Camp beside rivers, waterfalls, and the Great Smoky Mountains in a lush wonderland for outdoor fun.
The geology of the Volunteer State is surprisingly dramatic. The landscape soars from the delta lowlands of the Mississippi River east to the rugged heights of the Cumberland Plateau before climbing the forested slopes of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The varied terrain is well-suited for active campers, from paddlers and rock climbers to fishers and firefly hunters. And hikers? They’re happy everywhere. Tent and RV sites are abundant, and a growing array of glamping options—yurts, retro trailers, and treehouses—keep the camping scene fresh. And in music-loving Tennessee, a live jam is never far away, be it blues, bluegrass, or Bonnaroo.
Bordered by the Mississippi and anchored by Memphis, West Tennessee works best for campers seeking music, history, and low-key outdoor thrills. Tents and RVs are welcome at Pickwick Landing State Park, known for its lake and watersports, while birdwatchers may prefer driving north to Reelfoot Lake State Park, where bald eagles are plentiful. Shiloh National Military Park spotlights a pivotal battle in the Civil War.
Marked by cliffs, waterfalls, wild rivers, dark skies, and lush forests, Middle Tennessee is a geologic drama queen. Packed with state parks along the steep edges of the Cumberland Plateau, it’s also a top destination for camping and active travelers. Visit Nashville, home to honky-tonks, hot chicken, and Vanderbilt, then hit Fall Creek Falls, a deep-green state park loaded with waterfalls. Stay in cabins constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in Cumberland Mountain State Park or CCC Pickett Memorial State Park—where you can go stargazing. The Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area draws adventurous paddlers, and campers can even sleep beside the 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway, a historic trade route that stretches from the Mississippi River to Nashville.
Prefer urban adventures? Knoxville and Chattanooga await. Knoxville is best known as the state capital, but mountain bikers love the city’s urban wilderness and its 50-mile network of trails. Chattanooga is a convenient base for rock climbing and whitewater rafting. The craft beer scene in both cities impresses too. For hiking and solitude head north to Frozen Head State Park. Families with varied interests may prefer Big Ridge State Park, which offers trails, lake swimming, and volleyball and basketball courts.
Great Smoky Mountains
The most visited national park in the United States, Great Smoky Mountains National Park sprawls across eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail bounces along the boundary line between the two states. The park has nine developed campgrounds and numerous backcountry shelters. Tent sites, RV parks, cabins, and glamping destinations punctuate the foothills region, which is anchored by Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.