Good morning, Nooga. Intern Brianna here, and when I moved to Chattanooga for college, one of the first activities that I made sure to check off my bucket list was camping in the mountains. It didn’t necessarily go as planned, but I learned a lot from that trip and now I’m much more confident in my camping abilities. In fact, I recently took my first solo camping trip, where I slept in my car, made my own fire, hiked solo, and had the time of my life.
But enough about me — camping is a staple activity in the Scenic City regardless of weather conditions. Read on for some tips and tricks for camping in colder weather, plus the best places locally + nearby to take a camping trip in the fall and winter.
Tips + tricks for camping in the cold
🏕️ Invest in a warm sleeping bag | It’s an investment that you’ll thank yourself for when the weather dips down into the 20s and 30s at night. You’ll be surprised by just how cold even 45º can feel when you’re sleeping on the ground in a flimsy tent. (On a budget? Check out Four Bridges Outfitters for consignment sleeping bags — and other warm-weather wear — to save some $$).
🏕️ Layer Up | It seems pretty intuitive, but don’t underestimate the power of a nice jacket and lots of layers underneath. Add a cute beanie from Burlaep Chattanooga and you’re golden. (ProTip: grab some hand + foot warmers, too — they make a big difference.)
🏕️ Pack plenty of food + water | On my recent trip, I packed four one-gallon jugs of water for a two-night trip. It seems excessive, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry (especially in the colder months), and you’ll use water for things besides drinking, like putting out the fire, making food, and if you’re hiking at a campsite without showers, cleaning up.
🏕️ Crack the windows | If you’re sleeping in your car, that is. Try to get a small amount of airflow in the car — cold as it may be — so you won’t wake up soaked in condensation and with foggy windows. If you’re tent camping, opt for a tent with screened windows, or leave a small crack in the zipper to avoid condensation.
🏕️ Start small | If it’s your first time camping in the cold, try a more popular campground not far from civilization and a site close to the ranger’s station. The more experienced you become, the more you can branch out with primitive + isolated locations.
Local campgrounds + sites open year-round
- Raccoon Mountain Campground | Primitive sites open year-round | Primitive sites include a fire ring, picnic table, bathhouse + water faucets within walking distance | Book here
- Maclellan Island | Private island open year-round | One group camps on the island at a time, no running water, electricity, or access to roads. Access to island is by boat only | Book here
- Prentice Cooper State Forest | Hunter’s Check Station Camping area, Davis Pond Camping area open year-round | No sanitation facilities. Campers at Davis Pond must be in the campsite by sunset + can’t leave until sunrise. | First come, first served
- Cloudland Canyon State Park | Various campgrounds open year-round | Backcountry, electric campsite, pioneer camping, and tent-only camping options available | Book here
Road-trip campgrounds + sites open year-round
- South Cumberland State Park | 45 minutes-1 hour away | Various campgrounds open year-round | Backcountry, primitive, and drive-up campgrounds with bathroom options available | Book here
- Fall Creek Falls State Park | 1-2 hours away | Various campgrounds open year-round | frontcountry camping includes tables, grills, water, electricity, and bathhouses | Book here
- Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park | 1-2 hours away | Various campgrounds open year-round (restroom + shower facilities not open in December, January, or February) | Water + electrical hookups, grills, picnic tables + dump station | Book here
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park | 2-3 hours away | Cades Cove, Elkmont, Smokemont, backcountry campgrounds open year-round | Frontcountry camping includes restrooms with running water, fire grates, and picnic tables | Book here