Best campsites, what amenities are available, what the bathhouse is like, and what you should do while you are there- it’s all here.

I love camping and growing up in East Tennessee means I have spent a lot of time getting to do just that. Especially now that I am bringing my own kids camping with me, I have become a connoisseur of frontcountry campgrounds in the area (less backcountry camping because of said kids). I find myself returning again and again to the campgrounds we enjoyed most. And camping in Pickett State Park is definitely one we enjoyed.

The campground at Pickett is small, rarely super busy, and has just enough amenities to be comfortable but it still feels like a campground. In other words, my kind of place. As a bonus, Pickett is a certified Dark Sky Park (the first in the southeast to get this) so the star- gazing from this campground is spectacular.

After several trips to this neat state park, I can give you a pretty good idea of what to expect, which campsites I think are the best, where you can backcountry camp, and what are the other fun activities you can do while in the park.

Camping in Pickett State Park is a fantastic way to spend a couple of days or more as there is so much to do in this area of the Cumberland Plateau.

A long view of the campground to show what camping in Pickett State Park is like. A tent and concrete picnic table is in the foreground. Spaced out trees are in the background as well as other campsites.
The campground at Pickett State Park is somewhat shady and has decent sized campsites, although the campsites on the outer loop area spaced more apart than the inner loop ones. This is campsite A14 in the foreground.

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Planning A Trip To Pickett State Park?

Check out these other resources to help you plan your trip.

A General Introduction To Camping In Pickett State Park

There is only one campground at Pickett, a small frontcountry campground with 26 campsites in two loops – a large A loop with 21 campsites and a very small B loop with 5 campsites.

The campground is open all year long. There is no WiFi and barely any cell service at the campground. But you can get free WiFi down at the Visitor Center during the day.

Each campsite can be used by RVs, campers, or tents.

The Bathhouse

The campground has one central bathhouse with a mens and womens side that has several bathroom stalls and shower stalls.

There is a coin washer and dryer as well in the bathhouse building but I wouldn’t 100% count on those working, just speaking from general experience with campground laundry facilities.

The bathhouse is much like everything else at the campground, not fancy but perfectly functional. I particularly like the free hot water showers, common in TN State Parks, and one reason I like camping here versus the Smokies.

The campground does have a lot of trees but they are pretty spaced out. Most campsites get a pretty good amount of sun, especially when it is overhead.

What Does Each Campsite Have:

Each campsite comes with a water spigot, concrete picnic table, fire pit, and grill. There are no sewer hookups at any campsite in Pickett. There is a dump station in the campground though.

16 of the 26 campsites have 30 amp electrical hookups as well. All the B loop campsites have electrical hook-ups as well as A1, A4, A7, A8, A10, A11, A12, A14, A17, A18, and A21. I marked the sites with electrical on the map below for you.

Only some of the campsites have a tent pad- look closely at the descriptions on the reservations website if having a level tent pad is important to you.

The incline found on a lot of sites is probably one of the biggest drawbacks to this campground – it can be hard to find a level spot to pitch a tent on some sites. Similarly, it can take some work to level your RV or camper.

RVs and Campers

Any of the sites at Pickett can be used for RVs or campers. Just look closely at the descriptions on the reservations website to see the max size that each campsite can hold.

Remember there are no sewer hookups at any of the campsites and only some have electrical hook-ups (marked on map below). All campsites have water hook-ups and there is a dump station in the campground.

The water and electrical hook-ups are sometimes on the wrong side for how you pull into the campsite so bring long hoses/cords with you.

Pickett CCC Memorial State Park Maps

Campground Map

Map of the campground at Pickett State Park showing 26 campsites in 2 loops, one large for A sites and one small for B campsites. The bathhouse and picnic shelter are in the middle of A loop.
Campground Map of Pickett State Park, courtesy of TN State Parks with my own additions.

Which Campsites At Pickett Are The Best?

As with almost all campgrounds, the ones on the outer loop have the most privacy. The campsites on the inner loop are fine, especially of you have need a couple of campsites, but they are pretty close together.

My favorite sites are A21 and A1 for the most space, although they are at the entrance to the campground loop so you will get all the cars passing by. As this campground is not near anything (ie – no going out to dinner) and is relatively small, I doubt you get much late night traffic. I have not noticed this to be a problem so far.

