The Best Camping Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee

The Best Camping Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee

As the primary gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg sees tons of campers and adventure-seekers each year. Campgrounds near Gatlinburg offer panoramic views, rushing rivers, and dazzling sunsets.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Check In – Check Out
2 Adults

About Camping Near Gatlinburg

Featuring attractions like the Gatlinburg Space Needle, an aerial tramway, and even a small ski resort, Gatlinburg combines the charm of a small mountain town with plenty of opportunities for bigtime adventure. Campgrounds near Gatlinburg range from sleepy, tree-covered sites to action-packed hotspots near trails and rivers galore. Taking in the views in the Great Smoky Mountains is just one of many reasons to go camping near Gatlinburg!

Top Campgrounds Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee

View More

Gatlinburg Camping FAQs

Gatlinburg is really the front door to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While a unique town in its own right that has plenty to offer, the biggest draw is easily the park. Camping near Gatlinburg, TN, is mainly linked to the park, though eastern Tennessee has lots of outdoor activities beyond just Great Smoky Mountains.

What’s the Best Time of Year to Go Camping Near Gatlinburg, TN?

Gatlinburg sees two peak seasons: the first in early summer and the second in fall. Camping near Gatlinburg, TN, is most popular during the earlier summer months, with June and July seeing peak visitorship to the nearby national park.

Fall in the Smoky Mountains is one of the best places in the South to see the leaves change, making October the usual second peak season, depending on when the leaves are at their peak each year.

What Are the Top Outdoor Activities Near Gatlinburg, TN?

With the national park right next door and three national forests within driving distance, hiking and camping near Gatlinburg, TN, are easily the most popular outdoor activities. With plenty of great backcountry sites in Great Smoky Mountains, backpacking is a close third.

When it comes to water sports, whitewater rafting tends to be the most popular choice in the Smokies region. The area has rapids from Class I to Class IV, meaning that most whitewater enthusiasts will find something that suits their skill level and beginners have easier options starting out.

What Are the National Parks Near Gatlinburg, TN?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 5 minutes

This is the biggest draw of Gatlinburg—its proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Great Smoky Mountains routinely sits toward the top of the charts in annual visitation, so expect plenty of crowds if you go in summer or fall. This is the only national park option for camping near Gatlinburg, TN, but it also offers well beyond what you can properly appreciate in just one visit!

Great Smoky Mountains doesn’t charge an entrance fee (technically, they cannot charge an entrance fee), so you won’t need a park pass. However, starting March of 2023, the park will charge for parking tags. Still, it’s well worth any fees required to visit this beautiful section of the high Appalachian Mountains.

Cherokee National Forest – 45 minutes

The Cherokee National Forest is the nearest national forest to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fact, the national park splits Cherokee National Forest into northern and southern sections. Together, those sections cover about 650,000 acres of public land. This is easily the closest option for free camping near Gatlinburg, TN, but Cherokee National Forest also offers established campsites and cabins if you don’t want to disperse camp.

Nantahala National Forest – 2 hours

Camping near Gatlinburg, TN is great in that you have easy access to the best outdoor spots in both eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The Nantahala National Forest is one of the more popular—and also the largest—of the four national forests in North Carolina. The Nantahala National Forest offers much outdoor adventure on its own, but it also holds three Wilderness Areas and two Wild and Scenic Rivers within its boundaries.

Pisgah National Forest – 2.5 hours

Of the four national forests in North Carolina, the Pisgah National Forest is easily the most popular. With over half a million acres to explore, the Pisgah National Forest has been a destination for outdoor adventurers of all stripes since its designation in 1916.

If you’re short on time and can only do one hike, make it the hike to the forest’s namesake, Mount Pisgah. The hike takes about 2.5 hours and stretches 4.5 miles. While not the flattest trail in the forest, it’s still considered to be of moderate difficulty, meaning most hikers should be able to enjoy it.

What Are Some of the Most Popular State Parks Near Gatlinburg, TN?

