North Carolina

The 8 Best Camping Spots in the Nantahala National Forest

by Carissa Stanz

Nantahala is Cherokee for Land of the Noon Day Sun — and yes, this picturesque National Forest is just as enchanting as it sounds.

Take a walk under the thick forest canopy and you’ll quickly see how Nantahala National Forest earned its name. The forest floor rarely sees sunlight in many areas, which is great news for those looking to find a shady place to set up camp.

Established in 1920, Nantahala National Forest sprawls out along 531,148 acres in North Carolina’s southwest region. With district names derived from the Cherokee language, visitors will find Nantahala is as rich in history as it is in habitat.

Plan a trip out to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and you’ll be in the presence of one of the largest stands of old-growth trees found on the east coast. For a more exhilarating experience, take a whitewater rafting ride down the Nantahala River.

Wherever adventure takes you, you’ll find a handful of campsites scattered throughout the forest along with plenty of dispersed camping options.

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing campground where you can fish for trout or a basecamp for a spellbinding ride down the river, you’ll find it in Nantahala.

Ready to set up camp? Here’s our guide to the best camping spots at Nantahala National Forest.

Standing Indian Campground

standing indian campground

Why you should camp here: Sleep at 3,880 feet under evergreens near the Nantahala River.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Standing Indian Campground features several loops that are ideal for tent camping and large enough for RVs. A 20 minute drive to Franklin, Standing Indian is a convenient spot for travelers passing through, yet alluring enough for those seeking a longer stay.

“The Nantahala River runs through the campground and there are plenty of places to cool off,” says Lorie G. on Tripadvisor.

Each site offers campers a picnic table, campfire ring, grill, and nifty lantern post. Meanwhile, you’ll be happy to know you can skip the hippie baths and catholes thanks to the showers and flush toilets.

As for outdoor recreation, you’ll find ample opportunities across the board.

Fish for trout or get a rush from whitewater rafting along the Nantahala River. There are also a slew of accessible trails including the acclaimed Appalachian Trail.

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Tsali Campground

tsali campground
Photo: Brian Boardman

Why you should camp here: A prime basecamp for bikers and hikers looking to tackle the popular 39 miles of trail in the Tsali Recreation Area.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Tsali Campground is situated next to Fontana Lake, which is Western North Carolina’s largest lake. Named after the Cherokee farmer Tsali (pronounced “SAH-lee”), the Tsali campground serves as a primo basecamp for mountain bikers and hikers alike.

Featuring 42 campsites, Tsali is entirely first-come, first-served, so plan to arrive early. Some campsites can accommodate small RVs, but the majority are best left to the tent and car camping crowds.

Flush toilets, drinking water, and showers are all available. Meanwhile, the campsites come with all the standard amenities.

If you plan on biking the 39 miles of trail in the recreation area, you can pay the day fee at the Tsali Bike trailheads. Also be sure to check the schedule as hike and bike days alternate.

Cheoah Point Campground

Why you should camp here: Camp with the family adjacent to Lake Santeetlah, where the kids can swim, paddle, or fish.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes

Double check your camping checklist and head out to the Cheoah Point Campground for a memorable family camping trip. Cheoah Point Campground is nestled in WNC’s scenic mountains on the peninsula of Lake Santeetlah.

“If you tent camp, get one of the sites (14-17) on the point for really great views and privacy,” says Chris DeRonne on Google Reviews.

This campground features a handful of sites to accommodate those in need of RV hookups. Meanwhile, campers who are more into roughing it can pitch a tent on a level pad.

Regardless of your camping preference, all campers have access to hot showers, flush toilets, and potable water.

Sleep under the cooling forest canopy or opt for an open campsite with lake views. This is just one of the many perks you’ll find camping lakeside at Cheoah Point.

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Jackrabbit Mountain Campground

jackrabbit mountain nc

Why you should camp here: Lakeside camping with plenty of perks for the whole family.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, car camping
  • RV hookups:No

Another lakeside gem in the Nantahala National Forest is Jackrabbit Mountain Campground. This is a large, well-maintained campground featuring views of Chatuge Lake with several campsites offering direct access.

