There’s just nothing quite like sleeping outdoors. Those who have never tried it may say that they prefer the softness of a bed, but sleeping outdoors can rejuvenate your body, soul, and spirit in ways that nothing else can.
Campgrounds in Tennessee are among the best in the South. In addition to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee is home to the Cherokee National Forest, multiple rivers, thousands of wild caves, and several other natural beauties. From stunning waterfalls to breathtaking hikes, Rocky Top Tennessee has something for all nature lovers.
If you like to enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of a tent, here are the seven best campgrounds in Tennessee.
Fall Creek Falls is the biggest and most frequented state park in Tennessee. Over 26,000 acres sprawled across the eastern portion of the Cumberland Plateau make up the park. Waterfalls, cascades, gorges, streams, and dense forests beckon all nature lovers.
For waterfall lovers, like myself, this park has much to offer. Measuring 256 feet high, Fall Creek Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the eastern United States. The park is also home to Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades.
Fall Creek Falls State Park has over 34 miles of trails, including two long-distance overnight trails for adventure-seeking visitors. There are several other activities visitors can enjoy including horseback riding, cycling, fishing, zip lining, golfing, and more.
A park as vast as Fall Creek Falls would need to have a lot of camping options, and it does. The park has 222 RV/tent campsites. The majority of them have tables, grills, water, and electricity. The campground has seven bathhouses. In addition to the electric campsites, there are 16 primitive sites as well as two group camps.
My husband and I visited at the beginning of December. It was super cold, so we didn’t have many neighbors—except for deer. The campground teems with deer. One even came up and ate out of our hand (I know, I know…it’s against the rules, but petting a deer was on my bucket list).
Fall Creek Falls is fantastic. It is the perfect combination of all of nature’s elements and is a must-visit for any lover of the outdoors.
Rock Island State Park is nestled at the confluence of the Caney Fork, Collins, and Rocky Rivers. The park is 883 acres and is home to deep gorges, cascading waterfalls, scenic overlooks and more.
Situated on Center Hill Lake, this park is an oasis for watersport lovers. The whitewater section of the Caney Fork River Gorge attracts freestyle kayakers from all around the world. Rock Island’s pristine and rugged environment also lures in many nature lovers from around the Southeast. Twin Falls, Great Falls, the Blue Hole, the Cold Hole, and the Warm Hole are all popular attractions at Rock Island State Park.
There are two campgrounds at Rock Island, but some of the sites close seasonally; 20 are available year-round. The main campground has 50 sites—each equipped with electricity, water hookups, a charcoal grill, fire ring, lantern hanger, and a picnic table. These sites accommodate trailers, RVs, and tents. If you prefer tent-only campgrounds, Rock Island delivers; the tent-only campground has ten sites. Each location has electrical service, water, fire ring, grill, and a picnic table. Fully-equipped bathhouses service both campgrounds.
Although Rock Island has some incredible hikes and water sports opportunities, if you’re really up for an adventure, check out Lost Creek Cave. It’s less than 30 minutes away from Rock Island. Just be sure to bring a headlamp, gloves, and a sturdy pair of shoes. Tours here are self-guided, and when we went, we only encountered a handful of people. It’s an intense experience and not for the faint of heart; I seriously thought I was going to die, y’all.
Be sure to check the water release schedule before visiting Rock Island. Many of the trails close during active spilling periods.
If you want some true isolation, Frozen Head State Park is just the place. The park encompasses more than 24,000 acres of wilderness and boasts over 50 miles of trails. People often overlook the park because it is a little “out of the way,” but it offers unrivaled views of the Smokies. It also gives visitors an authentic wilderness feel.
The park is home to a 3,324-foot summit of the Cumberland Mountains. The peak, which is typically shrouded in snow or ice during the winter months, gives the park its name. Frozen Head also has some quality waterfalls and mountain streams. They are best viewed after a good rain, so plan to go during a wet season.
It’s unlikely that you will encounter fellow hikers along a trail at Frozen Head. However, one of the more popular hikes is the Chimney Top Trail. Should you decide to endeavor up the strenuous 6.6-mile trail, stunning views of the area will be your reward.
In keeping with the minimalist experience of Frozen Head, none of the campsites offer electricity or water hookups. There is, however, a bathhouse, a centrally located water faucet, and a sink basin behind the bathhouse for dishwashing. Each of the 20 rustic campsites has a picnic table, grill, lantern hanger, a fire ring, and a place to park your vehicle.
If you want a more primitive experience, there are ten designated backcountry campsites along the 50 miles of trails. Four of these are group sites, and you have to hike to reach each location.
