Over 12 million people flock to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year, making it the most visited national park in the United States. Spanning across both Tennessee and North Carolina, it’s not hard to see why so many people travel far and wide to explore this Southeastern gem. This expansive park rewards travelers with sweeping views of breathtaking mountain ranges, verdant forests engulfed by blooming wildflowers, and ample opportunities to hike along the iconic Appalachian Trail.
The journey from New York to the Great Smoky Mountains is equally as impressive as the park itself. From Escape Camper Vans’ Jersey City location, explore Shenandoah National Park, take the scenic route along the stunning Blue Ridge Parkway, and spend a day in the vibrant city of Asheville. To help get you started, we’ve put together the ultimate, 7-day Great Smoky Mountains itinerary.
Travel Time from Jersey City, NJ to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This itinerary follows a roundtrip loop to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, starting and ending at the Escape Camper Vans location in Jersey City, NJ. In total, this drive covers a minimum of 1,399 miles, though if you focus solely on scenic routes, the journey will be even longer.
You’ll be driving for a total of 21 hours at a minimum, and we recommend spreading your Great Smoky Mountain National Park road trip over at least 7 days. There’s an immense amount to explore on the way to the Smokies, so this Great Smoky National Park road trip is definitely one trip you won’t want to rush!
TOTAL MILES: 1,399 miles
TOTAL TRAVEL TIME: 7 days, driving 21 hours
Best Time of Year for a Great Smoky Mountains Road Trip
In our opinion, the fall and spring are the best times to visit the Smoky Mountains. The fall is a particularly breathtaking season to tour the park, with vibrant foliage blanketing the entire landscape. Both crowds and temperatures are far more mild than the summer months, and there’s very little rain. Keep in mind, October does get busy when the fall colors are at their peak, though the crowds are still much more manageable than in July and August.
For lush, green hills and optimal chances for wildlife sightings, the spring is a great time to visit. Newborn cubs frolic through fields of wildflowers, and crowds are relatively minimal. The one drawback is that the weather during this season is unpredictable and often quite rainy, so pack accordingly.
The summer is definitely the most popular time of year to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, especially throughout the month of July. However, summer temperatures and humidity can be extreme, and with crowds at their peak, popular trails and campsites fill up very quickly. This is also the season where you’ll see the most bugs, mosquitos, and ticks.
Winter is the least ideal time of year to visit. Most campgrounds will be closed, the temperature is quite cold, and the roads can be very icy and dangerous to drive on. If you have your heart set on a snow-free, East Coast winter road trip, consider a drive down to the Everglades in Florida instead.
Preparation for a Great Smoky Mountains Camper Van Road Trip
A Great Smoky Mountains camping trip is guaranteed to be an unforgettable adventure. To ensure a stress-free journey, these are some of our best tips to consider when you’re planning your trip:
Campsites and Park Fees
Campsites: Many campgrounds on this route do not require advanced reservations, but it’s still a good idea to book sites ahead of time if you’re traveling during the busy summer season. In the Smokies, it’s notoriously difficult to find availability in the park during the summer, so try to reserve your site as far in advance as possible. The park contains 10 campgrounds, so if you plan ahead you should be able to find availability!
GPS: Your Smartphone will work well as a GPS during this trip, just remember to download offline maps, since service will be spotty throughout the route. You’ll also need to pack portable chargers that can be used when your campervan is off.
Paper maps: Grabbing a Great Smoky Mountains National Park map when you arrive is also a good idea. Having a paper map will come in handy when you’re looking for more remote trailheads.
Food and Supplies
Supplies: Because you’ll be traveling through bear country, you’ll want to take some extra safety precautions into consideration. Check that your chosen campsites have food lockers, and rent a can of bear spray when you arrive. If you’re traveling during the summer, add in a BugSoc to keep yourself protected, and pack extra bug spray!
Food: Before hitting the road, stop by a local grocery store to stock up on easy to make meals and road trip snacks. Additionally, add a kitchen kit to your reservation so that you have everything you need to meal prep at your campsite!
