Take the Family Camping This Fall!
With the approach of fall and the promise of cooler nights, it’s time to dust off those tents and take the family camping! These 5 campgrounds have the distinction of being perfectly terrific just on their own or as a base camp to explore nearby towns or trails.
Lounging Vs. Adventure
You will love each of these campgrounds because you have the option to park the car for the entirety of your stay and still have plenty to do directly from the campground. Or, never leave your camp site and just enjoy time in your hammock.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, you’ll find jaw-dropping views from nearby trails or even a nice lunch at a hipster restaurant. (I've included some nearby food finds for each campground as well.)
A Quick Weekend Getaway from Knoxville
And better yet, each of these camping options are within 2.5 hours from Knoxville. You can reserve sites online, and you should do it soon as these campgrounds fill up fast, especially on weekends.
-Located 2 hours from Knoxville near Asheville, NC
Lake Powhatan is a beautiful campground bordering the 6,000-acre Bent Creek Experimental Forest. If you are a mountain biker, this is your place with numerous trails for all skill levels. The campground offers a swimming lake and beach to cool off as well as a fishing pier. If you’re feeling more urban, it is a great location to explore all the action of downtown Asheville just 20 minutes away.
This shady campground sits at 2200’ and all sites are within walking distance of the lake. The tent sites are fairly large with lots of trees and rhododendron, so it feels semi-secluded without feeling like other campers are too close. Bathrooms have showers, and you can buy firewood and ice from the campground store.
Where To Play
Mountain Biking- There are nearly 30 miles of double track and single track open for biking in Bent Creek Forest with options for all skill levels. The easier Hardtimes Trail follows a forest service road leading to Lake Powhatan and links to several trails.
Float Trip- Enjoy a float trip down the gentle, slow moving French Broad River. Rent a kayak, pack snacks, and enjoy a lazy day on the river. It’s a 7 mile river trip along the shoreline of the Biltmore Estate and takes 2-3 hours. The Asheville Outdoor Center, located a 15 minute drive from the campground, provides everything you need to take this self-guided trip.
The North Carolina Arboretum and Blue Ridge Parkway- These North Carolina gems are just a few miles from the entrance to the campground.
Where To Eat
Recently named one of the hottest food cities in America by Zagat, Asheville has no shortage of fantastic local restaurants and breweries, and children are welcome at all of them. Downtown Asheville is a 20 minute drive from the campground. Here are some favorites to check out:
BBQ: Buxton Hall
Breakfast: Early Girl Eatery
Beer and Great Food: Wicked Weed
Tacos: White Duck Taco
Pizza: Asheville Brewing Company
Davidson River Campground
-2 hours and 20 min. from Knoxville near Brevard, NC
Davidson River Campground, elevation 2150', is large and fairly crowded, but it’s location can't be beat--it’s tucked away but only 10 minutes from downtown Brevard with its shops (including a great toy store), restaurants, antiques, and art galleries.
Brevard is also home to Dupont State Forest, which offers plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails to explore. The Hunger Games movie was filmed at Dupont where you can visit Triple Falls, the most recognizable mountain scenery in the movie.
For tent campers, try to get a site in the no-generators Poplar Loop. You can reserve a site in advance--definitely recommended for weekend visits. Bring bikes to enjoy the trail along the river.
Where To Play
Stroll Main Street- Window shop and enjoy the the relaxing downtown vibe. Make sure to check out O.P. Taylor’s Toy Store. Browse through two floors loaded with toys for kids of all ages. Fun for adults too with lots of retro toys, a race track kids can play with (and you too), and a terrific selection of LEGOs.
Hiking-In Dupont National Forest, hike to High Falls and Triple Falls and visit the Covered Bridge. The hikes are easy and short--perfect for the family. Pack a picnic, relax, and channel your inner Katniss at Triple Falls where the stars filmed many scenes. Tip: Arrive early if you can as it can get very crowded.
Mountain Biking-Brevard is known as a mountain biking town with trails in both Pisgah Forest and Dupont. Located just down the road from Davidson River Campground, the Hub will set you up with everything you need including bike rentals, trail info, and a cold draft beer.
