Great Smoky Mountains National Park Reopening Scenic Campground After 9-Year Closure: PHOTOS

by Jon D. B.
Look Rock Overlook at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo credit: GRSM media release, NPS photo)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) is reopening a large, gorgeous 68-site campground this weekend for the first time since 2013.

If you grew up in the Smokies like this Tennessean, you may remember Look Rock Campground. At nearly 3,000 feet in elevation, Look Rock Campground provides a spectacular Appalachian camping experience along the ridge of the Smokies with overlooks into the western end of the park. Or at least it did – and will again – come this Saturday.

In their media release to Outsider, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announces today the long-awaited reopening of Look Rock Campground following a nine-year closure. The 68-site woodland campground will open on Saturday, October 15 through Sunday, November 13, “providing a unique, fall camping opportunity in 2022,” the park offers.

Look Rock Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo credit: GRSM media release, NPS photo)

“Since the new section of the Foothills Parkway opened in 2018, this area of the park has become a stand-alone destination and I’m pleased that after a long, but steady effort, we are able to once again provide a camping opportunity along one of the most scenic drives in the park,” adds GRSM Superintendent Cassius Cash.

“We are grateful for the voices who supported us in our efforts to secure the needed funding for repairs,” Cash continues. This includes “Friends of the Smokies and their donors,” invaluable allies of the national park.

Look Rock Tower view in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo credit: GRSM media release, NPS photo)

Look Rock Campground and Picnic Area closed to the public back in 2013 after the water utility systems failed. But in 2019, GRSM would receive funds to install a handicap-accessible vault toilet, allowing for the reopening of the picnic area, albeit with limited services.

Great Smoky Mountains Makes Major, ‘Modern’ Improvements to National Park’s Look Rock Campground

This year, however, the water system was completely replaced. This allows access to flush toilets and potable water in the campground and full reopening of the Look Rock area.

In addition, “all campground sites were rehabilitated, including the installation of new picnic tables and fire rings,” the park cites. This comes as a part of the national park’s effort to “modernize camping opportunities,” which includes the renovation of 10 camping sites to specifically accommodate larger recreational vehicles. All 10 sites will offer the first-ever electric and water hookups in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The campground and picnic area also feature completely new paving as a part of the rehabilitation.

Repaved Look Rock Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo credit: GRSM media release, NPS photo)

“The Friends of the Smokies stand at the ready to enhance and improve visitor opportunities across the park,” adds Friends of the Smokies President Jim Hart. “Thanks to some very special donors, including the Margie Manville family, I am proud that we were able to be a part of restoring this special campground where more great memories can be made, today and well into the future.”

Additionally, GRSM received $4.7 million for Look Rock’s renovation through campground fees, donation monies, and federal funds. This would allow for a $4 million contract for the completion of the water line replacement, repaving, and groundwork. Park crews then installed picnic tables and rehabilitated individual sites. 68 brand new, hand-painted campsite signposts now stand thanks to a Volunteer in Park, too.

Great American Outdoors Act Greatly Aids the Smokies

But none of this would’ve been possible without the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). $31 million in GAOA funding would allow the park to pave 17 miles of the Foothills Parkway. Contract crews are currently completing this project by installing guardrails, culverts, and permanent pavement striping. All roadwork should be complete by spring 2023.

It is the paving of this 17-mile section that allows for the reopening of Look Rock Campground. Without it, the section of the Foothills Parkway between Walland, Tennessee and Chilhowee Lake wouldn’t be able to grant public access to Look Rock.

It’s a win-win for the park and the public. This scenic drive provides spectacular views of the Great Smoky Mountains, alongside a trail to the Look Rock Observation Tower.

Look Rock Tower overlook at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo credit: GRSM media release, NPS photo)

Looking to stay in Look Rock Campground yourself this fall? Campground reservations are only available through Recreation.Gov here, and are available through November 13, 2022.

After this season, Look Rock campground will be open May through October, unless changes occur.

For more information about camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please visit their NPS site here.

And for more ahead of your GRSM excursion, see our National Parks Journal: ‘Plan & Prepare’ for Great Smoky Mountains Hiking and Camping next.