Tent Camping 101: Frontcountry Campsites in the Great Smoky Mountains

There is more than one way to go tent camping in the Smoky Mountains. There are a handful of great campgrounds outside of the national park with all sorts of community features and useful amenities, but the GSMNP itself is host to ten different frontcountry campgrounds that are ideal if you're looking to spend the night in the woods without sacrificing too much comfort. Unlike the backcountry, these campgrounds have plenty of features to make tent camping a bit more cozy.

Choosing Your Campground

Each campground is a little bit different. The frontcountry campgrounds in the national park have bathrooms with flushable toilets and running water and an additional sink station for cleaning your dishes. All but two of them have group sites available, some have dump stations for RVs, and Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont each have their own store.

Smoky Mountain Campgrounds

What does a campground store have to offer? It differs, but the most useful thing you can buy is firewood. The Cades Cove campground is unique in that it offers bike rentals during peak season; the word is, this store has the best ice cream, too. However, if there's not a store at your campground, it's usually not too far of a drive to get what you need. The Cosby campground, for example, has several places to buy treated firewood and groceries just a couple miles down the road.

Choosing Your Campsite

Aside from the group campsites, the basic tent sites all include a 16x16 ft tent pad, a fire pit with a grill attached, and a picnic table. Up to six people are permitted to occupy a site at a time. When choosing your campsite, be sure to check the campground map for proximity to restrooms. Tent camping in the Smoky Mountains is a lot easier with a flushable toilet and sinks nearby! It also makes cleanup after meals a lot faster with quick access to a utility sink attached to the restroom areas.

Preparing coffee sewn into filters and boiled over the fire
Preparing coffee sewn into filters and boiled over the fire

Packing Responsibly

One of the most important things to consider before tent camping in the Smoky Mountains is proper food storage. Whether you're bringing your own grill and giant coolers of food or just planning to keep it simple with mason jar meals in a single skillet, know that when any of it is not in use, it must be stored in your car. And never store food in your tent.

GSM Policies
You are in wildlife habitat. When not in use all food containers, coolers, equipment used to prepare food, all scented items and water containers must be stored inside a vehicle (preferably in the trunk).Campground Courtesy Notice
Luxury tent camping in the Smoky Mountains

What To Bring For Your Tent

What's great about tent camping in the Smoky Mountains frontcountry is that you can bring as much of the comforts of home as you'd like (if it fits in your car). If you want something a little more than a sleeping bag in a tent, there are plenty of ways to upgrade your space with just a little more effort. Extra pillows & blankets are a great addition to add some versatility to your tent space. A small pop up table provides a useful alternative to scavenging through your belongings in a pile on the floor.

nighttime tent camping in the Smoky Mountains

Going The Extra Mile

More items that can improve your Smoky Mountains tent camping experience: blow up beds, solar lights, storage bins that double as usable surfaces, a battery powered fan, solar powered chargers, floor coverings for outside the entrance of your tent, oven mits and tongs for cooking over the fire, kindling like empty toilet paper rolls, and S hooks and carabiners. Of course you can get pretty close to luxury camping depending on what you decide to bring!

Tent Camping In The Smoky Mountains: Rules & Regulations

  • Campsite Limitations: Maximum occupancy of a campsite is six people, two tents with two vehicles OR one tent and a trailer or motor home OR one vehicle and one trailer or motor home.
  • Parking: Park in designated parking spaces only. All wheels of a motor vehicle or trailer must remain on paved surfaces. Overflow parking space, if available, is designated on the campground map or can be identified by the campground host.
  • Fire: Campfires are permitted in fire grills only. DO NOT leave a fire unattended. Collect only dead and down wood for fires. Only heat-treated firewood which is in its original packaging and bears a certification seal from USDA or state agency may be brought into the park.
  • Pets: Pets must be restrained on a leash (6' maximum) and attended at all times. Pets are not permitted on trails. Pet waste should be disposed of with the garbage. For more information, please see Are Dogs Allowed In The National Park?
  • Preserving Natural Features: The injuring of vegetation by cutting, breaking or nailing is prohibited.
  • Leave No Trace: Clean up after yourself. Leave nothing that you brought with you, and take nothing that was there before you arrived. See Great Smoky Mountains Rules & Federal Policies.
  • Wildlife: Never feed or approach a bear or any other wildlife. If a bear follows or approaches you, stand your ground. Do not run. Make yourself look large and throw rocks or sticks at the bear. Do not throw food scraps or trash in fire rings. Dispose of all trash in bearproof dumpsters.

WARNING: Willfully approaching a black bear within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces a bear, is illegal in the park. Violation of this federal regulation can result in fines and arrest. Use binoculars, telephoto lens, or a spotting scope to view the animals. [NPS]

Ready to get started tent camping in the Smoky Mountains? You can browse campgrounds and book your campsite using the online portal on the Recreaction.gov website. For more information on types of camping, check out GSM backcountry camping, RV resorts, and other campgrounds outside the national park.

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