Moore Cove Falls-This easy 1.5 mile roundtrip hike will take you to Moore Cove Falls where you can walk behind the waterfall. Tip: The hike is located roughly 6.5 miles on the right along Highway 276 just past Looking Glass Falls but before Sliding Rock. There are no signs on the highway for the hike, but an information board near the parking lot will let you know you’re in the right place.
Where To Eat
For a small town, Brevard offers something for everyone. If you wanted, you could skip camp cooking altogether and eat out at one of these yummy restaurants.
Cedar Mountain Cafe is located near the entrance of Dupont, is a good stop after channeling your inner-Katniss at Triple Falls. Everything is made in-house.
Bracken Mountain Bakery has a wonderful assortment of baked goods including classic European breads and pastries. Located downtown.
Rocky’s Grill & Soda Shop is an authentic 1950’s old fashioned lunch counter. Enjoy a burger and an ice cream float or one their famous milkshakes. Located downtown.
Magpie Meat & Three is the hip place to go for BBQ and your southern food fix. If you can, sit outside where they have a fire pit and play corn hole. Located downtown.
Sierra Nevada Brewing is a destination restaurant with a farm-to-table menu. It is massive both inside and out, boasting 400 indoor seats, a big outdoor dining terrace with corn hole and bocce, and plenty of tasty beers on tap. 25 minutes from the campground.
Brevard is also home to two wonderful breweries. Oscar Blues Brewery offers a nice outdoor patio, and a food truck serves burgers and tacos during the evening.
Ecusta Brewing rotates food trucks and cold beer and is located just 5 minutes away.
Indian Boundary Campground
-Located 1 hour and 40 minutes from Knoxville near Tellico Plains, TN
Indian Boundary is a quiet, family-oriented campground near Tellico Plains, TN that offers a swim beach, a fantastic and easy 3.6-mile hiking/ biking trail around the lake, and clean bathrooms with a shower.
The campground sits at an elevation of 1,560 feet so it can be hot during warmer weather. Fortunately, you can cool off in the lake, and showers are available in the campground.
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.
The B loop offers the most secluded sites (using the term loosely here as this is a fairly large campground with 87 sites total) and can easily fit two large tents. To give you an idea of the size, all sites can accommodate a 26’ camper. All sites have electric hookup--my friends have been known to bring a toaster, crock pot, and coffee pot. Talk about roughing it!
Note: Cell reception is non-existent at the campground and on the Cherohala Skyway.
Where To Play
Hike or Bike the Campground’s Lake Loop Trail- From the campground, the only hiking trail is the 3.6 mile lake loop around the lake. It is a relatively easy and beautiful 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. 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.
Swimming- 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 often packed with people and offers little shade. If it’s too crowded, find another lake access area on the loop trail on your way to the beach. Remember to bring water shoes.
Huckleberry Knob- 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.
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.
Where to Eat
Tellico Grains Bakery- 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, Tellico Plains, TN.
Tellico Beach Drive-In- 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).
-Located 1 hour and 10 minutes from Knoxville in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Elkmont is one of two Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) campgrounds on the Tennessee side of the park. This is my family’s “go to” campground. It is centrally located to other points of interest in the park such as Metcalf Bottoms, Sugarlands Visitor Center, and Newfound Gap if you’re interested in hikes like Alum Cave, Charlie’s Bunion, the Chimneys, Andrews Bald, etc.
It’s a busy campground but family friendly and quiet. It also has hiking trails from the campground, and you can catch a trolley (for a small fee) to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, Laurel Falls trailhead, and various stops in Gatlinburg for shops and restaurants if you are so inclined. The campground is shady and cools off at night despite its relatively low elevation of 2,150 feet.
You can buy firewood and ice from the campground store. They also offer vending machines (chips, sodas, coffee). You’ll find flush toilets but no showers.
I recommend the B-Loop in general, though any riverfront site would be a bonus here. The sound of the river lulls you to sleep and provides a fun place for the kids to play. For tent campers, I recommend the walk-in sites but would stay away from the walk-in sites B-25 and up (they are too close to each other). Otherwise, all the sites are nice but some are more private than others.
