Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park | Outdoorsy

Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park
Guide

Introduction

Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park offers loads of opportunities to explore some of Tennessee's most scenic woods and waters. An extensive trail network works to showcase the park's beautiful oak-hickory forests, while the serene Kentucky Lake draws anglers, boaters, and swimmers alike.

The park and its surroundings have had a long and rich human history. Archaeologists believe Native Americans lived in the area as far back as 7,000 years ago. Game-rich forests and mild winters provided hospitable conditions for centuries. In more recent history, the park was also home to the 1864 Battle of Johnsonville in the U.S Civil War. In December 1929, the park was established from land that had been donated by a local family, and during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration built many of the park's roads, trails, and other amenities that can be seen at the park today.

Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park has a multitude of recreational and educational options available for visitors throughout the year. During the summertime, the park's biggest draw is Lake Kentucky. Swimming, boating, and fishing are all popular on the lake. Hiking here is great year-round, and the park boasts two backcountry shelters for those interested in undertaking a rugged backpacking trip.

The park also plays host to the Tennessee River Folklife Museum which showcases the customs of people living along the lower Tennessee River in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park has one campground that is suitable for RV use, with 37 sites in total. But the park also has several primitive camping options, plus cabins, and group lodging too. The park is open year-round, and most sites here take reservations, most up to a year in advance.

Some nearby places to explore, if you're in the area for a while, include Natchez Trace State Park and Paris Landing State Park, both in Tennessee, and Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, in Kentucky.

RV Rentals in Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park

Transportation

Driving

Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park is located in northwest Tennessee, sitting about 100 miles west of Nashville and 150 miles northeast of Memphis. The roads into the park are rural. While paved and well-maintained, they can be a bit winding and narrow at times, so make sure to take it slow, especially if you're traveling with a large rig or trailer (while the park's hard-cap length limit is 68 feet, 35 feet or under is recommended).

The park is accessible year-round. Snowfall can occur during the winter months, though normally in very small amounts. Icy roads are a more serious hazard - look out for them especially after cold rainy days.

Parking

The park's main RV campground features only back-in sites, but these are sizable and well-spaced, so drivers should have little trouble parking, as long as they're under the length limits. Additional parking is available at the park's main office and the interpretive center. Just about all of the park's trailheads, as well as the lakeshore, are within easy walking distance of one of these three parking areas.

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park

Campsites in Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park

Reservations camping

Buffalo / I-40 / Exit 143 KOA

Near the quiet, picturesque Tennessee town of Hurricane Mills, TN, the Buffalo/I-40/Exit 143 KOA makes an ideal base camp for exploring the country music capital of Nashville, just an hour’s drive east, or taking in the scenery of the rugged Tennessee countryside.

Just off I-40, the Buffalo/I-40/Exit 143 KOA is a convenient, comfortable campground, with shaded pull-through sites, a fenced pet area, laundry facilities and a seasonal pool to enjoy. Sites offer 50-amp hookups, and there are both firewood and propane available on-site for purchase. Shopping and dining options are plentiful nearby.

Happy Hollow Campground

Set in a thickly forested area just a half-mile from the shore of Kentucky Lake, Happy Hollow Campground is the only camping area at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park that is suitable for RV camping. In total, the campground has 37 paved sites. All offer both electric and water hookups (some offering 20-, 30-, 50-amp options and some only offering 20- and 30- amp connections).

Each site has its own picnic area that includes a table and a grill. Other amenities around the campground include a playground, central bathhouse with hot showers, and a dump station. While Happy Hollow may not have lakeside views, it offers a peaceful sylvan setting and great bird watching opportunities.

Phone reception should be available on most of the major cell providers in all areas of the campground. Happy Hollow also offers free high-speed internet for all its guests. Make sure you stock up on supplies before getting to the campground since there are limited concessions available at the park. Reservations can be made online up to a year in advance. The campground is open all year round.

Alternate camping

Lakefront Campground

Set right on the beautiful western shore of Kentucky Lake, the aptly named lakefront campground offers superb views in exchange for more primitive amenities. The lakefront campground sports just 13 primitive sites, suitable only for tent camping.

Each site sits on a raised gravel bed that keeps the camping area dry. Every site also has a fire ring and a picnic table. A couple of freshwater spigots are spread throughout the campground, and there's one central restroom as well. Lakefront Campground sites can be reserved online.

Backcountry Camping

In addition to its main campgrounds, Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park also boasts two primitive backcountry shelters. Made in the style of Appalachian Trail shelters, these wooden structures do not offer any sort of hookups, though they do provide a roof overhead and protection from the wind in three directions.

