Camping Gear Must Haves: Disaster Survival Edition Natural disasters are happening around the world every day. Hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, floods, earthquakes, blizzards, volcanos, and mudslides bombard our daily news. We also have to consider those emergencies that are man-made also. Domestic and foreign acts of terrorism are on the rise. Plane crashes, trains derailed, vehicle accidents and random public shootings rob us of peace and security. How can we prepare? This week lives were ...
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Named for a smoke-like haze, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was opened in 1934 and is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching across North Carolina and Tennessee. The park is over 800 square miles of Appalachian forests, hilly hiking trails, and verdant river valleys. Hundreds of native tree and plant species can be found there, and well over a thousand flower varieties!
Summer is the busiest camping season in the Smokies, making fall a great time to visit! This is one of the few national parks without an entrance fee, which might be why millions of people visit every year! We've compiled some of the best facilities and prices for sites for you to consider as well as many more trip ideas! Keep reading to check them out!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Camping Tips
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping website will help you check into a camp and find even more activities and experiences, while the National Park Service website for the Smokies has maps and information on closures and current conditions. Most campgrounds will ask you to make reservations, so call or email them up to six months or a year beforehand.
Three larger entrances to the park have the most facilities, but there are also smaller entrances that get less traffic. Limited groceries can be purchased at Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont, but other stores and extra services may be limited so bring in everything you need. There aren't any gas stations in the park, and places to shower are rare.
Rules & Regulations
- Camping on the side of the road inside the park is illegal in most areas
- Don't bring outside firewood which might contain invasive pests
- Campfires must be kept within designated places
- Obey the listed quiet hours of a campground
- Pets must be on leashes, must not be left alone and can't go inside park buildings or on the trails, with two exceptions being Gatlinburg Trail and Oconaluftee River Trail. Pet waste is to be picked up and taken out.
Remember that bears live in the area, so keep your food out of reach for your safety and theirs. Smaller local pests include snakes, ticks and wasps.
Your essential gear for an overnight stay should include:
- sleeping bags and a tent
- battery lantern
- well-used hiking boots
- rain jackets
- first-aid kit
- tent heater if you're visiting close to winter
- rope, bear-resistant storage containers, bear spray / scaring devices
Backpackers on the Appalachian Trail may want to visit one of many overnight shelters and deep country campsites, though permits are often required. For free primitive campsites, try the Bear Creek Hunt Camp, the Cherokee National Forest, the Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area, Lake Santeetlah, the Nantahala National Forest, Panther Creek or the Pisgah National Forest.
Where To Camp And Visit
Some of the best campgrounds in and around the park are:
- Abrams Creek: open between April and October, remote with trails and fishing spots, has toilets
- Arrow Creek: open all year but may require reservations, modern campground with cabins, has Wifi, a pool and showers
- Balsam Mountain: open between May and October, remote and a great place to see wildlife, has toilets
- Big Creek: open between April and October, remote with water and wildlife, has storage lockers and an emergency phone
- Cades Cove: open all year, popular for flowers and wildlife, has toilets and an emergency phone
- Cataloochee: open between April and October, popular for fishing and wildlife but take care on the winding roads, has toilets
- Cherokee KOA: open all year, nice campsites and cabins, has Wifi, bike rentals, a dog park, a pool and showers
- Deep Creek: open between May and October, popular for water and hiking, no extras
- Elkmont: open between March and November, popular for water and hiking, has toilets and washing
- Smokemont: open all year, quiet and open for picnicking, has toilets
The only hotel-like accommodation in the park is LeConte Lodge, which is open between March and November with a waitlist. One slight downside is the 6-mile or longer hike required to get there, but when you do the views are excellent and the food is worth the wait. They have one-room cabins and multi-room lodges with beds, propane heaters, and kerosene lanterns. There is no electricity, but they do provide meals and drinks, plus have nightly activities and nearby toilets.
Perhaps the most infamous landmark of the park is the Appalachian Trail, the longest footpath in the US, with several places to start and much to see along the way. Other points of interest in and around the park are:
- Cades Cove: has exhibits on Native American and Appalachian pioneer cultures, historic buildings such as the Becky Cable house, a bookstore with shopping and public restrooms, as well as an 11-mile one-way scenic road loop which is popular for biking
- Cataloochee Valley: popular for fishing and horse riding, has historic buildings such as a preserved schoolhouse and churches
- Clingmans Dome: the highest point in the park with an observation tower, has an info station with a bookstore, shopping, and public restrooms
- Dollywood: this famous Dolly Parton theme park and water park is located at Pigeon Forge, near the Smoky Mountains National Park yet with plenty of modern rides and entertainment
- Elkmont Historic District: a preserved ghost town with many historic Appalachian buildings
- Fontana Lake: a reservoir created by the nearby dam, well known for canoeing, kayaking and swimming
- Oconaluftee Park Entrance: has exhibits on Native American and Appalachian cultures, the Mountain Farm Museum with traditional log structures, a bookstore with shopping and public restrooms
- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: a 6-mile one-way scenic road loop along the Roaring Fork creek, stop at the historic Bud Ogle Cabin
- Sugarlands Park Entrance: the Backcountry Permit office, has a free 20-minute movie on the park, exhibits on natural history, a bookstore with shopping and public restrooms
What To Do And See
Along with some of the already mentioned scenic road loop tours, many people visit the Smokies for local Trout fishing at Fontana Lake and nearby streams, or to take in the vivid fall colors during October. If visiting to see wildlife such as elk and deer, be careful during their breeding season. Also look into the famous Firefly Viewing Lotteries, which are seasonal events with a limited number of tickets available, which is why they're offered as a lottery.
When you want to ride horses, guided riding is available from the Cherokee, Gatlinburg, or Townsend trails, while drive-in riding camps include Anthony Creek, Round Bottom, and Tow String. Donkeys and llamas are also allowed, as well as your own horses. Remember to get a permit, stay on designated trails, and have no more than 10 riding animals in a group. Animals must be secured at night and feed must be brought in.
The other beautiful hiking trails for a short picnic trip are:
- Andrews Bald Trail
- Chimney Tops Trail
- Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail
- Elkmont Nature Trail
- Spruce Flat Falls Trail
- Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail
More Info For RVs
The Smokies are well known as an RV spot. Some sites have full camper hookups along with nearby activities and places to play, while others are deep in the woods and good for getting away from the world. The basic parks are:
- Abrams Creek: open between April and October with reservations, no extras, 12-foot max length
- Balsam Mountain: open between May and October with reservations, no extras, 30-foot max length
- Cades Cove: open all year but popular and difficult to get in, has a camp store and dumping, 35 – 40 foot max length
- Cataloochee: open between May and October with reservations, no extras, 31-foot max length
- Deep Creek: open between April and October with limited space, no extras, 26-foot max length
- Elkmont: open all year but popular and difficult to get in, has a camp store and dumping, 32 – 35 foot max length
- Smokemont: open all year but popular and difficult to get in, horse friendly, has a camp store and dumping, 35 – 40 foot max length
For a more luxury RV experience with full hookups, visit:
- Smoky Bear Campground: has a lending library, a pool, and laundry machines
- Little River Campground: has Wifi, a game room, and a pool
- Stonebridge RV Resort: has private baths, a game room, and laundry machines
Are you visiting the Smokies this fall? Tell us what you’re planning to do and where you’re planning to camp below!