Camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Published: 11/24/15 11:30 AM in National, North America, Parks, Travel.
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It didn’t take us long after our move from Miami to Atlanta to make the short trip to the closest national park. On the first 3-day weekend after moving, we packed up the car and headed 3 hours north to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a few days of camping, hiking, and taking in the mountains. Being that the 3-day weekend also corresponded with Kevin’s birthday, this was also the perfect way to celebrate.

One of the best parts of living in Atlanta so far has been the easy access to mountains for great weekend getaways. After driving through the foothills for about 2.5 hours, seeing the layered peaks of the Smoky Mountains rise up ahead of you is a beautiful moment. After living most of our lives with only the flat expanse of Florida to explore on weekends, it is a refreshing change of pace to have elevation gain to conquer.

Meredith Lambert Banogon and Kevin Banogon pose in front of the southern entrance sign of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during their weekend trip out of Atlanta.

A peaceful view of the Smoky Mountains located at the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina.

Kevin Banogon hiking up to the Alum Cave Trail on Mount Le Conte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A shaded creek in the Smoky Mountains surrounded by the green of the summer months.

Kevin Banogon poses along the hike to Alum Cave Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Great Smoky Mountains are a rolling, gentle mountain range covered in green during the summer months.


Hiking to Alum Cave Trail

Since this trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was only a quick trip out of Atlanta over a three day weekend, it only allowed time for one true hike through the park. So we had to choose wisely! After a very helpful chat with the rangers at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, we decided to take on the hike to the Alum Cave, halfway up the trail to the summit of Mount Le Conte.

The full trail up to the summit of Mount Le Conte is a 10-mile loop, 5 miles up and 5 miles back down, while the hike to the Alum Cave is a 5-mile loop, 2.5 miles up and 2.5 miles back down. In order to make it back to camp with enough time to cook dinner and see the sunset, we only did the 5-mile loop to the Alum Cave and back.

Since this is a very popular trail centrally located within the park, we encountered a ton of fellow hikers throughout the trail. If you are looking for solitude while hiking, this is not the trail to take on. Overall it is a beautiful trail that leads to a substantial view of the Smokies. The path takes you through overgrown cliff sides and over peaceful babbling creeks ultimately leading to a shaded cliff overlooking the greenery of the Smokies in the summer.


Kevin Banogon hikes to the Alum Cave halfway up Mount Le Conte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Looking out over the scenery at the Alum Cave in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Meredith Lambert Banogon and Kevin Banogon hike to the Alum Cave during their weekend trip outside Atlanta.

Driving through the Great Smoky Mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Camping at the Balsam Mountain Campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Camping at Balsam Mountain Campgrounds

During our camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we wanted to find an official campsite without all of the crowds. So we decided to set up camp at the Balsam Mountain Campground, outside of the main entrance to the park. That way we got a little more privacy without the crowd a holiday weekend brings, but still got to enjoy the comforts of a National Park front country campground.

Our campsite was in the middle of the grounds but still felt relatively private as our fellow campers were polite and friendly. Since the campgrounds at Balsam Mountain are at the highest elevation of all the front country campsites, the temperatures at night were in the 50’s during May. It was a nice relief from the warmer temperatures we experienced during our hike. The cooler temperatures also made it a real treat to sit around the campfire in the dark and look up at the stars.

One of the most exciting added bonuses during this camping trip was the fact that we got to use Kevin’s BioLite Stove that I got him for this past Valentine’s Day. This little wood burning stove has been such a great tool to have with us. Getting a fire started is quick and there is always plenty of fuel to be found. The fact that the excess thermal energy can be used to charge a device is also a nifty bonus for longer camping trips.


Kevin Banogon cooks breakfast on his BioLite Stove at the Balsam Mountain Campground during a weekend out of the city.

A perfectly toasted marshmallow while making s'mores on a BioLite Stove.

Cooking dinner on a BioLite Stove at the Balsam Mountain Campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The beautiful greenery of the Smoky Mountains during the summer.

Meredith Lambert Banogon and Kevin Banogon in front the best sunset in the Smoky Mountains.


The Best Sunset in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Before heading out for our weekend out of the city, I did a little research about the campsite we were going to be calling home for the next 2 days. On the TripAdvisor profile for Balsam Mountain Campground, a reviewer mentioned a peaceful overlook to watch the sunset near the campground. It was just a short hike up the road past some ancient looking stone tables that reminded me of the Chronicles of Narnia.

The trees parted and two benches were placed at an epic view over the Smoky Mountains. It was an extremely peaceful spot that also allowed for a break from the crowd. We were joined by only two other couples to watch the sunset over the quintessential layering of the mountains. It was a beautiful way to end our first trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


The iconic layering of the Great Smoky Mountains during a beautiful sunset.

One of the best sunsets in the Great Smoky Mountains can be found by the Balsam Mountain Campgrounds.

Kevin Banogon and Meredith Lambert Banogon pose by the southern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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2 Comments on "Camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park"

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Guest
Charlene Kirsten
1 year 10 months ago

What beautiful pictures of the Smoky Mountains! They make me want to go on a road trip.

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Merevin
1 year 10 months ago

Do it!! It was such a fun weekend and the mountains are always beautiful.