Choosing the Right Camper Van
From Escape Camper Vans’ Jersey City location, you have two camper van rentals to choose from- the Mavericks and Mesa. Both offer queen sized beds, can sleep up to 5 people, and come already equipped with a convenient kitchenette. The Mesa is a slightly larger camper van, so keep that in mind if you’re traveling with a bigger group.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Itinerary
Day 1: Drive from Jersey City, NJ to Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Your adventure begins bright and early at the Escape Camper Vans in Jersey City, which is conveniently located just outside of New York City! Make sure your road trip snacks are handy, as your journey starts off with a pretty long drive down to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Depending on traffic, the drive to your first stop will take about 4 hours and 45 minutes.
However, all that time behind the wheel will be well worth it once you’re immersed in the vast, scenic beauty of Shenandoah. Over 200,000 acres of gorgeous landscapes, impressive waterfalls, and captivating wildlife make this one of Virginia’s most popular national parks.
Things to do in Shenandoah National Park
Skyline Drive:This incredibly scenic road weaves through the entire length of the park, leading drivers to several breathtaking viewpoints, trailheads, and overlooks. While it would take about 3 hours to complete the entire drive, even just exploring a small portion of the jaw-dropping pathway is worth it!
Go on a Hike: The number of trails within Shenandoah is seemingly endless, and options range from short, one-mile hikes to day-long treks that span over 7 miles. If you’re searching for majestic waterfalls during your adventure, White Oak Canyon is a very popular and rewarding 4.6 mile trail.
Places to Eat near Shenandoah National Park
Spottswood Dining Room $$– Mile 52, Skyline Dr. Stanley, VA 2285: One of several dining options inside the park, this scenic restaurant offers delicious, seasonal dishes along with breathtaking views from their patio. There’s also an attached taproom, which is perfect for unwinding with a cold drink after a long day of hiking.
Vibrissa Brewery $$– 122 E Main St, Front Royal, VA 22630: This lively brewery is located just outside of Shenandoah’s northern entrance, and features a wide list of their own craft beers, as well as a mouthwatering food menu. Live music and other events are scheduled each month, so it’s a great place to check out if you’re looking for a bit of nightlife.
Chop House Bistro $$– 132 E Main St, Luray, VA 22835: Elevated, farm-to-table cuisine is served in an inviting setting at this town-favorite eatery. Their produce is all sourced locally, and their list of signature craft cocktails shouldn’t be missed!
Camping in Shenandoah National Park
Mathews Arm Campground– Skyline Dr, Rileyville, VA 22650: Situated inside the park near the Front Royal entrance, this scenic campground contains 165 sites, and operates from May through October. The campground features a mix of both first come, firsted served spots and reservable campsites.
Big Meadows Campground– Skyline Dr, Stanley, VA 22851: This large campground inside the park boasts 221 sites, is usually open from mid-March through November, and all sites must be reserved in advance (they can often be booked up to 6 months before your visit). The campground’s convenient location to many top attractions within Shenandoah makes it one of the most popular options within the park.
Day 2: Drive Down Blue Ridge Parkway
Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains are connected by the Blue Ridge Parkway, a picturesque road that spans 469 miles. All along the way, drivers are rewarded with awe-inspiring views of the Appalachian Mountains, mesmerizing landscapes, and plenty of outdoor adventures.
Aptly nicknamed “America’s Favorite Drive,” this scenic route allows visitors to stop and go as they please, choosing between numerous hikes, small towns, and vista points along the way. Spend the second day of your road trip immersing yourself in some of this iconic road’s most notable sites. There are mile markers all along the way to help you navigate, as well as several campgrounds to choose from!
What to See on the Blue Ridge Parkway:
Humpback Rocks:Take in expansive views of the surrounding area’s lush landscape, visit an outdoor farm museum, or choose from 3 hiking trails in this highly frequented area, located at the north end of Blue Ridge Parkway. A portion of the Appalachian trail is also accessible from this stop.
