Tennessee is a fantastic location for tourists and campers alike. It’s centrally located capital, Nashville, is the heart of the global country-music scene, meaning that many people flock from all around the world to see the music city capital. And with its miles of rolling hills, mountains and farm grounds, camping in the sixteenth state is bound to give you the country experience as well. Many of the campsites we will look at even encourage you to bring along your own musical instruments, so you can join in with a sing-along around the campsite.
From the Appalachian Mountain system dominating the eastern part of the state to the Mississippi river flanking the western border, the natural landscapes in Tennessee really are a sight to behold. However, despite some of the amazing natural features, Tennessee isn’t the most dramatic state you can camp in. Despite the stunning waterfalls, rocky mountains, and miles of rivers, we think that there’s something even more attractive and special about camping in Tennessee.
Did you know that one of Tennessee’s major industries is agriculture? What we think makes Tennessee such a quaint and attractive state to camp in are some of the alternative options such as rafting and rock climbing, which can be more difficult to find in other states. There’s also the agricultural lands. These include little family-run farmyards, where you can watch the sunset over the peaceful rolling hills, backcountry campsites nestled amongst stunning state parks, and unique isolated locations. That’s why we’ve compiled for you our top 7 small campgrounds, to show you our approach for the best tent camping in Tennessee.
Just one hour from Nashville, located in the lower Appalachian’s at the Upper Cumberland Plateau, this campsite is where primitive camping gets a new makeover. This family-run campsite surrounds you with 360-degree views of relaxing forests, spring-fed creeks and streams, a ledge waterfall with a 20-foot drop, and a rock shelter formation. You are also within close reach of some incredible hiking opportunities, like the Appalachian Trail.
This campsite has marketed itself perfectly to the person visiting from the city. One of the things that these people search for when getting out into nature, is to finally be able to stargaze, a long way away from the pollution and smog of the city. The Eastern Highland Rim Adventure campground has wide open pastures for stargazing, meaning you can truly be humbled by the magnitude of nature.
There are also many activities to be enjoyed at this campsite. You can go fishing in the nearby Centre Hill Lake for largemouth bass, striped bass, white bass, spotted bass, and the list goes on. You can also head off on one of the designated miles of trails in the family’s acreage and beyond. They keep a couple of well-maintained hiking trails that go past natural destinations such as a ledge waterfall with a natural oak shelter, creek exploring and cascades.
You can also go canoeing and kayaking nearby, and swimming in spring-fed creeks and waterfalls. This is a perfect option for those well versed in new camping trends: there are many places where you can put up your camping hammock, and they even provide a “comfort station” with an outdoor shower stall where you can hang your solar shower bag, a changing room and a rain barrel which you can use to refill your portable shower.
- 2 sites
- Restrooms and showering facilities
- Only two small campsites, so you can avoid the crowds, and really get in touch with nature
- Kitchen facilities
- 25% off on weeknights
- Rock fire pit
- No wifi
- No picnic tables
- No RV sites
Note: Want to make sure you don’t get lost in the great outdoors? Discover the best handheld GPS devices for camping here!
Located right on the border with Mississippi, the Lakeside Pigs Pears and Fishing Campground is another great option for those looking for a city break, especially if you’re traveling from Mississippi. What better way to catch a break from the city than staying on a working farm? In the camping area, you’ll be sleeping near to pigs, chickens, mini cows, a mini donkey, and ducks. In their orchards, they also grow persimmon, mulberries, pear trees and chestnuts.
There are also some great, easy fishing opportunities, in the campground’s three-acre pond where you can catch crappie, bass, bream, and catfish. In different spots, you can either choose to go fly fishing and wading or off the dock or boat fishing. This backcountry camping experience offers biking around the property, hiking around the 17-acre farm and further afield for rivers and streams, and swimming in their 3-acre pond.
This campsite certainly isn’t the luxury option, without basic amenities like showers, but what more can you expect when you’re stating on a farm? We’d recommend this as a great spot for family camping. This is because families thrive in a farmyard experience, you can use this as an opportunity to educate your young ones. Especially seeing as the campground and farmyard owners offer learning opportunities about permaculture, trees and animal husbandry.
