The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country and for good reason. The sprawling park offers a range of camping experiences for both novice and experienced campers.
From family-friendly sites and group campgrounds to a diverse offering of backcountry camping experiences in remote campgrounds, we have curated an exceptional list of the best campgrounds in Smoky Mountains National Park that cater to all types of nature enthusiasts.
In the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll find nine park campgrounds: The Abrams Creek Campground, Balsam Mountain Campground, Big Creek Campground, Cades Cove Campground, Cataloochee Campground, Cosby Campground, Deep Creek Campground, Elkmont campground, and Smokemont campground.
There are also other popular places to stay outside the park, like the Greenbrier Campground and Little Arrow Outdoor Resort.
In this article, we will share our picks for the best Smoky Mountain campgrounds like Elkmont Campground with its little river and Cades Cove Campground for families seeking fun-filled vacations.
To ensure you are well-prepared for your trip, our guide includes vital information on packing lists and camping etiquette tips to keep in mind when exploring these best Great Smoky Mountains campgrounds.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park Overview
- Elkmont Campground: Good for Families
- Cades Cove Campground : Best Access to Cades Cove Loop
- Cosby Campground : A Tranquil Getaway
- Deep Creek Campground: Best Creek Access
- Look Rock Campground: Panoramic Views
- Preparing For Your Camping Trip
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the most popular campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
- What is the most scenic campground in the Smoky Mountains?
- Which side of the Smoky Mountains National Park is better?
- How many days should I stay in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
- What are some other attractions to plan for?
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Overview
The Smoky Mountains National Park, located on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, is a true gem of natural beauty and biodiversity. Encompassing over 520,000 acres, it is renowned for its ancient mountains, dense forests, and misty blue haze that gives the park its name. As one of the most visited national parks in the United States, it offers a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Visitors can explore over 800 miles of trails within the park, ranging from easy strolls to challenging hikes, leading to breathtaking vistas, cascading waterfalls, and serene valleys. The park is also home to a diverse array of plant and animal species, including black bears, elk, and a stunning variety of wildflowers.
Additionally, the Smoky Mountains National Park boasts a rich cultural heritage, with historic homesteads, churches, and mills scattered throughout the area, providing a glimpse into the lives of early settlers.
The Great Smoky Mountains offer a variety of family-friendly campgrounds that cater to children and provide amenities like Wi-Fi, water, and cable TV. These campgrounds also offer various activities for kids, such as bicycles, basketball courts, and swimming pools with unique features like a Rain Tree.
Whether you’re seeking family adventure through hiking and wildlife spotting or simply immersing yourself in the tranquility of nature, the Smoky Mountains National Park offers an unforgettable experience for all who visit. From its awe-inspiring landscapes to its vibrant ecosystem, this cherished national park is a true testament to the wonders of the great outdoors.
Elkmont Campground: Good for Families
Elkmont Campground is nestled in the heart of the Smoky Mountains National Park. It is situated alongside the picturesque Little River, offering a peaceful retreat in a wooded setting within the park, offering a scenic and serene camping experience surrounded by nature’s splendor. Here’s a summary of this popular campground:
- Number of Sites: The campground features 220 individual campsites, suitable for tents and RVs up to 35 feet in length. It also offers 20 walk-in sites for those seeking a more secluded camping experience.
- Amenities: The campground provides essential amenities, including restrooms with flush toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, and fire rings. There are no electrical or water hookups available. Dump stations are close by.
- Rates: As per the most recent information, the campground fees are $30 per night for individual sites, depending on the season.
- Reservations: Reservations for individual campsites at Elkmont Campground can be made up to six months in advance, ensuring you secure your desired camping spot.
- Activities: From the campground, visitors can enjoy numerous activities, including hiking along picturesque trails, fishing in the Little River, and exploring nearby historical sites, such as the preserved cabins of the former Elkmont community. The campground is also a prime spot for viewing synchronous fireflies during their mesmerizing annual mating season.
Elkmont Campground provides a peaceful and idyllic camping experience in the heart of the Smoky Mountains National Park. With its natural beauty, ample amenities, and proximity to a variety of outdoor activities, it is an ideal destination for nature enthusiasts and those seeking a memorable camping adventure.
Cades Cove Campground: Best Access to Cades Cove Loop
Located within the, Cades Cove Campground offers a serene and picturesque camping experience surrounded by stunning natural beauty. Here’s a brief overview of this popular campground:
- Number of Sites: The campground features 159 individual campsites, accommodating tents and RVs up to 35 feet in length. It also offers three group campsites for larger gatherings.
