Camping is a time-honored activity at many national parks, but visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park have ample opportunity to camp out in their recreational vehicles. So-called frontcountry camping might not exactly be roughing it — the park’s 10 modernized campsites feature amenities like cold running water and flush toilets, and three of them (Cades Cove, Smokemont, Elkmont) come equipped with five-amp electrical hookups — but it makes the great outdoors accessible and hassle-free. Select sites may be reserved online ahead of time. Visitors should review the important regulations that apply to frontcountry and group campsites. Picnicking pavilions are also available.
The Great Smoky Mountains backcountry is a natural choice for visitors looking to get in touch with their wild side. A system of shelters and designated campsites provide accommodation to backcountry campers. Free permits are required for all backcountry camping in the park, and reservations are required for all shelters and select campsites. Reservations can be made up to one month in advance.
Because of the reservation system, prospective campers should be prepared to outline their entire trip with the backcountry office. This accounts for availability of sites and helps the park keep track of how many people are in the backcountry at a given time. Travelers should check conditions before their trip, and must abide by all backcountry regulations, or face fines of up to $5,000 per violation. Activities such as hunting, defacing or cutting trees, and bathing with soap in streams are explicitly prohibited.
With more than 2,100 miles of streams within its borders, Great Smoky Mountain National Park has a reputation for great fishing. Healthy trout activity and challenging fishing terrain draw veteran fly fishers from far and wide. The park’s trout population includes native brook trout as well as brown and rainbow trout, which have been introduced to the region. Fishing is permitted all year in open waters, but anglers must possess a valid license and respect catch counts: 5 trout or smallmouth bass (any combination of species) and 20 rock bass.
Horseback riding and other horse-drawn recreational activities like hayrides, carriage and wagon rides are available in Great Smoky Mountain National Park through several concession stables from mid-March through late November. Guided horse rides last about 45 minutes and are priced from $30 per person. Ranger-led hayrides are also offered through the Cades Cove Riding Stables.
Since Great Smoky Mountain National Park is very car-friendly, biking can be a little hazardous. Narrow roads and steep inclines add to the challenge as well. The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road is the best option in the park for road cyclists. There aren’t any designated mountain biking trails in the park, but the Gatlinburg and Oconaluftee River trails are open to bikes. Mountain bikers in search of additional terrain should check out nearby national parks and recreation areas, like Nantahala National Forest.