BEST AREAS FOR WILDERNESS CAMPING
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
275,900 acres in North Carolina (520,000 acres total). This spectacular National Park lies along the western border of North Carolina, and half of the park is in Tennessee. It’s the most heavily visited National Park in the entire country.
Consisting of an ancient mountain range, the Great Smokies are among the loftiest and most massive mountains in the East. Top elevation here is 6,643-foot Clingman’s Dome, second highest summit east of the Mississippi.
Sixteen other mountains stand over 6,000 feet. Included are some grassy, open balds. Panoramic views are common. Hundreds of miles of streams flow through the area, with many waterfalls. Most of the park consists of designated wilderness.
Flora and fauna are incredibly varied. There are conifers at higher elevations and deciduous forests below. Included are some old-growth stands. Among the wildlife are black bear, deer, wild boar, bobcat, and fox.
Activities: Backpacking and hiking are available on over 850 miles of trails, including a 69-mile segment of the Appalachian Trail (see entry page 224), which leads along the high ridgetops, and the 43-mile Lakeshore Trail paralleling enormous Fontana Lake.
Some trails are designated for horseback riding. Cross-country skiing is possible on trails here during the winter. Bike use is limited to roads. Fishing is also available. Hunting is prohibited.
Camping Regulations: A free permit is required in order to camp in the backcountry, and may be
obtained from any ranger station. It’s necessary to specify in advance where one will camp each night. Pets are not allowed.
Scores of designated campsites, including 18 shelters, are scattered throughout the park. All camping and campfires are restricted to these authorized locations.
Reservations are available for some of the shelters and campsites, and may be made by calling (615) 436-1231 up to one month in advance. Reservations are essential for sites which are in heavy demand, including those along the Appalachian Trail.
Permits must be picked up in person. Shelters may be used for one night only, whereas most other campsites are available for up to three nights. Group size is limited to a maximum of eight.
The park’s bears are known to be unusually aggressive in trying to obtain food from campers. Extra care should be taken to keep food properly hung and away from tents.
For Further Information: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, TN 37738; (615)436-5615.