Hi there!

 

So you’re planning a camping trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping trip. Planning a smoky mountains camping trip for first time in the smoky mountains. tent camping. rv camping. car camping. tennessee tn. north carolina nc. smokies travel blog.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping trip. Planning a smoky mountains camping trip for first time in the smoky mountains. tent camping. rv camping. car camping. tennessee tn. north carolina nc. smokies travel blog.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping trip. Planning a smoky mountains camping trip for first time in the smoky mountains. tent camping. rv camping. car camping. tennessee tn.smokies travel blog.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping trip. best tent camping in smoky mountains. Planning a smoky mountains camping trip for first time in the smoky mountains. car camping. tennessee tn. north carolina nc. smokies travel blog.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping trip. Planning a smoky mountains rv camping trip for first time in the smoky mountains. tennessee tn. north carolina nc. smokies travel blog.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping trip. Planning a smoky mountains camping trip for first time in the smoky mountains. tent camping. rv camping. car camping. tennessee tn.smokies travel blog.

 

 

Well, you have 10 regular campgrounds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to choose from! (This doesn’t include the backcountry campsites.)

First, the quick list of the basics when it comes to Smoky Mountains campgrounds in general.

Then, a few things to think about as you decide which is the best campground in the Smoky Mountains, for YOU!

 

 

The quick list of things to know about camping in the Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping trip. Planning a smoky mountains camping trip for first time in the smoky mountains. tent camping. rv camping. car camping. tennessee tn. north carolina nc. smokies travel blog.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping trip. Planning a smoky mountains camping trip for first time in the smoky mountains. tent camping. rv camping. car camping. tennessee tn. north carolina nc. smokies travel blog.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping trip. Planning a smoky mountains camping trip for first time in the smoky mountains. tent camping. rv camping. car camping. tennessee tn.smokies travel blog.

 

 

1. There is tent camping and RV camping available.

Camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. best tent camping smoky mountains. smokies travel blog

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping trip. best rv camping in smoky mountains. Planning a smoky mountains rv camping trip for first time in the smoky mountains. tennessee tn. north carolina nc. smokies travel blog.

 

 

2. You won’t get electricity at your campsite.

 

 

3. The campgrounds have regular bathrooms with cold water at the sinks.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping. campground bathroom toilet. smokies travel blog

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping. campground bathroom toilet. smokies travel blog

 

 

4. No campgrounds have showers.

There are no showers anywhere in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

There have been private campgrounds in towns surrounding the national park that will allow walk-ins to use their showers for a fee. However, covid made these places a little less inviting, at least in 2020. (As in, they weren’t accepting walk-ins.) So, good luck finding a shower. (Seriously.) 

Although the National Park Service website says to ask about showers in neighboring towns when you check in, when I asked the park rangers about showers in fall 2020, they said they weren’t sure because of covid. I asked park rangers at 4 different campgrounds and got no clear answers.

It would seem like as we get used to living in the “new normal,” private campgrounds and community centers will likely go back to accepting walk-ins in 2021?

Still, if you have a longer camping trip planned, you may consider breaking it up with a stay at an airbnb. I stayed at this airbnb 30 minutes from Gatlinburg.

 

 

5. You will find faucets for drinking water around the campground.

So bring a container to fill water up with!

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping. campground drinking water. smokies travel blog

 

 

6. There are designated dishwashing sinks.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping. campground dishwashing sink. how to wash dishes at smoky mountains campground. smokies travel blog

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping. campground dishwashing sink. how to wash dishes at smoky mountains campground. smokies travel blog

 

 

7. Tent campsites come with a tent pad.

This is a flat area of gravel.

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping. tent pad for tent camping at smoky mountains campground. smokies travel blog

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping. tent pad for tent camping at smoky mountains campground. smokies travel blog

 

 

8. There’s an RV dump station at the Cades Cove Campground, Smokemont Campground, and Sugarlands Visitor Center.

is there rv dump station at great smoky mountains national park campgrounds. rv sanitation station smoky mountains. tennessee tn, north carolina nc. smokies travel blog

 

These are the most popular areas for camping. The National Park Service also lists a few more campgrounds that have dump stations. See the section called “dump stations for RVs.”

