I fell in love with camping the very first time I camped. I had never camped as a child and I was nervous about tent camping in bear country. The first night I found it hard to sleep, but it was spring in the Great Smoky Mountains and we were next to the Little River. I remember asking God if he could turn the volume down a little during the night because the river was so loud! My husband had camped his entire life so he knew all the tricks to make it fun; he made sure we had the best experience and had all the equipment and tools to make it easy. It rained the first day and night, but it dried up after that, and warmed up, too.
That first adventure to Elkmont Campground made us a camping family and it is still one of our favorite things to do together.
We have fostered in our children not only a love of camping, but also a love of the great outdoors, hiking, unplugging, and simple time spent together around the campsite. Our kids help us cook, clean, set up, and take down the site. They get to choose meals and activities. Now that they are older, we sometimes let them bring friends and have their own tent to share. I hope this post, along with my previous about campfire recipes, will inspire you to take your family camping, too. Camping can be both the most affordable and rewarding trip you ever take.
Below is a list of five wonderful campsites a short drive from Knoxville. You can dip your toes in for a night or two for starters, but they are all good for longer camping trips, too! Once you decide camping is for you, consider planning a camping trip that takes you further, maybe to the beach or to a park out west!
The Elkmont Campground is situated in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just eight miles from Gatlinburg. You can camp here and drive into Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge for entertainment. You can also make use of the nearby hiking and the river, which is a short walk from the campsite. This is a busy campground, so you will want to make reservations online ahead of time (you can make reservations up to six months in advance). Bonus: the Synchronous Fireflies will put on a spectacular show the first two weeks in June, but campsites go quickly and as soon as they are available in December to reserve, so set an alarm and snag yours early. The campground has restrooms, but no electricity or showers. This campground is ideal for tents, but campers are allowed as well. Each site has a tent pad, fire ring, and picnic table. Dogs are welcome. It is bear country, so be sure to closely follow the bear restrictions!
Also in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cosby Campground is about 20 miles from Gatlinburg. This is a great campground for families. You can reserve your site online, but they usually have plenty of sites available except for during holiday weekends. The campground offers tons of hiking and is close to the Appalachian Trail. Each site has a tent pad, fire ring, and picnic table. The campground is best for tents, but offers some RV sites as well. Bathrooms are available, but showers are not. Dogs are welcome. This campground is located in bear habitat so read and follow the bear restrictions!
Part of the Cherokee National Forest, Indian Boundary Campground is located in Cherokee, TN. This campground offers a huge lake, lots of hiking, fishing, and a beach area. It has full bathrooms with showers, and running water and electricity at every campsite. Warning: our GPS took us on a crazy-scary-gravel-uphill-road and we had to turn around and ask for directions. The tow truck driver I happened to ask for directions said he tows people out of there about twice a day. So, look at a map and figure out how to get there ahead of time. Dogs are welcome.
Located in Benton, TN and just up the road from the Ocoee River, you’ll find Chilhowee Campground. The drive up is gorgeous with scenic overlooks where you MUST stop to capture the views. There are plenty of hiking trails, a swim area with sand beach, a lake (they call it a lake, I call it a pond) where you can put in your canoe or kayak, biking trails, fishing, and a scenic waterfall. There are tent sites and RV sites, electrical hookups, bathrooms with showers, fire rings, and picnic tables. Dogs are welcome.
Located in Maynardville, TN on Norris Lake is Big Ridge State Park. Big Ridge has tons of hiking, paddling, swimming, boating, and fishing. Kids bike through the campground, too! Sites will accommodate RVs and tents. Each site has water and electrical hookups, picnic tables, and fire rings. Dogs are welcome.