Stephanie J.

Clifton, ME

Joined July 2018

Photographer, writer, and adventure mama of two little explorers.

Camping with the sound of the surf

Jekyll Island County Park is located at the northern end of Jekyll Island, a barrier island at the halfway point along the Georgia Coast. 

The campground at Jekyll Island is primarily an RV park, with 179 total campsites. The grounds here are gorgeous, with sweeping Spanish moss draped over live oaks, and walking distance from the otherworldly driftwood beach. 

As far as camping goes, there is definitely more of a party atmosphere here, and the emphasis is on overall location more than on the campground itself. The sites are all very small and very close together, and the "primitive" tent sites are far more similar to group camping at a state park or private campground than the word "primitive" brings to mind--they are still easy walking distance to the welcome center, restrooms with running water and electricity, and there is wifi throughout the campground. These sites are slightly set back from the RV sites but are largely in an open field, so there is still very little privacy to be had; that said these would be great for multiple families who want their own sites but to still have proximity to each other. As for the RV sites, as with most campgrounds the sites in the center of the campground (particularly loops D, B, F, and C) are the smallest and have the least amount of privacy, while the border loops (H and G) offer a little bit more quiet with the dense lowcountry brush as a barrier on one side. 

If you are comfortable with being near your neighbors however, this is an amazing alternative to hotels, and gives you direct access to the beauty of Jekyll Island. The beach is a true natural playground of driftwood, and the park offers numerous shelters, picnic tables, grills, a store that sells everything from fishing tackle to seashell curtains, and a pier for launching boats. Somehow this park manages to combine the ruggedness of the mountains--even with the amenities--with the relaxation of the beach--and gives the bonus of hot showers to wash off the sand at the end of the day!

Options and Amenities Abound

We camped here just before all of the COVID-19 shutdowns began happening, hoping to get in a family trip that didn't involve a long drive from home/Chattanooga. We chose Fort Mountain for the variety of camping options they had, specifically the platform sites. As one of our primary requirements for camping is privacy and a place our kids can run around without bothering anyone else, having a place slightly off the main road sounded perfect--and it was. 

Fort Mountain is a huge campground, offering 70 drive-in campsites for tents/campers, 6 platform sites, 4 walk in sites, 4 backcountry sites, and 3 pioneer sites. The platform sites are a short walk from a parking area near the lake so you can make multiple trips to the car if necessary, while the backcountry sites are up to a 3 mile hike in, so all gear, food, and water will need to be packed in. Be mindful of wildlife as well, even in March we saw a copperhead near the creek by Platform 1.

As with most campgrounds there is large variety in the sites available, ranging from smaller sites near the main road through the campground (31-44), to larger sites right on the lake (46-50), to sites near the center of the campground with easy access to the many amenities the park has to offer, including the docks/boat rental, beach, and a mini golf course. Site 45 is very large but the trail around the lake and to the platform sites cuts past it so there may be some foot traffic past the site, particularly during busy times. Sites 46, 47, and 49 have amazing lakeside views, which completely make up for the visibility from one site to another. Site 48 is very small and more suited for a pull-through camper, as it has little privacy and the trail from the parking lot for the platform sites walks above it. 

(Note about the platform sites--the map is misleading. There is a small trail that runs to the sites from the lakeside trail, and the start with 1 closest to the lake and head up a rather steep climb to 6. There is a secondary trail that crosses a small creek and intersections with platform 1 to the right and 2-6 to the left.)

Loop #1 does not have any lakefront sites, and is closed to drive-thru traffic without reservations so we were not able to look closely at the sites, but it looks overall like it is wooded and shady, though smaller than the sites in loop #2. 

Cottage #5 is the only true lakefront cabin, with a long staircase walking from the cabin to the lakeside trail. It is three bedrooms and would be great for large family gatherings. 

We did not make it to the Fire Tower the state park is named for, but as a homeschool family we are always excited to find CCC buildings as living history and political science lessons, and the only trail we got to explore was the lakeside trail, which was short but scenic, although even at the time we were there was already quite crowded, so I imagine during the busy season it would be hard to find solitude. 

This is a great vacation spot. Between the variety of campsites, hiking, boat rentals, beach, and family activities, it would be easy to spend a week here in a camper or an RV and not even notice how fast the time was flying. As for a one or two night stay, we typically prefer places with fewer activities so we can just enjoy CAMPING--but the platform and backcountry campsites still provide for those with similar camping styles. And being so close to both Chattanooga and Atlanta, this is an amazing find for families. We would definitely return, and stay in either one of the platform sites again (my husband in particular loved that we did not have to worry about  a tent!), or try and reserve one of the sites along the lake so we could enjoy time at camp while taking in the views.

Private campground feel at KOA convenience

As exclusively tent campers, I have always steered away from KOAs. But given how close this one is to my home city of Chattanooga, and how beautiful the Lookout Mountain region is, I decided to do a drive-thru tour just to check out a campground within 30 minutes of home, and this is definitely a place I would love to camp, even in a tent! 

Convenient to I-59, this KOA is in an extremely rural part of northern Georgia, giving it a backcountry feel despite how easy it is to access. And while it is still primarily for RV campers, they do have a some designated tent-only sites that are on their own leg of the road, and spaced out to provide some privacy--site D in particular had more of a feel of a private campground to it.

There are two distinct sections to this campground; when you first enter, there is a turnoff to the right that takes you to lower elevation. These sites are more spaced out, have trees (or bamboo!) in between them, and are generally larger. This is also the side where the tent and group camping sites are. Group camp sites allow one tent per site, and RV sites are all 50A full service except for sites 60 and 61 which are 30A. Tent sites have water and electric available but are for one vehicle and tent only. 

To the left of the welcome center upon entering sites are closer together, with a combination of 30A and 50A full services hookups. There are still plenty of trees, particularly along the uppermost loop (sites 16, 18, 20, and 22). This side is also where the majority of the cabins are. 

