The Ultimate Guide to RV Camping in Tennessee

Travel Inspiration

RV camping in Tennessee is an excellent way to vacation! Tennessee has beautiful nature areas, bustling cities, great food, and notoriously great music as well. Cities like Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville are full of fun and interesting things to do with families. The Obed Wild and Scenic River twists and turns through the Appalachian Mountains, and you’ll find museums, amusement parks, and other entertainment as well.

If you’re planning an RV camping trip to Tennessee, this guide will help! We’ll go over everything you need for an epic Tennessee RV trip. From what you need to prep for ahead of time to where to stay and what to do, we’ve got you covered.

Preparing for RV Camping

Of course, the first step to an RV camping trip in Tennessee is securing an RV! If you don’t have your own RV, you can rent one through RVshare. Once you have an RV, you’ll want to make sure you have everything packed that you’ll need for your trip.

Choosing the right RV for your needs

If you’re renting an RV, it’s helpful to think about what you need in a vehicle before you start looking. Begin by thinking about the number of people going on your trip. A big family or group is going to need a bigger RV, like a Class A motorhome or a Class C camper. If you’re camping as a couple, or even heading out on a solo trip, you can get by with a smaller vehicle like a Class B campervan or a pop-up trailer.

You’ll also want to think about the extra perks you may want in an RV. A campervan won’t have many amenities, and may not even have a bathroom. Class A motorhomes, on the other hand, can have extravagant extras like washing machines, entertainment centers, and even fireplaces.

Finally, consider how you’ll get around once you’ve set up camp. Is there public transportation or a park shuttle that will get you around? If you’re driving a campervan, you can use that for your day trips and just drive back to camp each night. And if you’re pulling a trailer, you can use the vehicle that tows the trailer to drive around once you’ve unhitched. However, if you have a larger RV, you may need to tow a vehicle behind you that you can use.

Packing essentials for a successful trip

When you’re packing for an RV camping trip, you want to make sure you have everything you’ll need but not overpack and add extra weight to your RV! It might be helpful to make two packing lists – one for your personal gear and one for your RV supplies.

Personal Packing List:

  • Clothing – be sure to pack enough for your trip, or enough for between laundry days
  • Toiletries
  • Medications
  • Bug spray or citronella candles
  • Sunscreen
  • First Aid kit
  • Outdoor recreation clothing (hiking boots, bathing suit, or other specialized clothing)
  • Winter or summer accessories (winter hats, gloves, sun hat, etc)
  • Flashlight
  • Entertainment (books, games, movies)
  • Extra batteries
  • Groceries
  • Electronics & chargers
  • Pet supplies
  • Quarters for showers or laundry

When making your RV packing list, check the listing to see what’s included with your rental. Some rentals supply very few of the things you’ll need like dishes, linens, and even outdoor equipment or chairs while others include them. Once you know what your rental comes with, you can plan the rest of your list.

RV Packing List:

  • Pots & pans
  • Dishes
  • Utensils – don’t forget a can opener, bottle opener, spatula, set of knives, etc.
  • Dish towels & sponges
  • Sheets & pillows
  • Bath Towels
  • Tool kit
  • Folding camp chairs
  • Blankets
  • RV leveling blocks
  • Sewer hose and adapter
  • Freshwater hose
  • Surge protector

You’ll also want to tweak your packing list to where you’re going and the time of year you’re camping. Be sure to check our RV Checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything!

Nashville Tennessee

Considerations for Camping in Tennessee

There is plenty to do in Tennessee, whether you want to enjoy the rivers and nature outdoors or spend an evening listening to music at one of the many jazz, blues, or other clubs in the state. It can get very humid in summer, and you may want to plan your outdoor activities for earlier in the morning or in the late afternoon or evening.

When you’re RVing in Tennessee, you’ll also want to know the rules of the road for the state! Each state has its own set of laws when it comes to RVs – most of those rules overlap but you’ll want to know Tennessee’s particular laws to ensure you don’t get a ticket when driving there.

The maximum width of RVs in the state is 102 inches, and the maximum length is 45 feet. The maximum trailer length is 40 feet. You can tow two vehicles behind your motorhome (triple-towing), but the maximum combined length for two or three vehicles is 65 feet. Overnight parking is allowed in rest areas unless otherwise posted.

As far as general driving laws in Tennessee, when your wipers are on, headlights must be on. Right turns are allowed on red unless otherwise posted.

Researching campground options and making reservations

As you begin researching Tennessee campgrounds, you’ll want to think about the activities that are important to you on this trip, and where you want to visit. There are lots of choices for where to visit in Tennessee, so it will help if you narrow down your choices a bit! After you’ve decided what you want to do on your RV camping trip to Tennessee, you can look for particular campgrounds. You might want to begin with some popular campground websites, including Hipcamp, The Dyrt, and Roverpass. All of those sites can help you find a campground and you can make reservations online. KOAs are a great option for families. Harvest Hosts offer unique campsites on the grounds of farms, wineries, and other scenic places.

