It’s hard to think of something that brings a wider diversity of options to mind than the topic of camping in East Tennessee.
If you’ll forgive the pun, camping in East Tennessee fits under a pretty big tent. Therefore, we have to drill down.
What is it that camping means to you and your family?
Are we talking about an RV park in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg? Is it a glorified parking lot with a picnic table and a community swimming pool?
Perhaps camping involves a hot tub, general store and a handful of trees that your family will use as a base of operations as they explore all Sevier County has to offer.
Or is it something with primitive sites without electric hookups or flush toilets? Are you looking for a way to rough it on the edges or in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Maybe for you, camping is even more hardcore. Specifically, something that requires a backcountry permit from the National Parks Service.
Maybe you’re camping out in a secluded area you can only access by hiking part of the Appalachian Trail.
Some people like their outdoor experience to come with a little pampering. With this in mind, there are a variety of glamping venues that have popped up in the region.
The options include tricked-out rental campers and cabins, treehouses and tee-pees.
There is something for everyone when camping in the Smokies.
And so, as we look at some of your East Tennessee camping options, subheads need subheads.
We will provide an overview, an under view and all the views we can think of as we discuss the state of camping in East Tennessee and around the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Part I: The base camp
To me, a base camp experience is where camping is part of the experience. But it isn’t the entire – or even the majority of the experience.
You can find a campground in Sevierville or Pigeon Forge, maybe the Little Pigeon River runs nearby. There are a few trees.
All the campsites come with fire rings and picnic areas.
You can get the free wi-fi password at the camp store. You’re outdoors, but at night the sky glows with a hint of neon. Even the primitive sites have access to full hookups.
Base camping is for people who prefer staying in their camper and cooking for themselves on vacation to staying in a hotel and dining out.
You can camp and also go on shopping trips, explore the theme parks and play a little putt putt without taking a day trip to do it.
Here are a few of our favorites:
12. Camp Riverslanding
Camp Riverslanding is located on Day Springs Road in Pigeon Forge.
It has consistently good reviews and is known for having good service with great prices. They offer premium, signature and riverside back-in options for campers.
It also has a pool and playground, a recreation hall, river tubing, fishing and more.
11. Camp Margaritaville RV Resort and Lodge
As a newer addition to the Smokies, Camp Margaritaville utilizes the comfort, freedom and affordability of RV life while combining it with the upscale amenities and established name of Margaritaville Resorts.
Camp Margaritaville RV Resorts is now open in the Pigeon Forge, right in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains.
It’s perfect for large families who have various styles of camping. If RVing is your thing, enjoy the RV Resort. But if your family members prefer a hotel-style, they can stay in The Lodge.
It’s the best of both worlds.
10. Sun Outdoors Pigeon Forge
Located in Sevierville, Sun Outdoors Pigeon Forge comes with all the usual amenities. It has a pool, splash pad and lazy river (which could have used a little more effort in the design) that keeps kids happy on an RV camping trip.
It’s not far from Pigeon Forge and the start of the strip. It’s a good base of operations if shopping and dining are a little heavier on the itinerary.
Additionally, Sun Outdoors offers an aerial adventure park.
The adventure park offers team-building activities and “wholesome fun” for family and friends.
It also has a challenging course with various levels for skill sets for kids aged nine and up.
9. Clabough’s Campground
I think, if we’re being honest, it’s a little hard to differentiate campgrounds at this level. The amenities are basically the same. No one is really reinventing the RV campground wheel.
Thus, it’s often about location.
And Clabough’s Campground, on Wears Valley Road, is right next to the heart of all the action in Pigeon Forge. It also offers quick access to Wears Valley, Townsend, Cades Cove and the wonders of the national park without having to battle a lot of Pigeon Forge traffic to get there.
With 325 camping sites plus cabin, cottage and vacation rentals, there’s a lot going on over the 50-acre property.
There are creek-side sites available as well as two swimming pools and a lazy river.
8. Riveredge RV Park
I like the location of this park. It’s right at the edge of Pigeon Forge before you head out of town towards Gatlinburg.
The pool is nice and the river is shallow enough for wading. For RV travelers, I suppose it could be a bit of a pain if you have to haul your RV all the way down the strip through heavy Pigeon Forge traffic.
But it’s not far from Dollywood Lane and Teaster Lane so I think getting in and out is easier.
With 175 campsites, it can feel a little crowded. However, you don’t do this kind of camping with the idea of getting a lot of space to yourself.
There are two bathhouses and a variety of camping cabins if you don’t feel like hauling an RV in. The pool is nice – which is important if you’re camping with kids.
I haven’t tried the new splash pad but it looks cool. They offered live music and free barbecue one of the days we were there, but this does not seem to be a regular event.
There is also a clubhouse at the park, and it features air hockey, pool and arcade games.
Some honorable mentions include Pine Mountain RV Park in Pigeon Forge and Pigeon Forge RV Resort.
Part II: RV camping but out in the, you know, woods
The following locations are a bit further off the beaten path.
7. Greenlee of May Springs Campground
There are a couple of Greenlee Campgrounds on Cherokee Lake. May Springs in Rutledge, TN is my favorite.
