Balsam Mountain Campground is located in a relatively remote part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The secluded setting offers visitors the ability to enjoy a multitude of recreational activities without the crowds which are sometimes common in other parts of the park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hiker's paradise, with over 800 miles of maintained trails ranging from short, leg-stretchers to strenuous treks. The Balsam Mountain area features several trails that are less heavily used compared to other areas of the park.
The campground offers a short nature trail located beside site 43. The hiker only Flat Creek Trail is a pleasant walk through a hardwood forest. For the adventurous hiker the Hemphill Bald and Rough Fork trails provide a 14-mile loop hike, with outstanding views and old growth trees.
Campers can enjoy high-quality backcountry fishing in the cool waters of the countless streams and rivers that snake through the mountains. Anglers will agree that some of the best trout fishing in the area can be found along the Balsam Mountain and Straight Fork Roads, some of the most remote sections of the park. Fly fishing is particularly good during spring months when aquatic insects hatch in large numbers.
Wildlife viewing is a popular pastime, and with around 1,500 bears living in the park, it is not uncommon for visitors to spot one. The park is a sanctuary for a magnificent array of animal and plant life, all of which is protected for future generations to enjoy.
The park also holds one of the best collections of log buildings in the eastern United States. Over 90 historic structures have been preserved in the park.
For the auto touring enthusiast, the 14-mile Heintooga Round Bottom Road, a one-way unimproved gravel drive, offers spectacular scenery with mountain vistas and the occasional bear or elk sighting. Buses, motorhome, vans longer than 25' and any vehicle towing a trailer are prohibited on this road.
Balsam Mountain Campground offers 42 campsites for a traditional outdoor camping experience with the added convenience of flush toilets and drinking water. There are no hookups or showers at the campground. No lights are available in the restrooms at this campground. For campers' safety use of a flashlight, lantern or headlamp is recommended when accessing these facilities after day light hours.
Balsam Mountain Campground is surrounded by picturesque mountain ranges and pristine mountain streams. Elk are common in this part of the park during the spring and fall. Located at 5,310 feet elevation, Balsam Mountain's daytime temperatures rarely exceed 70 degrees F and night time temperatures may dip into the low 50's.
Nearby attractions include: Maggie Valley, NC, Cherokee, NC, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the Mountain Farm Museum, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the Bryson City Railway and Asheville, NC
ADA Access: N
Best kept secret in the Smokies. Shhhhh…
I've hiked all over the Balsam Mt and Cataloochee area of the GSM, but this was my first front country camping experience. Quaint and quiet, tent pads are flat/level. Each site comes with a picnic table and fire ring with a grate to cook on. The areas are large enough for a canopy to be placed over the table. The tent pads are large enough to accommodate a 1-8+ person tent. One complaint I'd heard from other folks is that their RV's and campers had to be parked right on the road, as apposed to pulling them into an actual spot (no back in or pull through spots). The two restrooms are an easy walk from any spot. No showers. There is a dishwashing station, a nice little shelter with two very large sinks to clean up your dishes. This time of year (end of July/beginning of August), the temps up there never get above 70 or 75, and the lows were in the low 50's. The sites are close together, although I never felt crowded or encroached upon. There are little worn paths between site, so you can easily visit your neighbors if you're camping with friends. The camp hosts were incredibly sweet folks, although at the time I am writing this review, these particular ones will only be there until mid August, and a new host crew will arrive. They were pleasant to chat with, and made sure to come around to warn us that a possible storm was brewing in the Cherokee area and headed our way. Restrooms were super clean!! There is electricity, so be sure to bring a lantern or headlamp. Also, although there is plenty of running water, no soap or towels, only hand sanitizer. So be sure to also bring something to dry hands off with, +/- soap if the sanitizer dispenser is empty. There are many hiking opportunities near by, a few of which are easily accessible with a short, few mile drive down the mountain, and a nature trail is accessible from CS43. An even shorter drive or nice walk up the remaining road will bring you to on of the Flat Creek Trail entrances, which has a few benches to watch the sunset from the overlook. If you venture further onto Heintooga Rd, be warned that it's 14 miles one-way, unimproved, and can be very rutted and hard on low clearance vehicles. A beautiful little drive, just not a smooth one. Your furry family members are also welcome at this campground! They are required to be on a leash or long tie-out at all times for their safety, and the safety of other pets and wild animals. Keep in mind, pets are not allowed on the trails in the GSM, so although they can camp with you, they will not be able to join you on any hikes in the area. I can't wait to stay here again, and I'm so happy that I chose this campground as my first front country experience.
