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How To Camp Near the Smoky Mountains for Free

If the Smoky Mountains are on your travel itinerary, you may want to know how to locate free spots to camp in the area. With rising campground and RV park fees, finding no-cost spots to enjoy nature is becoming more appealing to campers.

This region can get really crowded during peak season. Because of the large number of tourists, reserved campground sites can be difficult to obtain, not to mention expensive in some cases.

Luckily, we found some free camping options for you to check out on your next trip to the Smokies.

Let’s check them out!

Why Do People Love to Camp in the Smoky Mountains?

Visitors flock to the Smoky Mountains to hike nearly 1,000 miles of trails, including the famous Appalachian Trail. The area has abundant wildlife, including black bears and elk. Birdwatchers can enjoy a variety of creatures, including different breeds of sparrows and warblers. 

In the fall, people travel from around the world to see the leaves change color. And during the winter, it becomes a snowsport wonderland. 

The temperate summer weather along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina makes it perfect for campers. We think you’ll love camping in the region as much as we do; you can even bring your dog. 

Pro Tip: Avoid committing any of these 7 Deadly Sins of Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains.

When Is the Best Time to Camp in the Smoky Mountains?

From April to October, the weather in the Smoky Mountains rarely dips below freezing at night or rises above 80 degrees during the day, making for a pleasant trip. From November to February, temperatures can drop to as low as 20. So if you’ve winterized your RV, you can plan your trip during these colder months.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park gets over 12 million visitors annually, mostly during summer and fall. If you want to avoid crowds, skip this area in July, August, and October. 

Consider camping before Memorial Day to see some wildflowers in the spring. If you plan your trip in the winter, you’ll get a unique experience with frozen waterfalls and snow-covered landscapes. These options will also help you avoid crowds. 

View of Smoky Mountain National Park
Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the USA.

What Is Free Camping?

Stick to your budget and consider saving money by choosing free camping on your next trip. You might need to pass on most amenities, but you’ll love the zero-dollar price tag. Some people may refer to it as dry camping or boondocking.

Unlike a traditional campground, these areas don’t usually have designated sites or standard amenities. You might not get a perfectly flat parking spot, a picnic table, or access to a bathroom, but you’ll have plenty of nature all around you. If you have no problem skipping these perks, you might consider boondocking on your next camping trip. 

Can You Camp for Free in the Smoky Mountains?

The national forest lands throughout this mountain range have several dispersed camping areas. If you have an RV, you’ll want to double-check the location’s rules to see if you can bring your rig because some places only allow cars. In those areas, you’ll need to have a tent to camp in. 

Once you find a campsite that allows RVs, read some reviews to make sure yours will fit in the spot. Most sites can be found tucked amongst trees along forest roads.

While some locations may have a fire ring, you likely won’t have other amenities. Maybe a pit toilet if you’re lucky. Bring everything you’ll need for your trip, including food and water.  

Where Can You Camp for Free Near the Smoky Mountains?

You can camp in the national forest land surrounding the Smoky Mountains for free. Pisgah National Forest, located in the eastern portion of the range, has quick access to Asheville, North Carolina. 

On the western side of the range, you’ll find Nantahala National Forest. If you can’t locate a free spot here, you’ll still probably be able to find one for $20 or less. Other areas with free camping include the Cherokee National Forest and Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area. 

Locals especially recommend camping at Lake Santeetlah. The free spots here provide a quiet resting place to relax and enjoy nature. You won’t have any hookups, but it is accessible to RVs. 

Watching sunrise while camping
Save money by camping for free in The Smokies.

How Do You Find Free Campsites? 

Once you narrow down which region of the Smokies you’d like to camp in, you’ll need to figure out where to go. Luckily, several websites and apps have the info you need. 

Try using the Campendium website or phone app to locate your next free camp spot. Zoom in on your desired area and use the filters “all public lands” and “free” to see your options. In a squeeze, you can also use Campendium to find somewhere to park your rig for the night, like a Walmart or rest stop. 

Several other sites offer similar information. The Dyrt and iOverlander are additional resources to help you locate free camping in the Smoky Mountains. We find the reviews left by other campers especially helpful in deciding which sites can accommodate our rig. 

Pro Tip: Spend the night here at the Best Free Camping Near the Smoky Mountains.

What Do You Need to Camp for Free in the Smoky Mountains? 

If you’ve grown accustomed to campgrounds with an on-site store to fulfill your needs, heading out into the woods with no amenities may seem daunting. We have some tips for what to bring because you won’t be able to easily pick up items you may have forgotten.

Most importantly, you’ll want to bring plenty of potable water. You may even want to pack a filter if you plan to stay near a stream or lake so you can replenish your supply.

Also, bring along a first aid kit and jumper cables for safety. And if you’re tent camping, don’t forget to include a small shovel to dig your bathroom hole. 

For day-to-day use, you’ll want to bring along your cooking supplies and extra fuel. Keep warm at night with plenty of layers, an appropriate sleeping bag, and a comfy pillow.

Head Out Into Nature in the Smoky Mountains

If you don’t need a bunch of amenities to enjoy a camping trip, you’ll definitely want to check out free camping in the Smoky Mountains. You’ll get to see wildlife and spend time in the woods while hiking in the region. 

Consider planning your trip around the crowds for the most enjoyable experience. But no matter when you decide to go and however you decide to camp, we think you’ll love the Smokies.

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: