Tennessee, also known as the Volunteer State, features an abundance of natural beauty just waiting for campers to explore. From hiking and biking the various trails across the state to exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains and enjoying water activities, you’re sure to have a great time.
With 56 state parks, 15 state forests, two national forests, and the Great Smoky Mountains, there is something for every type of camper to enjoy while free camping in Tennessee. You can experience tent camping, RV camping, or cabin rentals throughout the state.
Keep reading for places you can go free camping in Tennessee, in addition to fun activities for you and your family and friends to enjoy on your trip.
Free Camping in East Tennessee
1. Cherokee National Forest
Cherokee National Forest is a vast forest in Tennessee, divided into northern and southern sections by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This vast 650,000-acre forest is the largest tract of public land in the state and offers free camping in the eastern region of Tennessee.
You’ll find 30 developed campgrounds and numerous picnic areas spread throughout the forest, in addition to over 700 miles of trails and seven whitewater rivers to enjoy while free camping in Tennessee. Enjoy the sounds of wildlife in nature while exploring the backcountry trails in the park, or find your thrills while whitewater rafting on one of the rivers.
Cherokee National Forest features two Forest Service scenic byways where you can take a scenic drive through the mountains, observing wildlife and enjoying the solitude of the forest.
2. Paint Creek Corridor
Paint Creek Corridor is located in Greeneville, situated within Cherokee National Forest, and is open year-round for some quality free camping in Tennessee.
At this location, campers will find a warm water fishing pond in addition to several trails for hiking and overlooks for you to observe Dudley and Kelly Falls. Dispersed camping is free at this campground, with plenty of opportunities for recreational activities including picnicking, hiking, fishing, and so much more.
The Paint Creek Corridor campground is equipped with vaulted toilets to ensure the area is sanitary for guests and native wildlife. Paint Creek is also stocked with trout during the summer months, making fly fishing a fan-favorite at this free campsite in Tennessee.
3. Citico Creek Area
Citico Creek Area is another free campsite in Tennessee that is situated within Cherokee National Forest. In this area, you’ll find more than 20,000 acres of backcountry, with plenty of campsites for those who are looking for a bit of solitude.
There are several designated dispersed camping sites near this area, which is adjacent to Citico Creek. Campers have plenty of opportunities to explore backcountry trails biking or hiking, take a scenic drive through the area, or catch your own dinner in the creek!
Fishing lovers will rejoice in the trout, small-mouth bass, and catfish ready for catching in Citico Creek. There are no services or facilities at this campground since it’s a free campsite in Tennessee.
4. Tellico River Area
The Tellico River Area is also located within Cherokee National Forest and provides free campsites in Tennessee. This area features over 30,000 acres of land with plentiful camping opportunities.
This large remote backcountry of land guarantees privacy and solitude, with dispersed camping allowed at several designated sites. You won’t find any facilities or services at any of the dispersed campsites, so you can look forward to a primitive camping experience.
Visitors often enjoy the popular Indian Boundary Recreation Area and the Cherohala Skyway while camping in the Tellico River Area. There are various places for picnicking here as well, including the Dam Creek Campground and Picnic Area and Walnut Grove Picnic Area.
Campers looking for a free campsite in Tennessee can set up camp generally anywhere, as long as you’re not setting up within 100 feet of water, trails, parking lots, roads, or any developed recreation areas.
Activities to partake in during your camping trip include fishing for brook, brown, and rainbow trout, hiking on the many trails available, and scenic driving.
5. Big Creek Primitive Campground
Enjoy free camping in Tennessee at Big Creek Primitive Campground, with six primitive campsites scattered along the creek for plenty of privacy. Featuring a large piece of land with small campsites along Big Creek, this site is for tent camping only.
Campers will have access to flush toilets and clean drinking water while free camping here, although you won’t find any hookups or showers, for an authentically primitive experience. Visitors will enjoy the scenery of the campground, surrounded by nature.
This site is not completely free, with a fee of $30 per night, but it’s reasonably priced for campers on a budget! This campground has a six-person-per-site limit, with a limit of 14 consecutive days.
Free Camping in Central Tennessee
6. Meriwether Lewis Campground
Meriwether Lewis Campground is located along the Natchez Trace Parkway, which winds through parts of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, and offers free camping in Tennessee.
This campground is popular among history and nature lovers especially, considering the opportunity to learn about the history of the Natchez Trace Parkway. This campground is one of three campgrounds found within the boundaries of the Natchez Trace Parkway, but the only one located within the state of Tennessee.