Mabry Mill: This sawmill and blacksmith shop has been standing since before 1920, and is a must visit for history buffs. Stop for photos before pausing for a picnic at this idyllic setting, or set off on an easy, 0.5 mile hike from the Mabry Mill Trail.
Blue Ridge Music Center: Learn about the significance of folk music within Appalachian culture as you walk through the center’s fascinating museum. There are also daily live performances that are enjoyed from an outdoor amphitheater.
Places to Eat along Blue Ridge Parkway
The Bluffs $$–45338 Blue Rdg Pkwy, Laurel Springs, NC 28644: Founded in 1949, this was the first restaurant to ever open on Blue Ridge Parkway. After briefly closing in 2010, the historic establishment was eventually reopened, and is a must-visit when traveling down this legendary scenic road.
Chalet Restaurant $$– 86 High Ridge Rd, Little Switzerland, NC 28749: Further south on the parkway, this cozy restaurant rewards patrons with sweeping views of jaw-dropping mountains as they dine. Grab a table beside one of their expansive windows, or enjoy your meal from their beautiful terrace in the summertime.
Camper Van Friendly Campsites Along Blue Ridge Parkway
Parkway Campgrounds:There are 8 campsites to choose from along Blue Ridge Parkway, all of which are open from May through October. All of the sites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance, although booking ahead is not required. Julian Price and Mount Pisgah both feature showers, while all campgrounds contain flush toilets, dump stations, and potable water. We recommend selecting your campground based on which areas of the parkway you’re most intrigued by.
Day 3: Asheville, North Carolina
After fueling up with a hearty breakfast at your campsite, hit the road again. If you’re not in a rush, spend the morning continuing down the Blue Ridge Parkway, which will take you directly to the vibrant city of Asheville, North Carolina. If you’re eager to get to the city sooner, feel free to take a faster, parallel road instead!
The thriving city of Asheville serves as a haven for artists, history lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Flanked by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the urban city offers countless nearby hikes, including several on the Appalachian Trail. If your hiking boots need a break, check out the local galleries or pop into the Asheville Art Museum. Otherwise, simply walking through the charming downtown area will lead you to dozens of historic buildings with fascinating stories to tell!
Where to Eat in Asheville, NC
This southern city is praised for its diverse and delicious gastronomy! For your night in Asheville, we recommend skipping your campsite dinner for one evening to try some of the city’s amazing eateries,
Chestnut $$– 48 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801: This delicious restaurant is an Asheville-staple, and offers a mouthwatering dinner menu that changes each month. All food is made in house (including their ice cream) and their produce is exclusively sourced from local ranchers, farmers, and cheesemakers.
Chai Pani $$– 22 Battery Park Ave, Asheville, NC 28801: To savor delicious Indian street-food and home-cooked meals, look no further! Chai Pani is a beloved restaurant that offers mouthwatering cuisine in a warm and inviting atmosphere, and is a must-visit in Asheville.
Camper Van Friendly Campgrounds near Asheville, NC
Lake Powhatan Campground– 75 Wesley Branch Rd, Asheville, NC 28806: Just 10 minutes from downtown Asheville, this lakeside campground offers hot showers, picnic tables, and some full hookups. This scenic campground operates all year, and sites can be booked up to 6 months before your trip.
North Mills River Campground– 5289 N. Mills River Road, Mills River, NC 28742:About 30 minutes south of Asheville, this year round campground features a mix of walk up sites and reservation-only options. Aside from the winter when facilities are limited, this site features showers, potable water, and flush toilets.
Days 4-5: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
After an early breakfast in Asheville, it’s finally time to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park! The drive should only take about one hour, so you’ll have plenty of time to roam through this scenic paradise.
Situated across both Tennessee and North Carolina, the park’s expansive landscape is truly mesmerizing. As you gaze out at the layers of mountains that surround you, it won’t be hard to see why this is the most visited national park in the country. There are countless sites to explore, hikes to enjoy (including on the iconic Appalachian Trail), and black bears to possibly spot!