Other good campsites are A7, A8, A10, A13, A15 for the most privacy. In particular, A13 has a tent area set back in the trees away from the parking spot so it has great privacy. The downside being that the tent site is a little sloped. It took us a second to figure out the best orientation for our large Coleman 4 person tent to make sure no one was sleeping sliding downhill. This could be easier with a smaller tent but be warned.

*Campsite A13 and A15 also have the trailhead for Ladder Trail running between them but this is not usually a problem. You can reach that trail from Lake trail as well and it isn’t one of the more popular trails in the park. In other words, we did not get a lot of people traipsing past our campsite to get to this trail even on a summer weekend.

I would avoid campsites on the B loop unless you need several together. I think these campsites are the closest together and they have the least amount of shade.

Campground Reservations

Nightly rates range from $15- $26 depending on the time of year and whether the site has electric. Holidays and weekends in the summer are more expensive than say, a weekday in January.

You can reserve online through https://reserve.tnstateparks.com/pickett/campsites. The website has okay pictures of each campsite so you can get an idea of what they look like but they aren’t great for detail.

You can also reserve a campsite at the Visitor Center on the day you arrive. On busy holidays and weekends though, you run the risk of not getting a campsite though if you don’t reserve ahead of time.

Where To Get Supplies Near Pickett

There isn’t a lot in this area which is why it is such a great star- gazing spot – no light pollution. But it means you do need to plan ahead a little bit.

The Visitor Center at the entrance to the park sells certified firewood, has ice, and cooled drinks in a fridge, as well as some park swag (t- shirts, sweathshirts, etc).

Beaty’s Wildwood Grocery is about 7 miles down Hwy 154 from the park and will take you just over 10 minutes to drive there. It is a gas station/ convenience store/ country diner and will have very basic camping supplies and groceries. The diner serves a mean breakfast biscuit and a pretty decent cheeseburger (especially for the price).

Beyond Wildwood Grocery, you will need to drive into Jamestown for supplies which is about 14 miles/ 20 minutes down Hwy 154. There is a Walmart Supercenter there as well as a Walgreens and a bunch of restaurants.

Tips For Camping In Pickett State Park

Pickett can get kinda buggy, especially around dusk. Bring plenty of bug spray and citronella candles for your campsite.

The electric and water hookups are frequently on the wrong side of the pull-in if you are in an RV or camper. Bring extra long hoses and cords to accommodate!

There are bears around this campground so be very careful about food and drink. Do not leave coolers unattended or tote bags that had food in them on the picnic tables. Likewise, do not take a granola bar into your tent unless you want something large and hairy nosing around in the middle of the night.

Bring a couple of plastic grocery bags for trash. Pickett is a trash- free campground, meaning there are no trash cans around (see previous warning about bears). Practically, that means you have to collect all of your trash and either keep it in your car or walk it down to the fenced-in trash and recycling bins near the entrance to the campground (see the campground map above).

Bring your thickest tent pad to set up beneath your tent, especially if you are camping in a site without a tent pad. The ground is rocky, with lots of small, gravel-sized rocks that are very uncomfortable. I have a tarp and a pad under my tent as well as inflatable sleep pads.

Camping With Kids Packing List

Over the years, I have honed my packing list for front-country camping down to a pretty thorough spreadsheet 😆. Obviously, it changes depending on the specifics of the campground we are going to, but I love having a master list that I can look through, even if I don’t end up bringing everything. It really helps with not forgetting important stuff – like the camp stove. (That actually happened and the kids loved it – we ate sooo many granola bars and pop tarts that trip.)

A spreadsheet listing things to bring with you when camping with kids

Download the Packing List For Camping With Kids Here

Backcountry Camping At Pickett State Park

All of the park trails close at dusk in Pickett so I think the only backcountry camping you can do is on trails that lead into Pickett State Forest. Hidden Passage is the only trail I have heard people talk about backcountry camping on.

Regardless, you need a permit to backcountry camp, so you have to talk to the rangers anyway and I would ask them for the best spots. Sorry I can’t be of more help but still waiting on the kids to carry their fair share of the load before we try backcountry camping.

Things To Do While Camping In Pickett State Park

One of the reasons I really like this campground is that you can spend a whole weekend and never get back in your car. Almost everything in the park is walkable from the campground.

Go for a hike on one of the park’s 10 hiking trails, rent a paddleboard or kayak to explore Arch Lake, cool off on a hot day in the swimming area, go fishing, sign up for an evening hike to find the rare glow worms in the park, or just sit back and star gaze from the campground, enjoying the most incredible amount of stars from this certified Dark Sky Park.

