Camping For Appalachian Trail Hikers
Roughly 71 miles of the 2,180-mile long AppalachianTrail passes through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In fact, the highest point of this famous trail is locatedin the park the 6,625-foot summit of Clingmans Dome.
Most section hikers and backpackers will need around 7 daysto hike the portion of the trail that passes through the national park .
Appalachian Trail thru-hikers often spend much less time on the trail, between 3 and 5 days, depending on their pace.
No matter how many days you plan to spend camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park while hiking the Appalachian Trail, it`s important to apply for an overnight backcountry permit.
Specialbackcountry permits are available for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers toensure that all thru-hikers have a place to stay overnight.
Do note that, unlike some sections of the trail, those hiking through Great Smoky Mountains must camp in designated backcountry campsites or shelters.
The national park provides 12 totalshelters along the 71-mile stretch of trail. These shelters fill up quicklyduring the prime hiking season, especially in rainy weather.
Forney Creek Trail Via Appalachian Trail
To get bragging rights that you hiked part of the Appalachian Trail, spend a few nights on the Forney Creek Trail via the AT. You can make this an out-and-back 18.6-mile trek or a 20.6-mile loop. Backcountry sites 68, 69, 70 and 71 are along this stretch, and you will need a backcountry permit and reservations for the sites in which you plan to spend the night.
You will summit Clingmans Dome within the first half mile and can tackle Andrews Bald on the way there or back, depending on how you are feeling. From Andrews Bald, you can see Fontana Lake and expansive views of the Smokies. You can make it a loop by taking the Springhouse Branch to the Forney Ridge trail up and over Andrews Bald, but know it is basically a 10-mile stretch back to the car from campsite 71.
To get detailed information on backcountry camping and trail conditions, call the Backcountry Office at 865-436-1297, which is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or go online to the backcountry permit site. to get a backcountry permit, go to the parks reservation site.
To get to the trailhead, turn off Newfound Gap Road .1 mile south of Newfound Gap and follow the 7-mile-long Clingmans Dome Road to the large parking area at the end.
What You Need To Know Before Camping In Great Smoky Mountains
There are no hook-ups or showers in any Great Smoky Mountains National Park campgrounds.
Services in the park are limited. for a list of stores that sell camping supplies and groceries.
Reservations are required for all Great Smoky Mountains National Park campgrounds year-round. No exceptions. Do not camp on park roads or pullouts.
Don’t Miss: Camping Near Angel Fire Nm
Firewood Must Be Heat
Beginning in 2015, only heat-treated firewood that is bundled and certified by the United States Department of Agriculture or a state department of agriculture may be brought into the park.
Campers may also collect dead and down wood found in the park for campfires.
This is to protect the park from invasive insects and diseases that affect trees. So, unfortunately, you cant bring firewood from home, but you can bring a saw or hatchet to collect some of your own.
Nearby Hotels Cabins Airbnb`s
There are a wide variety of hotels, cabins, and guest housesnear Great Smoky Mountains.
Gatlinburg, to the north of the park in Tennessee, has the most accommodations, including large hotels like the Hilton Garden Gatlinburg, budget motels like Motel 6 Gatlinburg Smoky Mountains, and cabins like Parkside Cabin Rentals.
Airbnbis another option for finding guesthouses, cabins, and other lodging near GreatSmoky Mountains National Park.
Read Also: Adventure Bound Camping Resorts Cape May
Camping Along The Interior Roads
If youre hoping to be near the main points of interest in the Smokies, youll want to be in a campground thats located along one of the two main roads through the park. The Newfound Gap Road connects Gatlinburg at the north end of the park to Cherokee at the south end. The Little River Road connects Gatlinburg to the popular Cades Cove area.
Any of these three campgrounds will make a fabulous base camp for exploring the best parts of the park!
This popular campground is located on the North Carolina side of the park near Cherokee. Here youll enjoy gorgeous mountain views, a nice grassy area for activities, and a nature trail happily situated along the Oconoluftee River.
Be advised that tents are not allowed in Loop F.
Open Season: Year-round.Max RV Length: 35 feet and 40 feet .Hookups: No, but there are several sites with 5 amp electricity service for those with medical needs.Dump Station: Yes.Generators: Not permitted at any time in Loops A, B, and C. Allowed in other loops, but only between the hours of 8 a.m. 8 p.m.Reservations Required: Yes, sites are reservable from May 15 October 31. to check availabilityFee: $25Pets Allowed: Yes, but please review Great SmokiesPet Policy.Restrooms: Flush toilets with running waterWheelchair Accessibility: 7 sites
Planning a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains can be overwhelming.
