Deep within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at an elevation of 2,200 feet, the Smokemont Campground is a must-see for anyone wanting a true Smoky Mountains camping experience.
Located along Newfound Gap road, just a few miles from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and myriad other activities and attractions, Smokemont offers a perfectly secluded spot for camping in Cherokee NC.
The Smokemont Campground itself is arguably one of the best Great Smoky Mountains campgrounds.
You could spend days just enjoying the beautiful sights, smells, and sounds of the surrounding forest from your campsite. Enjoy a stroll around the campsite loops and wander along the Bradley Fork of the Oconaluftee River.
Without leaving the campground at all, you can find 3 great hiking trails, which is ideal for days when you don’t feel like driving and just want to explore the area.
Camping in the Smokies was high on our bucket list, and it didn’t take long to realize Smokemont Campground offered some of the best camping in the Smoky Mountains of NC.
We especially loved the rushing creek right by our tent. It was great to wake up head out on one of the trails after breakfast, knowing that after the hike we would land right back at our campsite and not have to drive “home.”
Read on to learn why we think the Smokemont Campground offers some of the best camping near Cherokee NC, with loads of wildlife and wildflowers and miles of adventure right at your feet!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Great Smoky Mountains Campgrounds to Visit
Smokemont Campground in Cherokee NC Info
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: NPS.gov
SEASON: Open year-round
CAMPING FEES: $25/night
Driving Directions from Asheville
Head out of Asheville on the I-240 West. In 1.7 miles, keep right at the fork to continue onto I-26 E. In 3.2 miles, take exit 31B to merge onto I-40 W. After 18.3 miles, stay in the right 2 lanes to take exit 27 for US-74 toward US-19/US 23/Clyde/Waynesville/Maggie Valley/Franklin/Murphy/Atlanta.
In about 4 miles, take exit 103 onto US-19 toward Maggie Valley/Cherokee. In 0.4 miles, continue onto US-19 S/Dellwood Rd/Dellwood City Rd. Then, in 4.8 miles, continue straight onto US-19 S/Soco Rd.
Stay on this road for 18.9 miles before turning right onto Acquoni Rd. In 0.6 miles you will come to a traffic circle. Continue straight at the traffic circle to stay on Acquoni Rd. In 1.2 miles turn right onto US-441 N.
When you pass the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the right, go on for another 3 miles and turn right onto Smokemont Rd/Smokemont Campground Rd. In 190 ft turn left to stay on Smokemont Rd/Smokemont Campground Rd. The campground is on the left.
Directions from Downtown Cherokee
From downtown Cherokee NC, take US-441 N/Newfoundound Gap Road. When you pass the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the right, go on for another 3 miles and turn right onto Smokemont Rd/Smokemont Campground Rd. In 190 ft turn left to stay on Smokemont Rd/Smokemont Campground Rd. The campground is on the left.
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Smokemont Campground Amenities
One of the larger Cherokee campgrounds, Smokemont offers 142 campsites. There are spaces for RVs and tent camping, as well as three spots for group camping.
Although it has no electrical hookups, Smokemont is one of the most popular Smoky Mountain RV campgrounds.
Section F is reserved for RVs only, while sections A, B, C, and D may be used by RVs and tent campers alike. Generators may not be used in sections A, B, and C from mid-May to October.
Each individual campsite has a tent pad, picnic table, and fire ring, as well as space for parking. There are only 6 people allowed per campsite, so if your party is larger you’ll need to book additional sites.
Group sites come with the same amenities, but allow 12 people per site and must be reserved in advance.
The campground has staff onsite during the season, and can be found in the Campground Office near the entrance. There’s also a US National Parks Ranger Station nearby.
Note that you won’t be able to get cell reception or an internet connection here. There are also no shower facilities, but there are flushing toilets, and there’s always the creek if you need to freshen up.
You can buy firewood and ice on-site, but there is no other camp shop to speak of. There is a little store at the corner when you turn off Newfound Gap Road where you can pick up some basic camping gear.