You’ll find 32 secluded free campsites in Tennessee at this campground within a forested environment. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring onsite. There are flush toilets with running water available here, but no showers.
Hikers can explore several trails around the area for a short day hike sightseeing. This free campsite in Tennessee has sites available on a first-come, first-served basis, with the busiest times during the spring and fall.
7. Holleman’s Bend Camping Area
Holleman’s Bend Camping Area is a multi-use primitive camping area that offers visitors the opportunity to experience the wilds of Upper Cumberland. Visitors can explore recreational opportunities on Cordell Hull Lake while free camping in Tennessee at this campground area.
The primitive campsites in this area were designed with horse riders in mind, perfect for you if you have horses! The campsites are near the lake shore and you’ll have access to a paved boat ramp, which is excellent for all sorts of water activities and sports.
This area is a bit small, so it’s best suited for tent campers or those with a compact travel trailer who are looking for the perfect quiet escape along the lakeshore.
Free Camping in Southeast Tennessee
8. Jackson Island Campground
Jackson Island Campground is located across the Watts Bar Reservoir from Rhea Springs Recreation Area. Offering free camping in Tennessee, this area is more rustic and primitive than some of the other options we’ve talked about, making it perfect for those who prefer roughing it.
The campsites here are all shaded by the surrounding trees, which provide plenty of privacy and protection from the sun. If you’re looking for the perfect campsite off the beaten path, Jackson Island Campground is the one for you!
You will find vaulted toilets here, along with a swimming beach and fishing area. Other activities you can find here include water sports and wildlife viewing. With 30 or more campsites, this area provides excellent free camping in Tennessee.
9. Rhea Springs Recreation Area
The Rhea Springs Recreation Area is located across the Watts Bar Reservoir from Jackson Island Campground and provides plenty of opportunities for free camping in Tennessee. This area was built by the Tennessee Valley Authority and is part of a hydroelectric power station on the Piney River.
Campers can fish from the reservoir or go boating and swimming to make the most of their time here. Visitors will find fire rings and picnic tables at each campsite, as well as a bath house for showering, which most of the other places we’ve discussed didn’t offer.
You’ll have plenty of privacy when camping here, considering each campsite is spaced far enough apart to be considered dispersed camping. You can visit this area any time of year on a first-come, first-served basis.
Activities to Enjoy While Free Camping in Tennessee
Tennessee has a large variety of activities to enjoy on your camping trip. There is an abundance of opportunities for hiking, biking, sightseeing, swimming, and so much more in the Volunteer State.
There are many available activities so you won’t have to worry about getting bored while on your trip! Outdoor activities include rock climbing, caving, hiking, biking, off-roading, and ziplining, in addition to watersports like boating, waterskiing, rafting, wakeboarding, and parasailing.
Campers can also visit waterfalls, participate in geocaching and firefly hunting, explore hundreds of miles of trails, and learn about the native wildlife while free camping in Tennessee. There are endless opportunities for recreational activities in the state, with something for everyone to enjoy.
The Appalachian Trail traverses through the state with its highest point for excellent hiking and biking opportunities while you’re on your camping trip. The rugged terrain is well-suited for active and experienced campers.
Tennessee features dramatic geology, with soaring landscapes from the delta lowlands of the Mississippi River east to the rugged heights of the Cumberland Plateau. Then, the landscape climbs the forested slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Check Out These Places to Go Free Camping in Tennessee
From the Great Smoky Mountains to the Appalachian Trail, as well as various state parks and state forests, Tennessee offers endless opportunities for campers to enjoy. Whether you’re solo camping or headed out for some quality time with your family, these free campsites in Tennessee have it all.
Are you looking for more information about camping in Tennessee? Check out 30 of the best places to go camping in Tennessee if you don’t mind paying a park fee.
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Brittany Tedford is a post-apocalyptic fiction author, an aspiring English teacher, and a writer for Apple Pie Media.
She currently lives in a small town in Northern Mississippi with her two children Anna and Eli, and her two cats Salem and Leo.
With a bachelor’s in Creative Writing and English and a master’s in the same discipline, Brittany is passionate about learning how to live off the land for camping trips, which is why she loves writing for Beyond The Tent. From the best camping gear to camping survival tips and tricks, to finding the perfect campground, there is so much information to share with others!
Brittany can be reached at email@example.com