- Amenities: The campground provides basic amenities such as restrooms with flush toilets, drinking water, and picnic tables. No hookups are available, but a dump station is available, and there is an on-site general store.
- Rates: 2023 rates for the Summer are 30 per night for individual sites, depending on the season. The group campsites can be reserved for $65 per night.
- Reservations: Reservations for individual campsites at Cades Cove Campground can be made up to six months in advance, and the group campsites can be reserved up to one year in advance.
- Activities: From the campground, visitors can explore the Cades Cove Loop Road, which offers scenic drives and opportunities to view wildlife and historical sites, such as old cabins and churches. Hiking trails, fishing spots, and scenic overlooks are also easily accessible from the campground.
Cades Cove Campground provides a peaceful and immersive camping experience amidst the beauty of the Smoky Mountains National Park. Whether you’re seeking a quiet retreat or outdoor adventure, this campground offers a wonderful base to explore the area’s wonders.
Anthony Creek Horse Camp: For Horseback Riders
Centrally located within the park, Anthony Creek Horse Camp provides convenient access to scenic trails and breathtaking landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountaims, making it an ideal destination for horseback riding enthusiasts. Here are the highlights of this specialized campground:
- Number of Sites: The campground features 30 individual campsites specifically designed for those traveling with horses. Each site provides ample space for parking trailers and setting up horse corrals.
- Amenities: The campground offers equestrian-friendly amenities, including hitching posts, horse troughs, and mounting blocks. Restrooms with flush toilets, potable water, and picnic tables are also available for campers’ convenience.
- Rates: As of the most recent information, the campground fees for Anthony Creek Horse Camp are $30 per night for individual sites.
- Reservations: Reservations for individual horse campsites can be made up to six months in advance, ensuring a dedicated spot for equestrian campers.
- Activities: From the campground, riders can access a network of scenic trails that meander through the national park’s stunning landscapes. The nearby Anthony Creek Trail provides access to various picturesque routes that cater to different skill levels, ensuring a memorable experience regardless of your expertise. Whether you’re seeking a leisurely ride or a more challenging equestrian adventure, this campground provides a perfect starting point for exploring the park’s extensive trail system.
Anthony Creek Horse Camp appeals mainly to equestrian enthusiasts and provides specialized amenities and a horse-friendly environment in the heart of the park. Its unique offerings and access to picturesque trails promise an unforgettable camping experience for horse owners and riders alike.
As an alternative to Anthony Creek Horsecamp, you should consider Round Bottom Horsecamp. Situated along the banks of Raven Fork River in North Carolina, this campground boasts stunning views any time of year. It provides a more secluded atmosphere, ideal for horseback riding enthusiasts looking to explore the area’s natural wonders.
The campground features 18 individual campsites specifically designed to accommodate horse owners. Each site provides ample space for parking trailers and setting up horse corrals. This secluded gem offers easy access to several popular trails, such as Caldwell Fork Loop Trail and McKee Branch Trail. It’s an excellent choice if you’re looking forward to exploring diverse landscapes on horseback during your stay in the Smokies.
Note: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires all riders to carry a valid Coggins test certificate for their horses and adhere to designated trails and leave-no-trace principles.
Cosby Campground: A Tranquil Getaway
For those searching for a tranquil getaway from the hustle and bustle of other Smoky Mountain tourist areas, the Cosby Campground offers an ideal haven.
Cosby offers a tranquil atmosphere that allows you to savor the stunning scenery. Located approximately 32 miles from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, it is far enough from busy tourist areas to offer seclusion while still being within reach of popular attractions like Clingmans Dome and Cades Cove if desired. Here are more details:
- Number of Sites: The campground features 157 individual campsites, accommodating tents and RVs up to 25 feet in length. It also offers five walk-in campsites for those looking for a more secluded camping experience.
- Amenities: The campground provides essential amenities, including restrooms with flush toilets, drinking water, and picnic tables. Additionally, it offers a camp store where visitors can purchase firewood and other camping essentials.
- Rates: 2023 rates for Summer and Fall are $30 for up to six campers per individual site.
- Reservations: Reservations for individual campsites at Cosby Campground can be made up to six months in advance, ensuring a hassle-free camping experience.