Finding Campgrounds

You’ll want to make campground reservations if you’re headed to Tennessee, especially if you’re visiting during a busy period like summer or spring break. Fortunately, you have lots of Tennessee campgrounds to choose from! You can try luxury camping in lots of Tennessee locations, or try urban camping in Nashville or Memphis. You can also go in the complete opposite direction and try boondocking!

Exploring public campgrounds in Tennessee

You’ll find public campgrounds in Tennessee at national parks, state parks, national forests, and in other government-owned areas. Public campgrounds tend to have fewer amenities than private campgrounds, but they also tend to be cheaper as well!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

National Park Camping

The Great Smoky Mountains is the only national park in Tennessee. There are several campgrounds within park boundaries, although there are no showers, electrical or water hookups in the park.

There are also other national sites in Tennessee, including:

National Forest Camping

National forests are another great place to camp! In Tennessee, you can camp at the Cherokee National Forest, which covers 655,598 acres in eastern Tennessee. The forest runs along the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and you can fish, swim, hunt, and hike in good weather and snowshoe or cross-country ski in winter.

State Park Camping

Along with Tennessee’s beautiful state forest land, you’ll find lots of camping in Tennessee’s state parks as well! Panther Creek State Park is 1,444 acres large and has hiking trails that lead to views of Cherokee Lake and Cumberland Mountains. You can also fish, mountain bike, or go horseback riding. Rock Island State Park is at the confluence of the Caney Fork, Collins, and Rocky Rivers. The park is great for kayaking and fishing, and you can admire Great Falls while you’re there. Reelfoot Lake State Park features trees that grow from the lake, and you can hike through them on a boardwalk or paddle by in a canoe. You may spot bald eagles while you’re at the park.

Exploring private campgrounds and RV parks

There are some pros and cons to choosing a private campground or RV resort over a public campground! Private campgrounds tend to have more perks…but also be more expensive than their public counterparts. You should be able to find private campgrounds that include showers, laundry, and dump stations or hookups. You can also look for glamping options if you want a really upscale camping trip! Tennessee Glamping has geodesic domes in the forest near Altamont. Camp LeConte Luxury Outdoor Resort is near Gatlinburg. Choose from a treehouse, a safari tent, or a retro-style trailer.

Boondocking in Tennessee

If, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you want to get away from it all and live off the grid, try boondocking in Tennessee! You can find spots in Tennessee’s forests where dispersed camping is allowed. You can also boondock on Jackson’s Island or near Davis Pond. The Meriweather Lewis Campground along the Natchez Trace Parkway has flush toilets and potable water, but no hookups.

Graceland in Memphis

Planning your itinerary

Now that you have your RV or trailer, and you’ve narrowed down your camping options, it’s time to plan your itinerary! Whether you want to hike through the Great Smoky Mountains, fish in the sparkling streams, or spend time in cities like Nashville, there’s something for you in Tennessee!

Features and attractions in Tennessee

A fun way to explore parts of Tennessee is on a scenic drive around the state! The Cades Cove Loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a gorgeous drive through the most popular national park in the U.S. Watch for wildlife including bears and deer.

You’ll also want to spend some time checking out Tennessee’s major landmarks! Ruby Falls is a series of underground waterfalls near Chattanooga. You can see the tallest and deepest underground waterfall in the country that’s open to the public on a tour. The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway is a funicular railway, and an exciting way to get to the top of the mountain. The Beale Street Historic District is an iconic area that was a popular place for Black musicians to perform in the 1860s. It’s an important spot in the history of music, and also in the history of the civil rights movement.

Finally, take some time to visit some of Tennessee’s national sites. The Andrew Johnson National Cemetery is where the 17th president of the United States is buried. You can learn about Johnson’s unusual place in U.S. history at the site, and about how he led the country after President Lincoln was assassinated. The Foothills Parkway skirts the top of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The parkway is unfinished, but along the parts you can drive, you can see the mineral deposits that make up the mountains.

Festivals, fairs, and events in Tennessee

You may want to consider planning your Tennessee RV camping trip around a special event in the state! The Tennessee State Fair happens in Lebanon at the end of each summer. CMA Fest and Bonnaroo music festivals both happen in Tennessee as well.

Some RV owners will even set up your rental on-site at the venue for an extra fee. That way, when you arrive, you can get right to the celebration!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Exploring Outdoor Activities in Tennessee

There’s lots to do outside in Tennessee! The Great Smoky Mountains are, of course, begging to be explored. And between the state and national forests and other scenery, you can hike, mountain bike, fish, and enjoy yourself outdoors to your heart’s content.

