In the spring, wildflowers butter the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains’ easternmost foothills. Come summer, the few roads that drip down and climb around them are packed with fervent tourists from around the nation, and world seeking family adventure and mild nights burning marshmallows. As fall sets in, one can listen as the changing leaves swoosh away from their tires, sugar maples and yellow buckeye in full color display, even as the occasional snowfall covers higher elevations and the warmth of the sun glowing over the still verdant valleys below contribute to a “three seasons in one” effect.
Not only the most visited of America’s national parks, the Great Smoky Mountains is also one of the best places for camping in the Southeast.
Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Of the ten campgrounds that live in the national park, six of them can comfortably accommodate some level of RV camping. Some of the more beautiful locations, like Elkmont Campground, offer spots that can fit up to 35′ rigs, while the parks most remote campground, Deep Creek promises a less crowded experience as long as you’re under 26′ or so.
The majority of campgrounds play host to flushing toilets, but while some have dump stations, don’t expect much more in the way of hookups. Cades Cove and Smokemont are even open year round if you can brave the snowy temperatures. These two campgrounds also accommodate rigs up to 40′.
National Forest Camping Near the Smokies
If you’re not concerned with being directly in the park, and love the more natural setting national forest campgrounds often provide, there is ample national forestland within an hour or two’s drive of the park’s Cherokee, North Carolina entrance.
From free camping along a lake bathed in the shade of the Nantahala National Forest (see Santeetlah Lake) to amenities like flushing toilets and showers (see Tsali Campground), and plenty more if you’re okay being even farther out, the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests offer organized camping and even the occasional free, off-the-beaten-path spot.
RV Park Camping in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Just north of the park’s Tennessee entrance lives a small town with a big tourist vibe. Imagine someone went and took Ocean City, Maryland, cloned it, and dropped it directly into the Smokies, Gatlinburg has big traffic with attractions that range from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! to Cooter’s (you might recall him from the Dukes of Hazzard), and ice cream and burger joints galore. It’s loud, crowded and a spectacle the precise opposite of what most people think of when they dream of a national park getaway. Then again, the juxtaposition can make for an interesting day trip (which part of the experience you consider the day trip will be up to you) and if the hubbub of Gatlinburg sounds more enticing than camping in the Smokies proper, the options are far from limited.
If Gatlinburg still proves too small for you, head a little farther up the road to Pigeon Forge…maybe just try and avoid rush hour, which only lasts all summer long.
While camping directly in the park may be bucket list material, the Smokies are as much of a gateway to the rest of Western North Carolina as they are a destination unto themselves. Small towns like Bryson City offer slow cafe mornings and steam engine train rides, while vibrant, progressive Asheville promises more breweries than you can shake a flight at and eclectic dining ranging from french cuisine to taco trucks. Hiking, fishing, bird watching and just plain old taking it easy, not to mention the Blue Ridge Parkway, are all more than available, they’re downright unavoidable for many a traveler through these mountains.