The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a truly stunning natural area, which lends itself to being explored by keen adventurers.
If you’re into camping and retreating into the wilderness, there are so many campgrounds to choose from in this national park.
But, because there are a lot of places to stay the night, figuring out the right one to go to can be super challenging. Getting it wrong can mean having an uncomfortable night’s sleep.
Even worse, the lousy campground could turn your fun vacation into a disastrous experience.
To help you enjoy your stay in the Smoky Mountains, we’ve made a list of the best campgrounds here.
And, we’ve included extra information about the facilities available so you can pick the vacation spot that suits your needs best.
We’ve written a handy overview before getting into the details about specific campgrounds. This will give you more general information about this National Park.
If you know the Smoky Mountains well, then you can skip straight to the Best campground section!
Handy Information To Know About Camping In The Smoky Mountains
You Can Camp Here In A Tent Or RV
Many sites have tent pads, which are beautifully flat for you to pitch up and sleep comfortably. In addition, there are RV dumps dotted around the park, allowing you to safely dispose of waste.
No Campgrounds Have Electricity Hook-Ups
You will have to be self-sufficient to a certain extent! To bring your own electricity to the campsite, we recommend using portable pre-charged charging packs.
This will allow you to boost your phone’s battery if you need to.
There Are Regular Restrooms With Cold Water Taps At The Sinks In The Campgrounds
Unfortunately, if you want hot water, you’ll have to boil it using a portable camping stove. Make sure you use any cooking equipment in the designated areas to avoid accidents!
There Are No Showers At The Campgrounds
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t have any showers. However, the surrounding private campgrounds will allow people to walk in and shower for a small price.
But, during covid, some places haven’t let campers into the shower, so you will have to do your research beforehand.
If you really want access to a shower, perhaps looking into staying in an Airbnb in between camping is the key. Of course, this would make the vacation more expensive but probably more enjoyable if you can afford it.
There Are Drinking Water Faucets Around The Campsites
To make the most of this facility, bring a container so that you can easily carry the water to your campsite.
Some Campgrounds Have Dishwashing Sinks
These are designated areas under shelters so that you don’t have to take your dirty dishes home with you.
There Are Tent Pads Within The Tent Campgrounds
A tent pad is a flat area of gravel, meaning you won’t be rolling about in the night if you sleep here. No more waking up scrunched in the corner of a tent wishing you’d picked a better spot!.
At Cades Cove Campground, Sugarlands Visitor Center, And Smokemont Campground, There’s An RV Dump Station
These campsites are super popular amongst RV owners. In addition to these places, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has other areas with dump stations. It’s helpful to find a map of the whole park so that you can plan your trip precisely.
There Are Bears
Please be aware that bears live in the Great Smoky Mountains, so you’ll have to factor this into a safety plan. Thankfully, the bears haven’t been seen as a threat to humans in recent years.
However, it’s wise to be aware that you’re sharing the space with them and be respectful if you see one.
Don’t feed the bears because this encourages them to attack humans, resulting in both parties getting hurt. If a bear attacks a human, it will likely have to be killed.
The park provides information about deterring bears from bothering you when you check in. Make sure you read these instructions, as they could save your and the bears’ lives.
In addition, you mustn’t leave any food or rubbish on the campground after eating.
Don’t leave food anywhere that could be accessed by a bear, such as a tent. If you bring food, keep it in your locked car.
In addition, even eating in your tent will encourage bears with highly sensitive noses. No one wants to wake up to a curious bear sniffing around their sleeping bag!
And the risks don’t end with food. Bears love exploring scented items, which can even mean that soap, sunscreen, shampoo, and toothpaste are tempting for them.
Unscented dishwashing soap is a handy thing to have to clear up after you eat. If you struggle to find this, a local grocery store or camping shop should stock it.
To help you out, the National Park has dumpsters that are considered “bear-proof.” These are strong metal boxes with a latch opening up the dumpster.
If you’re super worried about the bears, you can read more important information on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website.
How To Decide Which Smoky Mountains Campsite To Stay At
Deciding which campground to stay in depends on your individual situation. To help you narrow down what accommodations you need, consider what you want to do while you stay here.
Grab yourself a Great Smoky Mountains National Park map to help you see what the beautiful spot has to offer. Click here to get this map.
This map is our favorite because it’s water-resistant, allowing you to figure out your location even in the pouring rain!
Most activities are signposted on this map, so for example, you can figure out whether you want to hike and for how long.
In addition, many trails vary in length, suiting hardcore trekkers and people who simply love a relaxing wander through some trees.
If you’re a beginner, your needs will differ from someone more familiar with the area. So, we’ve separated the following sections based on experience.
The Best Campsites In The Great Smoky Mountains National Park For Newbies To The Area
Each of the following campsites is super popular with visitors because they’re so convenient to attractions in the park. For this reason, they’re not ideal if you want a secluded vacation.
There is a shop where you can purchase ice and firewood at these locations. Some of these stores are more well-stocked than others, so try to take everything you need when you go camping.
Elkmont Campground In Tennessee
This place has about 220 campsites to choose from. This campground is close to Gatlinburg, allowing you to nip into the town if you forget something.
Little River Road is gorgeous if you want a scenic journey through the park to your campsite. There’s a river that runs alongside the road, giving you a beautiful introduction to the park’s natural beauty.
If you want to enjoy this rushing scenery for even longer, there’s a picnic area at Metcalf Bottoms, which has tables.
