Camping out in the Great Smoky Mountains
Spring Break is rapidly approaching, and you have countless options. Find a hotel in Florida, go on a Caribbean cruise, or head home to catch some Zzz’s and do some much needed laundry. Like many students, if you find yourself low on cash or just wanting to plan a trip somewhere besides the beach for a week long bikini party, why not opt for a rustic outdoors experience in the Tennessee wilderness? Camping is the perfect alternative to a pricey beach vacation, while still providing the “road trip with your closest friends” experience. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the entire country, nestled in the southwestern region of the Appalachian Mountain range. Located along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smokies are a heavily forested mountain range, rich with wildlife, waterfalls, streams, overlooks, plenty of campgrounds, and a thick layer of fog caught within the trees. The only resources one needs are a tent, gasoline, and a few staples, such as food, water, and s’mores.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers dozens of campgrounds for every type of traveler, and there is no fee to enter. Depending on what kind of experience desired, whether it is backpacking the Appalachian Trail, hiking and fishing, or just relaxing at a campfire with friends, each type of trip is easily accessible. For non-backpackers, the following are the Top Ten Front-country Campgrounds within the park:
4. Abram’s Creek.
5. Big Creek
7. Balsam Mountain
8. Cades Cove
9. Deep Creek
10. Look Rock
Out of the ten campgrounds, the recommended for a group of college-aged students, looking to spend a week or so with their friends camping, would have to be Elkmont. It is the largest campground in the park, and the closest to the town of Gatlinburg, which caters to the needs of tourists, a very convenient aspect if one feels the need to venture into civilization for any reason. The majority of Elkmont visitors are tent campers, who set up base along the Little River. If you do plan to stay at Elkmont, the nearby Alum Cave Bluff Trail is one of the most breathtaking hikes in the park. At about five miles round-trip, this trail travels along crystal streams and across bridges. Hikers climb through the Arch Rock, a large rock formation, and continue to Alum Cave, a jutting ledge that often is covered with hanging icicles. At the end of the path is the peak of Mount Le Conte, with an incredible overlook of the smoky forest below.
The campground offers fire pits for each site, picnic tables, and restrooms, including toilets, and cold running water. Outdoorsmen beware: The only showers are found in the surrounding communities outside of the national park. Reservations are required ahead of time for this specific campground, although many of the others are claimed on a first-come first-served basis. Although it is important to respect the quiet hours, beginning at 10:00pm until 6:00am, there is still plenty of time to socialize, play music, cook, and of course, alcohol is permitted for those of age. Even dogs are allowed, as long as they remain on a leash while on trails.
At a rate of 12-20 dollars per night, these campgrounds are not going to break the bank. And if boredom is generally associated with camping for you, be aware that there are plenty of adventurous activities at your fingertips. The national park offers biking and hiking trails, including bicycle rentals, incredible waterfalls and rock formations, fishing, picnicking, and the chance to see wildlife such as black bears, bobcats, deer, elk, and even salamanders. There is even the possibility of being able to tell people that you have hiked part of the Appalachian Trail.
The campground of Cosby is another location that is rather undiscovered by tourists, large in size, and near several streams, waterfalls, and trails. There may be more privacy and solitude at this site than the others. Smokemont can be found near the town of Cherokee, close to the North Carolina border, along the Oconaluftee River. Abram’s Creek is a local favorite because of its rustic atmosphere and quiet atmosphere. Although, these more low key, peaceful campgrounds may be less welcoming to large groups of college students. Big Creek is a much smaller, with widely spread campsites. This area caters more towards active backpackers looking for a silent place to rest away from the crowds between treks. Cades Cove and Deep Creek are the busier, more family oriented locations of the park. Lastly, Look Rock is an isolated site for those seeking refuge and solitude. Here, there are no activities within walking distance of the grounds.
If you are planning a spring break trip, instead of a weekend getaway later in the year, it is important to pack appropriately, because March tends to provide unpredictable weather, such as sunny warm days in the sixties, and plummeting temperatures at night that may reach freezing. Snow is still a possibility in early March. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the quintessential camping destination for college students in the southeast, due to its central location, inexpensive rates, accommodating features, and plenty of outdoor activities.