March is a great time to camp or start planning your summer camping trips. Here are five places you need to camp this season. Don't ask questions, just go.
Thunder Rock, Tenn.
Thunder Rock has it all. A scenic campground that is just feet from the Ocoee, a short distance from mountain biking on the Tanasi Trail System and a connection to the 300-mile Benton McKaye Trail. The campground itself, operated by the Cherokee National Forest, features a bathhouse and standard fire ring and tent pad. Though summer weekends can be crowded, it's tough to find another campground that is so close to so many world-class recreational activities.
Mount Mitchell, N.C.
Think you've got to go out West to pitch your tent a mile above sea level? Think again. Mount Mitchell State Park, about 4.5 hours from Chattanooga, allows camping on the tallest mountain in the East. Campers at the nine walk-in sites are treated to sweeping panoramic views, the famous Blue Ridge Parkway and a spectacular ridgeline trail from 6,684-foot Mitchell to 6,647-foot Mount Craig and 6,581-foot Big Tom. Advance reservations are a must!
Savage Gulf, Tenn.
Any one of the waterfalls in Savage Gulf State Natural Area would be enough to attract hikers and campers from miles around. But the fact that so many waterfalls are packed into and around the 50 miles of trails in the park, make it a must visit. Leave the coolers at home as the 10 backcountry campsites in Savage Gulf are primitive clearings for backpackers. Less than an hour from Chattanooga, Savage Gulf offers un-crowded sites in amazing terrain with great hiking and climbing nearby. Free permits through South Cumberland State Park are required.
Little River Canyon, Ala.
Outdoor enthusiasts in Chattanooga know Little River Canyon in Northeast Alabama is beautiful. But not everyone knows it's home to three backcountry campsites, and fewer still go there to camp. Open through September 30, the sites are considered primitive, but contain a tent pad, picnic table, fire ring, trash can and outhouse. The campsites, called Billy's Ford, Hartline Ford and Slant Rock, are first come, first served, but give campers access to miles of hiking trails, swimming holes, whitewater and scenic views.
Maclellan Island, Tenn.
Thousands drive over it everyday on Veterans Bridge, but few pitch their tents on this urban wilderness island. Owned by the Audubon Society, the island is home to plenty of birds, including a heron rookery, and offers surprising isolation to be right downtown. In the summer, prepare for fierce mosquitoes and poison ivy. The toughest part of camping on the island is getting there, so make friends with someone who owns a kayak or canoe. For a unique experience or different way to see your city, Maclellan Island is tough to beat.