the summer sun or a refrigerator in the wintertime.
  5. Select campgrounds that suit the activities that most interest you. Some campgrounds feature popular hiking trails while others offer access to water recreation and fishing via waterfalls and creeks. A few are in historic areas and present opportunities to tour 19th-century structures. Smaller campgrounds provide solitude and peace and quiet while others are busier and hence noisier. Choose a campground that suits your preferences.

Andrew Dodson

Andrew Dodson is an avid camper who enjoys the great outdoors with his wife and two-year-old son. He resides in Colorado, where you can often find him enjoying hikes with a toddler strapped to his back and mini goldendoodle Percy nearby.