These Cherokee North Carolina campgrounds are long and slender, following the contours of the Bradley Fork. So the cool water is always close by if you want to take a refreshing dip in summer.
If you want to set up your tent right beside the river, choose sites numbered in the 30s or 40s. You can also check out the Smokemont Campground Map to find the best spot for you.
Camping in Section B puts you closest to the Nature Trail, and at a trailhead for the Smokemont Loop Trail. Camp at the far end of Section D to be closer to the Bradley Fork Trail and the other end of the Smokemont Loop.
Note that their reservation season lasts from May 15 to October 31st, and all Smokemont Campground reservations can be made at Recreation.gov.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Campgrounds in the North Carolina Mountains
Smokemont is one of the most popular campgrounds near Cherokee NC for good reason. Just a few days of exploring the hiking trails around this campground will give you a full Smoky Mountains camping experience.
We enjoyed just sitting by the Bradley Fork, listening to the gurgling creek and the sounds of the forest. As we wandered along the Fork, we came across the most rustic, but perfectly placed log bridge.
If you cross the bridge and head straight into the depths of the forest, you’ll find yourself on the Nature Trail.
This short 3/4-mile loop is fun for the whole family, taking you past towering hardwoods, tangled rhododendrons, and other wildflowers. You can feel “lost” in the woods without any real worries at all.
As far as Great Smoky Mountains National Park campgrounds go, Smokemont is well known by campers and non-campers alike. You don’t need to be staying at the site to make the most of the trailheads there.
The Smokemont Loop trail is a little more of a commitment. This moderate hike is about 6 miles long and promises memorable views of the mountain range.
Expect to meet horseback riders along this trail, but no dogs. Leave your canine friends behind if you want to take this trail.
The Bradley Fork Trail, at the far end of the campground, is about an 8-mile hike. The first couple of miles of this trail is along a gravel path making it reasonably accessible to most hikers.
From this trail, you can follow the sign to backcountry campsite # 50 and hike along Chasteen Creek Trail until you reach Chastine Creek Cascade. A well worth it destination.
Smokemont Camping Fees
If you want to visit one of the most popular campgrounds in the Smokies, all individual campsites are $25, while the group sites are $40. Each site may contain only two vehicles, or one vehicle with a trailer. Note that there is overflow parking available at the far end of the campsite in section D, and on the Bradley Fork side of section B.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
7 Things to Do Near Cherokee NC
The beautiful thing about Cherokee NC camping adventures is that there’s an endless list of things to do nearby.
While searching for campgrounds near Cherokee, we were so inspired by all of the things we were told we shouldn’t miss, both within the National Park and Qualla Boundary.
We honestly felt like we could spend a month exploring the surrounding area (including the mountain town of Bryson City NC) and only scratch the surface.
That’s not to say that we didn’t make a good dent in our checklist during our Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping adventure.
It just means that we have to go back soon to work on it some more!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Cherokee NC & the Qualla Boundary
1. The Oconaluftee Visitor Center
The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is a great place to stop to ask for directions, find more things to add to your to-do list, or get advice on the best campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains.
But as soon as you get there, you’ll realize that this place is well worth a visit in its own right.
Inside the building, you can read about the Appalachian history of the Oconaluftee Valley and the Smokies.
Behind the Visitor Center, you will find the Mountain Farm Museum, a wonderful living history attraction.
There you can wander around a preserved homestead from the 19th century and get a feel for how people in the Blue Ridge Mountains lived in the years after the Civil War.
Be sure to walk down to the river behind the Mountain Farm Museum to see some Smoky Mountains Elk!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
2. Mingus Mill
Built in 1886 and used commercially until the 1930s, Mingus Mill is now a protected historic site that still stands in its original location.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitors can see this special gristmill, which uses a water turbine to power the machinery that grinds the corn (instead of the more traditional water wheel).
Mingus Mill is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily from mid-March until mid-November. A miller will demonstrate how the machinery works and explain the process of grinding corn into cornmeal.
Cornmeal and other local fare (such as jams, jellies, and pancake mix) can also be bought in the mill house.