- Activities: From the campground, visitors can enjoy various activities, including hiking along scenic trails, fishing in Cosby Creek, and exploring the nearby Hen Wallow Falls. Gabes Mountain Trail is a must-hike with stunning waterfalls and picturesque vistas. Wildlife viewing and birdwatching opportunities are also plentiful in this serene area.
Cosby Campground offers a peaceful and rejuvenating camping experience in the center of the park. With its picturesque setting, convenient amenities, and proximity to outdoor activities, it is an ideal destination for nature lovers and those seeking a tranquil getaway amidst the splendor of the Smoky Mountains.
Deep Creek Campground: Best Creek Access
Situated near Bryson City Deep Creek Campground offers a serene and scenic atmosphere, nestled alongside the tranquil waters of Deep Creek and surrounded by lush forests. Here’s what you can expect from this popular campground:
- Number of Sites: The campground features 92 individual campsites, accommodating tents and RVs up to 26 feet in length. It also offers three group campsites for larger gatherings.
- Amenities: The campground provides essential amenities, including restrooms with flush toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, and fire rings. Additionally, there are paved roads, making it easily accessible for campers.
- Rates: As of Summer 2023, the campground fees for Deep Creek Campground are $30 per night for individual sites.
- Reservations: Reservations for individual campsites at Deep Creek Campground can be made up to six months in advance, ensuring a seamless camping experience.
- Activities: From the campground, visitors can enjoy a plethora of outdoor activities, including hiking scenic trails, tubing or wading in the refreshing waters of Deep Creek, and visiting nearby waterfalls such as Juney Whank Falls and Indian Creek Falls. Fishing, picnicking, and wildlife viewing opportunities are also abundant in the area.
With its beautiful setting, convenient amenities, and proximity to outdoor water adventures, Deep Creek Campground serves as an excellent destination for nature enthusiasts and those seeking a peaceful escape amidst the wonders of the national park.
Look Rock Campground: Panoramic Views
Situated high atop Look Rock, Look Rock Campground provides breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding Smoky Mountains, creating an unforgettable camping destination within the national park.
- Number of Sites: The campground features 68 individual campsites, with 10 electric hookups for RVs. Each site offers a peaceful and secluded setting, allowing campers to immerse themselves in the tranquility of the mountains.
- Amenities: Look Rock Campground offers essential amenities, including restrooms with flush toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, and fire rings.
- Rates: 2023 summer rates for Look Rock Campground range from $30 for standard sites to $36 per night for sites with electric hookups.
- Reservations: Reservations for individual campsites at Look Rock Campground can be made up to six months in advance, allowing visitors to secure their preferred spot in this picturesque location.
- Activities: From the campground, visitors can enjoy a range of activities, including hiking to the Look Rock Observation Tower, which offers breathtaking vistas of the Smoky Mountains and surrounding landscapes. The campground also provides access to scenic trails for hiking and wildlife viewing, allowing campers to immerse themselves in the area’s natural wonders.
With its elevated location, essential amenities, and access to stunning viewpoints and hiking trails, Look Rock Campground is an excellent choice for those seeking a memorable and awe-inspiring camping adventure.
Smokemont Campground: Good Amenities
Situated amidst the pristine wilderness of the Smoky Mountains, Smokemont Campground provides a serene and scenic retreat, surrounded by towering trees and breathtaking mountain vistas. Here are the basics:
- Number of Sites: The campground boasts 142 individual campsites suitable for tents and RVs up to 35 feet in length, ensuring ample options for campers of all kinds.
- Amenities: Smokemont Campground provides essential amenities including restrooms with flush toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, and fire rings. Additionally, a nearby visitor center offers helpful information and exhibits about the park’s rich history and natural wonders.
- Rates: As per the most recent information, 2023 campground fees for Smokemont Campground are $30 per night for individual sites, depending on the season, providing an affordable camping experience in this stunning location.
- Reservations: Reservations for individual campsites at Smokemont Campground can be made up to six months in advance, allowing campers to secure their desired spot within this popular destination.
- Activities: From the campground, visitors can explore a variety of activities, including hiking scenic trails, fishing in the nearby Oconaluftee River, and attending ranger-led programs to learn more about the park’s natural and cultural heritage. Wildlife viewing opportunities abound, with the chance to spot black bears, deer, and a multitude of bird species.
Smokemont Campground in the Smoky Mountains provides a tranquil and immersive camping experience surrounded by the wonders of nature. With its idyllic location, essential amenities, and wide range of outdoor activities, it is an excellent choice for nature enthusiasts and those seeking a memorable camping adventure in this renowned national park.
