We camped at Look Rock Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for Memorial Day 2023. Look Rock Campground reopened in Fall 2022 after a 10 year closure. There are now ten sites with water and sewer hookups, in addition to flush toilets and a dump station. We were able to snag two sites, 41 and 43, to take advantage of the new amenities. I’ll start with a brief review of the campground, with some pros and cons before giving the highlights of our weekend at Look Rock.
Look Rock Campground Review
Located on the west end of the park off of the Foothills Parkway, Look Rock is much less crowded than interior campgrounds like Cades Cove and Elkmont. There was some road noise from motorcycles and sports cars on the Foothills Parkway, but it was not something that was an issue at night. The sites are spacious and wooded with asphalt parking areas. Each site had a picnic table and fire ring. We were lucky enough to be located next to a bear proof dumpster, so trash disposal was easy.
Having water and electric was a great addition to your typical National Park camping experience. I want to note that the electricity hookups had plugs for both 30 and 50 amp, which is not clear when booking via Recreation.gov. Since the campground was newly renovated, we had no issues with power or water supply. We only used the bathrooms once or twice, but they were clean and in good shape. It appeared to me that they had just fixed up the original bathrooms because they did not appear to be new construction.
The campground is pretty far from civilization and aside from the Look Rock Tower Trail, there were no hiking trails. Even the trails that meander the campground connecting the bathrooms were overgrown with poison ivy. The amphitheater is yet to be renovated. There is no visitor’s center or store on this side of the mountain. You couldn’t even buy a parking pass to use should you decide to drive to other parts of the park. So, essentially, bring everything you need to camp as well as maps to figure out where to go next because cellular service was only available at the Look Rock overlook.
We spent most of our time in the campground riding bikes and decorating the fresh asphalt with sidewalk chalk. While I appreciated the remote and scenic location and feel of the campground, we do prefer to have a few more activity options at the campground. At this site, we had to drive several miles to access additional hiking trails, creeks, or visitors centers to entertain the kids.
Look Rock Weekend Highlights
At about 4.5 hour drive from Athens, we arrived around 3 pm on Friday afternoon. It was sunny, but the mountain air is always cooler. We were actually surprised by how cool the weather was all weekend. We were thankful we grabbed our jackets at the last minute. Friday evening we hung out with our friends at the campground. While eating dinner together, we decided to try to watch the sunset from Look Rock Tower. With lots of little legs and limited time, we opted to drive to the parking area rather than walk the full distance to the parking area. This was the right decision as we would not have made it all the way with all the kids in time.
The view from the overlook at the parking area was worth the trip, but with some time left before sunset we decided to hike up the hill to the tower. At 0.6 mile each way, the trail is a steep, narrow paved path. Logan and I were carrying our three-year-old twins in carriers, and we could certainly feel the burn on the climb. Despite the paved trail, I would not call the trail accessible or stroller friendly due to the steep grade.
The tower is much like the one at Clingman’s Dome with a sloped concrete ramp to the top. There are views from all sides. The western view is of the populated valley below. The eastern view is of the Great Smoky Mountains. This was a highlight of the trip and certainly worth the hike if you are in the area. The views from the top were stunning. We didn’t make it all the way to sunset since our kids were running around like wild animals on the top of a 50-foot tower, so we opted to hike on down before dark.
Saturday in the Park
On Saturday we had a slow breakfast and let the kids ride bikes and scooters some more. We packed up a picnic lunch and the guys packed their fly-fishing gear and drove into Townsend to pick up a parking pass. The GSMNP now requires a paid parking pass for any parking longer than 15 minutes in the park. We headed to Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, a large picnic area located on the Middle Prong of the Little River, and had a picnic. The kids played in the water for a bit, but it was pretty chilly. We didn’t do any swimming, although we saw several people swimming and tubing.
Soon after, the guys walked up the creek to do some fishing, and we crossed the one lane bridge and started a hike to the Little Greenbriar Schoolhouse with the five kids. While the signs said the hike was 0.6 mile each way, it felt a bit longer while carrying kids and hiking up hill the first 1/3 of the hike. After the initial ascent up a gravel road, we descended into a lovely forest of rhododendron and mountain laurel along a creek.
There are three narrow log bridges across the creek before arriving at the old one-room schoolhouse nestled in a clearing next to a cemetery. The original desks and chalkboard are still present in the schoolhouse. Our kids enjoying playing school before heading back to hunt for snails in the creek. The hike out felt much quicker than the way in. We arrived back to our picnic table in time for another snack. The guys arrived shortly after.
We took the scenic route back to Townsend via the Little River Road. Back at camp, we grilled steaks and built a campfire. We had smores and the littles were begging to get in bed after a long day.
Sunday was predicted to be a rainy day, but we lucked out with only a few sprinkles off and on throughout the day. Another slow morning before heading into Townsend. We planned to eat at Peaceful Side Social, but didn’t have plans beyond that. The brewery had a nice play area, so the kids played for a while there and weren’t up for a hike. We stopped at a fly shop and took a scenic route back to camp. Logan and I cooked another camp favorite, Greek grilled chicken with grilled veggies, rice, and feta cheese. The kids made art, rode bikes, and chalked up an epic obstacle course on the road. We sparked up a fire to warm up and make smores before heading to bed early.
Monday was our last morning. Overcast and chilly again, we spent the morning packing up while the kids played on the bunks and rode bikes some more. If you want to teach your kid to ride a bike, take them camping with other bike riding kiddos. It is motivating and there are lots of safe roads to practice on.
Once everything was prepped the guys headed around the loop to the dumping station, while sloped slightly in the wrong direction there were no other issues here. The girls hiked to the nearby bathroom with the kids and soon the kids were entertained watching the dump station action. I was cringing as they touched the pavement in that area, but they did learn a thing or two about where all that waste goes. I never would have thought this would have provided as much entertainment as it did.
We embarked on our long journey home. I knew I would end up writing a blog, so I forced my recently buckled in family to unload at an overlook for a few photos. We may have picked the worst possible overlook for a photo shoot, but I’m glad we got a couple family photos anyway. For lunch, we stopped at the same Cleveland, TN exit we utilized on the way up. With minimal stops, we made it home mid-afternoon with plenty of time to unload.