The coolest aspect of this campground for me was the massive jumping pad they have, and I had to promise my kids we would take an overnight trip here just so they could use it! It is restricted to ages 16 and under (and appeared to be closed, along with the playground and saltwater pool, due to COVID-19), but looked like an amazing addition, especially for families who may be staying here long-term and need a way for their kids to get some energy out without leaving the campground! 

This would still not be my primary choice for tent camping as it is still largely geared towards RVs, however the group camping, the wooded feel, and the convenience to Chattanooga make this an amazing play to stay, whether it is folks in the city looking to get into nature without a long drive, fulltimers who want long-term accommodations while they take advantage of all the region has to offer, or travelers just looking for a quiet place to stay while passing through.

Unrivaled Beauty and Adventure

My first experience with Cloudland Canyon State Park was on a day hike, and my second was photographing a wedding here--which should set the stage for what type of place this is! 

The park can be spoken of in two separate sections; the East Rim and the West Rim. The East Rim is home to several cabins, the group lodge, one of the full service campgrounds, and the main trailhead, as well as the ADA accessible overlook trail which is where many of the iconic photographs of this park come from. This side is very popular for day use as the one mile out and back hike to Cherokee Falls draws in campers and people from Chattanooga coming in to enjoy the towering waterfall and the swimming hole below. The campground here is smaller, and less private than the west rim loop, offering 24 tent/RV sites that have 30A electrical hookup, gravel tent pads, picnic tables, and fire rings, along with a bathhouse and playground. The main road to the trailheads and day use area runs past this loop and while there are trees for shade they do not offer any privacy. 

The West Rim side houses the pioneer camping, west rim loop, the yurt village, and the remaining cabins. We have not been able to see the inside of the yurts, but they are spaced away from each other and off the road, and offer a lot of privacy; the loop that serves the yurts it not connected to any other road, and has a shelter, playground, and bathhouse. 

The West Rim camping loop has a total of 48 tent/RV sites with 30 or 50A hookups, water, gravel tent pads, picnic tables, and fire rings. This loop is far more wooded and offers a greater variety of site size and privacy, and has an extremely quiet and peaceful vibe to it. If the east rim is good for those using their campsite as a home base for exploring, the west rim is perfect for campers who want the convenience of a bathhouse with running water and/or the ability to run electric in their RVs, but without giving up the feeling of being immersed in nature. Sites 4-9 are well spaced from each other and great for tent campers and families who want their kids to have room to play, and while site 37 does not have as much privacy being in the center of the loop, it does have one of the most perfect climbing trees I have ever seen in a public campground. 

There are 16 cottages/cabins, and Georgia State Park cabins really cannot be overstated; they are well appointed, well maintained, and absolutely beautiful, and are spaced out to offer a feeling of seclusion: perfect for winter getaways, or for people who enjoy total creature comforts at night with nearby adventure during the day. Word of advice; cabins 1-5 are on the east rim and the waterfall trail runs almost directly behind them, so there is a loss of privacy there, especially on busy weekends. 

Finally, the park offers 4 pioneer sites and 30 walk-in backcountry sites. I have not seen these in person yet, but it is worth noting this park has accommodations for every type of camper out there.

There is not enough good I can say about Cloudland Canyon. About 45 minutes from Chattanooga, it is a must-see for anyone traveling from out of state who want to add adventure to their tour of the city, a home base for the many hiking and climbing opportunities within the park, or just a beautiful and peaceful place to spend a few nights out in nature.

Sunny and Open RV Park

Located just barely on the Georgia side of the GA/TN border, Holiday Travel Park has a community feel with its many full hook-up sites, most of which are extremely close together. 

We are tent campers and there is not much here if you are not in an RV--they are nestled into the back of the campground, and have the benefit of a large grassy area so kids can run and stretch their legs, but quiet and privacy are still lacking. There is also a dog park located at the campground entrance so the four legged kids can run freely, and a playground next to the dog park, however it is in full sun so will be hot during the summer months--which is the perfect time to use the pool! Unfortunately due to COVID-19 both the pool and playground are closed at the time of this review, but it is good to know they are there once public spaces can open again.

This campground has two sides; to the right of the main entrance is decidedly more shady while the side to the left gets more sun, and it seemed as though the shady side hosted many campers who were there long term. We even saw one set-up where it looked like someone had a couple of tomato plants growing in containers! These sites are all very close together but still had a peaceful vibe under the shady trees. The sunnier side (sites in the 100s) is where the playground, tent sites, and large grassy field are, so while the sites are still very close together there is a little bit more public space for larger groups or families. 

There are three camping cabins that rent to groups of 2 people, and two camping cottages; a loft for groups of 4, or a one bedroom for groups of 6. Cabins and cottages have beds (you must bring your own linens), electricity, running water, grills, picnic tables, and the loft has a small kitchen. 

This is a great stop for campers who want to see the Chattanooga/Chicakmauga area, and it has great amenities for families. However this is not a campground for those looking for a relaxing experience in nature due to proximity to the interstate and surrounding neighborhoods, and the small sites and lack of privacy from fellow campers.

Woodsy Wayside

Battlefield Campground is an extremely convenient RV park located right of I-75 about 20 minutes south of Chattanooga. It is very easy to get to, but part of that convenience comes with an absence of quiet; the interstate runs directly beside the campground, and is visible from the storage sites across from sites 11-24.

This is an excellent place for long-term campers, and it includes a nice playground, a pool, and a camp store/clubhouse. We could not get close to the pool or playground as they were closed due to COVID-19, which was comforting that they are taking public safety seriously. Sites include 50 and 30 amp full service, and seven tent sites in the middle of the campground that also include electric. There are seven camping cabins spaced throughout the campground that have outside picnic tables and grills, and beds inside as well as electricity.

Most of the sites here are nicely wooded, and as the area is slightly hilly there are elevation changes between several rows of sites which allows for a little more privacy than many RV parks offer. 