To get more details on all of the activities available to you in the park, check out these blogs:

Other Places To Explore Nearby

Another of the great things about Pickett State Park is how much there is do in the area. The Cumberland Plateau and Cumberland Mountains have a ridiculous concentration of parks and natural areas that are all fantastic places to see.

Big South Fork National River And Recreation Area

2 miles/ 4 minutes from Pickett

This is one of my favorite places in East Tennessee with hiking, paddling, and mountain biking adventures all found in this large and scenic national recreation area. The park stretches across the border of Tennessee and Kentucky and really is quite large but you can reach the Twin Arches area of the park just 5 minutes down the road from Pickett.

The Twin Arches hike is one of the must-do’s in Big South Fork but off of the same road is also the lovely Slave Falls, Needle Arch, and Middle Creek hikes. You can do of all those hikes in one day if your kids are fairly mobile – I did it with ten year olds and we did fine, though they definitely slept well that night in the tent – bonus!

Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area

2.7 miles/5 min away from Pickett

Just 2 miles down the road from Pickett is this pretty park that I bet you have never heard of before- Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area. Which is reasonable because it was only sold by The Nature Conservancy to the state in 2006. Since then, several trails have been blazed to some fantastic overlooks, rock shelters, and waterfalls.

The trailhead is in a field off Highway 154 that also doubles as Pickett State Park’s astronomy field. (Google some pictures- they are amazing. Unfortunately, my camera phone isn’t that sophisticated and I broke my big DSLR and haven’t replaced it yet so I don’t have any myself.)

You can take a fairly easy 1.8 mile Overlook Trail that loops past some huge rock shelters and to an overlook of the canyon from the trailhead here.

If you want a longer hike, you can connect to the Upper Canyon Trail from the Overlook Trail to explore more for a 6-7 mile hike, depending on how far you go. Read Independent Herald Oneida’s article about it or see AllTrails for good descriptions and pictures of the trails.

Alvin York State Historic Park

19 miles/ 30 min away from Pickett

One of the most decorated soldiers in WWI, Alvin York is famous for his capture of 128 German soldiers in the Argonne Forest. The Alvin York State Historic Park includes a Visitor Center modeled after his general store, a grist mill, the York home, and a recreated WWI trench. You can hike 0.5 miles to York’s burial site by way of a neat swinging bridge over the Wolf River.

The park is free to visit but the 45 min guided tour of the York home costs $5 for adults (free for 12 or younger). You can book a spot online.

Historic Rugby

35 miles/ 45 min away from Pickett

Founded in 1880 by second sons of Britain’s landed gentry as a kind of agrarian utopia, Historic Rugby is a beautifully preserved Victorian village. You can watch the documentary and walk around free of charge or take the guided tour ($7 adults, $4 kids). I always find it surprising to find a little bit of Britain in the middle of the Cumberland Plateau and think the place is fascinating.

Obed Wild And Scenic River

47 miles / 1 hr 10 min away from Pickett

The Obed Wild And Scenic River, like Big South Fork, is another parcel of land managed by the National Park Service without actually being a national park. But you can stop by the Visitor Center in Wartburg, TN and talk to the NPS rangers to find out all the things you can do around the Obed. The most popular activities are kayaking/ rafting and rock climbing but there are some nice hiking trails as well.

The hikes around Lily Bluff area and the old Nemo train bridge are must do’s for first time visitors to the park.

Frozen Head State Park and Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

55 miles/ 1 hr 15 min away from Pickett

About an hour away from Pickett State Park is another hidden gem of a state park – Frozen Head State Park. Tucked into the Cumberland Mountains, this neat state Park has some great hiking trails, pretty waterfalls, and one of my favorite frontcountry campgrounds in East Tennessee.

And if you like your parks with a side of fascinating trivia, then read about the Barkley Marathons, the annual ultramarathon held every spring in Frozen Head and reputed to be the hardest race in the world. Adjacent to the park is historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, a former maximum security prison, now a distillery and museum. Take a guided tour from a former guard or inmate and learn the compelling history of this place.

Final Thoughts

I hope this blog convinced you to break out the tent, pack the kids up, and head to Pickett State Park for a wonderful weekend of camping and hiking. It isn’t the most fancy of campgrounds but it has everything you need, plus easy access to some of the best hikes that you can find in a TN State Park.

Happy Camping! – Amanda

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