It’s Camping Season Again In The South

My visit to Little Oak Campground just outside of Bristol, Tennessee.

Mike Rhodes | September 16, 2021

I love Georgia and all of its natural resources that we are blessed to have, but, when it comes to camping, I just cannot do it during the summer. After the calendar turns from April 30th you can count on my tent being placed on the shelf in the garage. My tent, like all my camping gear, will be cleaned, prepped and ready to roll in a minute if needed, but it would have to be a HUGE “need” for me to bust it out before cool mornings return. I’m talking about a need like parachutes falling from the skies and people yelling “Red Dawn.” (You have to be a certain age to get that. It’s a movie. A good one.)

So last week when I saw some upper 50s predicted for our neck of the woods, I got to itching again. I looked online for some sites in some of Georgia’s State Parks up in the mountains, then some sites in the National Forest that take reservations, and as suspected they were booked. I’m not sure if y’all have noticed ,but finding a campsite in the north Georgia mountains has become super difficult the last few years. With that information I broadened my search area and looked for a place that I had never been to before.

That’s when I found Little Oak Campground.

This is the check-station at the campground entry. It was not staffed during my visit.

When I checked the website, Little Oak showed a mix of reserved sites as well as some of those first-to-get-there, first-to-get-them sites. They have 72 sites and the map was showing about 19 available for the first ones to show up. I’m staring at a five-hour drive from my house to this place just outside Bristol, Tennessee, but I was itching for some cool mountain air. After convincing myself that arriving on Thursday before dark would give me a good chance to claim a spot, I cranked up the vehicle and rushed out at lunch like a Sooner from back in the day.

My drive was mostly interstate, and those stretches between Greenville to Asheville then Asheville to Johnson City gave me some truly amazing mountain vistas. Certainly helped me tolerate the miles I was logging.

I finally took my last exit off the interstate right there at Bristol Motor Speedway. The GPS was telling me I was only 27 miles away. It also was telling me nearly an hour to arrival. Couldn’t be. I eased down 394, took that right on 421 and started looking for that little brown sign with the arrow pointing toward Little Oak Campground.

I finally started to catch glimpses of South Holston Lake at about 4 miles from my turn off to the campground, so I figured I was just about there. Here’s the deal though. When you turn off 421, you have about 9 miles to the campground. It’s a paved and winding road that carries you deep into the Cherokee National Forest. Don’t be in a hurry. Plan on 25 minutes or so with plenty of steering as you navigate the turns.

I finally pulled up to the main pay station at about 5:45 that evening. Had my map from home that I marked the first-come, first-serve sites that were showing available, and I did my slow drive through the loops I coveted most. Several of the sites that showed available that morning had reserved hang tags on them now. Those 19 available turned into about seven by the time I arrived, but I was lucky to get lakeside on site 71. I put my tent together real quick and drove back out to the pay station where I filled out my envelope, put in some cash and dropped it in the box. I was locked in with a spot!

Site 71 is only steps from the edge of South Holston Lake.

I know this is supposed to be a “review” so here we go. The sites are pretty well maintained. Many have some inclines, which makes it more difficult for both tents and RVs. None of the sites have electricity, water nor sewer hookups. There is a dump station if you do your camping in those traveling houses, and there are central faucets in each loop for retrieving potable water. My tent pad was in decent shape and the sites were clean.

There are three toilet stations placed near the campground loops, each with flush toilets and sinks with water. Not hot water. Those were very clean, as well. There is also a centrally located building with bathhouses included. Four for the men on one side and four for the women on the other. These are your typical rooms with a toilet, sink, mirror and showers all in the same space. The showers operate by pushing a button that allows water to run for a minute or so, though I didn’t time it. Water was plenty hot here, and there were two spouts, one high and one low. Each with its own push button. As far as National Forest campgrounds go, these were pretty darn nice!

The campground includes an 8-station bathhouse with flush toilets and hot water.

Being situated on South Holston Lake, the campground is ideal for bringing a boat, too. The lake has more than 160 miles of shoreline, and it’s super clear. There is a boat ramp in the campground making it easy to put in and take out each day as needed. South Holston offers good fishing for smallmouth and largemouth bass, as well as crappie, walleye and catfish. I saw several schools of baitfish swirling while sitting lakeside by my site Friday morning.

A well-maintained boat ramp where you can put in at no cost.

So there you have it. I took a chance at a campground that I had never been to or frankly heard of up until the morning I headed out. Was happy to find something new and pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. I would suggest doing all you can to make a reservation so you aren’t anxious like I was about being able to find a site. When I go back, and I will, I’ll have a reservation tag with my name on it hanging on the site post.

Campground Details:
• 72 Campsites. No electricity hookups.
• 3 Comfort stations
• 8 Comfort stations with showers
• RV Dump station on site
• $12 per night

I witnessed some incredible views as the sun rose and set over the lake.

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