READ MORE: 10 Best Cherokee NC Restaurants for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
3. Clingman’s Dome
Towering at 6.643 feet, Clingmans Dome is both the tallest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains and the highest point on the Appalachian Trail.
But it doesn’t come without a bit of a hike! Visitors can park near the top of the mountain and check out the Visitor Center before heading uphill for 0.5 miles to an observation tower that provides 360° views.
This 45-foot-high tower was built in 1959, with a spiraling concrete ramp leading to the top of the tower, which offers exceptional overlooks of the surrounding scenery.
If you aren’t able to make that challenging half-mile hike up to the tower, don’t worry. The views from the parking lot alone are equally breathtaking, but not quite so literally.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabins in Cherokee NC for Rent
4. Best Hikes Near Cherokee NC
The Newton Bald Trailhead is just half a mile from Smokemont Campground. Just take a left onto Newfound Gap Road, and the trailhead will be on your right.
This strenuous hiking trail is over 10 miles long, but rewards you with jaw-dropping views from the bald and beautiful North Carolina wildflowers in the spring and summer.
If you turn right onto Newfound Gap Road, travel 2.5 miles, and turn left onto Collins Creek Road, you’ll find a trailhead for a really short-but-sweet hike. This one-mile loop trail is perfect for families and picnickers.
From the campground, you can also head back to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to find the Oconaluftee River Trail.
This 3-mile hike is very accessible, with just a couple of uphill parts. It’s used by walkers and runners alike, all enjoying the verdant forest canopy and the views of the Oconaluftee River.
READ MORE: The 10 Hiking Essentials Packing List for the Blue Ridge Mountains
5. Best Waterfalls Near Cherokee NC
Head out from the Smokemont Campground along the Bradley Fork Trail to the Chasteen Creek Cascade. Follow the trail for about 1.7 miles before turning right onto Chasteen Creek Trail.
This is about a 3-mile in-and-out hike. Once you’re on Chasteen Creek Trail, you’ll come to a horse-hitching post, after which you’ll reach the side trail to the cascades.
If you turn right on Newfound Gap Road from Smokemont and travel 3.8 miles, you’ll come across Cliff Branch Falls. It can be viewed from the roadside without even having to hike.
Travel about 10 miles from the campground to visit Mingo Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains. Here water tumbles dramatically down a 120-foot, moss-covered rock face.
Though the trek is only 1/4-mile each way, it involves a lot of steps, so it is considered a moderate hike.
READ MORE: The 50 Best North Carolina Waterfalls to Visit
6. Newfound Gap
Located at an elevation of 5,046 feet, Newfound Gap replaced Indian Gap in 1872 as the lowest pass through the Smoky Mountains. Swiss geographer Arnold Henry Guyot discovered this by measuring air pressure differences.
If you’re traveling along Newfound Gap Road, taking a moment to marvel at Newfound Gap is truly a must.
You can see the Rockefeller Memorial, which commemorates a sizable donation from the Rockefeller Foundation. This money helped complete the land acquisition that ultimately created the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Appalachian Trail in North Carolina crosses over Newfound Gap there as well, so this could be your chance to take a walk along the famous trail.
As with many spots in the Smokies, there are also spectacular scenic views to behold.
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7. Cades Cove
Cades Cove is an open valley that offers visitors the opportunity to view the local flora and fauna. Wildlife such as deer, elk, and black bear are often seen in this area, as well as throngs of wildflowers.
A loop allows for vehicles to tour the area, and there are several trailheads, 3 of which lead to waterfalls— Lynn Camp Prong Cascades, Laurel Falls, and Abrams Falls.
The cove was settled by Europeans somewhere between 1818 and 1821.
There are a number of buildings dating from that period along the loop, including churches, a gristmill, barns, and log cabins. Visitors can pick up a self-guided tour booklet at the entrance.
For another great Cherokee NC camping option, check out the Cades Cove Campground. Though there are other fine campgrounds nearby, this is one of the most popular Smoky Mountain campgrounds to visit. -by Emma Gallagher; lead image via Canva