Middle Tennessee offers a treasure trove of camping opportunities for just about every style of outdoor enthusiast. Whether you're a seasoned camper or just starting your adventure, this region has it all. You can camp out under the stars or near the cooling mist of a waterfall. Take advantage of area lakes with primitive campsites or luxury RV parks to indulge in all sorts of water sports ranging from boating, fishing, and skiing to just hanging out on a raft in a secluded cove. No matter which adventure you choose, you’re sure to take home some fantastic memories of time in the Great Outdoors of Tennessee.
Distance from Nashville: 87 miles, one hour and forty minutes
Bumpus Mills State Campground is an excellent locale to get out into the wild with family or friends. The campground has 15 sites, all of which have picnic tables and grills. Some sites also have electric and water hookups, and there is also a dump station and a bathhouse on site. The campground is located on Lake Barkley, which offers plenty of opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating. There are also several hiking trails in the area that offer stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The campground is open from April to October and reservations are required. The cost per night is $20 for a basic site and $25 for a site with electric and water hookups.
Distance from Nashville: 95 miles, one hour and forty minutes
Paris Landing State Park offers a picturesque and serene setting for camping enthusiasts. Nestled along the shores of the Kentucky Lake, this park provides a host of camping opportunities for nature lovers. With 125 campsites, both RV and tent campers can find their ideal spot amidst the park's lush greenery. The campground amenities include electrical and water hookups, picnic tables, and grills. Hiking trails wind through the park, allowing visitors to explore the surrounding woodlands and catch glimpses of local wildlife. Additionally, the park offers modern bathhouses, a marina, a golf course, and a restaurant for added convenience and leisure.
Distance from Nashville: 78 miles, one hour and twenty minutes
Meriwether Lewis Campground is a hidden gem for camping enthusiasts in the heart of Middle Tennessee. Situated near Hohenwald, this campground offers a tranquil and scenic setting for nature lovers. With 125 well-maintained campsites, both RV and tent campers can find their perfect spot amidst the beautiful surroundings. The campground provides essential amenities such as electrical and water hookups, picnic tables, fire rings, and grills. Nature enthusiasts can indulge in activities like hiking, bird watching, and wildlife spotting, as the campground is nestled within the picturesque Natchez Trace Parkway. The nearby Meriwether Lewis Monument and Interpretive Center offer a glimpse into the historic significance of the area and the personal history of the famous explorer of “Lewis and Clark” acclaim.
Distance from Nashville: 33 miles, 41 minutes
Cedar Glades State Park is a 900-acre park near Nashville that takes its name from its unique rock gardens. These gardens are home to cedar trees that grow seemingly out of limestone beds, creating a desert-like look. The glades also support a variety of other rare plant species. The park is home to more than 100 campsites, all of which have picnic tables and grills. Some campsites also have electric and water hookups. The park is also known for its extensive equestrian trails, so keep an eye out for ponies while you’re hiking.
Distance from Nashville: 34 miles, 44 minutes
Whether you’re looking for a spot to park a 60-foot RV or you’ve got a hankering to stay in cabins built in the 1930’s as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps project, Montgomery Bell State Park has options. Available outdoor activities also run the gamut from hiking and biking to golfing and fishing. Or, you know, just kick back in a folding chair, crack open a beer, and tell yourself no less than 20 times that you could get used to this.
Distance from Nashville: 83 miles, one hour and 27 minutes
You may know this park’s namesake as “Davy,” but he was a lot more than just a coonskin cap-wearing frontiersman. This park is located on his former homestead where he operated a powdermill, a grist mill, and a distillery before a flood washed all his businesses away in 1821. A museum displays artifacts and describes the history of the former congressman and martyr of the Battle of the Alamo. Two campgrounds in the park offer RV hookups and primitive camping sites with centralized bathhouses offering hot showers and restroom facilities.
Distance from Nashville: 51 miles, 52 minutes
Named after a former governor of Tennessee—on whose land the park was established in the 1960’s—Henry Horton State Park offers access to the Duck River, which teems with fish masochistically waiting to be your food later. Camping options range from an inn or cabins to tent, primitive, and backcountry campsites. In addition to an 18-hole golf course, there’s also a trap and skeet range where you can shoot for a different sort of birdies: clay pigeons.
Distance from Nashville: 63 miles, one hour and two minutes
European settlers, most of which never took AP history, often miscalled old structures “forts.” They were wrong. And archaeologists have dated the mysterious stone formation that gives the park its name at between 1,500 and 2,000 years old. The main hiking trail skirts the walls of this magnificent edifice, now thought to be a ceremonial gathering spot for ancient Native American tribes. Although the campsites are fairly luxurious with water and electrical hookups, grills, picnic tables, and paved pads, they are tucked deep into the woods to offer plenty of privacy. You’ll feel like you’re miles away from civilization, and when that inevitably scares you, you can take a short hike to the bath house or a 10 minute drive to get some fast food.
