Backcountry Camping in the Smokies
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers over 800 miles of trails that can be explored on foot or by horseback. A free backcountry permit has to be obtained before you begin hiking in the park. Permits can be obtained at any visitor center, ranger station, or campground within the park. They are not available, however, on-line or by e-mail.
Those who plan to stay overnight within the park (in the backcountry) are required to call ahead and reserve a space at a campsite or shelter. Hikers are not allowed to create their own campsites. The Backcountry Reservation Office can be reached at (865) 436-1231 and is open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time), seven days a week.
Questions concerning camping in the backcountry can be directed to the Backcountry Information Office at (865) 436-1297. Reservations can be made as early as one month in advance. In fact it is highly recommended that you do call one month in advance due to the popularity of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For example, if you plan on hiking in the backcountry June 7-10, you should call and reserve your campsites or shelters no later than May 7.
When in the backcountry, one person within your group must possess the backcountry permit at all times. Everyone must also follow the backcountry rules and regulations within the park, some of which include:
- No tents allowed at shelter sites.
- You can only stay three nights in a row at a campsite and only one night at a shelter.
- The maximum size for a camping party is eight people.
- No pets are allowed in the backcountry.
- No motorized vehicles are allowed in the backcountry.
- No bicycles are allowed in the backcountry. Exceptions exist in the Lower Deep Gap Trail, the Gatlinburg Trail, and the Oconaluftee River Trail.
- No hunting is allowed.
- All food or odorous material must be suspended on the provided cable systems.
For more information, visit the “Rules and Regulations” page at
Try to leave no trace of your existence in the backcountry. Visit Leave No Trace to review certain principals.
Just want to camp in or near the national park, but not be in the deep woods? Check out our frontcountry camping page.
Horseback riding is allowed in the backcountry, but only in certain areas. The trail map of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park displays these areas. Horses are allowed only on the dotted trails on the map. Horses are not allowed on the dashed trails. Hikers can use all trails; therefore, it makes sense that there are only certain backcountry campsites and shelters where horseback riders can access in the park. The campsites are: 3, 5, 13, 19, 20, 27, 28, 35, 36, 39, 41, 44, 49, 50, 52, 55, 57, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 70, 71, 77, 81, 82, 83, 85, 86, 90, 92, 95, 98, and 113. The shelters are: Davenport Gap, Cosby Knob, Tricorner Knob, Pecks Corner, Silers Bald, Spence Field, Russell Field, Mollies Ridge, Kephart, and Laurel Gap. All these campsites and shelters can be found on the map. For information on horseback riding in the Smokies, visit our horseback riding page.