Downsides to this park are the highway noise, and the campground roads are paved but in need of maintenance; the road is eroded in a lot of places. 

Upsides are the sites are shady and well landscaped, and there are great amenities for families looking to stay here for extended periods of time, as well as the proximity to Chattanooga, Chickamauga Battlefield, and Ringold/Ft. Oglethorpe.

NOLA Convenience and Wetlands

We stayed at Fontainebleau State Park when traveling to NOLA for Mardi Gras in late February, wanting a quiet place to retreat after a day of festivities. Fontainebleau did not disappoint in quiet, although the wetlands definitely extended all the way into our campsite. 

As tent campers, we chose one of the unimproved sites (94) as we did not need water and electric, and during Mardi Gras most of the campground was full as it was. We arrived after dark and found…a completely flooded site! While in part due to recent rains, one of the rangers told me that the campground was extremely wet most of the year. As it was already dark we elected not to try and carry our tent and sleeping gear over the soggy grounds to the one semi-dry tent pad, and just set up our bed in the car. Most of the sites in this area were equally wet, and another set of campers had rigged a zip-line to get their gear from the car over the flooded grounds to their dry spot. A trade-off for quiet and privacy, and a place of exploration for our kids.

The improved area of the campground was still largely wet with flooded areas, although the main hookup sites had the driest ground, and paved roads throughout for bike riding and walks on dry land.

The primitive sites are very open and would work well for church or scouting groups, although due to wide grassy areas and ever so slightly lower elevations, they were very flooded when we were there. The premium sites along the edge of the "new campground" seemed to have the least amount of flooding. They have electric and water hookups and offer a little more privacy than the center sites, but are smaller by comparison to the unimproved sites.

Aside from the wet grounds, this is a beautiful park, with a lot of hiking through wetlands, Spanish moss draping gracefully throughout, and a gorgeous view of Lake Pontchartrain. There is a very small beach, multiple playgrounds, and large pavilions, and the campground had some of the cleanest bathrooms I have experienced. We are a homeschool family and really enjoyed the ruins of the sugar mill and the historic markers to include in our teaching curriculum for the weekend. 

In addition to being only a 30 minute drive from New Orleans, this would be a wonderful park to come to just for the enjoyment of the scenery--provided you are in a camper or a van. Tent campers should be prepared for wet grounds, or make sure to have hammocks or tree tents available just in case!

Beauty and Seclusion at Toccoa River Cove

"Is there water to play in?" 

This is a question my kids ask about almost every campground we go to. Before this trip I told them, "yes!" But once we got to the Toccoa River Cove, all of us realized that "yes" really meant, "this is a phenomenal wonderland we will never want to leave." 

I want to say this is a "goldilocks" campground, but only because it has something for everyone, not because it falls into an average category. With 12 acres of woodland and the freedom to pitch a tent anywhere (provided you honor LNT principals about where to set up camp!), you can camp right next to the car, set up a camping hammock, or explore the forest and find a secluded area in the trees for a backpacking tent. There is a spring you can drink straight out of, and streams criss-crossing the entire area if you want the rugged feeling of purifying your own water. There's a large shelter stocked with a table, chairs, lanterns, and a two-burner camp stove for the glamping crowd, with plenty of floor space to throw down a sleeping bag for thru-hikers nostalgic for AT shelters. The campsite also has a huge fire ring (and a shelter with lots of cut wood), a picnic table, a bench, lots of bridges over the water, a few established trails, a privy that is obviously cleaned regularly, and most importantly, a total immersion in nature as only one group can book this site at a time. 

Things to note for planning:

-The driveway down to the shelter is very steep, and does not allow much space to turn around. RVs or larger trucks will not fit, and per the owner only one vehicle may park at the base of the driveway at a time--all others should park just past the gate once you first turn onto the driveway 

-Water is available from two natural springs, but there is no filtered or piped water

-There is no electricity at all at this site

-The closest town is Copperhill/McCaysville on the TN/GA border. You can get provisions here, or use the campsite as a basecamp to explore the breweries and restaurants the town has to offer.

-There is a community area a short drive from the campsite that offers swimming and fishing; access is included in your reservation

I cannot see any tent campers this site would not be perfect for. While there are neighboring houses so loud parties are not permitted, this site allows up to 10 guests, with plenty of room to spare if you are looking to get out with friends. Single campers or couples will appreciate the privacy, and families will find the amenities that make camping with kids easier, accompanied with the space to allow kids freedom to explore.

I feel like I am always on a quest to find a campsite that blends the ability to carry gear for every possible contingency, with the beauty and privacy of the backcountry. After staying here, I can say that quest is over. This is it.

Forest Bathing and Beauty at Greenheart Forest

(As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I am occasionally given the opportunity to stay at campgrounds to help expand the listings on the site. I was given the chance to stay at Greenheart Forest through this program.)

Located in Pisgah National Forest, Greenheart Forest labels itself as a place of healing, and that description could not be more accurate. David and Jeannette, the owners, are both incredibly nice. From our initial phone call, to meeting them, to when we said goodbye, they were so kind and conversational in all of our interactions.I spent a lot of time talking to David about his passion—and the mission of Greenheart Forest—of forest bathing and terra psychology. 

The campground itself is both small and large. There are only five sites available for booking, but they are considerably spaced out, and the sites themselves are very large. While the sites are technically“drive-in,” the road to get to them is very difficult to navigate unless you have 4-wheel drive, so when planning the trip, plan to either hike-in(about 200 yards or so), or to pay$5 each direction for David or his wife to provide portage of your gear. When we went it was raining pretty heavily and my front-wheel drive RAV-4 could not make it, so we took advantage of David’s truck. 

