Great Smoky Mountains Backpacking – Basecamp

Trip Length3 Days
Group Size4-6
Activity level
Starting from
$1,149 for REI Members
$1,259 for non-members
DeparturesMar 2024-Nov 2024

Discover the beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on this three-day introductory backpacking trip.

This trip is perfect for those wanting to try backpacking, advance their backcountry skills, and discover the art of camping with minimal environmental impact, all while immersed in one of America’s most iconic national parks. Backpack into and out of our basecamp in Great Smoky Mountain National Park on the first and last day, with a full day of hiking with a daypack in the middle.

Camp each night next to a creek under the pines. Hike through lush forest, alongside creeks and waterfalls, swimming holes, and on the famous Appalachian Trail. Our expert guides share tips and tricks from their many years of backpacking experience. Topics will include the basics of packing lightly as well as how to set up a tent, use a water filter, navigate water crossings and more. The simplicity of trail life soothes stress and helps us be mindful in the here and now. Our journey culminates with gratitude for newfound friends and newly discovered wild places.

The simplicity of trail life soothes stress and helps us be mindful in the here-and-now.

Trip Highlights

  • Discover backpacking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Hike to a section of the famed Appalachian Trail
  • Learn wilderness survival techniques and backpacking tips from expert guides
  • Take in the beauty of the Smokies with their trademark forests, rivers and waterfalls

Activities

This trip is rated Easy Active [2]. Trip members should be capable of hiking 3-5 hours each day (up to 6 miles) with as much as 1,500' elevation gain and 2,100' loss. You should expect steep, rocky, rooty, wet and uneven terrain with possible stream crossings. Participants will be carrying their own backpacks weighing 30 to 35 pounds on Day 1 and Day 3 and just carrying day hiking necessities on Day 2.

  • Hiking
  • Backpacking

What's Included

Any park or other admission fees or permits; Guides; Roundtrip transportation from Gatlinburg, TN to all destinations visited during the trip; All meals as noted in daily itinerary; See this trip’s Gear List for details regarding any equipment that may be provided for your use during the trip.

Accommodations

Backcountry camping, 2 nights

Your Adventure Itinerary

Itinerary map for Great Smoky Mountains Backpacking – Basecamp
Day 1

Welcome to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Our adventure begins this morning in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where we meet up with our guides and fellow travelers. Our guides provide an orientation, pack check and distribution of group gear, along with a demonstration of how to properly pack your backpack. After orientation, we shuttle over to the trailhead to begin our exploration of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We begin our hike along an old logging road, continuing past an emerald-green swimming hole and a waterfall cascading into the creek below. The Midnight Hole is one of the most beautiful natural swimming holes in the Blue Ridge Mountains and its water is crisp and refreshing. When we get to camp our guides show us how to set up a basecamp, including how to pitch a tent. This evening we enjoy dinner, recount the day's adventure, and drift off to sleep under a blanket of stars. Dinner included.

Backpacking: 5.1 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +1,469’ / -203’

Day 2

Day hiking Gunter Fork Trail

After a peaceful night's sleep, we wake to hot coffee and a hearty breakfast before donning our light daypacks for another full day of adventure. Our first mile is a gradual climb to over 1,000’ followed by a descent on a small side trail to a deep blue pool with its own cascade, surrounded by colorful eastern hardwoods. It's a great lunch spot and the perfect chance for an invigorating swim. Today our guides show us how to make water crossings and read trail signs, teaching us about the area's plants and animals along the way. Our hike continues downhill gradually until we arrive back at basecamp, where we'll have time to relax and bask in the beauty enveloping us in the Great Smoky Mountains. After dinner we enjoy a campfire, some games and dessert! Breakfast and dinner included.

Hiking: 5.9 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +1,010’ / -1,010'

Day 3

Backpacking in Southern Appalachia and return to civilization

Today our guides show us the proper way to break down camp according to Leave No Trace principles. Slightly more challenging than the day before, our hike today takes us up to 1,500’ of elevation gain over 2.5 miles, granting us the opportunity set foot on the famous Appalachian Trail. Here we see the landscape change from cove hardwood forest—found only in Southern Appalachia—to a northern hardwood forest. Our guides teach us about the geological history of these mountains, including the greater Appalachian Mountain range. Here we can take a quick optional detour to see an AT shelter designed for thru-hikers making the 2,200-mile trek along the trail. Back at the trailhead, our shuttle awaits, and we make our way back to Gatlinburg. Breakfast included.

Backpacking: 5.6 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +1,443’ / -2,119’; Optional hike to AT shelter: 1.5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: 581’

Itinerary map for Great Smoky Mountains Backpacking – Basecamp

Gear List

This gear list has been created to help you choose the best equipment for the trip. Try to bring only what is necessary, as this will help you and the field staff. The weather and other conditions at the time of your arrival will dictate what clothing and equipment you will be required to use each day and what (if anything) can be left behind. It may be a necessary precaution that you bring certain items on the list, even if it is uncertain whether or not they will be needed.

Already booked this trip? Sign into your online traveler profile for a more detailed list of what you'll need.

REI members can shop for gently used gear online or at most REI stores. Members can also trade in pre-loved used gear online or at any REI store in exchange for REI gift card credit. Check out Re/Supply at REI to learn more.

We provide

  • All Group Cooking Gear
  • Group First Aid Kit
  • Large Plastic Garbage Bag
  • Stoves and Fuel
  • Tent(s)
  • Trekking Poles
  • Water Filter

What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 1 (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales ( 1 (800) 426-4840 ) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.

Trip specifics may change over time. Reviews reflect the version of the trip that was active at the time the reviewer took it. Please review the itinerary as described above and call our team for any additional details.