You really can't go wrong with Meeman-Shelby. It is so damn close to Memphis that while you won't feel like you are near an urban center, you benefit from its proximity. I very much appreciated being able to site see and camp during our brief overnight here.
The campground itself is tucked away deep into the Meeman Shelby State Forest and offers a pleasant amount solitude even though the sites are fairly close together. We watched an super long RV struggle to back into their site, so I wouldn't recommend this campground to RVs that require pull through sites.
Not all sites are suitable for tent campers. I would call ahead to ask what sites to consider if booking online, or just show up. There are a lot of sites here and you'll find something.
The campground is not terrible even, so be prepared for that.
Our site was massive, but was situated right next to park entrance and major hiking thoroughfare.
Our site had a place to park and a fire ring that was full to the rim of coals and half burnt logs. It didn't take long to clear it out, but the pit was extremely muddy and lighting a fire meant a ton of smoke. No picnic table here.
The best sites were along the ridge, but are divided into AB sites. So you are sharing basics amenities with a neighbor. This site design seems to be suited for families or groups, but if you are wanting a site with a view you are kinda stuck. Not all of the improved sites are suitable for tents.
Their staff is A+ if you have never been, call ahead and book over the phone. The staff know this campground well and can steer you in the right direction every time.
The lower score comes from the park being rough around some of the edges. The CCC museum is a small shack, not really worth your time. The Northern Alabama Japanese Tea Garden is a bit of a head scratcher to say the least. There is a disc golf course the plows through the middle of it and the trails (while peaceful) lead you off to the main road.
We had booked two nights here, but decided to move on after only one night.
(Sadly didn't have time to take pictures, but the leaves were beautiful.)
Leaves were in peak color, the temperature was 65 all day and night due to wind and was a really pleasant
You really can’t pass this one up. If you are road tripping from Great Smokey to Shenandoah this is the perfect one or two night way point. We opted for two nights and were stunned with the views from the hemlock loop. We booked before the site filled up and got the best site of the loop — site 006. I don’t know if we’ll ever be back because it was a bit out of the way for us.
It is primarily a boat/fishing recreation area in Cherokee National Forest, but it works as a perfect get away. Similar to other NF campgrounds the sites are huge and offering full or partial shade. We lucked out and got there during peak autumn colors. Being that we booked a month out we didn’t realize the campground would close the other loops our weekend causing our loop to be full the whole weekend. The atmosphere was respectful.
We did a day trip to Asheville, NC since we are not boat ppl and got to experience a great day in the city.
These are largely primitive sites, but offer some great amenities regardless. Very big picnic tables, shared water, bathrooms, and a boat ramp.
Alcohol isn’t permitted but it seemed like everyone ignores that rule. Bring your own firewood as what they were offering needed to be chopped. We didn’t bring our axe so we had to run out for some wood at a gas station.
Also the road into the campsite has several switchbacks and blind turns. Locals breeze through it, but if you are hauling an very large trailer/RV be prepared. It would be tough to make some of these turns in a vehicle the size of a greyhound.
Sunset is worth it. If we can come back, we will.
Big Meadows Campgrounds is largely unchanged from the way the CCC designed it in the 1930s. There are two sections of the campground the ABC loops and the more RV oriented upper letter loops. The other reviews are right when they say it is big and crowded. We were staying in the B loop Tuesday through Friday the last week of the season in 2020, and Thursday night was a pretty much a constant stream of new arrivals.
The RV loops were full throughout the week. There was availability during the week for all the lodges. Although during Covid, the lodges seemed like an unnecessary risk considering the volume of park goers. We had planned to tent camp and stuck with that plan.
Couple big differences between the upper loops and the ABC loops. The upper loops are wooded and offer some shade. The ABC loops have partial shade walk in sites along the A loop and B and C and D are very much meadow offering very little shade or protection from wind and it does get quite windy.
