Best Campsites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Complete Guide to the Best Campsites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Frontcountry, Backcountry, and Lodging

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee in the southeastern United States, is a stunning and diverse natural treasure. The park has 10 popular campgrounds to choose from. Camping is popular year-round and the park has a variety of options to enjoy camping throughout the year. Cades Cove and Smokemont Campgrounds are open year-round. All other campgrounds are open on a seasonal basis.

Camping in the Smokies offers access to a wide range of outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, fishing, bird watching, and photography. The park’s extensive trail network caters to all skill levels, from leisurely walks to challenging backcountry routes. Discover more about the 11 best hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Overall, camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an opportunity to connect with nature, witness breathtaking vistas, and create lasting memories in one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world.

Frontcountry

Cades Cove Campground, October 24, 2020 -- Warren Bielenberg (6)
Cades Cove Campground, Photo by Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Front Country Reservations: Reservations for the Frontcountry, group and horse campgrounds can be made by calling 877-444-6777 or visiting www.recreation.gov. Making reservations prior to your arrival are recommended to guarantee a campsite. 

CampgroundOpenReserveFeeSitesAccessible SitesWater
Abrams CreekMay – November6 months in advance$30160Tap
Balsam Mountainmid-May – early-October6 months in advance$30191Tap
Big Creekearly-April – November6 months in advance$30120Tap
Cades CoveAll year6 months in advance$3016411Tap
Cataloocheeearly-April – November6 months in advance$30270Tap
Cosbyearly-April – November6 months in advance$301572Tap
Deep Creekearly-April – November6 months in advance$30921Tap
Elkmontmid-March – mid-November6 months in advance$3021110Tap
Look RockMay – November6 months in advance$30680Tap
SmokemontAll year6 months in advance$301427Tap

Backcountry

AT Shelter
Icewater Springs Shelter, Photo by Justin Meissen

As of February 2013, Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping in the park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has over 100 backcountry campsites and shelters for you to choose from. You can obtain permits at any of the park’s visitor centers or online through the park’s official website. There is a small fee associated with the permit, and it’s essential to obtain one in advance. You must also make a reservation for a specific backcountry campsite or shelter when you get your permit. Campsite availability varies, so it’s advisable to plan and reserve your spot well in advance, especially during peak seasons. Similar to the campgrounds listed above, backcountry sites are typically open from May – November each year. Please note: Campfires are not allowed at backcountry campsites in the park. You must carry a portable camp stove for cooking. Some of the best backcountry camping sites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park include: 

  • Icewater Shelter
    • Location: Icewater Shelter is a backcountry shelter located along the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the northern section of the park, not far from Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the park.
    • Hiking Trails: Nearby trail options include hiking along the AT from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion, Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte, and Chimney Tops Trail. 
  • Spence Field Shelter
    • Location: Spence Field Shelter is also situated along the Appalachian Trail and is located near Spence Field, offering stunning views of the surrounding area.
    • Hiking Trails: From this shelter, you can explore nearby trails such as the Anthony Creek Trail, Bote Mountain Trail, and the AT itself, which provides a variety of hiking opportunities.
  • Laurel Gap Shelter
    • Location: Laurel Gap Shelter is found along the AT in the northeastern part of the park, near the North Carolina border.
    • Hiking Trails: Nearby trails include the AT, which offers access to beautiful vistas and diverse ecosystems, as well as the Gabes Mountain Trail and the Balsam Mountain Trail.
  • Site #13 Sheep Pen Gap
    • Location: Site #13 Sheep Pen Gap is a designated backcountry campsite located in the southwestern section of the park.
    • Hiking Trails: Nearby hiking options include the Gregory Bald Trail
  • Site #35 Gilliland Creek
    • Location: Site #35 Gilliland Creek is another backcountry campsite located in the park’s northern section. This is a good option if you want to stay near Cosby Campground but were unable to reserve a site. 
    • Hiking Trails: Nearby hiking options include Mount Cammerer Trail and Low Gap Trail

Lodging in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

View of Lodge at Mount LeConte
View of Lodge at Mount LeConte, Photo by SmokyMountains.com
LeConte Lodge

LeConte Lodge is accessible only by foot and sits atop Mount LeConte, the park’s third highest peak, at 6,593’. Hiking routes to the lodge vary in length from 5 to 8 miles. The lodge is generally open from mid-March through mid-November. Advance reservations are required to stay at the lodge.

There are no motels or rental cabins located within the national park other than LeConte Lodge

Near Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Both the Nantahala National Forest and the Cherokee National Forest surround Great Smoky Mountains National Park and offer dispersed camping opportunities. These forests have a number of areas where visitors can camp outside of established campgrounds, often following specific guidelines. Hotel options are vast within a 30 minute to 1 hour drive of the park in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. 

Featured Image: Morning in the Cove, Photo by Tim Lumley

Don’t forget to stock up on the essentials before you plan your next hiking or camping trip! We have recommendations on:
TENTS
HIKING BOOTS
AND MORE!

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