You might be surprised by the number of islands you can camp on near Chattanooga

Getty Images / Veterans Memorial Bridge crosses over Maclellan Island in Chattanooga.
Getty Images / Veterans Memorial Bridge crosses over Maclellan Island in Chattanooga.

Tennessee probably isn't the first state you think of when it comes to island camping; however, our landlocked state, with its multitude of rivers and lakes, is home to several islands that offer a different camping experience than the traditional forest campgrounds you may have already visited. On an island, with the water surrounding you on all sides, there is a greater disconnect between the humdrum of everyday life and the natural world that provides a more peaceful outdoor experience. Here are some island sites near Chattanooga we suggest for a unique camping getaway.

Maclellan Island – Downtown Chattanooga

An often overlooked feature of Chattanooga's geography, Maclellan Island is located on the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, with Veterans Bridge running over it. Overseen by the Chattanooga Audubon Society, the island is a wildlife sanctuary where visitors can see a variety of birds and mammals while hiking the island's trails or relaxing by the water. Maclellan Island is a primitive-use campsite with no running water or electricity, so campers will need to bring all of their own supplies. The nearest kayak launch to reach the island is located in Coolidge Park under the Market Street Bridge. Camping is by permit only. For more information, visit

  photo  Staff file photo / Williams Island, located in the Tennessee River Gorge, is seen from Signal Mountain.

Williams Island – North Chattanooga

Overseen by the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, Williams Island, like Maclellan Island, is accessible only by water, giving campers an authentic island experience. The trip to the island provides ample opportunities to take in the exquisite natural beauty of the Tennessee River Gorge with its lush greenery and high bluffs as well as the variety of wildlife that lives in the area. The island campground offers eight campsites, ranging from 100 yards to a half mile from the trailhead, and the public dock is marked by a blueway campsite sign. Camping is free, but reservations are required. For more information, visit

Skull Island Campground – Harrison

Located on Chickamauga Lake, Skull Island Campground offers an island experience with more modern amenities -- electrical hookups, bathroom facilities and a general store, among others -- for campers who still like a bit of civilization when they're outdoors. The campground and the surrounding area provide campers with opportunities to fish, swim, paddle and birdwatch. Paddlers can put in at the boat launch site located adjacent to the campground. With over 60 campsites available for reservation, Skull Island Campground has plenty of space for friends and families to get out and enjoy the island experience. For more information, visit

Tims Ford State Park – Winchester

A 1.5-hour drive from Chattanooga is Tims Ford State Park, boasting over 3,000 acres on Tims Ford Reservoir. There are six islands on the Tims Ford property, and each one is available for primitive camping by park visitors. The expansive lake is the perfect place to get out on paddleboards, kayaks or boats, and the waters are well-regarded for bass fishing. Throughout the park, hiking, biking and birdwatching are popular activities for all visitors. Nightly rates vary based on date and availability. For more information, visit

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