When we set out to choose our site, we walked the loop to get the best sense of each site. B was a no generator loop so we stuck with these sites. We were followed closely by a family of four deer who really didn’t care about our presence. When we found our site it had a little tent clearing surrounded by tall grass. Chipmunks and birds flitting about. It was kinda like a Disney film tbh.
We had neighbors the whole time and you are so close it is good to introduce yourselves. The bonus of that is trading ideas and rec’s about good hikes, what to try at the wayside, and what to avoid crowd wise. During our four days we did a longer version of hawksbill and dark hallow falls and a few nature trails including the deer trails in the Big Meadow. We also made time each day to explore via car the skyline drive.
It is important to understand this park was designed to be experienced with a car where you can drove from hike to hike, overlook to overlook, stopping for picnics and taking in the protected wilderness. Whatever the season this design works to an astonishing degree towards inspiring awe and peace. You always feel like a guest in this space and that humbling relationship offers plenty to contemplate on the long slow drives through the park.
Our final morning was spent meandering through the deer trails of the big meadow at sunrise. The deer grazing mere feet from you. Three nights was too short, we will be back to experience another season.
Had a two night stay reserved, Hurricane Zeta had other plans. We arrived after visitor center had closed, but were able to locate and set up camp before sun went down. We were staying in A-16 just next to the natural trail that takes you off the Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park grounds and into Cherokee National Forest. Our site had views of the southern edge of the Appalachian mountains and they were “smokey” all day. It would be beautiful to camp here anytime of year. The less leaves the better the views.
We set our rain shelter porch and tent on the flattest part of the large campsite. All the sites I saw were pull through style. This seemed to be to make allowance for vehicles with trailers towing River recreational gear like canoes/kayaks and the like. It is park of the extensive Tanasi river recreation area. Other reviewers likely have more to say on this. We were there off season during late October.
The next day we went to the visitors center to check on the weather and found out were in the cone of what was becoming a hurricane zeta. At the time it didn’t look like it would be anything more than rain by the time it got there, I asked the staff member to let us know if the forecast changed to a situation where we should breakdown camp. She said of course. Very friendly and very on top it of it. Maps were readily available.
We went for a drive through the National Forest and enjoy the many views of the river. I would recommend downloading a map of the area on google maps before spending time out there as the connection is spotty. We made our way back to and we’re planning to hike a trail as the rain had stopped, when a park ranger cane by to tell us they were predicting a quicker arrival of the storm meaning it would be a lot stronger when it got to our area. He said he didn’t want to leave for the day before letting us know the conditions were not safe. We packed up and left. I very much appreciated this care for their campers. This experience speaks so highly of the Rangers. Every exchange was thoughtful and respectful. Would return anytime. As we are boaters, I think I would probably stick to off season.
We were passing through Memphis and stayed overnight at Fort Pillow. The staff in the office were not super friendly or helpful. I had to ask for everything, like a campsite map to my site, a trail map, and buying firewood. Nothing was offered, so definitely ask. The layout is also backwards. You have to drive all the way to the back of the park to get to the museum visitors center. I am sure there is a practical reason for this, but it wasn’t fully transparent. I always check in to campsite to introduce myself and get a lay of campsite from the people who work there. They just were not very social or helpful.
We stayed in campsite 4 which is more or less a walk-in type site. You park and then have to haul your gear about 15 yards to your site. The privacy and cliff side campsite is worth it, but there again was no one warning. We were only staying one night and the site was a little impractical for our needs. If you are staying 2-3 nights then grab campsite 4, in the winter months after the leaves have fallen this site would be stunning. It is basically a private overlook to the Mississippi. Only thing that would’ve made this campsite perfect would be running water. Instead you have to walk to the bath house to snag water.
There was electrical hookup at site but no water. (Was not able to locate communal water) Bath house cleaned daily and was a private set room style. Tent pad and campsite is pebbles to allow for moisture/bring long stakes or expect to not to be able to stake in your tent.
Pretty accessible if you live in Tarrant County for day tripping. Covid restrictions keep us out on our first attempt to visit the park. Our second trip we made reservations for a day pass. We went to hike aloo g rocky cliff side of the lake. The hike is longer than you’d think and less interesting then we’d expected.