Where To Play
Little River Trail-This easy, flat hike is within walking distance of Elkmont Campground. It passes through the historic Elkmont Community with its old, dilapidated cottages used by the logging industry at the beginning of the century. You can complete a 5.5 mile loop using the Cucumber Gap trail to return or simply hike out and back. This is another good hike for swimming holes and playing in the water. Tip: You can push a jog stroller on this trail if needed.
Elkmont Campground Nature Trail-The Elkmont Nature Trail is a short loop hike (less than 1 mile long) and is perfect for kids of all ages to get their wiggles out.
Play in the River- Bring water shoes and an inflatable tube and you can have fun all day on the river. For a calm, shallow swimming hole, go to the water beneath the bridge near the campground office.
Where To Eat
Remember to bring some some cash for the coin-operated ice cream machine at the campground store. Your kids will love seeing the robotic arm delivering their treat.
Elvira’s Cafe- Located 25 minutes away, this Wears Valley restaurant would make a great breakfast stop on the way to the Little Greenbriar Trail. Their breakfast menu is perfect for fueling up before your day hike. If you happen to be here for lunch or dinner, try their house-made pickled beets. So good!
The Burger Master- If you are traveling through Townsend on your way home, get your burger and shake fix at Burger Master! It’s a local’s favorite right on the river. 8439 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway.
5. Roan Mountain State Park
-Located 2 hours and 15 minutes from Knoxville near Johnson City, TN
Roan Mountain State Park has multiple hiking and biking trails, ranger programs, a playground, and even a pool. The Doe River, stocked with trout, runs through the park and campground. And the biggest bonus of this campground--you’ll find one of the most scenic mountain balds on the Appalachian Trail located just a 15 minute drive away from your camp site. The campground is located 40 minutes from Johnson City, TN.
I’m usually deterred by any campground with a pool because, for me, it takes away from the “natural” camping experience and almost certainly implies “crowded campground.” But I was pleasantly surprised here.
Their tent section offers large sites surrounded by rhododendron thereby offering privacy and shade. At almost 3,000 feet elevation and nice tree cover, it stays relatively cool at night which is a bonus during the hot season. I would definitely return here with a tent, but the RV sites seemed unbearably close to each other. Tip: Not a camper? Consider renting a state park cabin. Reserve in advance as they go quickly.
Where To Play
Hike To Round Bald and Jane Bald- Hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) northbound from the parking area at Carver’s Gap (elevation of 5512 feet) to reach Round Bald and Jane Bald. This amazing 3 mile roundtrip hike to Jane Bald is a crowd pleaser, and believe me that it’s worth it to get here early to find parking and solitude before the crowds arrive en masse around noon.
I find this hike to be one of the easiest, most accessible family hikes to one of the most beautiful views in the Appalachian mountains. The hike to Round Bald and Jane Bald is a steady but not so steep incline, especially to Round Bald (0.7 miles from the parking area at Carver’s Gap). You could easily stop at Round Bald for 1.5 mile roundtrip hike and just explore the bald without continuing to the steeper Jane Bald.
Where To Eat
If you drive through Johnson City on your way home, you have two terrific options downtown.
White Duck Taco- Enjoy the patio at White Duck Taco and the adjoining taproom of Yeehaw Brewing. Housed in the historic Tweetsie Railroad Depot, kids are welcome and will enjoy a kid’s menu (quesadilla, BLT chicken sandwich, etc.) and free popcorn from Yeehaw. The tacos are unique and fresh. Address: 126 Buffalo Street
Tupelo Honey-This is another great stop on the way home. Tupelo Honey's biscuits alone can make a meal. Great southern cooking, kids menu, and a terrific outdoor patio on the platform of the historic Clinchfield Train Depot. Brunch on Saturday and Sunday. 300 Buffalo St. Parking is available adjacent to the restaurant as well as across Buffalo St. on the corner of Cherry St.
Apple Picking- Jarrett's Apple Orchard, located on Roan Mountain, does not offer pick-your own until the end of the season (Oct. 31), but you can pick up a bag of your favorite apples and taste test to make sure! Peak season is September and October. 161 Jess Jarrett Rd. Mon-Sat: 8:30am- 5:30pm.
Need More Getaway Ideas?
If you’d like more details or suggestions on where to stay, eat, and play when visiting these mountain towns or other family-friendly destinations, check out our family itineraries at www.simplyawesometrips.com.