It’s no secret that Chattanooga is an outdoorsy city. With more than 50 trailheads within half an hour’s drive of downtown and mountain views everywhere you look, the Scenic City is a haven for those who want to feel connected with nature. Perhaps one of the best ways to become immersed in the great outdoors is to pitch a tent and enjoy sleeping under the beautiful night sky. Luckily, the Chattanooga area offers plenty of excellent options for every camping taste. If you want to get close to nature but aren’t thrilled at the idea of “roughing it,” you can find a happy medium with a charming cabin or yurt near the city. Here’s a roundup of some of the very best camping in Chattanooga.
1. Chester Frost Park
This large lakefront park in Hixson is located less than half an hour from downtown and offers the ultimate family-camping experience. Situated on the shores of Chickamauga Lake, Chester Frost has ample opportunity for swimming, fishing, paddling, and boating. There are a whopping 228 campsites within the park for RVs, tents, and campers, and visitors can choose whether they want to camp right on the lake or further inland. Kids will find plenty of entertainment among the three playgrounds, and in the summer you can get out on the water with kayaks and SUPs from Rock/Creek’s rental outpost inside the park. The kids (and you) will love NOOGA Splash, the new aqua park at Chester Frost.
2. Cloudland Canyon State Park
Named for its spectacularly scenic 1,000-foot deep canyons, this Georgia state park boasts endless views, more than 60 miles of top-notch hiking trails, and two tremendous waterfalls. Visitors will also find miles of trails for biking and horseback riding, plus disc golf and fishing opportunities. Cloudland Canyon is an easy 40-minute drive from Chattanooga and offers both backcountry and front-country camping, as well as charming little cottages that can sleep up to eight people. For an even more unique stay, spend a weekend in one of the park’s 10 yurts, which make the perfect basecamp for all of your Cloudland adventures.
3. William’s Island
Get ready for a new kind of overnight adventure when you camp on Williams Island. This 450-acre island in the Tennessee River is only accessible by boat, making it an awesome spot for an overnight paddling trip. The island sits at the mouth of the impressive Tennessee River Gorge, which is sometimes fondly referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East. Williams Island is managed by the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, a local nonprofit that protects 17,000 acres of land in the gorge, and the campsites are free with advanced reservations. You’ll need to paddle in with everything you need, as the primitive island offers only picnic tables, fire rings, and a composting privy. If you don’t have your own boat, overnight kayak and SUP rentals are available from L2 Outside and Rock/Creek Rentals.
4. River Canyon Vacation Rentals
Combine the amenities of a condo with the beauty of a riverfront park, and you’ll have River Canyon Vacation Rentals’ cozy apartments, which are located right on the banks of the Tennessee River. River Canyon’s scenic property is like the front yard of your dreams; guests have access to kayaks, grills, and outdoor dining space, porches looking into the river gorge, and plenty of room for lawn games and lounging. This little oasis feels wonderfully peaceful and secluded, making you likely to forget that you could be back in the bustle of downtown in only 15 minutes.
5. Raccoon Mountain Caverns and Campground
Just a few minutes outside of Chattanooga, Raccoon Mountain Caverns and Campground is Chattanooga’s premier spot for both RV and tent camping. While its campsites and amenities are excellent, the area’s other attraction steals the show: the caverns. The caverns have been open to the public since they were first discovered in 1931, and their many fascinating rooms and passages have captivated visitors ever since. Raccoon Mountain Caverns is a longtime local favorite, and tours range from an easy 30-minute guided walk to a four-hour Echo Room expedition, which is complete with crawling, squeezing, and lots of mud.
6. Harrison Bay State Park
This picturesque park is home to 40 miles of Chickamauga Lake’s shoreline and offers an array of activities like fishing, paddling, picnicking, and golfing on the popular Bear Trace Golf Course. Before it became Tennessee’s first state park in 1937, the Harrison Bay area had a long history of Native American presence and was even home to one of the last great Cherokee Chieftains. Today, the park is an excellent spot to pitch a tent in one of the primitive campsites and enjoy a peaceful evening at the lake. Harrison Bay is less than half an hour from downtown Chattanooga, making it easy to explore the city before settling into camp.
7. Adventures Unlimited
Rafting the famed Ocoee River is a must for thrill-seekers who visit Chattanooga in the summer months. In addition to guided raft trips through 10 miles of exciting whitewater, Adventures Unlimited offers a great campground where you can relax and unwind after your river adventure. The tent sites are primitive but have access to the bathhouse, and folks looking for a bit more luxury will feel right at home in the bungalows. Adventures Unlimited is about 45 minutes from downtown Chattanooga, but it’s worth the drive to experience the Ocoee’s world-class whitewater and the wild landscape of Cherokee National Forest.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned camper or a first-timer; spending a night outside has a way of rejuvenating you and making you feel deeply connected to the outdoors. Whether you choose to go all-in on a primitive backcountry site or keep things comfy in a cabin, you’re sure to have a magical and adventurous experience during your stay near Chattanooga.