Guide to Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains

It doesn’t matter where or when you go camping; it can be a lot of fun. But, to really enjoy your trip it is important to prepare properly before you go. This is especially important if you are going somewhere more challenging; such as the Smoky Mountains.
Photo Credit: Fine Art America
The first thing to be aware of if you’re visiting the Smoky Mountains is that there is as much to do in the winter as the summer. In fact check out this list of winter activities in Maggie Valley to see just what you can get up to.

Developed Grounds

There are plenty of places in the Smoky Mountains where you can camp in established campsites. This is a good idea if you’re new to camping. These sites have running water, toilets and helpful rangers to give you advice and assistance. It is worth noting that none of the established sites have showers.

This means you can relax and enjoy the experience of spending nights under the stars without worrying about the facilities you usually take for granted.

The great news is that if this experience proves too much for you there is also an abundance of hotels and motels you can check into.

Background Camping Areas

There are over 100 of these scattered across the Smoky Mountains. These are remote and the perfect place to stop when hiking. You may be alone at these sites or bump into fellow hikers and explorers; that’s all part of the fun.

However, if you’re planning to use a background camping site you will need to get a permit first. You can get this from the Backcountry office.

It is worth noting that many of those sites are booked months in advance. It may disrupt your feeling of freedom slightly to have to book camping in advance but it is the only way to ensure you have somewhere to stay!
Photo Credit : REI Co-op
It’s worth noting a couple of the camping grounds:

Cades Cove

This is the most popular campsite in the Smokies. It is also open throughout the year, one of only two sites that are. It is relatively low in the mountains and has good road access making it a great winter option.

It is exceptionally popular in the summer; you’ll need to book in advance.

Cosby Campground

In contrast this is the site that will take you away from it all and everyone. From here you can access lots of leisure trails and experience real back to basics camping.

LeConte Lodge

This site is the highest lodge in the Eastern United States! You can only get here by hiking and it is on the third highest mountain in the Smokies; although it’s not at the top!

The facilities are simple and remind you of years gone by; but that’s part of the adventure.


There are plenty of different species of wildlife that you can find in the Smokies but the most dangerous is the bear. It is advisable to listen to the advice given by the rangers regarding what to do if you do meet a bear.

This is one of the reasons why camping is only permitted in designated areas. The other is to maintain the natural beauty of this stunning area.


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