REI created an infographic to detail the ins & outs of the classic s’more… and even included a “S’more Survival Checklist.” Bet you never thought about that, have you? We like this graphic a lot — especially the idea of fresh picked raspberries!
If you prefer nights by a crackling fire and sleeping under the store instead of drunken crowds on the beach, then spring break is a great excuse to go camping! Spring is the perfect time for camping – the nights are still cool but the days are warm and the bugs haven’t quite invaded yet!
Here are our recommendations for camping spots in Tennessee that have lots of great options for outdoor activities. Be sure to reserve your spot through the state’s new online campsite reservation system.
Smoky Mountain National Park - This one will be crowded, but if you don’t mind the crowds there are endless options for recommended good times in the Smokies. From mountain climbing to waterfall chasing to the sheer joy of lounging by the campfire, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the Smokies.
Don’t forget the coffee for those chilly mornings!
Frozen Head State Park - If you’ve followed this blog for while you know that Frozen Head is the first place Nate took me camping when we started dating. Tucked away in east Tennessee, it’s a beautiful spot with tons of hiking options. And if Frozen Head is full, be sure to check out Rock Creek camp ground not too far away.
South Cumberland State Rec Area – Located between Chattanooga and Nashville, Big South Fork is another great spot with tons of different camping, hiking, rock climbing, swimming holes and all sorts of nature-loving activities. Be sure to check out the Stone Door trails if you’re up for a challenging hike!
And be sure to stock up for my favorite part of camping — the food! Check out our camp recipes page to for 25+ unique, delicious and easy campfire recipes.
The amazing weather this weekend gave us a chance to finally take our new tent out of the box (we got the tent back in March, home renovations + wedding = no free time!) to head down to South Cumberland State Rec area. With most of Tennessee schools on Fall Break we knew it would be a busy weekend at the park, but the trails took us (mostly) away from the masses.
There’s a very robust trail system in at South Cumberland, so we wound up hiking several connecting trails on this perfect Saturday afternoon: Stone Door Trail, Big Creek Gulf Trail, Ranger Creek Falls Trail and Big Creek Rim Trail. Here’s a great map of the park’s trails from Cloudhiking.com.
Scenery (4.0 out of 5.0): The combination of trails provides an impressive variety of scenery, and the changing fall colors provided an extra incentive for taking a few extra hours on the trail to check out the bluffs, overlooks, shaded rock & boulder fields, a waterfall and a creekside hike.
Starting out, the Stone Door trail takes you through a wooded area until you reach the boulders that form Stone Door and the bluffs that overlook the Big Creek Gulf. From the overlook we were able to take in the gulf, trees and plateaus in the various stages of early autumn.
From the overlook, we traveled down through the “stone door” a well-worn path between two massive boulders that served as a passageway for the Indians from the gulf to the rim. After hiking down through the passageway, we entered a rock and boulder-strewn section of the trails on the connector trail to the Big Creek Gulf trail. Once down to the creek, it takes quite a while to find any running water. The creek bed is mostly dry, which allowed us to cross over and make our way up to Ranger Falls.
The Big Creek
On our way up to Ranger Falls on the spur trail, I was pretty sure we would just arrive at a dry fall since there wasn’t any water in the creek bed. But as we got closer, the sound of running water started getting louder. Arriving at the falls, we saw the water funneling into an underground sink, which helped explained the dry creek beds we’d previously seen.
After we got back on the main trail, we hiked a mile or so before finally getting a glimpse of the Big Creek with running water. Most of the river view was obscured by trees and foliage, but we eventually made it to a spot close enough to the creek to scurry off trail and get a good look at the river.
The tree lined ascent back up to the rim trail was lined with fallen leaves, giving everything a little bit of a golden hue. Back up on the Big Gulf Rim Trail, we stopped off at one of the overlooks for a long lunch while taking in the view and watching birds soar along the gulf.
Big Creek Overlook
Fall on the Big Creek Gulf trail.
Difficulty (3.5 out of 5.0): If it weren’t for the decent and ascent to and from the creek, these trails would be pretty easy… however, the decent and ascent can be brutal in spots. The rock and boulder-strewn descent into the gulf needs a pair of sturdy ankles — unstable paths could make it very easy to twist an ankle. If it’s been raining recently, you might want to think twice before doing the Big Creek Gulf trail as the rocks would make for slippery terrain.
The climb back up to the Rim Trail.
The ascent from the creek up to the rim trail is long, steep and covered with small rocks making footing slippery at times. Our calves took a major beating during the ascent, making frequent breaks necessary.
Since we were doing a 10 mile trek, we took several breaks to keep our legs fresh. Despite the fact that this outing was twice as long, Honey Creek still ranks as the most grueling hike we’ve done to date.
Length: 10 miles, it took us about 4.5 hours with several breaks and a 30 minute lunch break.