I camped at this campground about fifteen to twenty years ago, and I loved the coolness of the high altitude. That has not changed. When I camped at Balsam Mountain last night, there were things I didn’t remember from my first visit long ago. Now there are tent pads, and some of them are within spitting distance of each other. Fortunately, I got a site that was a good distance away from the next site. However, the site was small and sloped. If you have a large tent, just know that you might have to stake guy lines outside of the tent pad. The picnic table was not level, and the fire pit was very close to the picnic table. That wasn’t too bad, but almost every site was such that you had to park on the campground road, except for sites 26-31. Those were tent sites in which you had to park in a designated parking area and walk in a short distance. There are no hookups at this campground, which is okay with me since I am in a tent and carry my own water, and the restrooms have no showers. The worst part about the restrooms, however, is that you have to remember to take a towel/paper towel with you, and at night, make sure to take a lantern/headlamp/flashlight to the restroom. This may be TMI, but I am glad I had tissue in my pocket. Both rolls of toilet paper were empty. The men’s urinals are placed fairly high, so if you have small children, you will definitely want to let them use the toilet in the stall. There is no electricity at the restrooms, which means there is no light—not even outside. I enjoyed the campground for it being away from towns, but it was a little crowded anyway. Beware. If you are in an RV, you will have to park it on the campground road. There are no back-in sites, nor are there any pull-through sites. The RV sites are literally on wide sections of the paved campground road. Each site does have a picnic table and a fire pit, but there are no lantern poles. I did like it that there was a separate building for washing dishes. Also be aware that the campground is in a bear habitat, and you have to take precautions. I actually saw a huge pile of bear scat(poop) on the nature trail fewer than 100 yards away from the campground. Make sure when you go that you take everything you need, including ice, kiln-dried firewood, etc. The nearest town is fifteen miles away. Finding downed wood is hard to come by. I found just enough to have about a twenty-minute fire, and bringing wood from outside the park is not allowed unless it is sealed and certified. There is one nature trail that is about a half mile long, and it takes you to Heintooga Overlook, which is at the picnic area. To me, this is the best part about the campground, although it’s not really part of the campground. There is another trail not accessible directly from the campground, and years ago, you could hike to a waterfall. That is no longer the case. The trail has been re-routed, and several people have tried to find the waterfall without any luck. I came upon a small amphitheater while I was looking for wood, not that it would interest the camping overnighter, but it is interesting. Overall, I was disappointed in the campground. I was hoping to give it at least three stars, but the fact that you have to park in the road, there are not real RV sites, the restrooms are disappointing, and the site I was on was really small, I cannot give it three stars. Some of the campers I talked to loved the campground and come back every year. For me, there are better national park campgrounds in the Smokies.
We chose this campground specifically for the elevation, knowing we would be camping in late August and wanting an escape from the heat. It definitely delivered--at over 5300' elevation, it is much, much cooler at the campground than many of the trails lower in the Smokies. It is also extremely foggy--we did not spend much time here during the day as we were hiking, but both morning and nights we were there, clouds settled in over the entire campground, creating a very cool effect. (It also rained on us both nights, so make sure your tent is properly sealed against water!)
