Unfortunately one of our favorite spots in the world is also one of the world’s favorite spots. I am talking about Great Smokey Mountain National Park which is but a day or two away from New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other points east. The park is beautiful in the fog, magical at twilight, and crowded whenever. Car jams aplenty, crowded trails, and do not even think of going to Cades Cove on a weekend afternoon. But there is a place on the periphery of this madness that is hardly ever too crowded. Cosby Campground. While other campgrounds fill up every night, our family was only one of two families in the entire campground loop the three nights we stayed. This other family had a camper so we actually had the whole bathroom to ourselves (modern plumbing, no showers). Every afternoon someone cleaned the bathroom. This was maybe the nicest, most hygienic campground experience I have had in my 13 or so years of car camping. That trip I also woke each morning to a mother Turkey leading her charges around the campground. I am not sure why we only stayed three nights.
There are no shortages of trails leading from the Cosby Campground. We enjoy the small (maybe a mile at the most) nature trail which crosses and re-crosses a stream over small bridges and wide logs. Other hikes extend miles into the park in search of waterfalls and vantage points. Our favorite hike leads to Hen Wallow Falls which is in fact named after our daughter Henna (not really). You can also hike in to several backcountry campsites. There is also a small graveyard near the entrance of the campground that is worth exploring.
How to get there: From Knoxville, you continue on I40 to, maybe, exit 440. This route avoids Gatlinburg as well as many wax museums, water slides, and Christmas themed stores. Once turning off the highway, prepare for a windy, up and down road with a lot of confusing signs that sort of lead to the campground. GPS sort of helps but you might have to ask for directions too. At the campground and/ or at the trailheads, expect enough people there so that you will not get too nervous (this is black bear country after all). But you will probably never feel crowded in. Last time we were there the campground host said that the only time he ever remembers the campground completely filling up was on July 4th. The campground also gets a bigger crowd on summer weekends. So come, enjoy the peace, the quiet, and the hiking. Just please do not tell anyone about the place. I don’t want it to get too popular.