What a great way to teach your kids how farms work, as they go and pick their fresh eggs in the morning. There’s also even easy access to fishing for the kids, making this the ideal family getaway spot. You’re certainly not getting the luxury of an RV park with a swimming pool, but we think that it’s a benefit that this will feel entirely different to RV camping. Go for it: get off the grid!
- No showers
- No Wi-Fi
- No picnic tables
- No fire ring
This campground is located in the Fall Creek Falls State Park, which is centered on the upper Crane Creek Gorge in Van Buren and Bledsoe counties. This 26,000-acre state park is famous for its unique geological formations and stunning waterfalls: we think it’s one of the most beautiful Tennessee state parks.
This campsite is located as close as you’re going to get to Fall Creek Falls. Fall Creek Falls, at 256 feet, is one of the highest waterfalls in the east of the United States. The falls are breathtaking and cascade down layers of rock and strata. There are also many other waterfalls to be viewed within this monumental park, such as Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades.
The Fall Creek Falls Campground is your best option for seeing this incredible landscape, especially if you’re backpacking. However, this does come at a price, many others flock to these natural phenomena too. With 268 sites, this campsite might feel a little bit busy with not a huge amount of primacy, and you may have to book in advance.
However, with the instant access to Fall Creek Falls, and all the other activities offered near the campground, this may be a sacrifice you’re willing to make as a backpacker. These activities include biking, boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, paddling, swimming and wildlife watching. This is a fantastic option for those who want their surroundings to be wilder than their campsite.
- Bathrooms and showers
- Right next to Fall Creek Falls
- 268 sites so it can become quite busy
- No Wi-Fi (this could be a pro!)
Do you want to de-stress and relax in a hammock while you listen to the calming sound of a waterfall dropping nearby? Or relax and swim in crystal clear streams? The Mountain Soul camping might be just the spot for you. Located just minutes away from the Great Smoky Mountains (and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and Cherokee National Forest, this campsite offers you the best in remote, zen camping experiences.
Whether you’re the only person hiking along a remote mountain biking rail, or building your own shelter in the wood and learning some survival skill, this is the perfect spot to reconnect with nature. Mountain Soul Camping has some lovely hammocks, set up right by the waterfall, so you can lie hanging between two trees and destress, reading your book to the sound of the water crashing on the rocks nearby.
As the name suggests, this campsite won’t just offer you mountains, it also comes with a soul. This campsite welcomes musicians and encourages them to bring their instrument, for a campfire singalong. There is also a great deal of live music nearby in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and nearby you can also escape on a moonshine or wine trail. There are only 6 sites here, each with up to 7 guests, so you can guarantee that your stay will feel intimate and not crowded.
There are also a huge number of activities that can be done at the campsite or nearby: biking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, snow-sports, canoeing and kayaking, swimming, whitewater rafting, and wildlife watching. The hosts here are also really exceptional, they often drive guests up to the mountains to see the views, or take them to fruit picking sessions in the evening. For a peaceful, soulful stay, in the middle of tranquil nature, look no further.
- Bathrooms and showers
- Kitchen facilities available
- Small sites so privacy is ensured
- Few tent sites
- No Wi-Fi
- Bring mosquito repellent
- Few tent sites
This 16.5-acre site offers a creativity retreat center, named Camp Wonder Wander, and a lovely little farm nestled beds the Buffalo River. Located in the foothills of the Appalachia hills, surrounded by rolling hills and farm country, this is a great way to become really situated in the local landscape and to understand the area’s agricultural life.
This is a perfect site for tent camping, with the campsite about three stories up from the river bed, meaning you can easily climb up the hill after a long day swimming and kayaking and sleep in a safe sheltered location, far above the high watermark. There’s even a pulley system so you can bring your equipment and kit up form the riverbank, and safely store it before the next day’s adventure. If you want a glamping experience, you could even stay in their lovely quaint treehouse!
There are a few options for backcountry tent camping here, including densely forested locations, which is perfect for hammock camping, and for hikers. Some locations are nearer to the animal inhabitants of the farm: rabbits, hens, camp cats and donkeys. You can also get involved in creative workshops, from collaging to pottery and purchase delicious fresh produce from the farm. One great feature of this campsite is how isolated it feels.
