Camping In The Smokies

Posted by Leif Palmer in Outdoor Things to do

It's practically an instinctive reaction for anyone when booking vacation accommodations: Find a hotel or motel that's close to all the things you want to do and see in your getaway destination. And yes, hotels and motels-just like rental cabins and condos-have a lot of positive things going for them, such as convenient locations and lots of amenities. But we'd like to challenge that old habit. Maybe next time you hit the road, you should consider some form of camping.

Tent camping in the national park.

Whether it's as primitive as overnighting in a two-person tent or as luxurious as glamping at a resort or in an RV, camping has a lot of advantages in its own right. One of the biggest draws is that, depending on your site, camping can get you close to nature. And especially if you're visiting the Great Smoky Mountains, isn't that one of the main reasons you're traveling to this area in the first place? Imagine surrounding yourself with the scenery of mature woodlands, possibly near a lake or river, or maybe even a site with awesome mountain views.

Another advantage to camping is that it's usually less expensive than staying in a hotel or motel. The cost per night can be as low as around $25 to $35 if you're staying in a national park or state park in Tennessee. If you're traveling in an RV, businesses like Walmart and Cracker Barrel often let you park on their property overnight at no cost. Of course, no electric, water or sewer hookups are available, but it's always an option. Depending on the time of year, an RV park with all the amenities may range anywhere from around $50 to $100 per night, depending on the season and location. But when you compare that to hotel and motel rates for that same time of year and area, you'll see that the costs per night are still very favorable.

Camping also comes with a sense of adventure. There's something about living without the luxuries and challenging oneself to going minimal and focusing on the essentials that can be very gratifying.

So let's say you plan to visit the Smokies on your next vacation. What are your choices when it comes to camping? We'll start with the basics and move up from there.

Tent camping

Although many RV parks offer sites for tent camping, we feel that if you're going to really rough it, then do it right and visit a state park or Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You'll find 38 state parks in the state of Tennessee that offer camping opportunities. They're very reasonably priced, but amenities do vary from site to site. You'll almost always find bathroom facilities, but showers are not always a given. But your site should come with a tent pad, a picnic table and possibly some type of grill or fire pit.

If you plan to camp in the national park, you have two options-front-country or back-country sites. Back-country sites are bare bones and often require hiking well off the beaten path to find them. They come with no facilities and are typically the domain of backpackers. Front-country sites can be found at the national park campgrounds and do feature many of the same facilities as you'll find in state parks. Ten different campgrounds are located within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of the more popular destinations are Cades Cove and Elkmont, although Abrams Creek, Cosby and Smokemont are also worthy destinations and not usually as congested as the more frequently visited campgrounds.

RV park in Pigeon Forge, TN.

RV camping

OK, so you're not much of a tent-camping person. We get it. Sleeping on the ground isn't for everyone, even if you have a nice air mattress. Another option is to camp in a recreational vehicle. Whether it's a cozy 16-foot trailer or a tricked out 40-foot motorhome, the advantages are many: You can sleep, cook and have bathroom facilities all in your own private dwelling. And one of the coolest parts is the mobility. You can pick up and move from place to place whenever you want and still have the flexibility of going in to the nearest town to visit attractions, restaurants and shops.

Many state parks and even the national park campground have limited numbers of parking spots for RVs. But be prepared to rough it just a little. RV sites at GSMNP do not come with showers or water/electric hookups. All you'll get are campground restroom facilities with cold running water and flush toilets. So you'll have to make sure your boondocking skills are honed before cutting the cord.

Another alternative, especially if you want full services, is to overnight at an RV park or resort. There are literally dozens of them throughout the area, and they're generally more expensive than traditional campgrounds. Amenities do vary, but you'll almost always be able to find full electric, water and sewer hookups. Often, you'll get cable television as well as onsite amenities like laundry rooms, playgrounds for kids, swimming pools and other recreational facilities.

Staying in a tent in style.


Perhaps you'd like to find more of a middle ground-a camping alternative that lies somewhere between tent camping and all the luxuries that go hand in hand with RV camping. That's where glamping comes in. In the Great Smoky Mountains, there are several companies that offer camping experiences that do have some primitive elements-such as camping in a tent-but there are a lot of perks that make the outing a lot more comfortable.

Luxury tent camping does include tents, but they're often large canvas structures that are tall enough for guests to walk upright and feature sleeping accommodations like actual beds with mattresses. Depending on the vendor, you might also find some sort of kitchen facilities as well as functional bathrooms. Onsite perks and amenities can also vary greatly and include horseback riding, fire pits, restaurants, live music, yoga classes and kids' activities.

Glamping is generally the most expensive form of camping. In fact, it's usually more costly per night than even staying in a hotel or motel. But the experience is truly unique and strikes a fine balance between roughing it and staying in the lap of luxury.

Leif Palmer the blogger

About Leif Palmer

Leif Palmer loves residing in east Tennessee. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.


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