Site 1 is the closest to the lodge/parking lot, with a covered picnic table. Site 2 is the“glamping” site, available at an upcharge; David has a 10-person tent, 2-room tent set up that includes two cots in one“room,” and a rug and chairs in the other. This site is huge, with a large fire ring, and ample room to set up other tents. We stayed here and were able to set up a second tent and a screen shelter with room to spare. Site 3 is also very large, with wooden benches around the fire ring, a gravel tent pad, and plenty of ground space for additional tents. This is also the site closest to the“privy;” a pop up tent set up around a bucket with toilet paper and a bucket of leaves to aide in decomposition.(There is a bathroom with running water in the lodge as well.) Sites 4 and 5 are the furthest from the lodge, with site 5 being the most private and slightly downhill from the others. This site was occupied when we went so I could not get a good look at it, but the privacy it had was incredible. 

These are tent sites only; they will not accommodate RVs, and sites 3 and 5 are not accessible by vehicle, but by short trails past the other campsites. There is no electricity at the sites, and water is available at the lodge but must be carried the rest of the way. 

The road that takes you to sites 1 and 2 stretches towards the edge of David’s property, and ends in a trail that takes you to the Max Patch summit via the Buckeye Ridge Trail, about 3 miles round trip from the campground to the summit. We did not get to explore the trail, but have been to Max Patch and it is incredible and well worth the walk if your trip allows time for it. 

Even better than the wide and open campsites though, is the overall atmosphere David has created. He has a zen garden for walking and meditation, flowers everywhere, and community places set up both inside and outside the the lodge for talking to other campers. His background in Forest Bathing has led to building a place of love and healing, and it shows in everything from the moment you first turn into the driveway. We came with kids, and while everything was very child-friendly, this would be a wonderful place to come alone if you needed to get into the forest and clear your head, or with a retreat looking for a place to facilitate deeper healing or meditations.

Ranger Review: ER210 E+Ready Compact WX Radio at Little Tybee Island

Campground Review: Little Tybee Island is an undeveloped barrier island off the Georgia coast, that can only be accessed via kayak/boat. Despite its name, the island is huge--around 6000 acres--with several species of rare birds, making it a popular place for day trips in addition to camping. There is no fee to camp on the island, however the parking fee on Tybee Island, where you launch from, is $2/hour, or a maximum of $24/day. 

This island is absolutely gorgeous. While camping is permitted anywhere, the island is entirely undeveloped, and much of it is overgrown or marshland, so the best camping spots are in hammocks located near the shore on the eastern side of the island unless you are a very experienced paddler and have the confidence to explore the streams on the island's interior. When we stayed, we kayaked in to a hammock about one mile from the developed Tybee Island, to a series of hammocks just on the other side of the aptly named "oak graveyard;" where several fallen oak trees stick out of the ocean. We camped on a Sunday night, and while there were other campers who had been there over the weekend, we had the beach to ourselves once the tide started coming in and they left for the mainland. 

There are absolutely no amenities here--you must pack in all water you will need as there is not water available for filtration, and there are no services, so all trash must be packed out. The tides are extreme so choose your campsite carefully, and check tide tables before kayaking in or out (it is best to head out with the receding tide, and head back with the rising tide). The sun can be relentless and the winds can be strong, and there are also alligators, raccoons, and several species of venomous snake--this island is still largely untouched by man, and so proper preparation is needed, along with respect for the wildness of the area. All that aside, I would come back here again and again, for the beauty and solitude. It's rare to find oceanfront camping where you can pitch your tent on the sand and not be surrounded by so many other people, so if you don't mind the extra effort involved, this place is nothing short of magical.

Gear Review: As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I am periodically given gear to test and review. For this trip I was able to use the ER210 E+Ready Compact Emergency Crank WX Radio. 

This radio was perfect for this trip. It has AM/FM bands and a weather alert channel directly from NOAA that updates for your area. Being at the beach, we were able to not only listen to the weather forecast for temperature/wind speed/precipitation, but also tide tables and water current information. While we had cell signal on this island, I didn't know if we would in advance and wanted to make sure we had a way of monitoring possible storm activity, and could verify the tides since timing your trips in/out of the island are heavily dependent on the tides. The radio also has emergency alerts, sounding an alarm if there is a national weather service alert for anything from thunderstorms to hurricanes, or any other weather system that could move through your region.

The radio can charge in three ways; via USB, a solar cell, or a hand crank, ensuring you can use it in even the most remote settings or roughest weather, and the antennae extends for greater signal receptivity. There is also a flashlight with two brightness levels, and is programmed to flash SOS if necessary--another reason we wanted this specifically for this trip, so we could signal for help if we got stranded for any reason and could not use our phones. 

We used the compact version; there is a larger version of this radio that includes all of the above features, in addition to a dog whistle to assist in SAR, and the ability to charge phones/smart devices through the radio.

Great Day Use or Long-Term Stay For RVs

Cumberland Mountain has a total of 145 campsites, spread across 5 loops, plus a backcountry site on an 8 mile backpacking trail.

We have not stayed overnight here as we are tent-campers only, and while tent camping is permitted, after visiting we felt that this campground was much better suited for RV campers. However we have come here for the day to hike and enjoy the playground by the picnic area, and it is a beautiful park, with a large lake, a restaurant, and a bridge that is iconic to the Cumberland region of Tennessee.

Of the five camping loops, loop 4 offers the most shade (particularly sites 102-109, which are shaded by evergreens and some of the prettiest campsites I have seen in a state park!), although is not ADA accessible. Loop 2 offers the least amount of shade. Loops 1, 3, and 5 have mostly hardwood trees, thus offering more shade in the warmer months and mostly sun in the winter. All sites have picnic tables and fire rings, and most can accommodate trailers up to 60 feet, with a few going higher (site 145 can fit over 100'!). Tent camping is permitted, although in most sites the only space to put a tent is very close to the fire pits or on a gravel/concrete surface, and in loops 2, 3, and 5 the park prohibits tents on the grass within each site.

