The Best of East Tennessee

By Sydnee Brashears

Camping in Tennessee is a time-honored tradition, to take in the natural beauty of our Smoky Mountains and the changing leaves in the fall that would leave Vermont jealous. When you live in the city, however, it can be hard to know which camping spots are best for a family trip, an overnight or just a quick hike through the woods. Here’s a quick list of the best places to enjoy nature whenever you feel the need to get out there, but not too far from home. 

One of the most popular campsites in East Tennessee is called Cades Cove. Located just 11 miles from Townsend, the campground is open year-round with check-in starting at 11 am. Not only is it beautiful and populated with Tennessee wildlife such as white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes and turkeys, it also has a great historical value to Tennessee. The Native American Cherokee tribe used to hunt at Cades Cove, and the settlers of the area left behind the most varied historical buildings concentrated in the Smoky Mountains! Offering everything from RV camping spots to tents, you can rough it however you feel comfortable. 

Also in Townsend is the Little River Campground. Recently under new management, the park boasts fishing, camping, a newly redesigned bathhouse, as well as WiFi and mature trees. With day passes from $15, the Little River is the perfect little spot in the Smokies. 

Hidden in Tellico, meanwhile, is a place called Indian Boundary. Considered the Crown Jewel of Cherokee forest,  Indian Boundary is an 87-spot campground that boasts a variety of activities like swimming, fishing, biking and wildlife observation. Only open from April to November, it costs $10 a night to stay at any standard electricity-supplied space. 

One of my favorite spots in Crossville is called Deer Run RV Resort. Open year-round with a $10 refundable gate fee, 

Deer Run RV Resort is gorgeous no matter the weather. With an enormous lake for fishing, swimming and waterboarding, a pool, as well as access to a communal shower and activities planned by staff throughout the day, Deer Run RV Resort is a great place to bring the family. And you don’t need an RV, either – they offer places for tent camping as well as cabins. There are limited hiking trails, but this is a place to sit and enjoy yourself by the water. 

Other family-friendly parks include the Norris Dam State Park that offers several lengths of hiking trails, several pull-ins and nearby attractions like the Museum of Appalachia. Not including the $5 non-refundable reservation fee, the campground at Norris Dam costs between $15-$27 a night depending on where you stay. This park does include a laundromat, so you can stay long after the first socks get muddy. If you prefer climbing over hiking, The Obed Lilypad on the Cumberland Plateau is a climber’s paradise and inexpensive at $5 a night. Though it sits on private land, the Obed Lilypad is open to all those who want to tackle Tennessee’s rocky top. 

If you want a splashing good time, Tennessee has plenty of waterfalls, creeks and bends to keep you cool in our famously humid summers. Down in Hiwassee, the Gee Creek Campground in Hiwassee/Ocoee State Scenic River State Park offers a cool swim, a fishing area and even rafting. It is a primitive campground, however, catering to tent users. Depending on how many people are in your party, campsites can be anywhere from $30-$80 a night. If you want something water-related that’s a little more exciting, 

Nolichucky Gorge on the Nolichucky River near the Tri-cities has the answer. Offering tubing, swimming and its signature whitewater rafting in late spring, Nolichucky Gorge can either be relaxing or exciting depending on what you’re looking for. Nolichucky Gorge also offers places for RVs and offers cabins if you want the outdoors to stay out. If you’re only looking to stay for the day, it’s $4 per person, and if you want an overnight, prices range from $11.50 a person (kids for $5) to $219 a night for the deluxe family cabin that sleeps 14. 

But maybe a relaxing day trip isn’t what you want in a camping experience. Maybe you’re looking for a classic, overnight, backpacking, roughing it experience worthy of stories by the fire both in and outside the house. Given our proximity to the Appalachian Trail, you’re in luck. With over 50 miles of trails, Frozen Head State Park in the Cumberland Mountain offers 10 backcountry sites for backpackers and adventurers. The rates are between $8 and $35 a night. They ask that no one hikes a trail at night, due to the obvious risks involved. For night hiking, the Big South Fork National Park, also on the Cumberland Plateau, offers trails ranging from 11-55 miles for all levels of backpackers. A backcountry permit is required, however, and can be obtained for $5 depending on how many people will be traveling together. Open year-round, the park has no entrance fees. 

No matter what your skill, or what you want out of your camping experience, there’s a park for you. Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or an RV owner hoping to enjoy the outdoors, there’s a park for you. Whether you want to whitewater raft or take a tubing cruise, there’s a park for you. Take advantage of the beautiful outdoors of Tennessee. The fantastic natural scenery is waiting.

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