Distance from Nashville: 65 miles, one hour and three minutes
Center Hill Lake may be one of the most beautiful bodies of water in Tennessee, with steep bluffs and cliffs running straight into the deep lake—the outcome of intentional TVA flooding decades ago to create a reservoir for power production and flood control. The result is a combination of woodlands, verdant hillsides, and a postcard-worthy lake with excellent opportunities for fishing and waterskiing. The campground at Edgar Evins consists of 60 tent and trailer campsites, complete with electrical and water access. Each was built on wooden platforms reinforced with concrete and steel, and it’s like camping on a private deck over Center Hill.
Distance from Nashville: 85 miles, one hour and 39 minutes
Have you ever dreamed of camping underground? Well, now you can! This historic cave complex offers what they call "caveman campouts" for groups of 10 or more. When you book an excursion, you'll get an easy walking tour of the cave, plus the more strenuous "Rocky Topper" spelunking experience. After an evening sleeping in the massive 10-Acre Room, you'll enjoy a catered breakfast in the magnificent Volcano Room. And while you're eating, you can admire the colorful cave formations surrounding you. Bring your sleeping bag and a pillow, comfortable shoes and a pillow, and a sense of adventure.
Distance from Nashville: 85 miles, one hour and 40 minutes
Johnny Cash sang that “The Rock Island Line she’s a mighty good road,” but she’s also a fantastic state park that covers almost 900 acres of the Caney Fork River Gorge where the Caney, Collins, and Rocky rivers come together at the head of Center Hill Lake. The surrounding gorge features sweeping scenic overlooks, waterfalls with swimming holes below, hiking trails, fishing, and even the opportunity for whitewater kayaking. Two campgrounds contain 60 campsites with a third of them available year round. For campers who just can’t bear to completely disconnect, there’s even free Wi-Fi availability at the main campground. But c’mon. Don’t be that guy.
Distance from Nashville: 92 miles, one hour and 30 minute
South Cumberland State Park is a massive wilderness area that encompasses nine recreational areas spanning four counties in Tennessee. With over 30,000 acres of land to explore, there's something for everyone in this outdoor playground. Whether you're a fan of hiking, camping, fishing, rock climbing, or birdwatching, you'll find plenty to keep you busy in South Cumberland. The park is home to stunning waterfalls, towering cliffs, and lush forests. There are also miles of hiking trails to explore, ranging from easy walks to challenging treks. If you're looking to camp in the backcountry, South Cumberland offers primitive campsites scattered throughout the park. Reservations are required, so be sure to book your spot in advance.
Distance from Nashville: 113 miles, one hour and 58 minutes
Virgin Falls is a strenuous nine-mile roundtrip hike that requires a level of fitness and planning that draws serious backwoods experts into the woods, but the rewards are worth it. Along the way, you'll encounter several caves, cross a cable bridge over Big Laurel Creek, and see some awe-inspiring scenery, highlighted by the 110-foot tall Virgin Falls that flow out of a cave, over a cliff, and into another cave. There are five dedicated campsites along the route to the falls, but you'll need to register in the book at the trailhead kiosk to make sure there will be room to lay your weary head. So if you're looking for an adventure, Virgin Falls is the place for you. Just be prepared for a challenge.
Distance from Nashville: 151 miles, two hours and 39 minutes
Encompassing more than 125,000 acres in both Tennessee and Kentucky, Big South Fork contains five developed campgrounds with amenities like RV parks, some campsites dedicated to campers traveling with horse trailers to take advantage of the many equestrian trails, and a few primitive campsites for those looking to rough it. A bonus is that much of the recreation area is located just across the dividing line between the Central and Eastern time zones, so if you’re on the east side of the park, it can stay light enough to read until almost 10 at night during the summer.
Distance from Nashville: 89 miles, one hour and 30 minutes
Tims Ford State Park is a great place to get away from it all. The park is named after the shallow area where early settlers forded the Elk River near Winchester, and in 1970, the river was dammed to create a lovely lake that offers all sorts of fishing, boating, and camping opportunities. The main campground is well-appointed with pads for campers or tents, plus a stocked camp store to pick up whatever supplies you forgot to pack. Even more intriguing are seven paddle-in campsites on islands around the lake. You'll have to bring everything you need with you across the water and carry out all your trash, but the chance to camp in the secluded wilds is worth the extra effort. The campsites are first-come, first-served, so it's best to arrive early.
Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink and travel writer based out of Nashville. While he’s still a fan of the outdoors, he doesn’t sleep on the ground anymore. As he ages, he prefers to have something underneath him when he sleeps...like three floors of a Marriott. You can camp out with him @CeeElCee.