Die-hard adventure seekers will love camping at Hiwassee / Ocoee State Park. The park is home to the world-renown Ocoee River, a tributary of the Hiwassee. Based on the International Scale of River Difficulty, the Hiwassee / Ocoee Rivers have Class I thru V rapids. It lures many kayakers and rafters alike.
Floating, canoeing, kayaking, and rafting are the major attractions for both the Ocoee and Hiwassee Rivers. The Middle Ocoee is practically a continuous whitewater experience. The Upper Ocoee offers Class II and Class IV rapids and was used during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta as the canoe slalom venue.
While Hiwassee / Ocoee State Park doesn’t offer much in terms of hiking trails, the rivers flow through the Cherokee National Forest, which offers tons of hiking.
If you want to camp along the scenic Hiwassee River, then reserve a spot at Gee Creek Campground. Some sites are so close to the river that the sound of rushing water can lull you to sleep at night. Gee Campground has 47 primitive sites, each with a picnic table, fire ring, and grill. Public water and a bathhouse are near the center of the campground. There is also a group campground with eight separate sites.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses an area of over 520,000 acres and has over 800 miles of trails. Exploring it all at one time is impossible.
Cosby Campground is the third largest in the GSMNP. However, its remote location means that it’s not busy most of the time; it is peaceful and allows you to enjoy some of what the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer. It’s located only three miles from the Appalachian Trail via the Lower Gap Trail, making the backcountry accessible. Gatlinburg is also just 20 miles away.
The campground features over 131 campsites, and they are available on a first come-first serve basis. There are, however, 26 campsites that you can reserve in advance. All campsites accommodate tents, but RV sites are less common, so be sure to call in advance to check availability. Tent-only sites have a framed tent pad, a picnic table, and a fire ring with a cooking grate. RV sites have the same setup, minus the tent pad.
As with all of the campgrounds within GSMNP, there is no electricity, showers, or water hookups. However, the campground does have cold potable running water and restrooms with flushable toilets. Three group campsites are available, but you have to make a reservation ahead of time.
There are several trails within the confines of the campground as well as trails leading to other portions of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States.
#6 Savage Gulf
Savage Gulf is a wilderness area located within Tennessee’s South Cumberland State Park. It is relatively close to Chattanooga and boasts over 50 miles of trails. The entire Savage Gulf wilderness encompasses over 15,590 acres.
The wilderness has several natural features including waterfalls, scenic overlooks, sandstone cliffs, canyons, and sinks. Savage Gulf is also home to Stone Door, a 10-by-100-foot crack through the rock.
Water abounds at Savage Gulf. Greeter Falls and Big Creek both have their home in this wilderness. You’ll see waterfalls dropping over limestone ledges and flowing into sinks before disappearing underground. Cascading creeks drop over 800 feet through narrow gorges to form the gulfs that give the wilderness its name.
Camping at Savage Falls is relatively primitive. There are twelve backcountry campgrounds at South Cumberland State Park. You will find these backcountry campgrounds along the Fiery Gizzard and Savage Gulf trail systems. Each site has a fire ring, and you have to hike to reach each location. You will have to filter your water from natural sources or carry it in, and a pit toilet is available at each campground.
Located in Wildersville, Tennessee, Natchez Trace State Park encompasses a state park, a state forest, and a wildlife management area. The park spans 48,000 acres and is home to four large lakes, a public swim beach, and over 40 miles of nature trails. Natchez Trail State Park also has a firing range, a wrangler camp, 250 miles of horseback riding trails, and an archery range.
Natchez Trace has a rich history. Its name was the original name for a series of paths and trails that originated with migratory animal routes and American Indian trade and travel routes. The park was built as part of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Land for the park was purchased from residents who could no longer make a living by farming the land due to extensive erosion issues.
Natchez Trace State Park has a total of 208 campsites. Four bathhouses serve the campsites, and each has a picnic table, grill, water hookup, and electricity. There is a separate RV campground that has 77 sites, two bathhouses, electric hookups, sewer, and water hookups. Feel free to do a little backcountry camping in one of the four designated backcountry campgrounds.
Since Natchez Trace offers 250 miles of horseback riding trails, it’s only fitting that the park would have a campground that can accommodate horses. The Bucksnort Wrangler Camp has 62 campsites with full hookups, one camping cabin, two bathhouses, electrical hookups, and a dump station. Each site also has a picnic table, grill, water hookups, and a hitching rail.
Tennessee is truly stunning. Whether you’re just looking to get away for a while or are up for some hardcore adventure, the volunteer state has something that you’re sure to love. So next time you decide to ditch the city for a while, we hope that you will check out some of the best campgrounds in Tennessee.