dusk in the smoky mountains
July 25, 2018

What better way to end an adventurous day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park than by spending a night underneath the stars? Camping is the best way to soak up the natural beauty of the mountains and spend more time in the great outdoors. To help you plan your camping trip, we’ve come up with the ultimate guide to camping in the Smoky Mountains National Park:

Types of Campsites

family camping in the mountains

One of the most important decisions you’ll have to make for your camping trip is where you want to stay. The national park has several different types of campsites for visitors to choose from, each offering a different camping experience. Browse those campsites below:

Backcountry: The backcountry campsites are for backpackers. To reach the campsite, you will have to hike several miles into the park’s backcountry.

Frontcountry: The frontcountry campsites allow you to camp near your car. It is a developed campground that has restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets. At each individual campsite, there is a fire grate and picnic table. Most of the frontcountry campsites in the park are wooded.

Group Campgrounds: If you are visiting with a group of 8 people or more, then the group campgrounds are the place for you! These large campsites are located in frontcountry campgrounds.

Horse Camps: After enjoying a nice horseback ride through the Smoky Mountains, set up camp in one of the horse camps. These are small campgrounds that are accessible by vehicle and offer primitive camping facilities as well as hitch racks for horses.

Campground Rules

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a number of rules in place to guarantee a safe and hassle-free camping experience. The rules regard everything from food to length of stay and apply to those staying in frontcountry campgrounds and group campgrounds. Browse a few of the most important rules below:

Food Storage: Keep all food and equipment used to prepare and store food sealed in a vehicle or camping unit constructed of solid, non-pliable material when not in use. If your vehicle does not have a trunk where you can store food, there are campgrounds that have food storage lockers, like Cades Cove, Cataloochee and Elkmont.

Registration & Reservations: To camp in the Smoky Mountains, you are required to register and pay a fee. Checkout is at noon. If you choose to stay at the Cataloochee Campground, reservations are required. You can also make reservations for campsites at Cades Cove, Cosby, Elkmont and Smokemont from May 15 through October 31. All remaining campgrounds are a first-come, first-served basis.

Pets: Pets are allowed in the campground but must be confined or on a leash and are not allowed on trails. They should not be left unattended at any time.

Fire and Wood: Campfires are only allowed in the fire grates, and wood can only be collected if it is on the ground and dead. Only heat-treated firewood that is bundled and certified by the United States Department of Agriculture may be brought into the park.

Camping Tips


If you’ve never been camping in the Smoky Mountains National Park, we can help you out! Follow these top camping tips to guarantee you have a great time:

Pack Smart: We recommend making a packing list so you don’t forget any of the necessities. Because temperatures in the mountains can vary throughout the day, it’s smart to pack clothes that can easily be layered. It’s also a good idea to pack plenty of warm blankets and pillows to keep you cozy during the night. And of course there is the one necessity for every type of trip: a first-aid kit! You can also bring snacks and meals that can be prepared quickly and easy, but make sure to follow the park’s food storage rule.

Relax: One of the best parts about camping in the mountains is how peaceful it is. If you visit with your family, you can enjoy spending quality family time together away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Whether you’re roasting marshmallows in the fire or staring up at the stars, you will have a great time with each other.

Enjoy Other Things to Do: While you’re in the national park, make sure to take time to experience everything it has to offer! Spend your day exploring hiking trails and chasing waterfalls, fishing in one of the many mountain streams, horseback riding, or having a picnic. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for wildlife! The Smoky Mountains has plenty of opportunities for you to spot some of your favorite wildlife, from black bears to turkey. For more information on wildlife viewing, read our blog, “How to See Your Favorite Smoky Mountain Wildlife in the National Park.”

Now that you know all you need to know about camping in the Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s time to start planning your trip! Before you go, make sure you learn the top 10 things you need to know about the national park.