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.
As Nate mentioned in last week’s weekend destination, we had tried to make it to Cummins Falls in June but got sidetracked (read: lost) before we made it to this newest state park. Fortunately last weekend we were handed an unusual July combination – rain and temps in the low 80s, so we took it as a sign to venture to Cummins Falls again. If you go, make sure to bring your swim gear and water shoes or sandals – it’s a soggy but impressive trek!
Scenery (3.5 out of 5.0): As the state’s 8th largest waterfall by volume, Cummins Falls is a dramatic and inspiring sight. While the overlook provides a decent view of the falls, it pales in comparison to the view from the base. From the overlook, the hike down to falls first starts out in a wooded forest then crosses back and forth across the Blackburn Fork River. A few spots along the river reminded me of scenes from a fly fishing movie, but we certainly never saw any trout.
After crossing the river a few times and climbing over a few sets of small boulders we finally arrived at the base of the falls. It didn’t take long to understand how these falls ranked so high in water volume. The water from these broad falls rushes down onto a terraced, almost stair-stepped landing. The water cascades down these stair steps into a broad, wide open swimming hole. As long as you don’t mind getting pretty wet, you can climb up these stairs and crawl directly under the base of the waterfalls.
Base of Cummins Falls
Narrow path at Cummins Falls Trail
Difficulty (3.0 out of 5.0): The path down to the falls starts out easy enough with a slight downward slope. To get to the falls, you have to hike downstream along the ridge about a mile. The final descent to the river is decently steep and narrow. The day we hiked it was raining, so the dirt path had also turned to slippery mud along the descent.
Once down to the river, you begin to hike upstream — it’s at this point that you want to make sure you’re wearing river-friendly footwear. The trail at this point kind of disappears and you’re left mostly following the river and crossing back and forth at the most shallow points. At the points where we were crossing the river never got much higher than calf-to-knee deep.
The wet, rocky terrain of the river and boulders along the base of the falls are also pretty slippery, so be sure to watch your footing all along the trail.
Length: 3.25 miles (We spent about 2.5 hours hiking down and hanging around the base of the falls.
Dog Friendly Factor (3.0 out of 5.0): Since it was a freakishly cool July day and we knew there’d be plenty of water, we brought the dogs along for the hike. For the most part they handled the trail pretty well, although there were a few spots were we had to reroute because the trail narrowed too much and dipped into the river at places where the dogs would’ve been in a little over their heads (literally). Once we got to the base of the falls, Coltrane scurried over the boulders and maneuvered pretty well, but Ezra was overwhelmed by the volume of water and lack of steady terrain, so we found a safe spot for him to hang out and tied up his leash so he could relax while we checked out the base of Cummins Falls.
Convenience (3.0 out of 5.0): Located north of Cookeville, this trail is about 90 minutes outside of Nashville, but is well marked and easy to find from the interstate.
Bonus Funtimes (3.5 out of 5.0): After the final “stair step” at the base of the falls, the water drops into a large, open swimming hole – making it the perfect spot to cannonball into the water below. Travel & Leisure recently ranked Cummins Falls as one of the top 10 swimming holes in the nation and there were a lot of people taking advantage of it while we were there. A few people along the river had fishing poles, but just about everyone had swimming trunks on.
For other hikes like this, check out Hiking Tennessee, get your own copy now from amazon.com.
It’s Memorial Day weekend, which means 3 days for getting out on the trails and enjoying the great outdoors. It’s going to be a hot one here in Middle Tennessee, so we’ll be heading to the mountains in search of slightly cooler weather to hike in. Our plans this weekend take us to the Chattanooga area and Cloudland Canyon State Park on Lookout Mountain. Our main objective will be the West Rim Loop Trail, but we’ll probably check out the Waterfalls Trail, too.
Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer season, and prime hiking season. Our friends over at Meanderthals remind us to stay safe with a great post with advice from the Forest Service. Check it out, stay safe, and most importantly, have fun on the trail.
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