Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Everything the RV Renter Needs to Know

The Great Smoky Mountains are one of the best-known and most-loved travel destinations in the Midwest. Equal parts southern charm and hospitality mixed with rugged mountains and dense forest; it’s a place that brings people from all over the country to relax and enjoy the many sights, sounds, and recreational opportunities it presents.

About 10 million people visit the area every year. Between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its more than 500,000 acres, the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Dollywood, and even more—it’s no wonder why so many families flock to the area every summer to enjoy the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and everything else Tennessee has to share.

Why Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Your Rented RV?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park and all of its surrounding areas are one of the quintessential United States road trip destinations. Located right in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’re surrounded by beauty even when you’re in one of the small towns nearby. It’s a perfect place to get away from it all, or to stay busy in town. Because the area is so diverse, you can hike in the morning and enjoy some touristy places in town as you please. There are plenty of Great Smoky Mountains campgrounds to enjoy your stay at as well. Keep reading to find out more about them.


Hiking is a major draw to the Great Smoky Mountains, and for good reason. There is a total of 150 official hiking trails in the park—and that doesn’t include all of the backcountry hiking you can do if you choose. These 150 trails add up to more than 850 miles of hiking. You could stay and hike a different trail for weeks upon weeks and never cross the same path. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

The park includes 70 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail. Otherwise, there are several key areas throughout the park that are popular as well. Many of the shorter, more accessible trails can be reached by parking lots off US Highway 441. The longer, more difficult trails are scattered throughout the park.

Some popular locations include:

  • Charlie’s Bunion
  • Alum Cave
  • Andrews Bald
  • Rainbow Falls
  • Chimney Tops
  • Cades Cove
  • Cherokee Orchard/Roaring Fork
  • Cosby/Greenbrier
  • Clingmans Dome


When the kids start to get antsy—or hey, even when you need a break from nature—a trip to Gatlinburg is in order. Gatlinburg is a small resort town in Tennessee, with a population of about 4,000 but with up to 10 million visitors every year. There are popular attractions and shopping here in the town, all surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains.

It’s a little more on the touristy side, but you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into as you pull into town. You’ll find several adventure parks with “mountain coasters,” mini golf, Ripley’s museums, ski lifts that offer unparalleled views of the mountains, ropes courses, and lots of other ways to while away time and wear out the youngsters.  

Scenic Drives

No matter the time of year, there are drives that are simply awe inspiring throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A road trip through the park in your RV will offer you all kinds of things, including streams, uninterrupted views of the forest, panoramas, and historic buildings.

With more than 270 miles of road inside the park, you’ll find plenty of routes that give you different views. You may even come across some wildlife, like elk, on your drive—so keep an eye out.  Some of the more popular roads include:

  • Newfound Gap Road
  • Balsam Mountain Heintooga Ridge Road
  • Cataloochee Valley
  • Clingmans Dome Road
  • Road to Nowhere

Fishing & Fly Fishing

Fishing—more specifically, fly fishing—is very popular in the park; due in large part to the 2,900 miles of streams. They are home to numerous species of trout, and it’s a habitat that’s protected within the park. You can catch fish in the streams year-round, and they stay well-populated with their respective species.

You’ll catch several species of trout, and in some areas, smallmouth bass as well. It’s very popular among advanced fishers too, because the waters aren’t necessarily easy to fish and presents more of a challenge than you may find in other areas. Some fish you can expect to catch include:

  • Brook Trout
  • Rainbow Trout 
  • Brown Trout
  • Rockbass
  • Smallmouth Bass

Pigeon Forge

Another town just a short distance away from the mountains is Pigeon Forge. As another small resort town, you’ll find lots of tourists (and touristy things) to do here. One of the biggest draws is Dollywood—country music icon Dolly Parton’s amusement park. Beyond that, there are numerous dinner theatres with lots of singing, dancing, and opportunities to be entertained.

