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5 Camping Destinations Near Knoxville

July 17, 2020  |  Permalink

Knoxville sits in the perfect location for quick access to a camping getaway. With multiple Tennessee State Parks within an hour from the city, you'll find activities ranging from white-water rafting to waterfall hikes. We've highlighted five parks with campsites less than an hour from Knoxville. The only step left is to choose the adventure that is right for you.

We know that safety is at the top of everyone's mind right now, and we want to make sure you have all the information to have a safe and enjoyable experience at our parks. Please visit our COVID-19 and Travel Planning page for more information to help you plan and prepare for a safe and enjoyable trip.

Norris Dam State Park Camping in Tennessee

1. Norris Dam State Park

Distance: 30 minutes north of Knoxville

Nearby Cities: Oak Ridge, Clinton, Norris, Rocky Top

Best For: Spontaneous trips and water activities

Dogs: Dog friendly. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.

Access: All sites are drive-up.

Norris Dam State Park is less than 30 minutes from downtown Knoxville making it the perfect destination for those last-minute camping trips. With 4,000 acres to explore right on Norris Reservoir, you can soak up impressive views from the hiking trails or paddling the lake. Boating offers a new perspective on the park and allows you to access prime fishing areas; plus, if you don't own a boat, you can rent one at the marina. Before you leave the park, stop by the Lenoir Museum and view the artifacts that depict life in Southern Appalachia from 12,000 years ago to the present day.

Camping: The park is split into two sections; one on either side of the Norris Dam. There is a campground on each side of the park. Sites in both campgrounds come equipped with a picnic table, fire pit, grill, and central bathhouse. The east side offers 25 sites with water and electric hookup and te10n tent-only primitive sites without water and electric hookups. In comparison, the west side provides 50 sites with water and electric hookups and three ADA certified paved sites. The west campground is also closer to the park's office, tennis courts, etc.  

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Cove Lake State Park Camping in Tennessee

2. Cove Lake State Park

Distance: 30 minutes north of Knoxville

Nearby Cities: Caryville, LaFollette

Best For: A peaceful setting to recharge

Dogs: Dog friendly. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.

Access: All sites are drive-up.

If you're looking to camp because you need a quick and restful break, Cove Lake is just 30 minutes from Knoxville. The natural features of the park create a peaceful atmosphere for you to explore at your own pace. Wildlife is abundant at the park, and lots of unique birds can be spotted near the lake. You can wander trails that wind through a diverse landscape of wetlands and woodlands or set out on a kayak and take in the lake's views surrounded by mountains. The beauty of the mountain backdrop behind the lake is reason enough to visit. (In fact, this picturesque mountain landscape that inspired the design of the Tennessee State Parks shield that all of the rangers wear on their uniforms.)

Camping: Cove Lake offers 106 RV and tent sites as well as tent-only sites. A handful of the tent-only sites are right on the water and equipped with soft gravel pads. Two centrally located bathhouses offer restrooms and hot showers. The park camp store is open seasonally and offers certified heat-treated firewood and other essential items. While the park is a beautiful outdoor oasis, it is just a stone’s throw from Caryville or Jacksboro. Both of those towns offer easy grocery access and lots of options for a hot meal. 

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Hiwassee Ocoee State Park Camping in Tennessee

3. Hiwassee Ocoee Scenic River State Park

Distance: 1 hour and 20 minutes Southwest of Knoxville

Nearby Cities: Cleveland, Athens, Lenoir City,

Best For: A mix of fast-paced adventure and relaxing activities

Dogs: Dog friendly. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.

Access: All sites are drive-up.

The perfect balance between a relaxing family weekend and a fast-paced adventure is waiting at Hiwassee Ocoee State Park. Surrounded by Cherokee National Forest, the park is a hub for hiking both in and around the park. When the summer season is at its height, you'll find places along the river to cool off, sunbathe on large boulders, or wade. Freshwater trout are ample in the cool mountain waters. Many outfitters offer white-water rafting and paddling expeditions if you're ready to explore the Hiwassee or Ocoee rivers at a faster pace. While both rivers are exceptional white-water settings, users should be aware that even placid looking streams are potentially hazardous for those unskilled and unfamiliar with the basic techniques of floating or water safety.

Camping: At Gee Creek Campground, you can set up camp near one of the country's cleanest rivers and fall asleep listening to the harmonious sounds of wildlife and rushing waters. Forty-seven “primitive” campsites are available for tents and small campers. They are “primitive” because they do not have water or electric hookups at each site. This does not mean they are difficult to access. In fact, you can drive right up to each site. All of the sites are a short walk from a central bathhouse and water source. Camping at Hiwassee Ocoee provides a unique experience that completely envelopes you in nature.

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Frozen Head State Park Camping in Tennessee

4. Frozen Head

Distance: 45 minutes northwest of Knoxville

Nearby Cities: Harriman, Kingston, Oak Ridge, Farragut

Best For: An immersive wilderness experience with car camping and backcountry sites

Dogs: Dog friendly. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.

Access: Tent sites at the main campground are drive-up. Backcountry sites are hike-in only.

Take in sweeping mountain views from the top of a fire tower, discover waterfalls, and tap into the unspoiled mountain splendor that once encompassed the entire Cumberland Plateau at Frozen Head State Park. The park covers 24,000 acres of wilderness that feels remote and untouched. Visitors can explore dense forests filled with cascading streams, unique plants, and impressive rock formations. As if that isn’t enough, the outdoor recreation and history outside the park will equally captivate you. Visitors will enjoy hiking on the Cumberland Trail, rock climbing at Obed, or a distillery tour through the old Brushy Mountain prison. 

Camping: Twenty tent-only campsites are scattered throughout the Big Cove Camping area. The primitive sites preserve the rustic wilderness feel of the park and do not include water or electric hookups. However, they are centrally located to a bathhouse with hot showers, a drinking water source, and a basin for dishwashing. Each campsite is equipped with a picnic table, grill, lantern hanger, and fire ring.

For those with the skills to backpack, there are backcountry sites that are accessed by hiking in only. These sites offer incredible views and rewarding experiences. 

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Indian Mountain State Park Camping in Tennessee

5. Indian Mountain State Park

Distance: 1 hour north of Knoxville

Nearby Cities: Jellico

Best For: RV owners and wildlife observers

Dogs: Dog friendly. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.

Access: Full-hookups are available. All sites are drive-up.

Situated on a sparkling lake supported by a backdrop of lush mountains, the park offers serene camping and activities. The park is situated almost literally on the border between Tennessee and Kentucky. You can explore the park from a new perspective and discover the fun of paddling by renting a kayak, pedal boat, or paddleboard from the park—or bring your own. You don't have to be a birder to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the birds that inhabit the park. If you want to get a better look at the park's wildlife, the hiking trails that wind around the lake provide incredible viewing opportunities. As a bonus to your trip, stop at nearby Cove Lake State Park on your way to or from Indian Mountain to experience the beauty and activities of both parks. 

Camping: Under an hour from Knoxville, Indian Mountain State Park has 47 campsites with paved pads to serve both tent and RV campers. The sites are equipped with sewer, water, and electrical hookups. Picnic tables and grills are also provided, and a modern bathhouse with restrooms and hot showers is centrally located. (Truly, this bathhouse is one of the nicest in Tennessee State Parks!)

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