In addition, the Sugarlands Visitor Center is a 15-minute drive away, which can give you loads of information about the park and how to stay safe.
This campsite is probably the most convenient campground in the Smoky Mountains. It’s centrally located, and there’s easy access to many fun outdoor activities.
Cades Cove Campground
This gorgeous area has hiking trails, waterfall, scenic roads, and outdoor activities aplenty for you to discover. This campground is in the North-West area of the National Park and is super popular amongst visitors.
There’s the scenic Cades Cove Loop Road which offers you stunning views from your car window! There are historic Cades Cove cabins, an old mill, and several traditional churches if you’re into your history.
Also, this area is a brilliant place to go bike riding because the road here is pretty flat.
Situated in North Carolina, this area has approximately 140 campgrounds for you to choose from. If you’re keen on wildlife spotting, this is widely considered a fantastic place to see elk in the Smoky Mountains.
In addition, there are hiking trails with stunning views, including the Alum Cave Trail to trek on to reach the Mount LeConte summit.
This spot is definitely for the more adventurous campers, as they can explore the dense forests and enjoy the wilderness. Mingus Mill is nearby, a historic exhibit made from impressive stacks of timber.
We recommend traveling to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center for the best place to see elk. It’s never guaranteed you’ll see these majestic creatures, but they do love this spot.
Go in the early morning or late evening to give yourself the best chance of seeing the elk.
There’s even a horse stable, which is a fantastic activity for those who love riding! What equine fan wouldn’t want to ride a horse in a naturally beautiful spot?!
Best Campground In The Smoky Mountains For Hiking
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has stunning mountain views if you’re a keen hiker.
There are trails for more experienced trekkers that want to climb summits, and there are pretty flat roads for those who would prefer a laid-back stroll in mother nature.
We recommend staying at Smokemont if you love hiking because it’s close to Newfound Gap Road.
This road is widely considered the best scenic place to drive in the Smoky Mountains, ideal for those wanting a well-paved hiking trail.
On Newfound Gap Road, there’s a turnoff for Clingmans Dome road. The Clingmans Dome summit is beloved by fit hikers as it provides stunning views to those willing to hike to it.
However, this summit is the highest point in the national park, so you really will have to work those legs for this trail!
At Clingmans Dome, an observation tower is likely to make the steep trail worthwhile. However, the Smoky Mountains have that name for a reason, and on a bad day, you may not be able to see much.
This is because there’s often fog that hugs the Clingmans Dome, preventing visitors from seeing the scenery.
To avoid hiking upset, make sure you check the weather before climbing the Clingmans Dome summit. On a brilliantly sunny day, you can see for miles around and stand in awe at the layers of trees below.
This spot is super peaceful and would make a brilliant place to take landscape photos.
We recommend packing hiking poles if you want to hike to the summit, as you’ll be journeying 330ft upwards. The dome is 6,643 feet high, so you’ll really feel like you’re amongst the clouds when you’re up there.
Be sure to wrap up warm and wear good hiking boots!
If you love hiking trails that aren’t packed with tourists, the Cosby Campground has access to quiet paths. This area is dotted with charming features such as wooden bridges to cross rushing streams, tree-embraced tent sites, and cute picnic areas.
Before you even get there, you get to enjoy the park’s natural beauty! The road leading to the campground runs beside a bubbling creek with overhanging foliage skimming the water.
If you love going wildlife spotting, the nearby Cosby Nature Trail is a quiet walk nestled in between tall trees.
There’s a trail leading to Hen Wallow Falls, which begins next to Cosby Campground. These falls cascade down mossy rocks, creating a relaxing feature to visit in the park.
The hiking trails are a 4.4 miles round trip, which will take about 3-4 hours for most people to complete.
Sadly you can’t take dogs on the Hen Wallow Falls trail. However, it does provide photo opportunities aplenty.
Near this popular spot, there are scenic trails to discover aplenty. Along the nearby Little River Road, there are a few gorgeous waterfalls to stop off at.
The main water features that visitors love are the Cane Creek Twin Falls, the Sinks, and the Meigs Falls.
If you take your car to these spots, you can take your camp chair to the river and sit by it to eat lunch. This is a super informal option, so you truly can set up where you want and enjoy listening to the rushing river.
If you love painting, taking photos, or birdwatching, the creek is a great place to indulge in your favorite hobbies.
There are formal tables set up at the nearby Metcalf Bottoms picnic area to comfortably seat families. The picnic spots are by the river, giving you and your friends a beautiful natural setting to refuel after a fun hike.
The Laurel Falls trailhead is a 10-minute drive away from Elkmont Campground, which offers more breathtaking views.
The trail is wound into the side of mountains and leads to the Laurel Falls, a staggering rock formation with water flowing down it.
For more hiking goodness, you can trek to the Cataract Falls trailhead. This is smaller than Laurel Falls, yet the running water flows more vertically. So, it’s super mesmerizing for any visitor to come across!
The Elkmont Campsite has several walk-in campgrounds if you want to be more fully immersed in the wilderness. This will allow you to park your car a short distance away and dive into mother nature.
In addition, many of the tent pads here have picnic tables next to them, making breakfast, lunch, and dinner more comfortable! You don’t even have to pack up camp chairs!
So, there you have it! There are many fantastic campsites with easy access to hiking trails, fun activities, and conveniences in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So, whether you love hiking or prefer a more chilled-out vacation, there’s a campground for every outdoor adventure.
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