The Cherokee National Forest is a 655,598-acre tract of heavily forested and mountainous wilderness that comprises a large portion of the border between eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. It is a must-see destination for outdoors aficionados of all sorts, with a little something for just about anyone. This forest provides a home for a large variety of flora and fauna, over 20,000 species strong, including several endangered and threatened plants and animals. It also has a healthy population of sport fish, including bass, walleye, and crappie, making it a great destination for fishermen. The many lakes that dot the landscape also provide an entertaining venue for wind sailing and water skiing. There are hundreds of well-marked trails that allow hikers of all skill levels to explore the forest including large portions of the 2,192-mile Appalachian trail. For those looking for a challenge there are world-class whitewater rivers like the Ocoee and the Hiwassee Rivers. We have highlighted three of the seven campgrounds within the national forest that are suitable for RV camping.
There are several different campgrounds throughout this dense, mountainous forest, mostly situated in the larger Tennessee side. This is a mountainous region and the roads both in Cherokee National Forest and leading to it are beautifully scenic, traveling by lakes and rivers and through rocky canyons. They also tend to have a large number of twists and turns, as well as some changes in altitude. Fortunately, the major roads that lead to the national forest are wide and well-maintained with wide flat shoulders, making this portion of the drive generally easy to navigate even when driving a big rig or when towing a trailer. The paved roads in the park are a little bit narrower, but not so narrow as to cause difficulties.
It is important to drive at a safe speed and keep your eyes open for deer and other wildlife crossing the road when you are driving along these roads, particularly in the early morning hours and in the dusk. There are several overlooks and observation centers where drivers can pull off the road and stretch their legs while taking in the gorgeous surroundings. The majority of the campground loops are also paved, and the campgrounds typically have several other areas to park, particularly areas that are near recreational lakes.
The Parksville Lake Campground is located on the banks of Parksville Lake in Cherokee National Forest. There are 17 campsites available for reservation at this campground with electric hookups suitable for RVs. The campsites are spacious and well-shaded, and several of them are situated so that that two RVs can camp close together. Each of the sites comes equipped with a fire ring, a grill, a picnic table, and a lantern, and there is potable water throughout the campgrounds. A bathhouse with showers and flush toilets is conveniently located in the middle of the loop, and there is a sanitary dump station at the entrance/exit to the RV area. Parksville Lake also boasts designated swimming beaches and boat ramps that allow for water access. Pets are welcome at this campground and on most of the trails, provided that they are restrained by a leash.
Chilhowee Campground is located near the McKamy Lake in the northeastern portion of Cherokee National Forest. Typically open from April until October, it contains 78 reservable sites designed to accommodate RVs and trailers, 29 of them with electrical hookups. Each of the RV sites located in the Chilhowee Campground is spacious, and there is an abundance of trees that help to make the sites feel more private. Campsites are equipped with fire rings, hibachi style grills, picnic tables, and lanterns. There are bathhouses with warm showers and flushing toilets available at the center of each of the five loops of campsites. The campground also provide access to McKamy Lake, which has its own bathhouse, as well as a swimming beach and several additional picnic sites. If you choose to stay at Chilhowee Campground, it is important to note that many GPS systems will recommend that you take Benton Springs Road, but this road is unpaved and can be quite dangerous to drive in an RV. It is recommended that you utilize Forest Service Road 77 instead.
Rock Creek Recreation Area, in the heart of Cherokee National Forest, is comprised of 27 single sites and five double sites with electrical hookups that are suitable for either tents or campervans. The campsites in loop A, eight singles and two doubles, are available on a first-come, first-served basis, while the remainder are able to be reserved anywhere from four days to six months in advance. Campsites are spacious and well maintained with level areas to park RVs up to 45 feet in length. The campground has installed showers and flush toilets at each loop, and there is a sanitary dump site across the path from the A loop. There is a day-use area nearby for the use of visitors as well, situated on the banks of a 96-acre lake, with a small boat launch, a fishing pier, a swim beach, and a playground.
Fishermen will want to ensure that their rod and reel are packed in their campervan so that they can take advantage of the numerous lakes, rivers, and streams that punctuate the over 655,000 acres of land of Cherokee National Forest. Fly fishermen will delight in casting their lines in the fast-moving, cold waters of the rivers and streams that are stocked with brown, brook, and rainbow trout. Anglers who prefer fishing on lakes and ponds will find that these bodies of water hold not only trout, but also bass, bluegill, and crappie.
There are well over 100 trails for all skill levels that meander through the robust, mountainous forest that characterizes the Cherokee National Forest. There are several easy, fairly short walks, such as the Indian Boundry Lake Trail, which provides a stunning view of the lake it was named for, or the Benton Falls Trail, which features a gorgeous waterfall, both of which are just three miles long. Those who are looking for a more arduous hike may prefer exploring either the flower-filled 7.5-mile Oswald Dome Trail, which or the portions of the 2,192-mile Appalachian Trail that wind through this forest.
Whitewater enthusiasts will be in their element when they visit Cherokee National Forest. During warmer months thousands of people with kayaks, canoes, and rafts converge on both the Ocoee River, which served as the site of the Olympic whitewater events in 1996, and the Hiwassee River, a swift but mellow class I-II level river that makes a great run for novices. Other notable whitewater rapids in the forest include the French Broad, the Pigeon, the Nolichucky, and the Tellico Rivers.
This large national forest in Tennessee serves as a home for many different types of wildlife. Beavers and river otters work and play in the waterways that travel through the trees. You'll also see several types of amphibian, including the near-threatened giant salamander, known as the hellbender salamander. The wooded areas host animals such as white-tailed deer, rattlesnakes, bobcats, and raccoons. If you are lucky and observant, you may even spot one of the forest’s endangered inhabitants, such as the Northern Carolina flying squirrel jumping from tree to tree, or the Rusty-patched bumble bee exploring wildflowers.
Those who participate in the hobby of birdwatching will want to be sure that their birding kit is packed in their trailer. There are many different avian species that have chosen to live in the Cherokee National Forest. Songbirds, including juncos, warblers, indigo buntings, and bluejays, lend their voice to the forest. If you are lucky you may spot an endangered red-cockaded Woodpecker foraging for insects in the trees. Also hunting among the trees and in clearings are raptors such as hawks, eagles, peregrine falcons, and turkey vultures.
The Cherokee National Forest is a truly beautiful environment, with rushing rivers, a variety of waterfalls, and rocky outcroppings. Photographers who enjoy snapping photos of wildlife will be able to find a number of interesting subjects, as will those who enjoy capturing images of flora instead. You may even get a chance to take photographs of endangered plants like the yellow flowers of the spreading avens, the white clusters of Virginia meadowsweet, or even the knobby lobes of a rock gnome lichen.