Amenities at this park include hiking, fishing, paddling/boat rental, biking, a swimming pool, golf, and birding. Cabins are also available to rent, many with a view of the lake. Day use includes picnic tables, picnic pavilions, and multiple playground areas for kids. This park is also further away from urban areas and is a good place for wildlife viewing--we have seen black snakes, and what looked like a raccoon!

This is a much less crowded park than Fall Creek Falls to the south, particularly if you can make it early in the season, and is convenient to I-40, premium golfing, and historical sites on the Cumberland Plateau. While there are better options in this region for someone looking to pitch a tent, if you have an RV, Cumberland Mountain is very peaceful, offering a lot of ways to spend your day and a quiet and relaxing spot to watch the stars and enjoy the sounds of nature at night.

Good For Long-Term Camping, With Lots of Amenities

Harrison Bay is a huge park, with four camping loops (3 for RVs, 1 for tents), and a large marina, located on the Chickamauga Reservoir of the Tennessee River. It is about thirty minutes from downtown Chattanooga, making it a great place to stay for awhile if you want to check out the area's numerous hiking opportunities, or if you are here to see the various downtown attractions. This would be a good park to stay at long-term as a base-camp, thanks to the numerous in park amenities and to enjoy the Chattanooga area.

Situated again the bay, the majority of the park is surrounded by water, and as such many campsites have views of the lake. Loop A is an RV loop with very little shade, and is closest to the playgrounds and picnic pavilions. Sites 7-11 and 13-14 in this loop have the most shade, with most other sites in full sun. Loop B is an RV loop with more shade on the sites on the northern end and more sun on the southern. Sites 9, 18, 22, and 25 are next to an area with poor drainage so bugs may be an issue here in the summer, and sites 29 & 30 have great views of the lake. Loop C is the last RV loop, also with a lot of shade, and sites 23-25 and 35-36 are right on the water, almost with their own private beaches. Loop D is the tent-only loop; this loop is very shaded, and the sites are fairly large and can accommodate most size tents. The northern end of the loop has clear waterfront views. Sites 13 & 14 are close to the restrooms with view of the water, and sites 15-19 have mostly unobstructed water views. These sites are very close together, but if you go on weekdays or early in the season it's unlikely there will be many other campers there.

In addition to camping, the park offers fishing, boating, hiking, a playground, a restaurant, swimming pool, interpretive center, nature viewing platform, and several picnic pavilions. In warmer months this is a popular spot for locals to come swim in the lake as well, so bring bathing suits and expect a lot of company. Most of the trails are short, however there is a 4 mile trail that goes around an "island" near the marina, and two smaller islands past the campground loops that can be combined for a 1 mile loop. These islands make excellent places to watch the sunset; the large island closest to the marina even has a bench facing southwest for this purpose.

Firewood is available for purchase at a camp store just outside the park, and residents often sell firewood roadside on the way to the park entrance.

This is not a place for solitude; it can get quite crowded during the summer between campers and locals, and there are residential areas on most sides of the lake, visible from the park. Don't come here looking for a wilderness experience. However for an outdoor vacation that has plenty of activities and is close to urban conveniences, Harrison Bay is an excellent choice!

Convenient and Fun, With Amenities Galore

This park is located about 15 minutes off I-81 just south of the VA/TN border, making it extremely convenient, and a great place to stop for anyone traveling that stretch of the country.

There are a total of 134 campsites. 94 are available year round and have electric/water hookups, and the remaining 40 sites are in an overflow section that is only open from Memorial Day-Labor Day. The overflow sites do not have electric or water hookups, and accommodate trailers up to 60 feet (site 106 only; all others sites can only fit smaller RVs). The sites open year round are primarily used for RV camping, accommodating trailers up to 40'. Sites have asphalt driveways and are otherwise gravel, with picnic tables, grills, and fire rings. Sites 94, 73, 57, and 28 are ADA accessible, and site 90 has a pull-off parking spot with the campsite set down from the road (this is an excellent tent site!). Most sites are very shady, and sites on the northern side have a view of the lake from late fall to early spring. The bathrooms have electricity and running water, are single stall and include a shower, and are some of the cleanest campground bathrooms I have ever experienced. And since we were there in late March and it was still fairly chilly, we appreciated the space heaters!

Amenities at this campground include hiking, fishing, boat rental, golf, disc golf, a swimming pool, and the best playground I have ever seen--this campground is worth it for the playground! It is huge, has an interactive story trail based on "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe," a creek that runs through it, and the best part is that it is universally accessible, so children of all abilities can enjoy the park (sensory-friendly areas, and all signs include brail!). There is also a concession stand at the boat house, and two miles of trails are horse-friendly.

My only complaint about this campground is, given the proximity to the town of Kingsport and I-81, there are still a lot of civilization noises at night. This should not be an issue if you are in an RV, but for tent-campers you will still be able to hear distant traffic while falling asleep, instead of just the sounds of nature. But while we may not choose this as a place to "get away from it all," as frequent travelers between eastern TN and central VA, this campground is a perfect place to stop, and beats a hotel any day!

Ranger Review: The Dyrt Reservations at Mountain Glen RV Park & Campground

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I am occasionally compensated for staying at and reviewing campgrounds. I was given the opportunity to stay at Mountain Glen RV Park and Campground in order to test the new reservation system through The Dyrt. The reservation system works extremely well--it is fast and efficient, and save the trouble of using a third party reservation system after finding a campground you like on The Dyrt. I look forward to more campgrounds joining TD's network!

Mountain Glen is a new campground, located about an hour northwest of Chattanooga, and it is absolutely beautiful. There are a total of 8 tent sites and 41 RV sites, set next to a lake and a gorgeous view of a farm. Amenities include picnic tables, a playground, fishing, horseshoes, corn hole, a game room, a camp store, and laundry facilities, showers, and flush toilets with electricity (and heat!). It is also a short drive to Fall Creek Falls State Park, for anyone looking to enjoy the hiking near the falls without the overnight crowds the state park brings in. 