How do you make a solid plan if youve never been to the park before? How do you keep everyone in your group excited and engaged?
Elkmont Campground With No Dump Station
Because of the varied length and slopes of campsite driveways, some sites are better for tents than RVs. Get out and assess the site before you try to park your RV. Sites can accommodate motor homes up to 35 feet and trailers up to 32 feet. Theres no dump station here. The campground has restrooms with running water and flush toilets. Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. There are no showers or electrical or water hookups in the park. See more details above under car camping.
Don’t Miss: Camping World Rv Idaho Falls
Backcountry Camping In The Great Smoky Mountains
Backpacking and backcountry campsites are abundant throughout the Great Smoky Mountains. With hundreds of sites available, this is the best way to get away from the crowds and sleep off the beaten path.
Permits are required for all backcountry camping. Fortunately, these are easy to obtain and cost just $4 per person. Reservations can be made up to 14 days prior to your trip. Shelters are provided and fires are permitted at designated campsites.
In the Smoky Mountains, there are over 800 miles of hiking trails including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. That means wildlife is abundantincluding bears! Youll need to pack in and pack out all of your equipment, leave no trace, and most importantlybearproof your campsite!
- You can find additional information about backpacking in the Great Smoky Mountains here.
Things You Need To Know About Great Smoky Mountains Camping
Posted on Last updated: August 6, 2020
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. All opinions are my own.
After much planning, we finally got to do some Great Smoky Mountains camping last month!
In this post, Im sharing everything you need to know about camping in Americas most visited national park to help you plan a visit of your own.
Great Smoky Mountains camping is a great way to relax and unwind in a gorgeous national park that is one of our countrys gems.
There is actually a LOT to know about camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so here are the ten things you should know before you go:
Recommended Reading: Camping World Of Hammond Parts & Accessories
Lodging In The Great Smoky Mountains
There is only one lodge located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: The LeConte Lodge. Its only accessible by hiking either 5-8 miles in by foot. The LeConte Lodge consists of numerous tiny cabins perched atop Mount Le Conte which is the third-highest mountaintop in the area.
Each morning you can wake up here with unbeatable views of the mountaintops and truly experience the smoky fog that blankets the area.
The lodge costs over $150 per night, but dinner and breakfast are provided so you wont need to pack in too much gear. There is also optional wine available for purchase. Candlelit tables are spaced out both outside and inside. Youll also find bunk beds with linens provided and covered porches with rocking chairs.
This is the perfect place to relax after a long day of hiking in the mountains. Unfortunately, there are no showers. But there are flush toilets and a hot water spigot located nearby the dining room.
- Find out more about booking your stay at the LeConte Lodge here.
Bust Out Your Bicycle
Many roads through Great Smoky Mountains National Park are not suitable to cycling due to steep terrain, narrow road surfaces, and heavy automobile traffic.
Cades Cove Loop Road, however, is an exception. The 11-mile one-way road is a popular bicycling area and provides cyclists with great opportunities for wildlife viewing and touring 19th-century homesites. In the summer and fall, bicycles may be rented at the Cades Cove Campground store. From May until September, the loop road is closed to motor vehicle traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 a.m., allowing cyclists and pedestrians car-free access to the cove.
Other areas suitable for cyclists include the roads in the Greenbrier and Tremont areas in Tennessee and the Cataloochee Valley and Lakeview Drive in North Carolina.
There are no mountain biking trails in the park.
Read Also: Free Camping Near Rochester Ny
A Brief History Of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Before the arrival of European settlers, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the homeland of the Cherokee. The tribe had permanent towns, cultivated croplands, a sophisticated political system, and an extensive network of trails.
In 1830 the Indian Removal Act forced the Cherokee from their land, though some refused to leave and hid out in what would later become Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of the descendants of the Cherokee now live in the boundary just south of the park.
European settlers arrived in the valley between 1818 and 1821. By 1830 the settler population was over 270. They lived primitively, hunting off the land, growing food, and using timber to build houses.
But life changed drastically with the arrival of logging in the 1900s. Within 20 years the self-sufficiency of the settlers was replaced with a dependence on manufactured items, store-bought food, and money.
Loggers rapidly decimated the forest. If the Great Smoky Mountains National Park hadnt been formed in 1934, the entire ecosystem likely would have crumbled. The establishment of the park saved 20% of the forest that remained uncut at the time.
Today, Great Smoky Mountains is Americas most visited National Park, receiving upwards of 11 million visitors per year. Its also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.
Your Campgrounds Elevation Does Matter
Balsam Mountain Campground, Great Smoky Mountain National Park
We visited in the middle of July when it commonly gets above 90 degrees in North Carolina during the day.
