I had actually never been camping prior to the pandemic, and after some of our best friends took us to Fall Creek Falls (literally the week before everything shut down), we’ve been hooked. However, I’m far more of a glamper than a tent-camper, so at the beginning of the pandemic, we invested a little money in a 20+ year-old pop up camper and began to explore nearby campgrounds. So all that to say, we’re only two years into camping, and I still consider us somewhat novices. Despite being novices, I’ve got a lengthy list of campsites that are on my list of places to visit.
East Tennessee Family Campgrounds
If you’re looking to stay within an hour:
Indian Mountain State Park
Indian Mountain is a small state park near the Kentucky border. It’s just a little over an hour to get to, and it’s incredibly quaint. It’s not a big campground at all, and it’s well laid out so that your kids can play at the playground in the center of it all. With a decent sized lake in the campground, there’s also the option to rent paddleboards, kayaks and pedal boats during the summer, as well as fish year-round. But one of the handiest tips about staying at this park during the summer is that Kentucky Splash Waterpark is only about 20 minutes away! I highly recommend visiting during the summer, and adding a day at Kentucky Splash to your itinerary.
Little Arrow is a little on the bougie side, but it’s absolutely worth a trip! Located in Townsend, you can enjoy the beauty of the Smoky Mountains right next to the Little River. They have tent sites, camper sites, and you can even rent Airstreams, cabins and glamping tents. It’s got an adorable playground, amazing camp store with a coffee shop, and even a pool on site. If you want to get away to the Smokies, Little Arrow is an excellent campground.
I haven’t actually stayed at this campground, but I see it recommended over and over again. It’s only forty minutes away, the views look incredible, and it’s probably as close as you can get to a beach without actually being at a coastal beach. You can rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and paddle boats as well. For an extra special occasion, there is a marina close by from where you can rent boats too! Make sure to add this one to your list.
Pigeon Forge KOA
To be fair, camping at the Pigeon Forge KOA is kind of the opposite of camping. It’s literally in the center of anything, and there’s not really any privacy to speak of. However, it’s a great option for a quick getaway to Pigeon Forge and a great place to entertain the kids (even the campground itself). They have an outdoor cinema, fun train, jumping pillow, gravity rail, gem mine, bike rental, heated pool, and a sauna. It’s right next to The Island in Pigeon Forge, as well as Toy Box Mini Golf.
If you’re looking to stay within a three hours:
Fall Creek Falls will always hold a special place in my heart since it was the first campground we went to with our dear friends. It’s a massive state park with over 200 campsites. There’s rock climbing, a canopy challenge course, boating, swimming, hiking, fishing and even a golf course. There are also some pretty wonderful playgrounds. It’s no wonder we fell in love with camping since our first trip was to this incredible state park with its breathtaking waterfalls!
This was a camping experience that let truly let us get up close and personal with nature. Deer are everywhere you look, almost so close you can touch them. At night, a nursery of raccoons come out to scavenge, and they are quite the handful. We also went on a summertime park excursion with the rangers who showed us how to identify bats, and we were able to listen to the sounds they make with an echo meter. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, there are several campsites right along the water so that you can just hop in anytime you want! If for no other reason, Harris Bay State Park is worth checking out because it’s the oldest state park in Tennessee. It’s right outside of Chattanooga, leaving plenty of things to do both inside and outside the park.
Indian Boundary is yet another park that we haven’t had the good fortune to visit. Why is that? Because it’s always booked up which tells you that it’s incredibly popular. Indian Boundary is a great place to visit if you are looking for a way to unplug — you won’t find cell service here. This campground is ideal for the warmer weather since it has a swim beach, but if it’s not quite warm enough to swim, you can always rent kayaks. If you’re looking for a picturesque place to get away from it all, plan a trip to Indian Boundary.
Rock Island is a very scenic and picturesque park, and the waterfalls at the park and nearby (Cummins Falls, Burgess Falls, etc.) make it worth the trip. The park is pretty spread out though, so if it’s hiking trails you are looking for, be prepared to still have to use your car to get to and from the trails. However, this park is ideal for kayaks so that you can get up close to the falls (provided flooding hasn’t been an issue). When we went, we actually weren’t able to get on a few of the trails due to floods and high waters. Despite that, we still had an incredible time visiting Rock Island.
If you’re looking to stay more than three hours away:
We haven’t been to this park either, so this addition comes from the mention of camping friends. While it is six hours away in Ohio (without stops), the scenery makes it worth the trip. The campground has a swimming pool, playgrounds, volleyball court, 25 miles of trails, fishing and even an archery range. Our friends rave about this campground and how they can’t wait to go back to visit. We’ve definitely added it to our list for future trips!
If you love Charleston, SC, this campground is an absolute must! This is our favorite place to camp, but it is also approximately six hours away. James Island County Park is just 20 minutes from downtown Charleston and even closer to Folly Beach. To be honest though, there’s not even a need to venture outside the campground because the park has entertainment for days. Within the park, there’s actual a waterpark (Splash Zone), which is super cheap and great for kids. There are terrific, level bike trails, and even if you don’t bring your bikes, you can rent them. You can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and pedal boats. You can also borrow fishing equipment for free (just need to make sure you pay for a fishing license), and you can rent equipment for their climbing wall. Did I mention there is a huge shade-covered playground and even a splash pad on the premises as well? Oh, and if you bring your furry best friends, the 12-acre dog park is surround by water for your pups to splash in and out of (just be wary of gators). Lastly, if you happen to go in November or December, the park transforms into a Christmas wonderland with a Holiday Festival Lights!