From the Smokies to Dollywood, Gatlinburg is a getaway for families and nature lovers.
Home to moonshine joints, mountain coasters, and Ripley’s museums, Gatlinburg is a kitschy explosion of excess bumping against the slightly embarrassed Great Smoky Mountains. Bordering US 441 at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this gateway city is not low-key. But the nearby foothills and countryside? Different story. Families, couples, and solos flock to secluded cabins, campsites, glamping tents, and RV parks backdropped by misty peaks and tumbling creeks. Woodsy campgrounds in the national park also await. In other words, nearby campsites feel remote, but when it’s time for an exuberant pancake or a shot of apple pie moonshine, there’s joy in knowing that Gatlinburg is just minutes away,
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Of the park’s nine developed campgrounds, three are within 35 miles of Gatlinburg: Elkmont, Cosby, and Cades Cove. All have tent sites, RV sites, and restrooms, but you won't find electric hook-ups or showers. Elkmont, the largest, earns raves for forested sites along Little River and James Creek. Thirty minutes northeast of the city, Cosby offers more seclusion. Cades Cove borders historic homesteads and wildlife-filled meadows in a lush valley.
Cherokee National Forest
This vast woodland sprawls across along the slopes of the Great Smokies on the eastern fringes of Tennessee. There are more than 30 developed campgrounds across the forest and most can accommodate RVs. Hiking, rafting, mountain biking, and wildflower spotting are popular activities. There’s also camping at Roan Mountain State Park, famous for its cabin rentals, high-altitude meadows, and rhododendron blooms in June.
With a rafting company, an old-school burger joint, an Appalachian heritage museum, and plenty of open space, Townsend is a slow-speed town with pockets of hustle and bustle. It’s also the closest town to Cades Cove and its scenic loop road—just 10 miles away.
Gatlinburg is popular year-round, but its high season is in spring through late fall. Campgrounds in the national park ae busy during the Wildflower Pilgrimage in April and the synchronous firefly display in late May and early June. Public and private campsites around Gatlinburg are packed from June through August, when kids are out of school. Campgrounds fill up again in October when the mountain foliage blazes with color. For pleasant temperatures and smaller crowds, visit in early June or the month of September.