Indian Boundary Campground
Indian Boundary Lake Recreation Area is located near Tellico Plains, TN and borders the Cherokee National Forest. It is a beautiful place to spend a weekend in the outdoors. It offers hiking, biking, kayaking, a 96 acre lake, and a great campground. One of the best features is the lack of crowds compared to its neighboring Great Smoky Mountain National Park. For us, camping is a great way to unplug, take a deep breath, and enjoy a time-out from an overly scheduled life. The campground is open from mid-April through the end of October.
Day 1-Stop at Tellico Grains Bakery on the way up the Cherohala Skyway (if approaching from the Tennessee side of the Skyway) before seting up camp at Indian Boundary Campground. Bike the 3.6 mile Lake Loop and take a swim to cool off.
Day 2-Lounge at the camp site between biking and swimming. Or take a day trip to an old-growth forest at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, see the 90’ Bald River waterfall, or hike to a high elevation bald for 360 views from Huckleberry Knob.
Day 3-Enjoy a lazy morning before breaking camp. Stop at the Tellico Beach Drive-In for burgers and a shake on the way home or revisit Tellico Grains Bakery for a wood-fired pizza.
Indian Boundary Campground is two miles off the Cherohala Skyway, a 43-mile National Scenic Byway that stretches from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina. I think this little known highway competes with the beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway with its scenic overlooks, access to hiking trails, and waterfalls.
Directions: From the Tennessee side, follow Highway 68 in Tellico Plains to Highway 165 (Cherohala Skyway) east for 16 miles. Turn left onto Forest Development Road 345 and travel 2 miles to the entrance of the campground. (Well-marked signs will lead the way.)
From Robbinsville, NC, take Highway 143/165 west for approximately 32 miles and turn right onto Forest Development Rd 345 and travel 2 miles to the entrance.
Important note: Cell reception is non-existent at the campground and on the Cherohala Skyway.
Tellico Grains Bakery
Inside Tip: If arriving from the Tennessee side of the Cherohala Skyway, stop in at Tellico Grains Bakery on the way to the campground to eat one of their delicious wood-fired pizzas or pick up baked goods for breakfast or dessert.
This is an excellent foodie stop! The peanut butter granola is awesome, and many area restaurants make it a point to serve their bread. Open Tuesday-Saturday; 10-4. 105 Depot St.
Directions: Almost immediately after turning on to the Cherohala Skyway from Highway 68, take a right on Veterans Memorial Highway which will take you into the historic district of the town of Tellico Plains. You will see the two story red brick building on Depot Street next to Bierly Hale Funeral Home and just behind Simmons Bank.
Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center
The Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center in Tellico Plains is also worth a stop for maps and info. You’ll find it on the left side of the Cherohala Skyway shortly after beginning the Cherohala Skyway from Highway 68.
Grocery Stores: If arriving from the Tennessee side, your closest full service grocery store will be a Walmart in Madisonville, TN located 45 minutes from the campground. If arriving from North Carolina, the closest grocery will be the Ingles Market in Robbinsville (one hour away).
Where To Stay
Camp at Indian Boundary Campground in one of their 87 sites equipped with picnic table, fire ring, and electric hookup. This quiet, family-oriented campground offers a swim beach, a fantastic and easy 3.6-mile hiking and biking trail around the lake, and clean bathrooms with a shower. Tip: Remember to bring hand soap--none is provided in the restrooms. A hand air-dryer is available.
Note: The campground sits at an elevation of 1,560 feet, so it gets hot in the summer. Fortunately, you can cool off in the lake and showers are available in the campground.
The B loop offers the most secluded sites (using the term loosely here) and can easily fit two large tents. To give you an idea of the size, all sites can accommodate a 26’ camper. Reserve online and do it well in advance if camping during a summer weekend. $20 per night.
Tip 1: Bring a hammer for your tent stakes. The ground is hard here.
Tip 2: All sites have electric hookup. My friends have been known to bring a toaster, crock pot, and coffee pot. Talk about roughing it!
Campground Store-An on-site campground store sells bread, ice, milk, ice cream (most importantly) and other camping supplies if you are running low. It also offers an inviting covered front porch with rocking chairs and a table set up with a game of checkers for anyone who wants to play.
Tip: The campground store also has maps and area trail descriptions.
Park the car for two days and be absolutely content hanging out among the beautiful surroundings or seek out additional adventures within an hour’s drive. Of all the activities described below, I highly recommend hiking or biking the campground Lake Loop Trail, swimming in the lake, and if you have the will to get in your car, take a side trip to Huckleberry Knob on a clear day.