The RV sites occupy most of the campground, and accommodate trailers ranging from 60' to 90'. All sites have electric and water hookups, picnic tables, fire rings, and most have small grassy areas for dogs, kids, or even grown ups to stretch out and rest. RVs are also available to rent.

Tent sites 1-3 are listed as “primitive” sites and have no electricity or water, however it is a short walk to the office where water is available. The road is visible from these sites, however there is a grassy meadow both between the sites and the road, and the sites and the lake, with woods bordering site 3. 

Sites 4 and 5 are located closest to the picnic shelter, with a clear view of the lake. Sites 6-8 are next to the office/bathrooms. Site 6 is the smallest and 8 is the largest. All tent sites are fairly hilly, and accommodate small tents better than large based on limited flat space—though hammocks would work well!

There is a trail that winds around the lake, and passes a beautiful spillway on the end opposite the office which is great for getting some shade, and a chance for kids to splash in some water. This end also has a picnic table for day use. I would love to see this area eventually become a walk-in campsite as it is definitely the most beautiful area of the entire campground!

The owners here are extremely nice. We were greeted warmly on our arrival, and spent some time talking with them our second day. It is obvious they care about the campground and want campers to enjoy themselves and feel comfortable. We are tent campers and I was wary of staying somewhere more geared towards RVs, but what tent camping here lacks in privacy and wilderness, it more than makes up for in beauty, peace, and a feeling of home-away-from-home.

Small and cozy backcountry camping

The southernmost campsite on the Cumberland Trail, the Lockhart's Arch shelter is only 1.8 miles from the southern Terminus of the CT, at Signal Point. The hike in to this shelter is moderate, passing beautiful views at Julia Falls Overlook, and a cool suspension bridge as it crosses Middle Creek.

The shelter is after climbing out of Middle Creek Gorge, and follows a spur trail off the CT that is not marked, making this shelter somewhat difficult to find in the dark.

The shelter is very small, covered on three sides, with enough room to fit 2-3 adults. It has a small shelf to store gear, and a few nails to hang bags on, but does not have anything hanging from the ceiling to help protect your food from mice, so take appropriate food storage measures. The space the shelter occupies is small, but has enough room for one or two small backpacking tents if you prefer your tent to the shelter, though the ground is not very level so be aware of your tent's footprint. There is a well-established fire ring. The closest guaranteed water source is Middle Creek, so be sure to fill water bottles and filter when you cross, although if there has been a lot of recent rain there is a chance of small seasonal streams closer to the shelter.

This shelter is an excellent place to stay if you are looking for a place near Chattanooga to hike in to, if you want to take advantage of the incredible sunsets at the nearby Edwards' Point and have a place to stay without hiking out in the dark, or as a starting point on the southern stretch of the Cumberland Trail. Be aware however that the closest trailhead is at Signal Point, and overnight parking is not allowed, so plan on having a ride! A backcountry permit is also required, though is free and can be obtained through the Cumberland Trail website.

Great Recreation Area, Mid-Grade Tent Camping

Sherando Lake is a well-maintained, popular campground located in the George Washington National Forest near Lyndhurst, VA. Convenient to both Richmond and Charlottesville, it brings people in for camping and day-use alike.

There are three camping loops here; a standard non-electric loop (loop A/White Oak Loop), and two RV loops (B and C). Both of the RV loops are very flat and open, with little shade or privacy between sites. They have electric hookups and drinking water available, but do not have water hookups. The tent loop is the oldest loop in this campground, and is heavily wooded, with sites along both meadow and backing up to the mountain. These sites do not have any hookups, but most have driveways large enough for campers and RVs 28' in length or under. All tent sites have fire rings, utility poles, and large picnic tables, and tent pads that are raked clear by campground hosts between guests.

The biggest benefits of this campground are its location, and the recreation area. It's about an hour and a half west of Richmond and only thirty minutes from Charlottesville, making it a great weekend trip without having to take time away from work. And as for recreation, it's wonderful. There are two lakes--the lower lake is the largest at 25 acres, and and while the beach can get crowded during peak season, it's an easy walk from the campground, with a large swimming area roped off. Canoeing is available at the lake, and there are several hiking trails, ranging from the easy lakeside trail, to more difficult trails that connect to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and other trails in George Washington National Forest. Fishing is available at both lakes with the proper licensing. There are several large picnic areas right on the lower lake, and a few smaller creekside spaces with picnic table and grills.

All that said; for RV campers this is an excellent campsite. While the loops with hookups are lacking in shade and privacy, having an RV or camper will afford you what the site itself lacks, and the location and activities make this a great basecamp.

For tent camping, it's good if you live in one of the nearby cities and want the shorter drive time, or if you like tent camping but still want all the benefits of front-country camping. As a place to set up camp and enjoy spending time near your tent, Sherando is exceptionally maintained. There is not a lot of opportunities for foraging for firewood, which means purchasing heat-treated wood nearby, and while the sites are very shady, there is little underbrush between sites to offer a privacy barrier. Many of the sites are staggered, with one or more levels of steps leading from the driveways. Because of all there is to do this is a great site for older kids, but we learned that, especially with toddlers, the steps around the campsites can turn a relaxing trip into one of constant vigilance.

Enjoyment of this campground will largely depend on what type of camper you are. If you are mainly looking for a place to get outside of the city, where you can set up for the night and have easy access to hiking, fishing, swimming, or boating, this is a great campground. This is where we typically chose to take friends if they were new to camping, as the bathrooms are well-lit, the road is paved, and the sites are so well-maintained. Plus at $20 a night, while it's more expensive than its neighbors in Shenandoah National Park or Cave Mountain Lake, it's a shorter drive from the neighboring cities, and doesn't have the additional NPS fee. However, if you want something that feels more rugged, or with campsites that offer a greater feeling of privacy, it would be better to skip this one.

