Ian and Linzy Nicely have always known there’s something special in the hills of East Tennessee, so they set out to create a space for others to discover the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains at Camp LeConte, their family-owned and operated resort in Gatlinburg.
Camp LeConte has attracted travelers and attention from across the country. Most recently, the retreat has piqued the interest of a panel of experts for USA Today’s 2020 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Awards. Camp LeConte is a nominee for the nationwide search for the Best Vintage Trailer Hotel.
The Readers’ Choice Travel Awards recognizes 20 nominees in a variety of categories each year, and voters choose the top 10. Camp LeConte is one of the only nominees in the Southeast and the sole contender in Tennessee. The Nicelys have promoted the contest and hope to finish in first place when the polls close Oct. 12. Voting is available at 10best.com/awards/travel/best-airstream-vintage-trailer-hotel. Winners will be announced Oct. 23.
You can’t miss the robin egg blue and ruby red retro campers at Camp LeConte. Appropriately named, “Glamping at Tiffany’s” and “The Ruby Slipper,” the trailers are a guest favorite at the resort and are reserved months in advance.
Both “glampers,” or glamourous campers, are a replica of the 1961 Shasta Airflyte 16SC Travel Trailer, even down to the iconic Shasta wings. The inside is just as Instagrammable as the outside and includes a booth dinette that can be converted into a bed. “Glamping at Tiffany’s” and “The Ruby Slipper” also have microwaves, refrigerators and air conditioning.
Visitors can gather around fire pits outside the trailer doors to snack on s’mores or eat a supper prepared on the charcoal grill. Toiletries and towels are provided to be used at the shared bathhouse located steps away.
Glamper reservations start at about $115 a night, but if you want to stay in the one-of-a-kind rooms, you’ll have to plan fast. Limited dates are available through December.
“The trailers have been a hit,” Linzy told Knox News. “It’s a trendy experience that you don’t get out here otherwise.”
Seeing the Smokies in style
The Nicelys bought Camp LeConte in 2013 with the help of their families. Fresh out of college, the couple had big dreams for the run-down property. They believed it had the potential to become the area’s first outdoor luxury campsite.
“No one had even tried doing something like that here,” Linzy said. “No one really knew what it was.”
The family scoured Africa and Europe to find swanky “glamping” tents for the resort. They continued to add stylish spots for guests to stay including the vintage trailers and two open-air treehouses over the years.
Their vision was to create a place for people who aren’t outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy nature comfortably in East Tennessee. Camp LeConte’s proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and downtown Gatlinburg make it perfect for travelers who want to get some fresh air and stay close to the city.
Camp LeConte gives guests access to wi-fi, a heated pool, community cookouts, trolley transportation and more to ensure they enjoy their socially distanced stay. The Nicelys said the campsite has been more popular than ever as visitors have more time to travel and work remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our whole thing is to get people who wouldn’t usually camp outside to come here and enjoy it,” Linzy said. “Anyone can do it and love it.”
A year unlike any other
Camp LeConte closed in March and April because of rising coronavirus cases. The Nicelys were overwhelmed by the demand when they reopened in May and told Knox News 2020 has been their busiest year yet.
The family has more than recovered from their losses during the temporary closure, and the campsite has been at capacity since. Camp LeConte’s recent success inspired the Nicelys to move forward with plans to expand the property by spring 2022.
Linzy told Knox News that Camp LeConte will add a themed glamping area with new kinds of accommodations. The Nicelys are waiting until next winter to begin construction on the venture, but they plan on making improvements to the existing sites by next season.
More information about Camp LeConte and reservations is available at campleconte.com.
Allie Clouse covers entertainment and attractions in East Tennessee