Since we were camping in our tent and like to be cool while sleeping, we chose the campground at the highest elevation in the park Balsam Mountain Campground.
Since this campground is located over 5,000 ft in elevation, the weather was MUCH cooler than those at lower elevations.
In fact, we were downright cold at night and were glad we brought our cool weather sleeping bags!
Keep the importance of elevation in mind so you are not sweltering in the summer or freezing in the spring and fall.
Also Check: How To Have Wifi While Camping
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Is Huge
The park straddles two states and is over 800 square miles in size. It can easily take several hours to drive from one section of the park to another.
Use this park map to plan what section of the park youd like to visit and try to find a campground close by. This may depend on which direction you are coming from, or on what youd like to see and do.
We saw bears in addition to these elk
Food Storage And Wildlife Safety
The Great Smoky Mountains are home to a wide range of potentiallydangerous wildlife.
Black bears are perhaps the most dangerous to human visitors. But you should never any wildlife, including elk and deer. Stay at least 50 yards away when viewing wildlife. Never feed any wildlife in the park.
At certain times of the year, it`s even more important to becautious around wildlife. Case in point is during the fall breeding seasonfor elk, in which the male elk, known as bulls, become much moreterritorial and aggressive than normal.
You should also familiarize yourself with what to do in a black bear encounter.
Read Also: Broken Bow Lake Rv Camping
Smoky Bear Campground And Rv Park
RV camping in Great Smoky Mountains doesn`t get much betterthan Smoky Bear Campground and RV Park. Pull-thru RV sites with full hookups,private tent sites away from the RVs, comfortable cabins complete with AC, anda convenient location just minutes from the park make this a fantastic place tostay on your GSMNP camping trip.
Learn more about Smoky Bear Campground and RV Park.
There Is No Fee To Enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park
If you have visited some of Americas national parks before you might be expecting to stop at a booth and pay an entrance fee to visit the park .
But Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the few large national parks that doesnt charge an entrance fee! It is totally free to visit.
Our campsite at Balsam Mountain Campground
Don’t Miss: Free Camping Sites In Arizona
Elkmont Campground On The Parks North Side
Fall asleep to the gurgling sounds of Little River at the Elkmont Campground where the riverside campsites are extremely popular.
Just eight miles from Gatlinburg, Tenn., Elkmont is an extremely popular campground because of its size its the parks largest with 220 sites proximity to Gatlinburg and its access to three trailheads and fantastic fishing, relaxing and wading in the Little River. It also offers interpretative programs and has a general store.
Because of the varied length and slopes of campsite driveways, some sites are better for tents than RVs. Get out and assess the site before you try to park your RV. Sites can accommodate motor homes up to 35 feet and trailers up to 32 feet. Theres no dump station here. The campground has restrooms with running water and flush toilets. Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. There are no showers or electrical or water hookups in the park.
For those who truly want to get away from it all, Elkmont has 20 walk-in sites for tents only. It also offers nine wheelchair accessible sites and three have 5 amp hook-ups for medical equipment.
Dont miss out on this campground. Advance reservations are required from early March through the end of November. Make your reservation at Recreation.gov.
Getting To Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountain National Park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. The park is approximately the same distance from Knoxville, TN, and Asheville, NC. There are three main entrances to the park that connect and some side entrances that access a specific area of the park. US-441 runs through the center of the park and connects the Tennessee side with the North Carolina Side.
The park is within a 1 day drive of about 30% of the US population.
The closest airports to the Smokies are Knoxvilles McGee Tyson Airport and Asheville Regional Airport . They are 30 minutes and an hour away respectively. Other airports include Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport , Charlotte Douglas International Airport , Nashville International Airport , HartsfieldJackson Atlanta International Airport .
There is no public transportation from nearby cities to the park. There are some shuttles that run from TYS to Gatlinburg but transportation within the park is limited to tours or the Gatlinburg Trolly. The Gatlinburg Trolly goes from Gatlinburg to the Sugarland Visitor Center and Elkmont.
Estimated Drive Time to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Knoxville, TN 1 hour
- Shenandoah National Park 6 hours
Also Check: Yellow Post Camping Big Bear
Great Smoky Mountains Camping Reservations May Be Required
We didnt know that we needed reservations for Great Smoky Mountains camping, but it turned out that we did!
Advance reservations are required at Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, and Cataloochee Campgrounds. You can make your reservations online here or by calling 444-6777.
Additionally, you can make reservations at Cades Cove, Cosby, Elkmont, and Smokemont campgrounds, but they are not required. All other campgrounds are first-come, first served.
What To Pack For Camping In Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Up the Creek RV Camp
Don’t Miss: Camping World Bowling Green Ky