Skip to Content

The Bad News about Smoky Mountain Camping This Summer

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park had a record-breaking year in 2021. The park welcomed an astounding 14 million guests. With so much to see and many visitors, you will need several days to experience this national park.

Hotels can be expensive, and you don’t want to fight traffic, so camping might be your best option to maximize your time.

However, we’re about to be the bearer of bad news about Smoky Mountain summer camping plans. Let’s jump in!

About the Smoky Mountains

The Smoky Mountains sit on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. The mountains get their name from the natural fog that often hangs over the mountain range. The mist creates smoke-like clouds due to the area’s high vapor pressure and the vegetation emitting compounds. 

The natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains invites guests to explore more than 800 miles of trails. The park is home to 71 miles of the Appalachian Trail for the most adventurous hikers. However, there are also several excellent opportunities to enjoy the scenery while biking.

Tourists flock to the Smokies for their beauty and the many tourist attractions in the nearby cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. There are more dinner shows, mini-golf courses, and souvenir shops than you can visit in a single trip.

Whether you hope to enjoy the natural or artificial attractions, the Smokies are fantastic for exploring with your family. You’ll quickly see why families return to explore the area.

Man hiking in the Smoky Mountains
The Smoky Mountains are on many peoples bucket lists, making them quite a crowded tourist destination.

Can You Camp Anywhere in the Smoky Mountains? 

There are a handful of camping options in the Smoky Mountains. However, you can’t pitch a tent or set up camp just anywhere in the Smoky Mountains. The park offers backcountry, front-country, group campgrounds, and horse camps. The rules and process for acquiring a site vary depending on the area, so ensure you know what to do to avoid issues.

Whether camping in the backcountry or on a front-country campsite, you must register and pay the necessary fees. If you have specific questions regarding backcountry camping, you can contact rangers at the local Backcountry Information Office at (865) 436-1297.

Their offices are open from 8 am to 5 pm (Eastern Time). In addition to backcountry camping, you can find numerous established campgrounds within the park’s boundaries.

Pro Tip: When entering the Smoky Mountains, make sure to Avoid This Entrance to Smoky Mountains National Park at All Costs.

Is Camping in the Smoky Mountains Free? 

All overnight camping in the Smoky Mountains requires reservations and permits. You must visit the park’s backcountry permit website to make your reservations, pay fees, and print your permit before camping. If you’re planning to camp in one of the established campgrounds, you can make reservations through

Forest in Smoky Mountains National Park
Camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is quite affordable in comparison to other national parks.

How Much Does It Cost to Camp At Great Smoky Mountains National Park? 

While some national parks have outrageous fees for camping, Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not. Their permits for backcountry camping are $4 per night, per person. You’ll need to plan accordingly to use one of the backcountry shelters.

If you prefer to stay in established campgrounds, there are ten options within the national park. Prices range from $17.50 to $27 per night. The park offers a mixture of sites, from tent-only to areas large enough for large 40’ RVs. Camping is a great way to spend several days experiencing all that this park offers.

Will I Be Able to Camp in the Smoky Mountains This Summer Without Reservations? 

Campsites in the Smoky Mountains are a hot ticket in the summer. If you come to the area without reservations, there’s a good chance that you will struggle to find a campsite. A few of the campgrounds in the national park require year-round reservations, but others require seasonal reservations between March and November.

What Is the Busiest Season in the Smoky Mountains? 

According to the National Park Service, there are two hectic times of year in the Smoky Mountains. The busiest times are typically mid-summer and the entire month of October. However, the area can still be very congested during the off-season. Traffic delays and lines are a side effect of the park welcoming more than 14 million guests.

Visiting the park during the week during the off-season can help you avoid the crowds. Any time schools are out for breaks, expect the tourist numbers to increase and the trails to be more crowded.

Pro Tip: Make sure to keep an out for these Dangerous Creatures in the Smoky Mountains.

Is Gatlinburg Crowded?

The city of Gatlinburg is a top-rated tourist destination. Driving from one side of the town to the other can take a considerable amount of time as traffic delays are consistent no matter when you visit.

The tourist portion of Gatlinburg makes it easy to walk from shop to shop and enjoy the sights and sounds. However, don’t expect to have the sidewalks to yourself or be able to walk into a restaurant and find a table. 

Is Smoky Mountain Camping in the Summer Worth It?

Camping in the Smoky Mountains in the summer is a great time to do it. If you can snag a reservation for a week or a long weekend, you’ll have plenty of time to make memories.

Whether you want to experience the park on foot or do a driving tour, the beautiful landscapes will help you pass the miles. Be on the lookout for elk and bear that frequent the area and make sure you store your food appropriately while camping in bear country.

Have you ever been camping in the Smoky Mountains? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: