Smoky Mountains Recreation - Book Rreview: The Best of Tent Camping: Smoky Mountains

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In his latest book, "The Best of Tent Camping: Smoky Mountains" Best Tent Camping(Menasha Ridge Press, 1997 Birmingham AL), outdoor writer Johnny Molloy subtitles it "A Guide for Campers Who Hate RVs, Concrete Slabs, and Loud Portable Stereos". Well, this sounds a little more cynical than it really is. Conversations with Molloy reveal that he is a purist--and is one who is enthusiastic and excited about the real outdoors. And having spent over 1,200 nights in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding area gives Molloy the credentials to select the quietest, most beautiful, most secure, and best managed tent campgrounds in and around the Smokies.

Molloy's recommendations were selected from more than 1,000 campgrounds in East Tennessee, northern Georgia, and western North and South Carolina. Each recommendation includes a narrative profile for the selected campground along with information on reservations, fees, restrictions, directions, and a map. In addition, Molloy offers suggestions for outdoor recreation and sightseeing near each campground.

All in all, Molloy's "Best of Tent Camping" is a nifty guide to have if you plan to camp in the Smokies or Southern Highlands area. And if you subscribe to the opinion that "televisions, Japanese lanterns, and electric guitars are not essential camping equipment", then you'll enjoy Molloy's evaluations of campground offerings. You will probably also catch some of his infectious enthusiasm and enjoyment for the outdoors.

The following excerpts include Molloy's preface and introduction to the contents of his new guide, and also includes one selected recommendation in Cosby, Tennessee.


Before there were cars, cable television, and computers, life moved at a much more manageable pace. Now, in the age of the Internet, folks just can't seem to find the time to be together. And when they do, the results can be disappointing. The traditional vacations to worn-out tourist traps mini-mize the companionship sought in such an outing.

A tent camping excursion is the answer to this quest for companionship. There's no dragging from attraction to attraction or fighting over where to eat. A tent camping trip can be a time of bonding on the trail and around the fire, where experiences and sights are shared. It is a chance to experience the unique loveliness of the out-of-doors and enjoy a little fun along the way.

As we enter the second millennium, camping allows time for introspection not found in this rush-rush world. To commune with nature is a rewarding experience for young and old alike. It is healthful for the mind and body to return to the land from which we came. Tent camping is a true vacation for all, that is, if you choose the right campground.

That is where this book can help. Once you've made the commitment to go tent camping, finding the right campground can make or break the adven-ture. Campgrounds range in character from roadside, RV-infested "cities" to secluded hideaways nestled deep in the bosom of the mountains.

In my Jeep, I coursed through Smoky Mountain country, searching for the best campgrounds throughout the mountains of Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. I sought those nearest to a wilderness experience those not overrun by RVs. Now it's up to you to glean your favorites from this book, get back to nature, and make some memories of your own. Johnny Molloy


the Southern Appalachians. The very words give rise to images of misty, tree-topped mountains; clear, white-water streams; lush woodlands; and a biodiversity unmatched in the temperate climes. At the heart of the Southern Appalachians are the Smokies-the 500,000-acre master mountain chain containing the highest, wildest country remaining in the East. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park justifiably attracts millions of people every year. The allure of the Smokies often overshadows special areas adjacent to the park. Literally encircling the park are millions of acres of state park and national forest land that avails Smoky Mountain country to the public. This book covers not only the Smokies, but also the highlands of eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, northern Georgia, and western South Carolina.

This is a region steeped in human and natural history. These mountains played a significant role in the formation and westward expansion of our country. Oftentimes, this expansion was at the expense of the Cherokee, who battled the settler and lost, but eventually managed to hold on to some of their ancestral lands. Aside from a few Civil War skirmishes, this land became a forgotten backwater, the land of "do-without." That was until logging interests discovered its magnificent forests and began to cut them down. Thankfully, some stands were left intact; the Smokies still contain some 125,000 acres of old-growth woods. After the harvest in the early 1900s, the Forest Service took over the fire-scarred and eroded lands, protecting and managing the area for commercial and recreational purposes: the multiple-use concept. Other special mountain places came under state protection, forming a nucleus of fine state parks.

A trip into the Southern Appalachians is like going from Georgia to Maine without all the driving. The elevation rise from 700 to 6,700 feet creates cli-mate conditions like those ranging from Dixie to New England. Within those climate zones are habitats that foster plant and animal life found from Georgia to Maine. These conditions create the biodiversity that makes the Southern Appalachians special.

Generally speaking, spring takes six weeks to climb the mountains. Conversely, autumn descends the mountains six weeks earlier than in the surrounding lowlands. All of this adds to the biodiversity and makes for vary-ing weather conditions to suit your whims as you seek the wildflowers of spring, the lushness of summer, the colors of autumn, and the snows of winter. Luckily for us, there are plenty of campgrounds tucked away in Smoky Mountain country.

The Rating System

Included in this book is a rating system for the Southern Appalachian's 50 best campgrounds. Certain campground attributes--beauty, site privacy, site spaciousness, quiet, security, and cleanliness/upkeep are ranked using a star system. Five stars are ideal and one star is acceptable. This system will help you find the campground that has the attributes you desire.


In the best campgrounds, the fluid shapes and elements of nature--flora, water, land, and sky-have melded to create locales that seem to have been made for tent camping. The best sites are so attractive you may be tempted not to leave your outdoor home. A little site work is OK to make the scenic area camper-friendly, but too many reminders of civilization eliminated many a campground from inclusion in this book.

Site privacy

A little understory goes a long way in making you feel comfortable once you've picked your site for the night. There is a trend of planting natural borders between campsites if the borders don't exist already. With some trees or brush to define the sites, everyone has their personal space. Then you can go about the pleasures of tent camping without keeping up with the Joneses at the next site over--or them with you.

Site spaciousness

This attribute can be very important depending on how much of a gearhead you are and the size of your group. Campers with family-style tents need a large flat spot on which to pitch their tent and still get to the ice chest to prepare foods, all the while not getting burned near the fire ring. Gearheads need adequate space to show off all their stuff to neighbors strolling by. I just want enough room to keep my bedroom, kitchen, and den separate.


The music of the mountains--singing birds, rushing streams, wind rattling leaves, and raindrops pattering the forest floor--includes the kind of noises tent campers associate with being in the Southern Appalachians. In concert, they camouflage the sounds you don't want to hear-autos coming and going, loud neighbors, and the like.


Campground security is relative. A remote campground with no civilization nearby is relatively safe, but don't tempt potential thieves by leaving your valuables out for all to see. Use common sense and go with your instinct. Campground hosts are wonderful to have around, and state parks with locked gates at night are ideal for security. Get to know your neighbors and develop a buddy system to watch each other's belongings when possible.


I'm a stickler for this one. Nothing will sabotage a scenic campground like trash. Most of the campgrounds in this book are clean. More rustic campgrounds, my favorites, usually receive less maintenance. Busy weekends and holidays will show their effects. But don't let a little litter spoil your good time. Help clean up and think of it as doing your part for our natural environment.

Helpful hints

To make the most of your camping trip, call ahead wherever possible. If going to a state park, call for an informative brochure before you set out; this way you can familiarize yourself with the area. Once there, ask questions. Most stewards of the land are proud of their piece of terra firma and are hon-ored you came for a visit and want you to have the best time possible.

If traveling to a national forest, call ahead and order a map of the forest you plan to enter. Not only will this make it that much easier to reach your desti-nation, but nearby hikes, scenic drives, waterfalls, and landmarks will be easier to find. More and more national forests are erecting Visitor Centers in addition to Ranger Stations. Call or visit and ask questions. And when ordering maps, also ask for any additional literature about the area in which you are interested.

In writing this book I had the pleasure of meeting many friendly, helpful people: local residents who were proud of their Southern mountains; state park and national forest employees who endured my endless barrage of questions; and many campers who shared a cup of coffee and piece of their time. They already know what a lovely place this is. And as the splendor of the Southern Appalachians becomes more recognized, these mountain lands become that much more precious. Enjoy them, protect them, and use them wisely.


Gatlinburg, Tennessee


Campground Ratings

Beauty: *****

Site privacy: ****

Site spaciousness: *****

Quiet: ****

Security: ****

Cleanliness: *****

Located off the principal tourist circuit, this cool, wooded campground makes an ideal base for exploring the virgin forests and high country of the Cosby Greenbriar area.

Set on a slight incline in what once was pioneer farmland, this attractive, terraced campground is surrounded by mountains on three sides. The large camping area is situated between the confluence of Rock Creek and Cosby Creek. During my trips to the area, I have rarely seen this campground crowded, while other large Smokies campgrounds can be overflowing, cramped, and noisy. Several loops expand the campground, and bathrooms are conveniently located throughout the site. A small store, specializing in campers needs, is located at the turn off TN 32.

Now beautifully reforested, this area is rich in Smoky Mountain history. Cosby was one of the most heavily settled areas in the Smokies before Uncle Sam began buying up land for a national park in the East. The farmland was marginal anyway, so, in order to supplement their income, Cosby residents set up moonshine stills in the remote hollows of this rugged country. As a result, Cosby became known as the "moonshine capital of the world."

In remote, brush - choked hollows along little streamlets, "blockaders"--as the moonshiners were known--established stills. Before too long they had clear whiskey, "mountain dew," ready for consumption. Government agents, known as "revenuers" and determined to stop the production and sale of "corn likker," battled the moonshiners throughout the hills. It is doubtful if any stills are operating within the park boundaries today; however, in other areas of Cocke County, someone surely is practicing the art of "feeding the furnace, stirring the mash, and judging the bead."

Its past is what makes Cosby so interesting. Trails split off in every direction, allowing campers to explore the human and natural history of this area. Follow the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail 1.5 miles to Sutton Ridge Overlook. On the way to the overlook, watch for signs of homesteaders from bygone days: rock walls, springs, and old chimneys. At the overlook, you'll get a good lay of the land: Gabes Mountain to your east, the main crest of the Smokies to your south, the Cosby Valley below, and East Tennessee on the horizon.

Another hiking option is the Gabes Mountain Trail. Along its 6-mile length, this trail passes picturesque Henwallow Falls and meanders through huge, old-growth hemlock and tulip trees and scattered, old homesites. Turn around at the Sugar Cove backcountry campsite.

Don't forget to explore nearby Greenbriar. The 4-mile Ramsay Cascades Trail traverses virgin forest and ends at a picturesque waterfall that showers hikers with a fine mist. The Brushy Mountain Trail winds its way through several vegetation zones to an impressive view of the looming mass of Mount LeConte above and Gatlinburg below. Grapeyard Ridge Trail is the area's most historical and secluded hike. Walk old country paths along Rhododen-dron Creek and count the homesites amid fields just now being obscured by the forest. At 3 miles, just before the Injun Creek backcountry campsite, look for the old tractor that made its last turn in these Smoky Mountains.

The crown jewel hike from Cosby is the 6-mile hike to the restored Mount Cammerer fire tower. Built on a rock outcrop, it was formerly called White Rock by Tennesseans and Sharp Top by Carolinians. It has since been renamed Mount Cammerer, after Arno B. Cammerer, former director of the National Park Service. Restored by a philanthropic outfit called "Friends of the Smokies," the squat, wood and stone tower was originally built by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. The 360-degree view is well worth the climb. To the north is the Cosby Valley and the rock cut of 1-40. Mount Sterling and its fire tower are to the south. The main crest of the Smokies stands to the west, and a wave of mountains fades off into the eastern horizon.

Cosby Campground is a winner. Where else can you set up your tent in the middle of history? In the summer, naturalist programs in the campground amphitheater offer campers a chance to learn more about the area from rangers and other park personnel. The camp-ground's size allows campers to set up near or away from others to achieve their perfect degree of solitude. If you are in the mood for company, though, the tourist Mecca of Gatlinburg is nearby Attractions range from the visual (Elvis Museum, wax museums, and musical revues) to the gastronomic (fudge shops, taffy shops, breakfast buffets, and plenty of fine dining). Souvenir shops abound with coonskin caps, stuffed black bears, and ceramic chickens. Don't forget to have your picture taken in the old-time pioneer garb at the numerous photo shops. It really is a fun place to stroll and people-watch.

Cosby Campground

127 Cosby Park RoadCosby, TN 37722

Operated by:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Information: (865) 436-1228

Open: May to October

Individual sites: 175

Each site has: Picnic table,fire pit, lantern post

Site assignment: First come, first served; no reservations

Registration: At the hut at the campground's entrance

Facilities: Flush toilets, cold running water

Parking: At individual sites

Fee: $8 per night

Elevation: 2,459 feet

Restrictions: Pets-On leash only; Fires-In fire pits; Alcoholic beverages-At campsites only

Vehicles-None; Other-7-day stay limit

  To get there, from Gatlinburg take U.S. 321 east until it comes to a "T" intersection with TN 32. Follow TN 32 a little over a mile, turning right into the signed Cosby section of the park. After 2.1 miles, arrive at the campground registration hut. The campground is just beyond the hut.
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