You’ll also find mini golf, splash parks, mountain coasters, plus escape rooms. It’s the perfect place to go if you get burned out from taking in nature and need a day in a city to just be entertained. Shop around, and, if you’re 21 or older, you can give one of the many distilleries a test.

Campgrounds and RV Parks for Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There are several campgrounds inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and many of those are designed to be RV-friendly. Staying inside the park gives you full access to the hiking, fishing, and other recreational opportunities at your whims. On the other hand, if you’re more interested in an RV experience that includes a lot of other amenities, one of the many campgrounds for RV camping in the Great Smoky Mountains are amazing, but outside the park might be better for you.

Deep Creek Campground

Inside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, there are several campgrounds that are RV friendly. Deer Creek Campground is one of those. While the campground doesn’t offer any kind of utility hookups, its proximity to trails and other recreational opportunities make primitive camping well worth it. It’s near water, making it ideal for anyone hoping to spend some time fishing. It’s reservation only, so be sure to plan ahead.

Pigeon River Campground

If resort-style camping is more what you’re thinking for your RV trip, then Pigeon River Campground near Gatlinburg is what you’re after. There are numerous pull-through and back-in sites, as well as full-utility hook ups. You can also expect Wi-Fi throughout the park, a swimming pool, and access to the Pigeon River for fishing and kayaking.

Cades Cove Campground

Cades Cove is one of the most popular areas inside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. In fact, it sees almost 2 million visitors every year. This is in part because of the proximity to the 11-mile Cades Cove trail, but there are more “natural” amenities too, like opportunities for wildlife viewing and historic structures found throughout the area. It’s a primitive campground, but it does offer flush toilets and drinking water. It’s the perfect place to “rough it” in your RV. Reservations are highly recommended.

Riveredge RV Park

Pigeon Forge has a lot of appeal to travelers, and so does Riveredge RV Park. With 175 RV spaces that offer full-utility hookups, it’s located just down the road from Pigeon Forge and offers you all the amenities you’d expect. Free high-speed Wi-Fi; RV supplies; a fire ring with a grill grate; a heated pool, hot tub, and splash pad; plus more. If you’re looking for a perfect spot between the glitz of Dollywood and the relaxation of nature, Riveredge RV Park has what you want.

Pine Mountain RV Park

Located north of Gatlinburg, Pine Mountain RV Park is tucked far enough away from the town to be quiet and peaceful, but is close enough for a nice escape when you’re ready for it. It offers full utility hookups, plus other amenities like high-speed Wi-Fi, cable TV hookups, a campfire ring, laundry facility, and a splash pool. It’s also a stop on the Pigeon Forge Trolley, so you don’t have to worry about taking your own vehicle (or RV) into town. 

Places to Eat Near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

While you won’t find any dining options inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll find an unbelievable amount of good food all around it. Being so close to two resort towns, you’ll no doubt find plenty of good eating in the Appalachian Mountains. No matter your cravings or your preferences, you’ll eat well in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Dining at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There aren’t any restaurants or dining options inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but hey, you’re camping in an RV, and it comes with a kitchen. Stock the fridge before you leave, do a little meal planning, and cook up some meals in your RV. Or better yet, read up on good campfire recipes and put that fire ring to good use.

Dining outside of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Imagine any kind of food you want to eat. Well, you’ll find it near the park. Between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, there are literally hundreds of restaurants to choose from. They run the gamut of all types, cuisines, and delicacies. If you’re looking for fresh, delicious trout, you’ll find it. Family-friendly pizza joints are everywhere. You can take in a themed dinner-and-a-show at any number of places in Pigeon Forge. There are breakfast diners, donut bakeries, coffee shops, and numerous dessert shops. Barbecue, breweries, distilleries, and numerous other places round out the dining options.

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg both offer a wealth of dining experiences for you to enjoy. You’ll have no problem finding the exact type of food you’re after. You can plan ahead and make reservations, or you can find a place that looks good and just run with it.