Camping the 50 States: Tent Camping in Tennessee

May 12, 2010
The trees of Tennessee

The trees of Tennessee
Photo by: Eric Camil, Jr. (Stock Exchange)

Tennessee may be the land of Nashville and bluegrass, but did you know it’s also a great place for camping?

On this edition of AllCampgrounds, we’ll be looking at some of the best tent camping opportunities in Tennessee.

With plenty of great rivers, mountains, and free backcountry camping at all state parks that offer it, this southeastern state is especially inviting for mountaineers and boating enthusiasts who want to get out into the wild and go camping quick.

There’s also camping potential convenient to famous landmarks like Graceland, the historic estate of Elvis Presley.

Not every state has all of its park information conveniently centralized, but Tennessee is an exception. At Tennessee State Parks Reservation Information, you can see a detailed map and index of what the parks have to offer, including breakdowns by area, activity, and availability of backcountry permits. Only two of the parks’ camp grounds offer reservations, though, which means those two are probably of greatest interest to our far-ranging camping community. These are Meeman Shelby, in western Tennessee, and Rock Island, near the middle of the state.

Meeman Shelby: With two lakes and miles of prime hiking opportunities bordering the Mississippi River, Meeman Shelby is famed for its boating and fishing. Anglers contend with record bigmouth bass, and can also try their luck catching catfish and bream. There are just under 50 campsites total, all of them including amenities like electric and water hookups, picnic table, and a grill.

Rock Island: Spectacular scenery abounds at Rock Island thanks to the presence of the Great Falls of Caney Fork River. There are so many terrific vistas here that it’s an especially popular destination for photographers, travel writers, and even newlyweds. Cabins and extensive picnic facilities round out the usual complement of features for boating and fishing. Local fish include bass and bluegill, but don’t forget your fishing license.

Big Ridge State Park: Though it doesn’t accept reservations, and might be a little bit trickier to access for campers from out of state, I can’t help mentioning Big Ridge, since it’s the site of an annual bluegrass musical festival that you just shouldn’t miss if you’re going to be in the area. Big Ridge also provides 19 rustic cabins, 50 lakefront campsites that can accommodate tent camping or RVs, and group camping for up to 120.

In our follow-up posts, we’ll be rustling up the best RV campsites throughout the state. After that, expect an in-depth feature on the Great Smoky Mountains, chock full of info including a new “spotlight” on the top national park in the state.

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