Posted by Phil Rodgers in Smoky Mountains
Ask five different people and you'll probably get five different definitions of what qualifies as camping. For some, it's not truly a camping trip unless a tent is involved. For others, motoring about in a 40-foot RV with all the amenities is also considered camping.
The good news is there's no need to debate the issue. Anyone who participates in camping, regardless of their style or preference, is taking advantage of spending time outdoors, and that's a good thing. And as spring and summer offer us more opportunities to get some fresh air and play in nature, this is the perfect time to examine the many options that await anyone who plans to camp in the Great Smoky Mountains this year.
Let's start at the low-tech end. If tent camping is your thing, your best bet is to reserve a campsite in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ten frontcountry campgrounds can be found throughout the park, in both Tennessee and North Carolina. Some of the more popular ones include Cades Cove, Cosby, Elkmont and Look Rock. Guests can camp for up to two weeks, and each campground has restroom facilities with running water and flush toilets. Each site has a fire grate and a picnic table.
The park also has a number of backcountry sites, which do require that campers first obtain a permit. These sites are for backpackers who plan to access these remote areas by foot. One great advantage of both types of campsites is that they are very affordable. But reservations are required.
Moving up a level of sophistication brings us to trailer camping. Whether you're towing a pop-up, a teardrop or a fifth wheel or you're driving a 40-foot land cruiser of a motorhome, RVs definitely make the whole experience less primitive. Depending on your rig, you can enjoy amenities like kitchenettes with fridges and stoves, heat and air conditioning, full bathrooms, entertainment centers and much more.
Several of the campgrounds in the national park allow RV camping but not all of them do; you'll need to check the nps.gov website to verify. And also note that national park campsites do not have city water or electrical hookups, so if you have a trailer of some kind, be prepared to boondock (camp without hookups). Also, the campgrounds that do allow RV camping have a limited number of sites designated for that type of camping.
Otherwise, you might look into any number of commercial RV parks in the Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville areas. These typically come with full hookups, including water, electric, sewer and cable, and many of them have other amenities like laundry rooms, game rooms, fire pit areas and more. The down side here is that you'll typically pay a much higher price than you would in the national park, and the scenery often isn't as appealing - fewer trees and more fellow campers.
Finally, let's take a look at another option - glamping - which has become more popular in recent years. These are experiences that have some elements of primitive camping but are, for the most part, much more luxurious.
One company, for example, hosts its guests in tents - but we're talking huge canvas coverings that sleep as many as four guests, have private bathrooms and are tall enough for everyone to walk around without stooping or hunching over. Onsite amenities include guest dining facilities, fire pits with s'mores kits, live music, charging stations, yoga classes, kids' activities and more.
Other vendors that cater to glampers offer lodgings in structures like geodesic domes and teepees. In the end, it all comes down to personal preferences, budget, location and amenities.
And if you're interested in stopping by to see us at Goats on the Roof on your next visit, give us a call, and we can point you in the direction of camping options that aren't very far from our Pigeon Forge attraction.