Vehicles aren’t allowed on the campsite: you have to park at the edge of the retreat and walk through five wooded acres. The campsite also doesn’t accept more than 12 campers at a time, so this is a fantastic option if you really want to be out in the sticks, away from the stressful sounds of roads and the city, and able to look up without interruption into the peaceful starry night’s sky before you sleep.
- Isolated and peaceful
- Creative classes and access to the farm and their produce
- Kayaking and canoeing right in Buffalo River, right next to the campsite
This is one of our favorite options for camping in Tennessee and is an excellent example of a novelty camping spot. Located on Maclellan Island, a unique and stunning 18.8-acre wildlife sanctuary, in the middle of the Tennessee River, you’d think that booking this tiny island all for yourself would leave you totally out in the sticks. But this couldn’t be further from the truth! Even with the tranquility and exclusivity of sleeping on your own, private wildlife-sanctuary-island, you’re still right in the heart of downtown Chattanooga!
This is an excellent option for those looking for a convenient, but unique and edgy, city-break camping experience, which feels like a backcountry campsite. However, this experience really is what you and your group make of it. There’s only one site, for up to 30 people, and you can only book this island as one group. There’s also no shower, kitchen or portable water facilities. Furthermore, you have to access the island with your own boat, or a rented canoe. So, if you’re a group looking for a unique adventure for a celebration or a family getaway, we’d recommend hiring canoes for a few days and calling this island your home. Seeing as it goes from only $25 per night, what have you got to lose?
You can only access the island via boat, so despite the central location, you’ll get the adventure experience you’ve been looking for. Especially with the amazingly diverse ecosystem and wildlife viewing opportunities on the island. On the water’s edge you can see geese, muskrats, and kingfishers, and sometimes great-blue heron, nestling osprey, and migrating warblers; in the forest, you might sight possums, foxes, owls, raccoons, turkeys, and woodpeckers. You’ll probably also wake up to the dulcet tones of the songbirds resonating from the trees. If that doesn’t sound like the most tranquil urban camping trip, without any of the fuss of heading to a backcountry site, we don’t know what does!
- In the heart of Downtown Chattanooga
- Your group will have their own, private island
- Wildlife viewing
- No shower, no running water
- Only accessible by boat
- No hookups
This is one of the most famous and iconic backpacking destinations in the whole of the state. If you’re planning a long trip around the state, and are picking up many parks and natural locations and campgrounds this is a sight you cannot afford to miss. Although it’s not technically a ‘tent camping site’, we couldn’t resist mentioning it.
Situated in the Appalachian Trail, and known affectionately by hikers as ‘the barn’, this structure operates as an Overmountain Shelter. This can sleep up to 30 people, and is a charming, although rustic, backcountry dwelling. If you’re backpacking on your own in Tennessee, places such as ‘the barn’, and other similar dwellings like the rustic Roan High Knob Shelter (the highest shelter on the Appalachian trail), are a fantastic way to meet other cool hikers, who are just as adventurous as you are.
- Embrace the adventure
- Meet other awesome backpacks
- Primitive, limited amenities
- No Wi-Fi
- Difficult to access
As you can see, we’ve chosen to show you the best tent camping in Tennessee through our eyes. If you’re looking for the ultimate luxury camping experience, or for a full hookup or RV camping, then this isn’t the advice for you. What makes these campsites unique is that they’re really rooted in the land of the state. Either active family-run farmyards, backcountry camping in remote areas of state parks, or private little group escapes on an island reserved entirely for you: these options show you the best of camping in Tennessee.
The reason for this is that you’re not going to understand Tennessee’s southern charm and hospitality from one of the larger, swankier, more overpopulated campsites. These smaller campsites, although they might not be open year-round or come with the most extensive list of amenities, capture the charm and heart of the state. Imagine sitting around a campfire, listening to people play country music, after a long day canoeing or swimming in the river, on a family-owned farm. You can’t get more of a Tennessee camping experience than that!