 

 

And finally…

You’ll be camping with bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping bears. are there bears at smoky mountains campgrounds. smokies travel blog

 

Okay, so maybe that sounds a little more dramatic than it actually is. But there really are bears in the Smoky Mountains, and you will want to be mindful of this as you are camping in the Smoky Mountains.

It’s said that a fed bear is a dead bear.

This means that once bears start to see humans as a source of food, they can become a threat to humans, and that means a potential threat to you!

If that happens, the bear may have to be put to rest.

Currently, bears in the Smoky Mountains are generally not seen as a threat to people.

But it takes everyone, including all campers, to keep it like that and to keep everyone safe, while you’re camping, and to keep the campers that come after you safe!

When you check in, you’ll be given a copy of things to help keep bears away so be sure to read that.

Among the things that are noted are to be sure to take care to pick up after yourself after you eat.

You want to avoid leaving food in your tent, and be sure to store all food in your car.

This also means it would be better if you didn’t eat inside your tent at all.

Another thing is to also try not to keep scented items inside your tent.

Scented items can even include things like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and sunscreen. You may consider bringing unscented dishwashing soap! (Your local grocery store may sell this.)

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping bears. food storage. are there bears at smoky mountains campgrounds. smokies travel blog

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping bears. food storage. are there bears at smoky mountains campgrounds. smokies travel blog

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping bears. food storage. are there bears at smoky mountains campgrounds. smokies travel blog

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping bears. food storage. are there bears at smoky mountains campgrounds. smokies travel blog

 

There are “bear-proof” dumpsters around the campground. There’s a latch to open it up.

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping bears. bear-proof trash cans and dumpsters. are there bears at smoky mountains campgrounds. smokies travel blog

 

Before you go camping, you can read up on bears in the Smoky Mountains.

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping bears. are there bears at smoky mountains campgrounds. smokies travel blog

 

More below on specific campgrounds in Smoky Mountains that you may want to stay at!

 

 

⛰🐻

 

 

 

Now…

How to decide which Smoky Mountains campground to stay at?!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping. planning map to decide which smoky mountains campground is best. smokies travel blog
There are affiliate links on this page. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a commission from this.

 

The best campground in the Smoky Mountains for YOU to stay at will depend on what is it that you want to do in the Smoky Mountains!

So first, it could be helpful to know what it is you want to do during your Smoky Mountains vacation.

In short, I recommend getting this Great Smoky Mountains National Park map for step 1 in planning your Smoky Mountains camping trip!

Also buy small stickers like these.

I think among the easiest ways to visualize the national park and where much of the activities you want to do are centered will be to mark it out on a map.

This is a water resistant map, so any stickers you place on the map will come off reasonably fine.

Place a sticker on the map of the things you want to do!

You can start with this big list of things to do in the Smoky Mountains and start marking the map. Or have a looking at the Smoky Mountains waterfalls list or the Smoky Mountains hiking list.

I also wrote on the stickers the length of the hike. Depending on the length of the hike, I could decide if it may be reasonable to do 1 or 2 hikes in one day.

Also mark all the different campgrounds with a sticker so you can easily see where they are located.

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping. planning map to decide which smoky mountains campground is best. smokies travel blog

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping. planning map to decide which smoky mountains campground is best. smokies travel blog

 

This can also make for easy reference during your Smoky Mountains trip so you can refer to your map as you are trying to decide what to do for the day.

 

 

ALL THAT SAID…

If you just want a starting point of the best campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains to take a look at for a first trip of a few days, then, generally speaking…

The best campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains for a first trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

These are the most popular campgrounds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and they will also be the campgrounds that you’ll likely see the most people.

But they are the most popular for a reason. They are reasonably convenient in their own ways.

At each of these 3 campgrounds you will find some sort of campground store where you can buy firewood and ice. (For example the Elkmont Campground Store and the Cades Cove Campground Store. Smokemont has a small kiosk at the Smokemont horse stables.)

Which of these 3 you will want to stay at will ultimately depend on what it is you want to do when in the Smoky Mountains.