Dog Friendly Factor (3.0 out of 5.0): The dogs stayed at home for this camping trip, but we did see another dog on the trail. If you take your dogs, you’ll need to bring plenty of water and make sure they’re in shape for this long of a trek.
Convenience (2.5 out of 5.0): The trail head is about 2 hours from Nashville.
Bonus Funtimes (3.5 out of 5.0): South Cumberland offers a lot of great options for outdoor fun. From rock climbing at Stone Door, to hooking up with any of the host of connector trails for different hikes or a backpacking trip. There are also lots of easy trails to watering holes, plenty of camping spots and spots to sit down and enjoy the view.
This hike and others found in Hiking Tennessee, get your own copy now from amazon.com.
After our wonderful, but exhausting, hike at Honey Creek, we had planned to camp at Frozen Head where Nate first took me camping last year. Unfortunately when we pulled into the campground, the place was utterly packed.
Without a campground spot available, we had to make some last minute changes, which is how we wound up spending the night at the Rock Creek campground. Aside from a noisy train crossing, Rock Creek was a quiet campground tucked away alongside a windy road outside of Wartburg, TN. These are a few pics from our night at Rock Creek.
Breakfast spot at Rock Creek
Morning at Rock Creek
On our way back to Nashville the next morning, we made a detour to Clear Creek to take in as much fall color as possible. Clear Creek has a few well developed trails that are short and very accessible.
Nate and I took advantage of one of our few free weekends this summer and headed out to break in my new sleeping bag (that’s been in the box since we got it months ago) for a camping excursion to Pickett State Park near the Big South Fork Rec Area. Before retreating to the campsite for the night, we took a chance to check out the Hidden Passage Loop that we’d both read great things about… but, to be honest, was a bit of a disappointment.
Scenery (3.5 out of 5.0): The Hidden Passage trail starts off in a lush, dense Tennessee Forest with plenty of tall trees, shade and an abundance of rhododendron. The trail is most distinctly dotted with huge rockhouses. The rockhouses provided a great cooling spot to stop and rest in during this humid, humid July day.
In 2008, a forest fire rolled through the area, destroying large swathes of the park. These areas along the trail are in full re-growth mode, but still very distinctive and become more prominent the further you continue on the loop (or at least to the half-way point… that’s as far as we got).
This loop is also well known for a couple of nice waterfall spots. The first, Crystal Falls is an enchanting spot in the first 1/4 of the hike and well worth the mini-trek down to check it out. The second, Double Falls, is supposed to be pretty impressive (and a fairly strenuous spur trail), but we didn’t make it down to these falls. We could, however, hear them roaring from atop Thompson Overlook.
Hidden Passage Rockhouse (that’s me in the middle)
Enchanting Crystal Falls
More rockhouses on the Hidden Passage
Difficulty (2.0 out of 5.0): Based on topography alone, this trail is not terribly difficult. There are some steady climbs, but nothing out of the ordinary for the area. While we chose an unseasonably not hot (I wouldn’t call it a “cool day”) it turned out to be incredibly humid with the bugs were in full effect. I swallowed at least one. The rockhouses provided a great respite from both the bugs and the heat, thankfully.
The trail was the one leaving its mark this day.
Unfortunately, since much of the trail was affected by the fires a few years ago, good chunks of the trail are now in the regrowth stage which lends itself to lots and lots and LOTS of thorny bushes. Between the heat, the bugs and seemingly nonstop thorn scratches, my patience wore thin pretty quickly. Once we made it to the Thompson Overlook, we were both getting a little frustrated with the trail. That’s when Nate won the Hiking Award of the Day by suggesting we cut our losses and follow the jeep trail to see if it could offer us a shortcut. We still wound up doing about 6 miles total, but we were both very happy to discover the jeep trail was relatively thorn free and led us back to the group camp ground and eventually the trailhead.
Dog Friendliness (2.5 out of 5.0): Ezra stayed home on this trek, which with the humidity was the right call for my heat-adverse pooch. Aside from the beginning, there weren’t many watering spots for the pups. Also, it would be difficult for the dogs to avoid the thorns (I failed at it miserably) which may make it not the most ideal trail for dogs that aren’t terribly hardy.
Convenience (1.0 out of 5.0): At 2-3 hours from Nashville, this trip will take up your entire day, but you do have a chance to scope out some beautiful, winding east Tennessee roads & scenery. Or just grab a spot at the campground to enjoy a night’s stay.
Foil packet good eats!
Bonus Funtimes (4.0 out of 5.0): While the trail drained some of our enthusiasm, the campground did help to restore our spirits. This is a great spot for families. With camping options from tents to camper hookups to cabins w/AC, there’s something for all levels of outdoorsiness. There’s at least one playground area, a tennis court and an official (albeit narrow and shallow) swimming hole. While the water never got deeper than 3′, Nate and I took a dip that helped to relax our weary muscles.
This hike and others found in Hiking Tennessee, get your own copy now from amazon.com.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials.”