Whether you're looking for a more rugged camping experience, seeking some extra solitude, or would just like to take in as much of the park as possible, these shelters can be a great option. Just know that you'll have to pack your gear and hike awhile. The first shelter is about three miles from any sort of parking, and the second is two miles further. Water access is also limited - park staff suggest packing in everything you need.

In order to stay at one of the park's backcountry sites, you'll need not only a reservation but also a permit. You can check the park's online reservation system, or call the park directly, for more information.

Deluxe Cabins

Take in a lakeside view without sacrificing a single creature comfort. Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park has seven "deluxe" cabins that are equipped with all the amenities you could hope for. Fully furnished bedrooms and restrooms (two of each per cabin) and a kitchen are standard, as are fireplaces, TV, and AC. Cabins are surrounded by expansive green lawns - a great place to play frisbee or bocce ball - and have outdoor grills too. Cabins can be reserved online and must be booked for at least two consecutive nights.

Rustic Cabin

Perhaps the park's most popular lodging option, this restored 1930s log cabin offers a unique overnight experience with rustic charm but plenty of modern amenities. These amenities include a furnished bedroom with a full bed, a furnished kitchen and restroom, a fireplace and a screened-in porch. Like the deluxe cabins, the rustic cabin overlooks Kentucky Lake - unlike the deluxe cabins, it is set off to itself, offering extra solitude in addition to spectacular views.

The rustic cabin follows the same reservation rules as the deluxe cabins. Due to this cabin's popularity, though (and due to the fact that there's only one), it is recommended that visitors make their booking as far in advance as possible (the maximum window being one year).

Group Lodge

Hosting a big event or get-together? You may want to look into reserving Nathan Bedford Forrest's group lodge. Able to host up to 64 guests, the group lodge has a large dining hall, several barracks-style bunk bedrooms, and a commercial kitchen. Much of the lodge was remodeled and re-outfitted in 2019, so you can expect up-to-date amenities. Reservations for the group lodge cannot be made online - inquiries should be made by calling the park directly.

Seasonal activities in Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park

Off-Season

Hiking

Hiking is great year-round at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park. The park boasts an extensive trail network that lets visitors explore its oak-hickory forests, cross its quietly babbling streams, and take in shoreline views of Kentucky Lake.

Most of the park's trails are interconnected, and several are loops, so you can craft your own adventure. Take a short amble near the campground or traverse over 20 miles if you'd like. Staff at the park office can give advice on which trails are best during what season.

Birding

The expansive waters of Kentucky Lake make a great backdrop for birdwatching. The lake is a perfect place to view migrating and wintering waterfowl, along with other birds such as herons, egrets, eagles and several species of gulls.

You can also do some birdwatching from the park's forested trails. Migratory visitors include Tennessee warblers, yellow-throated warblers, summer tanagers, American goldfinches, and red-eyed vireos. Year-round residents include red-tailed hawks, kestrels, barred owls, and great-horned owls.

Disc Golf

Had a set of discs rattling around in your trunk or RV for a while? Here's the place to break them out! Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park has a lovely, nine-hole disc golf course that lets players take in the park's natural beauty as they play through. The mellow terrain and limited obstacles make this course a great one for novices. Never played before but interested in giving it a try? Head over to the park's main office, which offers free disc rentals.

In-Season

Boating

Kentucky Lake's scenic waters are, unsurprisingly, a popular destination among boaters. The most popular boating activities in the park are paddleboarding and kayaking.

The lake's expansive waters, replete with lots of lots of coves and many islands, offer endless opportunities for exploration. Paddle out for a calm, hour-long float or make a full day of it. If you don't have any boating equipment yourself, you can rent kayaks and paddleboards near the park at Eva Beach from a private concessionaire.

Fishing

Visitors will find excellent fishing in Kentucky Lake and the surrounding creek mouths and embankments. The best fishing grounds are out on the lake, reachable only by boat, but there are still plenty of wonderful spots along the shore.

Common species found in the park's waters include crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, bass, and catfish. If you want to cast a line here, you will need a Tennessee fishing license. They can be purchased from county clerks, hardware stores, sporting book stores, and online.

Swimming

Tennessee summers are hot and notoriously muggy. Swimming at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park offers a welcome respite. There is a lovely sandy beach on the banks of Kentucky Lake. It is free to access and open throughout the summer. The beach is unsupervised by lifeguards at all times, so make sure you are confident in your swimming abilities before going for a dip.

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