We stayed in sites 38 and 39, which had been booked in advance by the friends we went with. These are very close to the entrance, to other sites, to the bathrooms, the campground hosts, and the dishwashing station, and they are right on the road. It made these sites very convenient, but not the best for us as we had 5 small children with us. The tent pad at site 38 was also a little too small for our 6 person Coleman Evanston—one corner was hanging off the wooden platform.
While our campsite was not as private as we normally would choose for ourselves, the campground itself was very quiet and very peaceful, and nowhere near full occupancy, despite the crowds on the trails below us. It is very wet, so if you want a campfire be sure to buy some of the heat-treated wood available for purchase down the mountain, and be prepared to secure anything you don't want to get wet in your cars overnight.
My only complaint here was the interaction the campground hosts had with our children--a bear had been seen at the entrance to the campground our first night there, and one of the hosts attempted to scare one of our toddlers into staying close to her mom, which is a decision I found highly inappropriate, and the hosts in general acted annoyed anytime our children wanted to play more than a few feet away from the adults. However that is not a fault of the campground itself, and I think if we had not been so close to the host site that would not have been an issue, and would have made this a very family-friendly place to go--provided you prepare for temperatures 10-20 degrees cooler than it is at lower elevations!
Other things of note with this campground:
-For privacy, sites 32-37 looked to be the best, although they require a couple of steps down from the car so are not ADA compliant. These sites are very grassy, with a lot of room for kids and dogs to run around without being right on the road. Site 23 was also very private compared to the others, although small; I don’t think anything larger than a 4 person tent would fit here.
-The tent-only sites, 26-31, are clustered together and very open to each other, but offer privacy from the road and the other sites in the campground, and are considered the "walk-in" sites. The walk is very short, and I did see bear boxes to store food, as proper food storage is extremely important in the Smokies--within a few miles of the campsite we saw elk, bears, wild turkey, and deer.
-There is a dishwashing station behind site 38, with two sinks. There was some dish soap in there on our trip, but as always, be prepared with your own, and the water was cold water only.
-Site 38 is next to an open field rolling down the mountain; the hosts told us there is a bear family that likes to cross the campsite between sites 7 and 38, so be prepared to see one if you choose a site near this crossing!
-There is a trail along the edge of this campground that is supposed to have wonderful sunset views, although we did not get to take advantage of this due to the fog.
-Because of the high elevation, Balsam Mountain has a shorter operating season that the other GSMNP campgrounds; plan your trip accordingly.
-There are no electric or water hook-ups here, although RVs and campers may park at the sites.
-The bathrooms have solar-powered lights for nighttime, but they are very dim, so flashlights/headlamps are encouraged.
We camped at Balsam in late July. The night temps were in the 50s and 60s, perfect for a Fall preview for a southerner like me. The sites were smallish but private and the bathrooms were clean. We made friends with the salamanders that wandered through our site and were serenaded at 2 am by owls. Beautiful and quiet and too far from everything to hear much road noise. I would camp there over and over.
This campground is right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, close to Cherokee, and Maggie Valley. The sites are first come first service, which is great if you want to camp on a whim. No showers, but there are restrooms. This place is close to trails and there are plenty of waterfalls a short drive away. All sites have a tent pad, fire pit with grill, and picnic table. There is a larger picnic area next to the campground.
A great secluded campground in the Smokies. A few trails nearby, but we drove about an hour for most of the hikes we did. Clean bathrooms, no showers.
It was a busy weekend and everything was full. We finally found a place here and it was great. Clean bathrooms with running water. No showers but hey it was better than the middle of nowhere that we stayed the night before.
The long drive up the mountain is well worth it for the seclusion from the rest of the park. Plus, depending on your specific site location, you wake up to some beautiful views.
This is not Gatlinburg! It is almost an entirely different park. A lot quieter on the NC side overall, I feel. Flowers, Waterfalls, Wildlife, Mountains, Streams…amazing. No showers…not Canada!