They have lots of sites with access to the water. We’ve hosted a couple of birthday parties there over the years.
There’s also a boat ramp and easy access for fishing and water sports. We like 4, 6, 8 and 9 because it’s close enough to walk to the beach area and it’s not far from the showers or restrooms.
Additionally, it’s secluded enough by the trees so you have some shade in the little cove.
On the other side, RV sites 111, 112, 113 and 114 are right next to a nice little pavilion you can use if it hasn’t been rented.
And there’s decent access to the water, though it should be noted it’s not an official beach. Greenlee is a great destination if RV camping is the goal of the trip.
6. Fancher’s Campground and Lakeside Rentals
Located on the shores of Douglas Lake in Dandridge, TN, Fancher’s offers all the usual amenities. The list includes a pool, boat dock and boat launch.
Fancher’s is a great camping spot for anyone who loves to fish, get out on the lake or run jet skis.
Cabins and lofts are also available for rent.
The truth is, there are Tennessee RV parks like Fancher’s or Greenlee up and down the TVA reservoir system from Johnson City down to the Georgia-Alabama state line.
In fact, there’s an East Tennessee RV park in just about every county in the region. Get out there, find the location you like and enjoy the lake life. There are a lot worse ways to spend a vacation.
Some honorable mentions in this category include Smoky Bear Campground in Gatlinburg, Caney Creek RV Resort in Harriman, Greenbrier Campground in Gatlinburg, Anchor Down RV Resort in Dandridge and Soaring Eagle Campground in Lenoir City.
Part III: Tennessee State Parks
In the shadow of the national park, Tennesseans keep a little secret: Some of the best experiences aren’t in the national parks at all.
The Volunteer State is blessed with dozens of state parks. And many have natural features that rival those in the Smokies.
As a side note, the state recently announced that almost all of the state park pools in East Tennessee are being closed for budgetary reasons.
Confirm your accommodations before you book.
Still, many of them feature a variety of camping options including places with an RV campground, tent sites or a primitive campground as well as cabins and even the occasional lodge.
I would personally be hard-pressed to consider that a lodge or cabin camping, but we can call it glamping.
There are even backcountry campsites in places like Norris Dam State Park, Fall Creek Falls and Big Ridge State Park.
Are you looking for a campsite relatively near to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge? Consider the following:
5. David Crockett Birthplace
You want to see the mountaintop in Tennessee upon which Davy Crockett was born?
Located in Limestone on the banks of the mighty Nolichucky River, the park is 105 acres centered on the birthplace of Davy Crockett, famed King of the Wild Frontier.
“This area includes an 18th-century living farmstead, with a replica cabin, limestone marker, and visitor center exhibits,” the official website explains.
Nearby is the Cherokee National Forest and his father’s Crockett Tavern Museum in Morristown.
4. The Nolichucky River
The Nolichucky is a relaxing setting that provides fishing opportunities for a variety of fish including, smallmouth and largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, redeye and catfish.
3. Rocky Fork State Park
According to the state website, Camping at Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park in Flag Pond, TN offers hikers the opportunity to fully explore the wild backcountry of the Rocky Fork watershed.
The park offers breathtaking waterfalls and overlooks to Appalachian Trail connections.
Certainly, you’ll find a true wilderness experience at this East Tennessee park.
2. Roan Mountain State Park
From the state website, located on TN Highway 143, at the base of the majestic 6,285-foot Roan Mountain, Roan Mountain State Park encompasses more than 2,000 acres dominated by rich hardwood forest along rugged ridges.
It can be chilly at those elevations, so dress accordingly, even in summer.
There’s even a little river, the Doe River, perfect for fishing and fun.
1. Panther Creek State Park
Located in Hamblen County on Cherokee Lake, Panther Creek offers great hiking and the scenic overlook is a perfect spot to picnic.
The campground is adjacent to the creek for wading.
However, this park does not currently offer great swimming options as the pool has been closed for several seasons due to the need for repairs.
How much does it cost to camp at Tennessee State Parks?
Camping in Tennessee State Parks remains a bargain.
According to the state website, it’s $14 for tent sites without electrical or water hookups and $25 for full hookups. Prices are subject to change.
Where can you camp for free in Tennessee?
Welcome to the world of dispersed camping.
According to the Forest Service website, for visitors wanting to get away from it all, dispersed camping outside of developed campgrounds is allowed throughout the Cherokee National Forest unless posted otherwise.
Camping is not allowed within 100 feet of water, trails, trailhead parking lots and developed recreation areas.
However, dispersed camping is free and no permits are required. Check with state websites on current regulations.
Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The National Park Service maintains 10 “front country” campground locations in the park. Front country camping essentially means developed campgrounds.
From Cades Cove to Elkmont, each campground has restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets.
Additionally, each campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. However, there are no showers, electrical or water hookups in the park.
Shower facilities are available in the communities surrounding the national park.
There are 5-amp electric outlets for medical equipment use only at Cades Cove, Elkmont and Smokemont.
Only Cades Cove and Smokemont are open year-round. Elkmont is cool, but also almost definitely haunted.
Do you have a favorite camping spot? We’d love to hear about it. Let us know in the comments!