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For a developed campground, Cosby Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee is one of the best. Sites tucked in the trees allow for quiet, peaceful camping with a secluded feel.
Cosby Campground is a “home away from home” in the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee. We prefer camping in the middle of nowhere; but for a developed campground, Cosby really does have quite the secluded feel with many campsites tucked back into the trees.
There’s absolutely nothing like waking up in a tent, listening to the birds sing and wildlife chattering. It’s the very definition of peace and tranquility, a way to truly get away from the world and unplug.
Of all the Smoky Mountain campgrounds available, Cosby’s solitude won us over, and we reserved a tent site in the campground. We were really excited to just get away and unplug together.
Where exactly is Cosby Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains?
At about 2460′ in elevation, Cosby is away from the hustle and bustle of Gatlinburg and away from the main park entrance, but still close enough to enjoy both.
It’s just outside (about 5 miles away from) Cosby, Tennessee, where you’ll find simple conveniences like showers, gas, and supplies. The bigger mountain town of Gatlinburg, where you’ll find shopping, food, activities, and family attractions, is about 20 miles away.
What’s the campground like?
Cosby Campground has around 165 total sites, including only 26 reservation sites; all the rest are first-come first-served. Sites are mostly tent sites, a few RV sites, and a few group sites.
A beautiful 5 minute drive leads campers through the forest toward the campground entrance. The campground has multiple trails and a river flowing through. Only 3 miles away is the Appalachian Trail, and outside the campground is a trail to Hen Wallow Falls.
When we arrived, we picked up our reservation tag at the Ranger Station and drove on in. The campground appeared quite empty, a surprise to us with it being June and vacation season. We noticed right away the overall secluded feel of the campground.
We were excited to get to our site and check it out and were ecstatic with its location. It was absolutely beautiful and hands down the best and the most private developed campsite we’ve ever had. We parked parallel on the road and climbed steps up to our site, which was surrounded by trees. The only neighbors we could see were directly across the road from us and even then, we could barely see them; cars were parked blocking the view. It was a magical place and perfect for the quality family time we needed together.
Our Great Smoky Mountains National Park Camping Experience
We began to set up camp right away, making the campsite our own. With a campfire going that first night, we roasted hot dogs and enjoyed s’mores.
Neighbors were pretty quiet. The only noise we really experienced was a group putting things away late one night (not really bothersome to us), a group of kids having fun late one night, and one morning, waking to the sounds of Slim Shady booming through the campground (apparently, the camper next to the first group was trying to get back at them by making some noise of his own). To be honest, we have zero complaints, and for the most part, it was beautifully quiet and serene.
The bathroom was right down the road and down a little trail; it took us maybe 2 minutes to walk there and back. I have to say too, that after our experience camping in another national park that shall remain nameless, this bathroom was so wonderful. The ranger really did a great job of keeping it clean, and there were lights at night (yay!!!).
Of course, you might want to carry your own soap; no soap available. We highly recommend Campsuds.
Water was readily available, including a cold water sink for dishwashing and perfect for washing hair. There were no showers; in order to take a shower, campers have to drive into Cosby, TN (about a 5 minute drive) and pay about $5/person. We decided on soap/water wipedowns and our homemade no rinse wipes in order to save money.
Why you should ALWAYS get rid of trash IMMEDIATELY
Wildlife is definitely abundant in Smoky Mountain campgrounds. Our second night there, we experienced quite the thrill.
We’d cooked beef stew with biscuits for supper, and the boys had gone to bed after eating. Dan was still sipping on a bit of stew, so he hadn’t taken the trash down to the car yet.
Note: There are no bear boxes; all food/trash/cooking gear needs to be stowed away either in your car or carried to the nearest dumpster.
We were sitting next to each other, talking and enjoying the campfire. All of a sudden, we heard a crashing sound and twigs snapping, coming from the forest next to the road. Dan snapped on his headlight, and all we saw was this huge bundle of fur not even 15 feet away. It was a bear, and he’d come for some beef stew.
I freaked out, having never experienced a bear so up close and personal. Dan immediately ran toward the bear, trying to chase him away from the site. I jumped up on the picnic table with my handy dandy stick, as if the table (or stick) would keep me safe. I wasn’t about to leave the boys unprotected in the tent, but I certainly didn’t want to be on the ground if Dan chased the bear back through the site.
We could hear him over in the woods, wrestling around with the cups that had held our beef stew. Finally, the bear had enough of Dan and went to make the rounds with our neighbors, as well. Let’s just say it was a long night. He didn’t go away for probably an hour or two… But even when he did finally leave, I was totally worried he was going to come back.
That same night we had owls going back and forth in the trees, hooting and screeching. It was an awesome experience I’ll never forget.
Cosby Campground amenities
We had a great time camping in the Smoky Mountains, so much so that we’re not opposed to staying in the campground when we visit again. It’s an economical alternative to hotels, plus we get the outdoor experience that we so crave.
Campground amenities include the following:
- Accessible sites and restrooms with flush toilets
- Drinking water
- Dump station
- Emergency phone (because you won’t have cell service in the campground)
- Fire rings
- Parking/picnic area
- Ranger station
- Tent pads
Learn more about Cosby and things you need to know before camping there.
More Great Smoky Mountains Adventures
If you’ve never camped before, I highly encourage you to do so. It’s an experience that will definitely change your life for the better, and you may just fall in love with it. After camping for quite a few years now, we’re actually hoping to start training for longer backpacking trips, which means backcountry camping. Camping has indeed opened up a whole new world for us.
Update Notes: This article was originally published on July 17, 2012, but was re-published with bigger photos and more details in March of 2018.