Lake Loop Trail
Hike or bike the Lake Loop Trail, the only hiking trail found in the campground. Enjoy a morning trail run, a family bike ride, or watch the sunrise. If at all possible, bring bikes for the whole family-there are no rentals nearby. The campground roads are practically car-free and offer a fun way for the kids to explore the area.
The 3.6 mile Lake Loop Trail circles the lake and is a relatively easy and beautiful bike ride crossing several small wooden bridges and zigzagging through rhododendron and hardwoods. The trailhead is located behind the campground store.
Tip: For the easiest route around the lake, go left at the trailhead to complete the loop in a clockwise direction.
To reach the campground “beach,” take the loop trail behind the campground store but go right for fastest access. A 5 minute walk will bring you to a wide sandy beach and a designated swim area. Tip: This place is packed with people and offers little shade. It was too crowded for us, so we opted to swim at another lake access area just before the fishing dock on your way to the beach. We had the water to ourselves and it was still shallow enough for safe swimming with little ones. The water is clear and feels great on a hot day. You can find access points to the lake from numerous points along the loop trail. Find one and make it your own. Tip 2: Bring water shoes.
If you have time and want to seek higher elevation and cooler temps, hop in the car and drive 35 minutes east on the Cherohala Parkway to Huckleberry Knob, elevation 5560’. The parking for the trailhead is on the left after crossing the North Carolina border near mile marker 8. The trail is wide (it’s an old road) and a relatively easy 2.5 roundtrip hike. Bring a picnic and enjoy the 360 degree views and wildflowers from this grassy bald. It’s simply gorgeous.
Tip 1: Bring a kite and fly it. The winds are great here. Tip 2: Once on the bald, look for the cross and grave for Andy Sherman who died on the mountain with Paul O'Neil amidst snow and fog in the winter of 1899. Their bodies were found by a hunter nine months later. Several jugs of whiskey were found nearby, so the jury found that the men froze to death while lost and intoxicated. O'Neil's skeleton was given to a doctor for a medical exhibit.
Other Recommended Activities
If you have a longer stay or wish to try additional activities, a visit to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and Bald River Falls would also be worthwhile. We have done both and highly recommend them.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
If you are a tree hugger or wondered how the early settlers experienced this part of the forest, it would be worth the drive to see this rare example of an old growth hardwood forest. It’s an easy two-mile “figure 8 loop” hike to view these amazing trees. Some are more than 400 years old and over 100 feet with circumferences of up to 20 feet!
Joyce Kilmer Forest is a 54 minute drive from the Indian Boundary Campground. Directions: Go east on the Cherohala Skyway towards Robbinsville, NC. Turn left at Santeelah Gap and follow the signs. It will be on your left after about two miles. It’s a popular attraction so it will be well marked.
Bald River Falls
Located just 22 minutes from the campground, you will find a magnificent 90’ waterfall on Forest Service Road 210 off the Cherohala Parkway. (From the campground, go west about 5 miles and find the Bald River Falls turn off-it is clearly marked on the Skyway.) You can view Bald River Falls without leaving your vehicle or hike as long as you’d like on the relatively easy-moderate 5.6 mile Bald River Trail (mostly flat but a few switchbacks). The trail has picnic tables along the river for the first mile, and the kids will enjoy skipping rocks and dipping their feet in the ice cold water. The parking lot is by the falls.
Hooper Bald is about one mile before Huckleberry Knob (mentioned above). The Hooper Bald parking area is on the right side of the road where you will conveniently find restrooms, two picnic tables, a 1/4-mile long trailhead to the bald and a kiosk with the known history of these balds. Although it's a super accessible bald, it is not nearly as scenic as Huckleberry Bald.
Other Campground Activities
Kayaking/SUP: Unfortunately, there are no rentals on site. If you have a kayak or stand up paddle board (SUP), this would be a great place to do it.
Fishing: We are not a fishing family, but we saw many fishing the lake from shore. Remember that you need a Tennessee fishing license.
Card Playing at your site’s picnic table. A traditional camping activity for our family. Some of our favorite games right now include: Too Many Monkeys, Sleeping Queens, and Spot It.
Reading in your hammocks at your site: Doesn’t get much better than that.
Tellico Beach Drive-In
Time to pack up camp and go home! Enjoy a good campsite breakfast, pack the car, and hit the road. Tip: If you are returning home on the Cherohala Skyway through Tellico Plains, consider a burger and milkshake stop at the Tellico Beach Drive-In (a local favorite located 25 minutes from the campground).
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