There’s way more than country music, Elvis impersonators, and BBQ in Tennessee – the state happens to house one of the best national parks in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The ‘Smokies’ offer up some epic vistas, thick forests, brilliant fall colors, stunning waterfalls, and an abundance of wildlife—perfect for you next family vacation. Hike, camp, tag some peaks, and enjoy this southern gem of a national park asap!
Alum Cave Trail is one of the most popular trails in the area. Trust us on this one – give it a whirl. The trail is filled with some pretty crazy geological features and epic views for days. You can do a 4.4-mile round-trip hike to the incredible Alum Cave Bluffs or take an 11-mile round-trip hike to the summit of Mount LeConte. At 6,593 feet, Mount LeConte is the third highest peak in the Smokies—bragging rights allowed. You’ll also find the LeConte Lodge on the top, a perfect escape for those wishing to spend the night in a rustic cabin under the stars.
Recommended daypack: Kelty Redwing 44
Cades Cove Loop Road is a popular year-round destination. Located just around the corner from the Cades Cove Campground, it is a perfect spot for base camp for a weekend of camping with the fam. The 11-mile loop is filled with homesteads from back in the day, hiking trails, tons of wildlife, and of course, epic scenery. You can drive, run, walk, or bike the loop—your call. Black Bears are known to roam the cove, especially in the spring. Seeing a mother bear and cubs playing or foraging for food is common, and you may also see deer, turkeys, coyotes and even a bobcat from time to time. Respect the park rules and stay back 150 feet from all wildlife.
Recommended child carrier: Kelty Pathfinder 3.0
The Little River Trail is located in the Historic Elkmont district of the park. Over the years, Elkmont has been everything from a pioneer Appalachian community to a logging community. The area was also once a vacation resort for the rich and famous of the surrounding cities. Known for such spots as the Wonderland Hotel, Millionaire’s Row, Daisy Town, and Society Hill, the remnants of the past are now being demolished by the park. Although some structures will stay, it’s worth a visit in the near future to see how good royalty once had it in these parts.
Recommended child carrier: Tour 1.0
Elkmont Campground is just eight miles from Gatlinburg, TN inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The campground is the largest and busiest in the park by far. Surrounded by river access, hiking trails, crazy firefly antics, and mind-boggling history, its worth the fight for a camp spot.
In the past, the historical district of Elkmont was a pioneer community, a location for heavy logging, and even a vacation resort for the elite. Today you’ll find remnants to all of the above – some hidden, some out in the open. It is said by the locals that you can still hear the laughter of the children that frolicked along the river and spent summer nights catching fireflies—maybe that’s the moonshine talking, who knows. The campground offers 211 campsites and a small camp store where you can pick up a few items, pay $1 to charge your electronics, or just simply grab a drink before heading out to explore the park.
Recommended gear: Kelty Gunnison 4 Tent
The Smokemont Campground has a slew of nearby attractions sure to keep the whole family in a good mood. Mingus Mill, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Mountain Farm Museum, The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, the Oconaluftee Indian Village, and Qualla Arts and Crafts are all located within 6 miles of the campground. Crying babies, sibling fights, arguments over lunch – all can be quelled from the list above!
With trails located nearby and Highway 441 giving you access to other areas of the park or a last-ditch ticket out of here, you can’t go wrong with a camping trip at Smokemont. Within less than a mile from the campground, you’ll find a general store, horse rentals, wildlife views, and river access. The campground offers 137 sites and a group camping area with three sites. Smokemont is also one of the few Great Smoky Mountains National Park campgrounds that offers year-round camping.
Recommended gear: Kelty Mesh Lowdown Chair
The Deep Creek Campground is just minutes from the super-cool and emerging town of Bryson City, North Carolina. The campground is situated along one of the most popular creeks in the park. Just outside of the park entrance you’ll find tubing rental spots, the perfect activity for a hot summer day in the Smokies.
The campground offers both single and group campsites. Less than a mile from the campground, you’ll find historical spots, hiking trails with waterfalls, horseback riding trails and large picnic spots, including a picnic pavilion that even takes reservations if you can believe that. Clean restrooms, drinking water, and aa camp host and well-maintained campsites round out the package – win win!
Recommended gear: Kelty Folding Cooler
These aforementioned trails and campgrounds are just a few of our favorites – the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a nearly-endless supply of places to spend a weekend – throw your fam in a wagon already and get out there!