Hiking, biking, and nature trails

Hiking and mountain biking are wonderful, inexpensive ways to see Tennessee’s outdoor beauty! Here are some of the best trails in the state for hiking:

If you’d rather explore the state by mountain biking, here are some great trails to explore!

Fishing, boating, and water activities

There are plenty of lakes, rivers, and other places where you can enjoy water activities for a day (or longer!). Head out fishing on Chickamauga Lake – it’s 60 miles long so you’ll have plenty of spots to choose from. You may catch large or smallmouth bass, walleye, or trout at South Holston Lake. Fort Loudoun Lake is a good spot to catch catfish, striper, or white bass.

You may want to spend a day hanging at one of Tennessee’s best beaches, like the one at Big Ridge State Park or the beach at Grundy Lakes State Park. Finally, look at some of Tennessee’s many waterfalls including Laurel Falls and Cane Creek Falls.

Wildlife viewing and photography

Tennessee’s lush forests and other natural spaces are great spots for lots of wild animals to live! Alligators, black bears, bats, bobcats, snapping turtles, river otters, and many more creatures make their home in Tennessee. If you want to view the local wildlife, you have a good chance at Great Smoky Mountains National Park or the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge.

Family-friendly activities and attractions

If you’re visiting Tennessee as a family, you’ll find plenty to keep everyone occupied! From historic sites and museums to sports games to thrilling days at an amusement park, there’s something to entertain everyone in the family!

Historical sites and museums

Visiting historic sites or museums in Tennessee is a good way to ensure that your fun family trip also includes some learning! National sites like the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery can teach kids about the former president’s life and times. Museums like Graceland are both fun to visit and helpful in educating people about Tennessee’s important role in music history.

Some other wonderful museums to check out include:

  • The Titanic Museum Attraction
  • The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
  • The National Civil Rights Museum – Lorraine Motel
  • The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

Whatever your family’s interests, you’ll have a great time at these museums and probably learn some new things!

Amusement parks, zoos, and wildlife refuges

Along with educational outings, you might want to spend a thrilling day experiencing Tennessee’s amusement parks! Dollywood in Pigeon Forge is the most popular amusement park in the state, and you can shriek on the Mystery Mine coaster or hop on the Lightning Rod wooden coaster. Splash Country is Dollywood’s water park, and is a great place to cool off in summer.

If you’re elsewhere in the state, try the Nashville Shores Lakeside RV Resort or Anakeesta in Gatlinburg.

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, the Memphis Zoo, and the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge are all excellent places to observe animals, fish, birds, and other fascinating creatures!

Safety and Preparedness when RV Camping in Tennessee

You’ll likely have a wonderful time on an RV camping trip to Tennessee. However, it’s a good idea to know about the possible risks of camping there so that you can be prepared in an emergency.

Weather conditions and natural disaster preparedness

The natural disasters that have hit Tennessee in the past include wildfires, hurricanes, and floods.

If you are in Tennessee and a hurricane threatens the area, the best plan is to leave before it hits. If you can’t leave, move to higher ground. Don’t stay in your RV but try to shelter in a sturdier building. Head away from the coast and stay away from hills that could have landslides. Stay away from windows and close curtains to protect yourself from broken glass.

If there is a flood while you’re in Tennessee, be careful when you are driving. Flooded areas don’t always look as deep as they are, and your vehicle could get stuck in more water than you anticipated. Head to higher ground. Flooding in Tennessee can also lead to dam or levee failure and even more flooding. After a dam or levee failure, avoid floodwaters because they could be contaminated. Water can also be charged from underground or downed power lines. Be careful even in areas where floodwaters have receded because roads and ground could be weakened and could collapse.

Be sure to check out these additional tips for what to do during different natural disasters.

Wildlife encounters and precautions

Tennessee has wildlife ranging from bears to alligators to mountain lions that could be a threat while you’re enjoying the outdoors. Don’t let small children or pets run ahead of you while hiking. If you’re camping, be sure to secure any food and other scented items in a bear-proof container. Read posted warning signs and follow their advice, or consult a park ranger on what to do if you see a wild animal.

Keep an eye out for alligators if you’re near rivers or other water. If you see an alligator, back away slowly.

Finally, use the “thumb trick” to determine if you’re too close to a wild animal. Hold your arm straight out in front of you and give a “thumbs up.” Your thumb should completely block the animal – if you can see that animal around the edges of your thumb, back away and give it some room!

A Tennessee RV camping trip is an exciting way to experience a new place and to make memories that will last a lifetime!

More Inspiration for Your Tennessee Travels

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