A beautiful basecamp for hikers and horseback riders

With camping just a moderate day hike away from Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia, this campground is a hiker's paradise.

There is little to no cell signal here, so coming to Grayson Highlands is one of the few state parks in Virginia where you can truly go "off the grid" during the length of your stay--and you won't miss technology, because there is so much to do at this park. From the aforementioned Mount Rogers--an 8.5 mile out-and-back, to the 1.5 mile but difficult Cabin Trail that takes you to a waterfall, to the wild ponies who will approach hikers along the Rhododendron Trail, any fitness level will find hiking they can enjoy. When we stayed the outer bands of Hurricane Michael brought so much fog and rain that we were not able to see any of the ponies, but we did hear one a couple of times, very near Massie's Gap!

As for camping there are two frontcountry campgrounds. All sites have picnic tables and fire rings, and bathrooms with electricity and flush toilets*

Chestnut Hollow Campground:

-There are 23 sites here with water and electric hook-ups May-October, and this loop is available as primitive camping March, April, and November. *During this time bathrooms are pit toilets only

-Horse-friendly; there are stables located adjacent to this loop

-These sites are very small; if you are in a tent I recommend no larger than a 4 person.

-Not a lot of privacy between sites, especially near the back of the loop. Most sites are right agains the road and have little space to move around; I would not recommend this loop if you have small children who are going to want space to run and play

Hickory Ridge Campground

-This is the larger of the loops at GHSP; there are 64 campsites ranging from standard tent sites without water or electric, to full service sites with water and electric hookups.

-Tent sites 1-18 are the furthest from hookup sites and will therefore be the quietest; they are mostly small sites and very close to the road. Sites 10, 12, 13, and 14 are set back furthest from the road. There is a path behind sites 2-14 leading to the bathhouse behind site 14. Site 13 is easily the most private--and arguably the only truly private--tent site in this campground, with the driveway going behind a cluster of trees that shields the site from the road. We stayed in site 12 which easily fit our 6 person tent.

-Sites 31 and 32 are on a meadow the campsite loops around; they have no privacy and little shade, but ample room for kids to run around, and there is a set of swings near these sites. They are however right on the road so it may be easier to just walk to the swings and keep littles in a site without as much traffic. There is water right across from both of these sites.

-Even-numbered hookup sites 60-70 are also right on the meadow with very little shade

-All other sites are heavily shaded, although you'll be close to your neighbors

The camp store near the Hickory Ridge Loop sells ice, firewood, and just about anything you may possibly have forgotten to pack--firestarters, first aid supplies, marshmallows, and has as a gift shop with blankets, outerwear, and kitschy souvenirs.

Normally I would take off a star for lack of privacy of tent sites, however there is so much hiking here that your campsite can really be more of a basecamp than a place you want to sit and hang out all day long!

Peaceful and well-maintained campsites, just a short drive from the city

Powhatan State Park is a relatively new addition to the VA State Parks system; the park itself has only been open since 2003. The primitive, canoe-in campground opened with the park, and the loop with electric and water hookups opened in 2016.

Canoe-In Campground: 

When we stayed, we stayed in the canoe-in campground, although we hiked in the approximate 1/4 mile from the parking lot, rather than coming in by boat. This is a quiet, beautiful loop, with 8 sites, each with a picnic table and fire ring. There are composting toilets here and no potable water, so you will need to bring enough water for your trip or purification methods. Proper food storage is also essential back here; while this section of Virginia does not have the bear activity you’d find in the mountains, there are still raccoons and other wildlife who should not have access to human food. There are no bear boxes, so treat food storage as you would in the backcountry. 

-Sites 7 and 8 are closes to the toilets, and back up to the woods leading towards the Turkey Trail; hikers are visible from site 8 and audible from site 7.  

-Sites 4 and 5 back up to a very wooded area, and are further back from the gravel loop. Site 4 is closest to the boat ramp and is visible; site 5 is probably the most private in the loop. 

-Sites 1,2, and 6 are in the center loop, but have more space between them than inner-loop sites usually have. Sites 1 and 2 are right against the River Trail however, so will have hikers walking directly past during the day. 

The canoe-in loop sits against the James River; there is a rack to stow your canoe/kayak overnight, and a pay by honor-system pile of firewood. Due to the thick foliage there is no actual river-view during the warmer months, but it’s easily accessbile. When we stayed in early spring there were a lot of vines that served as “natural playground” for our kids; they used them as swings, monkey bars, and enjoyed getting their feet wet at the base of the canoe ramp, so much that they declined hiking or driving to the park’s man-made playground. This loop makes a great “trial run” site for anyone considering a future backcountry trip; the walk to the parking lot is short enough to make multiple trips if you need to, and you still have access to the park amenities if you don’t mind a walk/drive to get there.

River Bend Loop

The River Bend Loop has 29 sites with water and electric hook-ups, though very little privacy between sites. The surrounding trees give all but the first three sites decent shade and a wooded atmosphere, and this is a great loop for RVs or tent campers who enjoy being close to other sites. If you are looking for a feeling of isolation however, you would be better off minimizing your gear and walking to the primitive sites, or going to a different park altogether. The bathrooms here have electricity, flush toilets, and showers with hot water. Sites 1-14 are available for advance reservation, and sites 15-29 are first-come first-served. Site 25 offers the most privacy for tent campers, and it’s very large, but if the campground is at full occupancy all sites are going to have a crowded feel.

There are several hiking trails at this park ranging from very easy to moderate, and a couple of them are horse-friendly; our kids enjoy seeing horses on the trail with them, but be mindful if you have kids/dogs who may be afraid of the horses. The park also has a playground, picnic shelters, and ranger activities on the weekends, and there are three yurts available to book.

