U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Cherokee National Forest


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Forest Information

The Cherokee National Forest is located in northeastern Tennessee and western North Carolina and is comprised of 631,715 acres. Three hundred and twenty-seven acres are located in North Carolina. It borders the Great Smokey National Park on the northern and southern ends. There are 31 developed campgrounds, 21 of which meet the selection criteria.

The Cherokee National Forest stretches along the eastern side of Tennessee like a towering hedge of lush green vegetation. Rich with cultural heritage and natural beauty, the Cherokee National Forest provides wide and diverse recreation opportunities, including lots of trails for hiking, horsebacking riding, and mountain bikes, good whitewater, fishing and more for its visitors. The range of camping locations is equally varied to meet the desires of camping enthusiasts.

The Ocoee River, in the southern most portion of the Cherokee, was the site for the 1996 Olympic Whitewater Competitions. However, the Cherokee National Forest is laced with whitewater rivers for the kayaker of any experience level. Some of these rivers have commercial outfitters that will provide equipment and guides if needed. Other rivers are classified "non-commercial" and visitors must bring their own equipment. (Check with a Ranger District Office for more information about outfitters and water levels.) North River, Quinn Springs, Spivey Cove, and Thunder Rock campground all offer easy access to whitewater from their car and tent camping sites. These campgrounds can also accommodate recreational vehicle (RV) and motorhomes campers.

Fast flowing rivers means Rainbow trout. Many of the streams and rivers are stocked regularly for the angler's pleasure. Brook and Brown trout can also be found in the Cherokee's streams and rivers. Bass, Bluegill, and Crappie are plentiful in the many lakes, such as Watauga, McKamey and south Holston, found within the Cherokee. Parksville (a.k.a. Ocoee) Lake feature an even wider variety of fish and water activities, such as windsailing, water-skiing, and boating, and a developed with campground with electric hook-ups, dump station, and hot showers, near the Ocoee Whitewater Center (site of the 1996 Olympic canoe and kayak competition. The smaller Indian Boundary Lake limits the size of boat motors and offers only Largemouth bass, Bluegill, and catfish but with its family oriented design, many electric hook-ups, and separate areas for car and tent camping and RV and motorhome camping, its campground is well-suited for family camping vacations.

Although the Cherokee National Forest many water-base recreational activities to offer, probably the most activities are camping and hiking. For the "serious" hiker there is the Appalachian Trail (AT) which traverses the length of the Cherokee. The 20-mile John Muir Recreation Trail follows the route said to have been taken by the Sierra Club founder during his travels from Kentucky to Florida. For the more "leisurely" hiker, there are a number of shorter hikes to waterfalls, along interpretative nature trails and through tranquil woods. Along with the various levels of hiking trails, there are a number of horse trails (from the 22-mile Starr Mountain to a 1.5-mile trail named Chestnut Mountain), four designated mountain bike trails, three motorcycle trails, and even some 4WD trails. No matter which trail the visitor enjoys, it is possible they will see or meet one of the 70 mammals or 262 species of birds that make the Cherokee National Forest their home. Spotting one of the many types of wildflowers adds interest and pleasure to hiking in a Forest with such diversity in topography and vegetation.

The locations and level of development found in the Cherokee's many camping locations can meet the needs of any camper. Thunder Rock campground, adjacent to the Ocoee River, is designed for campers who enjoy a rustic, communal environment and is well suited for kayakers. For a quiet setting and good Rainbow trout fishing, Paint Creek campground is the place. Indian Boundary and Chilhowee are good campgrounds for the whole family.

The Cherokee has only one cabin it rents out - The Historic Donley Cabin. The authentic two-room, 19th century log cabin was the home of Jack Donley (1846-1941). Reservations are needed to experience firsthand the life in these Appalachian mountains. Around 1823, gold was discovered in the southern portion of what is now the Cherokee National Forest. A drive over to Coker Creek Village for a lesson in panning for gold and you will be ready to practice your skills in a Forest stream. If your cultural interests are more "civilized," there are towns like Greeneville (Davy Crockett's birthplace), Andrew Johnson National Historical Site, Tusculum College, and other points of interests that await your exploration.

The Cherokee National Forest, with its nine whitewater rivers, mysterious grassy balds, battle-scarred lands, and lush, vibrant forests offers diverse recreation opportunities that will keep one busy time after time. Hiking the AT, biking around Indian Boundary Lake, fishing for that "big one," mastering whitewater, or simply enjoying camping in the quiet and solitude of the forest, Cherokee National Forest awaits you.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 2800 North Ocoee St. NW Cleveland, Tennessee 37312 423-476-9700 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Nolichucky/Unaka 4900 Asheville HWY SR70 Greeneville, TN 37743 423-638-4109 Ocoee 3171 Highway 64 Benton, Tennessee 37307 423-338-5201 Tellico 250 Ranger Station Rd. Tellico Plains, Tennessee 37385 423-253-8400 Watauga 4400 Unicoi Dr. Unicoi, Tennessee 37692 423-735-1500

Fred and Suzi Dow