We recommend a minimum of 2 to 3 days to fully immerse yourself in the great outdoors and explore all that this spectacular park has to offer.
Things to do in the Smoky Mountains
Clingmans Dome: For an unforgettable view, head to the highest point in the whole park, which stands at 6,643 feet. From the observation tower, gaze out at a panoramic view of looming mountains and crystal blue lakes.
The Chimney Tops Trail: There are endless hikes to choose from in the park and you really can’t go wrong, though this 3.5 mile loop is one of the most popular. While the hike is strenuous, it’s well worth the magnificent, panoramic views of verdant hills and mountains in the distance.
Wildlife Spotting: One of the biggest draws of the Smokies is its abundance of wildlife. The park offers ample opportunities to see black bears, elk, white-tailed deer, and plenty of other majestic creatures up close! For your best shot at spotting wild animals, scope out Cades Cove, Cataloochee, and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
Places to Eat in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Park Grill $$– 1110 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738: Situated just outside of the park’s entrance, this convenient restaurant serves delicious comfort food in a rustic, mountain lodge setting. Because of their popularity, it’s a good idea to make reservations if you’re planning on coming in for dinner during the summer.
Delauder BBQ $– 1875 East Pkwy, Gatlinburg, TN 37738: This no-frills eatery boasts some of the best, authentic barbecue in Tennessee! Choose from your favorite meat and sides, or opt for the sampler platter for a bit of everything.
Camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Smokemont Campground–Smokemont Campground Rd A, Cherokee, NC 28719: Located inside the park, this year round campground is perfect if you’re exploring the southern end of the Smokies. The site features food storage lockers, a dump station, and potable water. Reservations must be made ahead of time, and can be booked up to 6 months in advance.
Cades Cove Campground– 10042 Campground Dr, Townsend, TN 37882 : Also inside the park, this popular campsite sits at an elevation of 1,807 feet and is celebrated for its stunning location. This campground is open year round, and sites need to be booked ahead of time.
Day 6-7: Drive Back to Jersey City, NJ
Sadly, it’s time to pack up your camper van and begin making the trek back towards New York. The fastest route to Jersey City is to cut through Shenandoah National Park once again. Since the drive to our Escape Camper Vans location is 11 hours, break the trip up by camping in Shenandoah or along Blue Ridge Parkway once more.
Since there was undoubtedly plenty you didn’t get a chance to see on your way down to the Smokies, this is a perfect opportunity to check another sight off your list!
Pro Tip: Luray Caverns is a great halfway point, just outside of Shenandoah. This massive cave was discovered in 1878, and features fascinating stalagmites, stalactites, and mirrored pools!
Why Rent a Camper Van for a Great Smoky Mountains Road Trip?
Easy to Drive: If you’re not used to being behind the wheel of a big RV, it can be quite intimidating. However, our camper vans are much smaller and therefore easier to drive, even if this is your first taste of van life! This road trip covers over 1,300 miles, so your comfort while you’re behind the wheel is paramount.
No Sewer or Electric Hookups: Since Escape Camper Vans are self contained, sewer or electric hook ups aren’t necessary. However, traditional RV’s would require these, which would greatly limit suitable campsites along this route. With our camper vans, you can decide where to camp as you go, and you’ll even have the option to look for dispersed camping sites along the way.
All said, our camper vans are easier to drive and allow for way more freedom than a traditional RV. Plus, our adventure-ready vans are already equipped with bedding, kitchenettes, and everything you need for an unforgettable road trip!
Reserve with Escape Camper Vans for your Great Smoky Mountains National Park Road Trip
Ready to spend your week immersed in the mountains, chasing waterfalls, and (safely) looking out for black bears? Take a break from the city and discover the ultimate nature lover’s paradise, as you cruise down from NYC to the country’s most visited national park. Click the link below to reserve your dream Escape Campervan, and prepare for an unforgettable Great Smoky Mountains road trip!