This is a very open, well-maintained park, and the camping options should appeal to a wide spectrum of campers, and my only reason for giving it 4 stars instead of 5 is because of the lack of privacy in the drive-up campsites. It feels a lot like a hidden gem; the hookup campground fills up during warmer weather, but all of our visits here have been very quiet and peaceful. If you are looking for camping options near Richmond, I highly recommend this park!

Foggy, Quiet, and Away From the Crowds

We chose this campground specifically for the elevation, knowing we would be camping in late August and wanting an escape from the heat. It definitely delivered--at over 5300' elevation, it is much, much cooler at the campground than many of the trails lower in the Smokies. It is also extremely foggy--we did not spend much time here during the day as we were hiking, but both morning and nights we were there, clouds settled in over the entire campground, creating a very cool effect. (It also rained on us both nights, so make sure your tent is properly sealed against water!) 

We stayed in sites 38 and 39, which had been booked in advance by the friends we went with. These are very close to the entrance, to other sites, to the bathrooms, the campground hosts, and the dishwashing station, and they are right on the road. It made these sites very convenient, but not the best for us as we had 5 small children with us. The tent pad at site 38 was also a little too small for our 6 person Coleman Evanston—one corner was hanging off the wooden platform.

While our campsite was not as private as we normally would choose for ourselves, the campground itself was very quiet and very peaceful, and nowhere near full occupancy, despite the crowds on the trails below us. It is very wet, so if you want a campfire be sure to buy some of the heat-treated wood available for purchase down the mountain, and be prepared to secure anything you don't want to get wet in your cars overnight. 

My only complaint here was the interaction the campground hosts had with our children--a bear had been seen at the entrance to the campground our first night there, and one of the hosts attempted to scare one of our toddlers into staying close to her mom, which is a decision I found highly inappropriate, and the hosts in general acted annoyed anytime our children wanted to play more than a few feet away from the adults. However that is not a fault of the campground itself, and I think if we had not been so close to the host site that would not have been an issue, and would have made this a very family-friendly place to go--provided you prepare for temperatures 10-20 degrees cooler than it is at lower elevations!

Other things of note with this campground: 

-For privacy, sites 32-37 looked to be the best, although they require a couple of steps down from the car so are not ADA compliant. These sites are very grassy, with a lot of room for kids and dogs to run around without being right on the road. Site 23 was also very private compared to the others, although small; I don’t think anything larger than a 4 person tent would fit here.

-The tent-only sites, 26-31, are clustered together and very open to each other, but offer privacy from the road and the other sites in the campground, and are considered the "walk-in" sites. The walk is very short, and I did see bear boxes to store food, as proper food storage is extremely important in the Smokies--within a few miles of the campsite we saw elk, bears, wild turkey, and deer. 

-There is a dishwashing station behind site 38, with two sinks. There was some dish soap in there on our trip, but as always, be prepared with your own, and the water was cold water only. 

-Site 38 is next to an open field rolling down the mountain; the hosts told us there is a bear family that likes to cross the campsite between sites 7 and 38, so be prepared to see one if you choose a site near this crossing!

-There is a trail along the edge of this campground that is supposed to have wonderful sunset views, although we did not get to take advantage of this due to the fog.

-Because of the high elevation, Balsam Mountain has a shorter operating season that the other GSMNP campgrounds; plan your trip accordingly. 

-There are no electric or water hook-ups here, although RVs and campers may park at the sites. 

-The bathrooms have solar-powered lights for nighttime, but they are very dim, so flashlights/headlamps are encouraged.

Premium Virginia Camping

This is hands-down my favorite campground in Virginia.

To start--it's very well maintained, but has a lot of personality. The bathrooms are simple but clean, there is potable water convenient to all sites, and most sites you can park you car right at your site, but the absence of a paved road or sectioned off tent sites, and the creek that runs through the entire campground, gives a feeling of peace and wilderness that can be hard to find in front country camping. None of the sites at this campground have electric or water hookups, but all sites have picnic tables and fire rings.

Sites 1-27 are in the main loop. The creek winds through this loop providing the sound of water and a place to splash in. The inner ring is still fairly wooded but has less privacy, and the outer ring on the eastern side has long driveways to accommodate larger campers/RVs.

Sites 28-35 are on a spur off the main loop, and have a higher degree of privacy. These sites are slightly more rugged, and best for smaller tents; site 35 however is both large, flat, and private, and is next to the trailhead to one of the campground's hiking trails. The bathroom in this leg has multiple stalls, electricity, and flush toilets.

Sites 36-38 are walk-in only, though the walk is very short, and crosses a lovely bridge over the creek. Sites 37 and 38 are very small; a 1-4 person tent should be fine, but anything larger than that is unlikely to fit. The sites are bordered by a small meadow on one side, and a hill on the other. Site 36 is arguably the best site in the entire campground if you are comfortable carrying your gear a few dozen yards from the parking lot. This site has a high degree of privacy, especially from late spring to early fall when the trees have their leaves, it can accommodate 6+ person tents, and is right beside the creek which gives you a wonderful sound to fall asleep to. This one is especially great for kids!

Sites 39 and 40 also border the meadow at the back of the campground but you can park directly at the site so they work for campers, and sites 41 & 42 form a double site; because it is a double site it is more expensive to book, but you are set back from the remainder of the campground, as well as being beside both the creek and next to a trailhead. Group campsites are available closer to the day-use area.

The hosts at this campground are some of the nicest we have ever encountered, and we have been going here for years. They also frequently pile logs from downed trees next to the dumpsters in early spring, providing ample firewood if you have the means to split it yourself.

There is a lake and picnic grounds for day-use, along with a few hiking trails, however the day use areas are not regularly monitored; the lake is swim-at-your-own-risk, and there are no boat or fishing gear rentals. There is no camp store to purchase firewood or provisions, but there is a privately owned way-station a few miles before the entrance of the campground. Plan on bringing in everything you will need for your trip, unless you want to add time driving on the winding roads leading to the campground to and from the local stores.