Fall is finally in full swing, and if you're anything like me, you know that there are few things better than fall camping season. There's just something about the cozy campfires and the chilly mornings that makes being outdoors in the fall so much more invigorating than any other season. And if you live in Jackson, you're fortunate to be surrounded by tons of nearby state parks and recreation areas that make getting out in nature a breeze. I'm no wilderness expert, however I do love a great adventure and more especially sharing my discoveries with others so that they can have adventures of their own. That being said, I am more than excited to share my favorite camping finds near Jackson in the hopes that you too will be able to truly experience the fresh feeling of a fall adventure.
Edgar Evins State Park
I begin the list with my all-time favorite Tennessee camping find, Edgar Evins State Park. Located just three hours east off of I-40 is this mystical land of a park. Walking down the hill to the primitive campsites is like walking into another world, one of woodland magic, where the golden light of the sun plays off of the colorful array of tents dotting the trail.
Follow the trail to its end to discover the real treasure of the state park, the emerald waters of Center Hill Lake. Giant boulders line the lakeshore, which make climbing and rock-diving into the lake inviting even to the more water-wary adventurer. Flowing from Center Hill Dam is the Caney Fork River, known for its quiet beauty. Rent a canoe or kayak (or bring your own) and enjoy a peaceful trip down the winding waters.
Edgar Evins also has several hiking trails ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous. You can even visit Cummins Falls or Burgess Falls, only a fifteen-minute drive from Edgar Evins, and hike to some of the most impressive waterfalls in Tennessee. The site also boasts an abundance of wildlife, from owls to bald eagles. Guests can also visit the observation tower to see a great view of Center Hill Lake along with the abundant mixed hardwood forests.
Although Edgar Evins is a little bit of drive, what it lacks in convenience it makes up for in its beautiful scenery, spacious campsites, and plethora of activities available nearby.
Mousetail Landing State Park
One of my more recent discoveries, Mousetail Landing State Park is a site I plan on coming back to again and again. Located only an hour away near Parsons, Tennessee, Mousetail Landing is the perfect distance for a weekend getaway.
Nestled in a quiet cove of the Tennessee River among the towering shagbark hickories, the primitive campground features a few of the most spacious sites I’ve ever encountered. Pitch camp on the gravel pads, or snag one of the larger campsites and journey further into the woods for a more isolated, backcountry feel. Wake up early to see the sunrise breaking through the morning fog blowing in from the river. Walk to the end of the embayment to spot the occasional steamboat journeying up-river, or catch incredible views of Tennessee sunsets over the glistening waters.
The river is perfect for casual canoeing or kayaking, with tons of coves and streams to explore. Even if you don’t have access to a boat, you can still enjoy the river by taking a dip in the surprisingly clear waters at the swimming beach area. Mousetail Landing also boasts of a series of mountain bike trails along with hiking trails that weave through the more hilly areas of the park, creating a scenic and dynamic climb.
Mousetail Landing State Park is the ideal location for a weekend retreat, with beautiful scenery, spacious campsites, and plenty of activities all close to home.
Note: Although there is access to portajohns, the primitive campsite has no nearby fresh water access, so make sure you fill up all your canisters before heading to the site. However, don’t let that deter you from experiencing this true Tennessee River treasure.
Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park
Situated on Kentucky Lake, Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park is just a brief hour-and-twenty-minute drive east near Camden, Tennessee. The park offers a couple options for campgrounds, however the more primitive lakefront sites are by far the better choice. Nestled on the lake’s rocky shores, each camping site features an incredible view of the serene waters and easy access for canoeing or kayaking. The spacious campsites convey the general spirit of "stretching out and taking it easy." So bring a hammock and swing underneath the slender oaks and sweet gums that speckle the grounds.
The park is home to the Tennessee River Folklife Interpretive Center, a quaint museum located on one of the highest points in West Tennessee, Pilot Knob. The hiking trails begin at Pilot Knob’s summit, and continue along the scenic ridge for miles, dividing into three-, five-, ten-, and twenty-mile backcountry trails for adventurers at every level of experience to enjoy.
If the scenery weren’t enough, Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park offers tons of activities throughout the year, such as treasure hunts, haunted trails, and the lighting of Pilot Knob to kick off the Christmas season. In fact, it was the thrill of the treasure hunt that had me sneaking away from Jackson on Saturdays, turning this park into cherished romping grounds.
Chickasaw State Park
Chickasaw is by far the most convenient camping destination for a Jacksonian, located only twenty miles south on US-45 in Henderson, Tennessee. Situated on Lake Placid (a modest fishing lake), the tent campground is a charming area with easy access to the lake shore and to several of the park's hiking trails.
Take the lakeshore trail around to access the swimming area, where guests can build sandcastles on the beach, or cool off in the water. Next to the swimming area is the boat dock, where visitors can rent pedal boats to explore Lake Placid more thoroughly. Chickasaw also features horseback riding trails and stables for the horse-lovers among us, or rental horses for those guests who aren’t as devoted to the Western way.
Chickasaw State Park is a cozy and convenient camping spot, perfect for the casual weekend getaway.
Natchez Trace State Park
I would be remiss if I did not mention Natchez Trace State Park. Time and again, I find myself leaving this park with an even better story than the last. From skinny dipping dares to hiking nightmares, this park holds so many memories for better or worse. There’s just something about that kudzu coppice that makes everything feel like more of an adventure.
Natchez Trace State Park is a brief forty-minute drive east from Jackson. The campground winds along the banks of Cub Creek Lake (one of four lakes in the park), each one perfect for canoeing or kayaking. The park also has 13.5 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult, as well as multi-use trails for biking, horseback, or off-road vehicles. Whether you are the seasoned camper or the casual day-tripper, Natchez Trace State Park is must-see for any Jackson native.
I’m always looking for new places to explore, however the truest treasures are the places to which I keep returning. These camping finds represent those places for me, and it is my hope that they might become those for you as well. So in the words of Ben Gibbard, it's time that we "shed what's left of our summer skin," grab our flannels and flashlights, and head into the wilderness.
Happy adventures, everyone!
Kelsey Meadows relocated to Jackson in 2009 to attend Union University, where she graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy in 2013. She works at City Fellowship Baptist Church in downtown Jackson. She loves a great book and an even greater adventure.