They each have their inconveniences as well, but if you really just had to choose just ONE as the MOST convenient, then that would probably be Elkmont Campground. Again, generally speaking! You could say it’s the most centrally located. This is based on the locations of the most popular Smoky Mountains activities. Elkmont Campground is also reasonably close to Gatlinburg.

 

 

Best campground for hiking in the Smoky Mountains?

That said, if your main plan is to do the popular Smoky Mountains hikes that come with the best mountain views, you might like Smokemont Campground for the ease of access to Newfound Gap Road, where many of these hikes are found.

Newfound Gap Road is also one of the best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains, and it’s where you’ll find the turnoff for Clingmans Dome Road.

This means that you’ll need to drive Newfound Gap Road in order to get to the Clingmans Dome summit, which is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

 

Share the Smoky Mountains video with the people you’ll be camping in the Smoky Mountains with!

 

Smokemont Campground is on the North Carolina side of the national park, near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

So staying at Smokemont Campground means that you can make it your daily evening activity to go over to the visitor center to see if there are elk!

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is one of the best chances you have to see elk in the Smoky Mountains, and it’s said that sunset can be a good time to see them.

 

 

For more activities outside the park, Mingo Falls and Soco Falls are some really great waterfalls in North Carolina that aren’t too far from Smokemont Campground.

 

 

 

So, which campground is best for you in the Smoky Mountains really depends!

If you have a week in the Smoky Mountains, you may consider splitting your time between different campgrounds in order to cut down on back and forth driving time.

If you are looking for a little less popular, and a little more off-the-beaten path campgrounds that will come with nearby hiking trails that will see far less people, then here are some of the more frequented campgrounds in the quieter areas of Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

  • Cosby Campground in Tennessee (around 160 campsites)
  • Abrams Creek Campground in Tennessee (less than 20 campsites)
  • Cataloochee Campground in North Carolina (less than 30 campsites)
  • Balsam Mountain Campground in North Carolina (less than 50 campsites)

You can see the full list of 10 campgrounds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park by looking at the National Park Service campgrounds list. The elevation of each campground is also listed here.

Be mindful of the elevation of your campground since that can mean cooler temperatures if you’re at a campground with a higher elevation.

For example: The lowest elevation campground is Abrams Creek Campground at 1,125 feet. The highest elevation campground is Balsam Mountain Campground at 5,310 feet. For comparison, Gatlinburg is at around 1,300 ft.

The Elkmont Campground and Cosby Campground are both located around 20-30 minutes from Gatlinburg. But Elkmont’s location in proximity to other activities generally makes it more convenient.

See the list of things you can do in the Smoky Mountains from Gatlinburg:

 

And that’s a bit about camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

 

Be sure to check out the following:

 

HAPPY CAMPING IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS!

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping trip. Planning a smoky mountains camping trip for first time in the smoky mountains. tent camping. rv camping. car camping. tennessee tn.smokies travel blog.

 

 

There are affiliate links on this page. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a commission from this.

Best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains

You will want good shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

In general, the best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains will be hiking boots (more ideal) or trail running shoes (more versatile for everyday activities compared to hiking boots but still will give you advantages compared to regular shoes).

I liked wearing my hiking boots for the thicker soles (good on rocky trails) and the waterproof (water resistant) nature of them.

They were especially helpful on rainy day hikes to keep my shoes (and socks!) dry! They are also better to be walking on mud compared to regular shoes.

On rougher terrain (like the trails that are a bit rougher with more rocks), hiking boots are more ideal so you won't feel it on the bottoms of your feet as much.

If you want shoes that can work out better as everyday "out and about" kind of shoes, then you might like trail running shoes better! Trail running shoes are a little more durable than regular shoes, so they can also work out as good hiking shoes. Trail running shoes are a bit lighter weight and less bulky compared to hiking boots.

Shoe fit is very important for your feet! Be sure to break in your new shoes by walking around the neighborhood and/or at the grocery store before you go on your "big hike" in the Smoky Mountains!

Shop for hiking boots: Merrell is popular and known as a good quality outdoor shoe brand for hiking

Shop for trail running shoes: Salomon is popular and known as a good quality outdoor shoe brand for trail running