Resting under a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees, Jackrabbit Mountain’s wooded campsites are outfitted with a campfire ring, picnic table, and lantern post.

If you’re camping by way of RV, look for open spots in Loop A and B. You won’t find any hookups here, but you will find large parking spots for your rig.

Equipped with an array of amenities, Jackrabbit Mountain is geared towards those looking for comfort during a weeklong family camping trip. Showers, flush toilets, and potable water are all available.

The amenities don’t stop there. Jackrabbit Mountain also offers campers a horseshoe pit, boat ramp, fishing pier, picnic shelters, and swimming beach.

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Van Hook Glade Campground

Why you should camp here: This secluded campsite is a popular hub for anglers and swimmers.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Campers who prefer more privacy with their forest retreat can pitch a tent at the Van Hook Glade Campground.

“The sites were spacious and separated by trees and foliage,” says Becca on Campendium.

This secluded, heavily wooded campground offers a handful of sites that give campers a sense of space and privacy. The campsites include the standard amenities while the campground offers access to flush toilets and showers.

Nestled along the Cullasaja Gorge and Cliffside Lake, Van Hook Glade is a stone’s throw away from fishing and swimming opportunities. If you don’ mind a short drive, be sure to add Dry Falls and Whitewater Falls to your weekend itinerary.

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Appletree Group Campground

Why you should camp here: A spacious group campsite with ample amenities to host your next hootenanny.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, car camping
  • RV hookups:No

The Appletree Group Campground is the perfect outdoor setting for those fixin’ on having a hootenanny. There are four sites in total here, all well equipped for handling large gatherings.

Besides a wide open area, Appletree offers campers water, flush toilets, showers, a picnic shelter, campfire ring, and lantern posts.

There’s also more than enough area to pitch a tent or hammock camp if you so choose.

If you’re camping in a vehicle, keep in mind there’s only one car camping vehicle allowed per site.

As for recreation, the list in this neck of the woods is endless. Cast a line in the nearby Nantahala Lake, take a memorable rafting trip down the river, or just enjoy your peaceful space and chill out next to the campfire playing instruments and singing old-time tunes.

With plenty to do and see around here, the family won’t have any trouble keeping busy.

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Blue Valley Dispersed Camping

Why you should camp here: Skip the fees and set up your Nantahala basecamp at a primitive site.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, car camping
  • RV hookups:No

Looking to skip the fees? Blue Valley Dispersed Camping offers about 22 dispersed campsites that are available year-round (weather permitting). Located about 30 minutes from Highlands, the Blue Valley area is accessed via NC28S.

Situated near Wilson Lake and several waterfalls, Blue Valley is a good basecamp for anglers, paddlers, and hikers.

While camping in Blue Valley is primitive, you won’t be entirely without amenities. You’ll find the bare necessities here, which include a campfire ring, picnic table, and a pit toilet.

This campground has a reputation for being one of the cleaner dispersed camping areas so please do your part and pack it in, pack it out.

Secluded Waterfall Haven

Why you should camp here: Invite your friends and family for an unforgettable camping trip on a private 4.5 acre property that features two waterfalls.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes

Enjoy a campground all to yourself at the Secluded Waterfall Haven. Located near Sky Valley, Georgia, Secluded Waterfall Haven is a privately owned campsite on a 4.5 acre parcel on the outskirts of Nantahala National Forest.

“My kids loved it, my dog loved it…all of my expectations were exceeded above and beyond,” said Sara M. on Hipcamp.

Voted Hicamp’s “Best of 2018” and awarded the third place ribbon for Georgia, Secluded Waterfall Haven is a camper’s private paradise.

Whether you’re in a tent, trailer, or RV, Secluded Waterfall haven can host up to a party of 56! While you’re probably not going to max out the occupancy, odds are you’ll be more than satisfied with the scenic property and amenities.

Drinking water, hookups, a fire pit, picnic areas, and a bathroom are all available to guests. As if that weren’t enough, there are two waterfalls and a small swimming hole located on the property.

Invite your friends and family because this is a camping haven meant to be shared.

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