Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the only way to spend the night inside the park boundaries (except for the remote Mt LeConte Lodge). On the North Carolina, there are several national park campgrounds to choose from. Stay by rushing rivers with summer tubing at Deep Creek or in a scenic valley with elk at Cataloochee. For mile high camping with cool summer nights, go to less crowded Balsam Mountain.
For even more options, stay just outside the park in one the privately owned campgrounds that offer all sorts of extras and amenities. Since there are so many options, do your research ahead of time to find the right fit for you.
If you are arriving at the park at the main entrance on US 441 near Cherokee, stop by the Oconaluftee Visitor Center first to talk with knowledgeable rangers (or call 828-497-1904 ahead of time). It's open every day of the year except Christmas. Check weather forecasts and advisories for wildlife, including bear sightings - plus tips on the best spots.
Inside the national park, find these types of campsites:
- Backcountry: These remote backpacking sites require hiking several miles to reach. With 800 miles of trails, find many options. You must camp at a designated backcountry campsite or shelter. A permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping is required. Call the Backcountry Information Office at 865-436-1297.
- Frontcountry: RV and tent camping in a developed campground includes restrooms but no showers or water hook-ups (Smokemont, Balsam Mountain, Cataloochee and Deep Creek are on the NC side). Most sites are wooded. Advance reservations are required at the popular Cataloochee Campground for the entire camping season. Campsites at Smokemont can be reserved in advance for the period May 15-October 31. Remaining family campgrounds are first-come, first-served. Reservations: call 1-877-444-6777 or go to www.recreation.gov.
- Cataloochee with 27 sites, $25/night, reservations required, open April-October. Reserve online or call 877-444-6777.
- Deep Creek with 92 sites, $21/night, open April-October, popular for waterfalls and tubing, near Bryson City. First-come first-serve.
- Smokemont with 142 sites, $21-$25/night, year-round, on Newfound Gap Road near Cherokee. Reservations recommended due to popularity. Reserve online or call 877-444-6777.
- Balsam Mountain with 46 sites, $17.50/night, 5,310 ft. elevation (highest campground in park), open Memorial Day through early October. Located off Blue Ridge Parkway. Reserve online or call 877-444-6777.
- Group Campgrounds: Large frontcountry campsites suitable for groups of 7 to 25 people are found at Cataloochee, Smokemont and Deep Creek. Reservations: call 1-877-444-6777 or go to www.recreation.gov.
- Horse Camps: These small campgrounds, accessible by vehicle, offer hitch racks for horses and primitive camping facilities. Find three on the NC side: Round Bottom & Tow String near Cherokee and Cataloochee Valley.
Tips & Regulations for Camping Inside the National Park
- Camp in designated campsites only, not in pullouts or parking lots. For a list of backcountry sites, download a PDF Map of Great Smoky Mountains Trails.
- Unlike most national parks, there is no entrance fee.
- Be prepared for quickly changing weather, thanks to big elevation changes in this temperate rain forest. Temperatures run 10-20 degrees cooler in the highest elevations compared to the lowest valleys. Weather forecasts are difficult due to the variety of micro climates in the park. In summer months, be prepared for sudden thunderstorms. It's difficult to see approaching storms in the coves and lush forests. Snow can fall in the highest elevations September through May.
- General information phone number for the main park office is 865-436-1200. Dial extension 630 for the weather forecast.
- Go to free ranger-led programs are scheduled in spring, summer, and fall.
- All food and equipment used to prepare food must be kept sealed in a vehicle, preferably the trunk, or in a bear-proof canister. Bears have learned to find food at campsites. Also, campgrounds have food storage lockers for your use. See our Bear Safety tips.
- Dispose of garbage promptly in dumpsters provided.
- Stays are limited to 14 consecutive days with up to six people per campsite.
- Campfires are permitted only in fire grates. You may collect wood in the park only if it is on the ground and dead. Only heat-treated firewood that is bundled and certified by the USDA or a state agency may be brought into the park. Many stores outside the park sell wood.
- Pets are allowed in the campground but must be confined or on a leash (6' maximum). Dogs are not allowed on hiking trails.
- Dish water and bath water must be drained at utility sinks or dump stations, not on the ground. Do not wash or bathe in streams or at water fountains.
- Showers and utility hookups are not available in the park.
- Dump stations for RVs with potable water are located at Deep Creek and Smokemont campgrounds.
- Quiet hours are in effect from 10 PM to 6 am. Generator use is prohibited from 8 PM to 8 AM.
- Alcohol is permitted in campgrounds and picnic areas, provided the person in possession is at least 21 years old.
Camping Outside the National Park
- Endless camping options are found in nearby Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, including Max Patch (photo at top). Their regulations vary a little. See our camping guide for more.
- Find many privately-owned campgrounds outside the park with more amenities and extras like shower houses and pools - especially in the Bryson City, Franklin and Cherokee areas.
If you want to camp without the hassle of buying all the equipment and setting it up, go glamping! These fully set-up campsites include comfortable beds, waterproof shelter and many extras. See our Glamping Guide for more info.