3 Best Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains

Best Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains

Looking for some of the best campgrounds in the Smokies? While there are plenty of campgrounds to choose from in the park as well as the surrounding areas, one of our favorite ways to experience the Great Smoky Mountains is by camping in one of their many frontcountry campgrounds.

Since the Great Smoky Mountains span over quite a few miles (as do the campgrounds!), it is hard to know which campground to choose, much less what the pros and cons are of each of the different frontcountry locations. 

One of the biggest perks of camping in one of the frontcountry campgrounds is having easier access to some of the park’s busier areas, especially during peak season. Quicker access to some of the best hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains and other activities within the park boundaries is something to consider when thinking about which area you want to camp in.

Best Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains

Read on to learn more about three of our favorite campgrounds IN the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, why we love them, as well as nearby activities to check out while you are there!

Cades Cove Campground

About Cades Cove Campground

Although this campground is in a remote area of the park, this is no doubt a favorite camping spot for many. Nestled right at the entrance of the popular 11-mile Cades Cove Loop, this is a great place to explore and play in the Great Smoky Mountains year round.

Some of the first European settlers arrived in the cove around 1818. Many of the original structures from these early settlers are still standing in Cades Cove today.

Best Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains
John Oliver Cabin on the Cades Cove Loop Road

As you take a drive around the one-way loop, there are plenty of places to stop and take a peek into the lives of these early settlers (cabins, churches, gristmills, cantilever barns and more). And also be sure to keep an eye out for bear, deer and other wildlife sightings around the loop that are typically very common.

Grist Mill in Cades Cove

The closest town to Cades Cove campground is the quaint little town of Townsend which is known as the “peaceful side of the Smokies”. There you will find a handful of stores to grab some necessities or you can even stop by a few of the favorite local restaurants (like Burgermaster!) to grab a bite to eat.

Nearby Activities

While there are plenty of short trails around the loop to historic structures like John Oliver’s Cabin or Elijah Oliver’s homeplace, definitely consider hiking to Abrams Falls while you are there. The Abrams Falls Trailhead is halfway through the loop and is a 5 mile roundtrip hike that is absolutely worth the view of the beautiful waterfall. 

Best Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains

Another popular activity in Cades Cove is bike riding around the 11 mile loop (there are also roads that cut across if you don’t want to go the whole way!) Bike rentals are available during peak seasons, so be sure to check out the dates and times available if you want to do that.

Bike Riding in Cades Cove

There are horse rides (and carriage rides, too!) available seasonally at the Cades Cove Riding Stables right around the corner from the campground, which is also a super fun way to experience the cove.

Elkmont Campground

  • Cost per night: $25 – $27
  • Tent and RV sites available (200 Tent/RV sites + 20 walk-in sites for tents)
  • Reservation Required (no first-come)
  • Reserve Online: Recreation.gov – Elkmont Campground

About Elkmont Campground

While typically only open mid-May through early October, Elkmont Campground is more centrally located within the Smokies, allowing easier access to some of the favorite places of interest in the GSMNP.  

Best Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains

Elkmont is easily one of the busiest campgrounds in the park so be sure to book early if you have a specific date in mind, especially if you are looking to visit during the synchronous firefly season.

The campground is located right at the heart of the Elkmont Historic District which makes for a fun place to explore and learn more about the unique history of this area. Elkmont is full of unusual sights from the troll bridge, Daisy Town’s abandoned houses, to some of the old chimney remains from the homes of the past.

Best Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains
Elkmont’s Abandoned Town “Daisy Town”

Elkmont Campground is located about 6.5 miles from the very popular tourist town of Gatlinburg. So if you run out of necessities or just want to go grab some dinner one night at a restaurant, then you aren’t too far from civilization!

Nearby Activities

Be sure to check out some of the hiking options located right at the campground. The trailheads for Jakes Creek Trail, Little River Trail and the Elkmont Nature Trail are easy to access from the campground and are great for all ages.

Best Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains
Hike to and Explore Elkmont’s “Troll Bridge”

And if you wish to venture out of the campground, you can head around the corner to some other favorite’s like the popular Laurel Falls or Cataract Falls at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. 

Another great area to explore is the nearby Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area. There you can take a dip in the popular summer swimming holes or take a short hike to the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse or the Walker Sisters Place. 

Smokemont Campground

About Smokemont Campground

If you are looking for a campground in the Smoky Mountains where you can experience more of the North Carolina parts of the Smokies, then Smokemont is a perfect location.

Nearby Ocanaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum

The Ocanaluftee Visitor Center is right down the road from the campground and is a great place to explore early farm life at the Mountain Farm Museum. And if you are lucky, you will even spot some of the elk that live in this area of the Smokies, which is quite a treat.

Cherokee and Bryson City are the two closest towns to this campground. Both of these towns offer some unique experiences – from learning more about the history of the Cherokee Indians to exploring the quaint town of Bryson City. 

Nearby Activities

Right up the road about 20 minutes is Newfound Gap where you will find the North Carolina/Tennessee State Line, Rockefeller Memorial (where the park was dedicated in 1940) and a trailhead to access the Appalachian Trail.

Best Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains

From Newfound Gap you can also drive over to Clingman’s Dome Road and take a short 1 mile (uphill!) hike to the Clingman’s Dome Tower which will give you beautiful panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains.

And if you want to see some waterfalls in this area, be sure to head around the corner from the campground and take a short trek to see Mingo Falls (one of the tallest waterfalls in the Southern Appalachian Mountains). Or head on over to the Deep Creek area and hit the Deep Creek Waterfalls Hike where you will see 3 beautiful waterfalls in a short and relatively easy trek.

Final Thoughts about Camping in the Smokies

While all of the frontcountry campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains have different perks according to their location, camping in the Great Smoky Mountains is pretty incredible no matter where you end up. Be sure to enjoy your time with your loved ones while making amazing memories while camping in the Smokies!

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Best Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains

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