Seven Islands State Birding Park

While not an option for camping near Gatlinburg, TN, this is still a unique spot worth a visit. Designated as a state birding park, Seven Islands is home to more than 180 species of birds and is also a great stopping point for fishing enthusiasts, as the French Broad River borders the park. Seven Islands State Birding Park also allows dogs, as long as they’re on a leash.

Big Ridge State Park

Big Ridge State Park is the perfect place if you’ve only got one overnight to spend. Though this is a larger park coming in just under 3,700 acres, there are a short 15 miles of hiking trails, making it the perfect place for daytime exploration. However, with 50 campsites, this is still one of the best options for camping near Gatlinburg, TN. The park is densely covered by trees, meaning most of your hiking miles will be comfortably in the shade.

Norris Dam State Park

Norris Dam State Park covers more than 4,000 acres along the Norris Reservoir, which has existed since the construction of the Norris Dam in 1936. The park came to be just about two decades later after it was purchased by the state and is now split into eastern and western sections, with the east side of the park housing the historic district. In total, the two sides have 75 campsites that all offer water and electric hookups.

Panther Creek State Park

If you want to get some extra hiking miles in, Panther Creek is one of the best state parks for hiking and camping near Gatlinburg, TN. There are 17 routes that cover 30 miles of hiking trails here, with an even split between trails of easy and moderate difficulty.

For mountain bikers, there are 15 miles of biking trails that span ratings from easy to difficult. After a long day of hiking or biking, spend the night at one of Panther Creek’s 50 campsites with water and electric hookups, as well as grills, picnic tables, and even hot showers.

What Are the Top Attractions in Gatlinburg, TN?

Ober Gatlinburg

No matter what season you visit Gatlinburg, Ober Gatlinburg has to be on your bucket list. This adventure park offers tubing in the summer, beautiful aerial tram views for the fall, and great cold-weather skiing. Beyond those, there are plenty of year-round activities and amenities for the whole family at what’s easily the best amusement park in the Gatlinburg area.

Sugarlands Distilling Company

Tennessee is a land of great American whiskey, and Sugarlands Distilling Company continues that tradition. Not only is this a great place to sit down for a drink, but it’s also one of the area’s best live music venues. Even if whiskey isn’t your thing, there are tours of the facility that explain the fascinating inner workings of a distillery.


Anakeesta is a theme park in Gatlinburg that’s primarily focused on outdoor sports. With ziplining and a treetop play area, this is one of the most exciting, family-friendly places to get outside in the city. Anakeesta is a full-service stop, so you can stay all day at the attractions, shops, and restaurants.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Just across the way from Anakeesta is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. There are more than 10,000 exotic sea creatures housed here. With long glass hallways, families can feel like they’re walking right on the seafloor and see all sorts of creatures like stingrays, turtles, and sharks.

Where’s Some of the Best Food in Gatlinburg, TN?

Chesapeake’s Seafood and Raw Bar

With a beautiful river view, this seafood restaurant is a great dining spot year-round. The patio is heated, so winter-skiing travelers can still enjoy the fresh air in comfort. Located in downtown Gatlinburg, Chesapeake’s puts you in the center of the action and is the ideal place to start your night.

Cliff Top Restaurant at Anakeesta

If you’re already spending the day at Anakeesta, this is the perfect way to top it off. This cliff-top restaurant has one of the best views in the state. The menu and vibe here are generally upscale casual, with a menu that’s well-priced for the place and view. Overall, the offerings here are simple and centered around classic American fare.

The Greenbrier Restaurant

The self-proclaimed premier steakhouse in Gatlinburg, The Greenbrier backs up this claim with its in-house dry-aging and homey digs. Themed to look like a log cabin, this steak spot has an inventive menu of chef-driven favorites, though prime cuts are the main focus.

Cherokee Grill and Steakhouse

There’s a battle for the best steakhouse in Gatlinburg, and the winner here is the patrons. Whether you head to Greenbrier or Cherokee (or both), you’re treated to some of the best cuts of steak around in a comfortable, classic setting.

Camping near Gatlinburg, TN, puts you in the heart of Tennessee’s outdoor scene as well as the center of a great food and drink city. Gatlinburg, though mainly known for the Great Smoky Mountains, stands as a city worth visiting for its own sake.

Camp Guides