The best features are near the rock climbing side. Really enjoyed that leg. The rest was just lakeside and not particularly memorable or interesting. Hate to say this wasn’t a great experience, but we have plans to return and do some camping in the spring. It is so close to home it is hard to not make time to give it a second chance.
Took a day trip to Mother Neff State Park in July. Walking all of the trails took under 2hrs. There are some great features including a rocky overhang and hillside. The trails through the grassland portion were not really suited for peak direct sunlight so bring some sun block if you are hitting those trails in the afternoon.
We didn’t camp here and probably wouldn’t. The park is very small and might be better suited for a family making a pit stop along a longer RV road trip.
Facilities are newish and the trails are well maintained.
In the fall I could imagine staying here for a week. I didn't, this time, but I could imagine doing it. campsites were large and deep. Obviously you don't want to hang around the grass near the lakefront too much, cause of gators. Pick your site carefully online before you go, there are good and bad sites. Our site had quite a bit of litter and small bits of trash. The site with the lake views are stunning. Get them if you can.
Bathhouse is fully enclosed bathroom and shower, fully ADA, and locking doors. Sinks have outlets. I don't know what else to say but the lolliby loop was really nice. Walking the campgrounds was very pleasurable. The little hiking trails were nice too. the sections of the 4C trail we walked were really chill, very flat. The more dynamic and better marked trails were in mission tejas about 20mins away, but, the better campsites were at Lake Ratcliff. Not a great or inviting park name, but it was nice campsite. Only downside was the highway was audible at all hours.
We were eaten alive. It is to be expected that you will attract mosquitoes, but this was extreme. Nothing we did short of covering our bodies in toxic chemicals would stop them. Even then they surrounded us. We also came home with fleas, also not the end of the world, but unpleasant.
The park itself is must see for fans of the forests of East Texas. The lake is so intriguing and the history is very interesting. It is a heavily populated and used lake… I wouldn't describe it as a peaceful area. I could also do without the partisan political imagery surrounding the park. The park is large enough and the campsites are embedding into the woods.
Campsites are thankfully spread out and when were there it was maybe 35-40% capacity. Lots of privacy. Be sure to stop during the day and listen, you'll hear trees and birds.
Park is situated among lake towns, but during the day and morning it is very quiet. evening and nights are much louder. The trails need some updating.
Bathrooms need some updating, but were clean
Trails need work done
Minimal firewood available
Be smart and come prepared and you'll be wowed.
Come for the hiking trails and access to local communities like Palestine, TX and 4C Trail.
You will get to know your neighbors at this state park if you choose to camp here.
Our party was spread out between the main campground and the Day Use area sites. We enjoyed the site we had, but our friends were camping in the main camping loop which was very crowded and cramped mid-week. Personally our site was B near the playground and the ADA trailheads. Site B is kinda magical and if you like people watching than you are in luck, there is no shortage of foot traffic near your campsite. For us it was nice and hikers, passersby were very respectful.
Bundled FIrewood (donations accepted, however it is free to use)
WIFI at the visitors center is sub-dial-up speed
Bathhouse is stall type so it is not a fully private room.
Staff if friendly and helpful
Sites are all on hillside, if you have an RV/camper I would rec the pull through sites. The back in sites really only work for tent camping. For Tents, the pad sizes vary so be sure to check your tent dimensions. We saw a few sites our 4 person tent wouldn't have fit onto. (Saw the same at Lake Ratcliff)
Personally I would recommend the campgrounds at Lake Ratcliff if you are looking for spacious camping loops. Also Lake Ratcliff's bathhouse was much nicer and more ADA friendly. Mission Tejas's high quality trails are only a 20min drive from Lake Ratcliff.
Would've given this park a 4 star if campground hadn't been so cramped. Maybe my expectations need curbing. I will return for some winter camping later this year, possible even early spring as well. It is a great park, but if it is full, it feels crowded.