I’ve made the drive from central Virginia to eastern Tennessee more times than I can count, from when I was too young to drive, to now when I’m often the only driver. While doable in a day’s drive, as my own family has grown and our kids have gotten older, we’ve found it’s often easier to break the drive into two days.
Usually, we stay at a hotel. Weather, no room in the car for camping gear, and not wanting to take the time to set up and take down camp make the in-and-out convenience (and free breakfast!) of hotels appealing. I’ve looked at campgrounds occasionally, but found that other than cabin-camping at either Hungry Mother or Claytor Lake State Parks in Virginia, there weren’t tent camping options that worked easily into our itinerary.
We made the drive again this past weekend for my mother’s memorial service. Billy worked too late on Wednesday for us to drive straight through, and between the reason for our drive, and it being the beginning of spring, I was aching to camp. So, I took to The Dyrt, hopeful that maybe there were some places I’ve been missing all these years.
I looked first to campgrounds in Virginia–my home sweet home, after all–but nearly all tent camping options didn’t open until April 1, unless we wanted to take our chances with dispersed camping availability. And glancing through Tennessee, I clicked on Warriors Path State Park.
When I was little, my family would stop at at Warrior’s Path frequently while making this drive. We would get lunch to go, and then eat at a picnic tables so everyone could stretch their legs, and spend some time outdoors to break up the hours in the car. I finally went there this past December with my own kids, for the first time in probably 20 years. I was incredibly impressed with their playground–a huge, universally accessible playground with everything from a massive sand pit, to an interactive story path for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. We didn’t explore anything in the park except the playground though, and since there’s no “tent” icon on the sign off the interstate, I have always just dismissed it as a place without camping. So seeing it on The Dyrt was exciting. It’s three hours from Chattanooga, which was the perfect drive time for when we would be leaving, it’s less than 10 minutes from the interstate, and while a playground isn’t usually a selling point for us, we knew our kids would have something to do in the morning before setting out if we wanted. I found a site that was listed as “tent only” on the reservations site, booked us for a night, and just crossed my fingers that we weren’t heading into an RV camp with two kids and a backpacking tent.
Across the lake from the playground, the campground is surprisingly quiet for being so close to a major interstate. While we could hear the road, it wasn’t obvious until after dark, once we had settled down to watch the fire. And while still slightly disruptive–the sounds of tractor-trailers frightened our toddler a few times–it was fairly easy to tune out. We also saw a lot more stars than I would have expected for a park so close to civilization.
When I chose our site, I clicked on sites on the map based on how far apart they were compared to their neighbors, which led me to site 90. It’s in a cul-de-sac, which is always nice with kids since it keeps traffic more to a minimum. The other sites around it can all accommodate RVs, but even with about half of them occupied the night we were there, we didn’t feel crowded; in fact, our site was below the road by about 5 or 6 stairs, and backed up to a meadow, which gave it both a little bit more privacy than I expected, as well as a feeling of safety. It still being late March, we could see through the trees to a lake, but weren’t so close that our kids had to investigate, which meant a nice view without the constant vigilance that comes with waterfront sites.
The bathrooms were also the cleanest I’ve experienced so far at any TN State Park, and had a space heater running at least up until we went to bed, which was VERY welcome once the sun went down! The shower was also inviting, which is something I don’t think I have ever said about a campground shower before–though the space heater likely had a lot to do with that.
We didn’t drive through the rest of the campsites because of how limited our time was, but all in all I was super impressed with the camping here. I’m not sure we would make the drive just to camp, but knowing it’s an option now I don’t see us shelling out the money (and frustration) for a hotel unless we’re traveling in winter. And I definitely recommend this park to anyone on a road trip looking for an outdoorsy overnight stop.
Overall Family-Friendly Rating: 5/5. Even with the noise from the highway, this is a great place for families. There’s hiking, fishing, and boat rentals in addition to the playground, the sites (from what we saw) have a good range of both size and privacy levels, and the bathrooms are comfortable. The meadow behind our site was a great place for our kids to run, and the park obviously dedicates time and money to safety, as we saw ample evidence of tree maintenance from winter weather damage.