Preparing For Your Camping Trip
To ensure you have an enjoyable experience on your camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s important to be well-prepared. This section will cover tips on what essentials you should pack along, including appropriate clothing, gear recommendations, and other necessities.
Packing List: Clothing And Gear Essentials
- Clothing: Pack layers of clothing to adapt to changing weather conditions. Include moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers like fleece or down jackets for warmth during cooler evenings, and waterproof outer layers such as rain jackets and pants.
- Footwear: Choose comfortable hiking boots with good ankle support for exploring trails in the Smokies. Don’t forget the extra socks.
- Tent: A sturdy tent is essential for a comfortable night’s sleep while camping. Ensure that your tent is well-ventilated and simple to assemble. Check out our guide on choosing the perfect tent here.
- Sleeping Bag & Pad: Invest in a high-quality sleeping bag rated for temperatures expected during your visit. Pair it with an insulated sleeping pad for added comfort.
- Cooking Equipment & Food Supplies: Bring portable cooking equipment like camp stoves or grills along with necessary utensils and fuel sources (propane canisters). Plan meals ahead of time by packing non-perishable food items such as canned goods or dehydrated meals.
- Navigational Tools & Safety Items: Carry maps of the area you’ll be visiting (National Park Service maps are a great resource), a compass, and/or GPS device. Pack a first aid kit, torch, or headlamp with spare batteries and a multi-tool for essential safety.
- Miscellaneous Items: Pack sunscreen, insect repellent, reusable water bottles or hydration systems (like CamelBak), and any personal hygiene items you may need during your trip.
Campsite Safety & Etiquette Tips
While enjoying the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains campgrounds, it’s important to be respectful of other campers as well as nature itself. Here are some tips for practicing good campsite etiquette:
- Noise Levels: Be mindful of noise levels during quiet hours (usually between 10 PM – 6 AM) by keeping conversations low and avoiding loud music or activities that could disturb others.
- Litter-Free Campsites: Always practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash from your site when departing. Use designated trash receptacles if available at the campground.
- Pets & Wildlife: If bringing pets along on your camping adventure, ensure they are leashed at all times while in the campground area. Never feed wildlife; this can lead to dangerous encounters for both humans and animals alike.
- Leave No Trace: The Leave No Trace philosophy is a set of principles to promote responsible outdoor behavior and environmental stewardship. It emphasizes the importance of minimizing one’s impact on natural spaces while enjoying outdoor activities. By following these principles, individuals can help preserve the beauty and integrity of our natural environments for future generations to enjoy. Learn more about Leave No Trace principles here.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most popular campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
The most popular campground in the Smoky Mountains is Elkmont Campground, located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This family-friendly campground offers a variety of amenities, including picnic tables, fire rings, and access to hiking trails.
What is the most scenic campground in the Smoky Mountains?
Cosby Campground is considered one of the most scenic campgrounds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nestled among lush forests and offering beautiful mountain views, Cosby provides a peaceful atmosphere away from busy tourist areas.
Which side of the Smoky Mountains National Park is better?
Both sides of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have their unique attractions. The North Carolina side offers more remote wilderness experiences like Deep Creek Campground, while Tennessee features busier towns such as Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with various entertainment options.
How many days should I stay in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
A 2-4 day trip allows enough time to explore key highlights within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including Cades Cove Loop Road, Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap Road Scenic Drive, and several hikes like Alum Cave Trail or Chimney Tops Trail. For an immersive experience with multiple hikes and drives, a week-long visit would be ideal.
What are some other attractions to plan for?
There are many more exciting attractions to experience on your trip to the Smokies.
- Fontana Lake, located on the North Carolina side near Bryson City, is a popular destination.
- The Appalachian Trail also runs right through the middle of the park and offers wonderful hiking opportunities.
- The mountain farm museum near the Oconaluftee visitor center is another popular attraction.
- Many people like to spend their time trout fishing in and around the national park.
Whether you’re a regular visitor or this is your first trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are plenty of places to stay and lots to see and do. If you’re looking for a remote campground or group campsites with flush toilets and RV sites, Smoky Mountains National Park has you covered.
Josh is a writer, photographer, and outdoorsman based in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. When not on assignment, he spends all of his time in the outdoors, hiking, backpacking, hunting, and fly fishing.