Indian Mountain State Park, Tennessee: Camping, Family Hiking and Sightseeing in a Class B RV
One Year as RV Owners
My wife and I recently celebrated one year of regularly travelling in our Class B motorhome, a Sprinter campervan from Leisure Travel Vans. During our first twelve months as Class B owners, we managed to log two-months of non-consecutive camping. Looking ahead, we hope to break three-months of non-consecutive camping during our second year and then, who knows, perhaps even go full-time?
Looking back on our first year of active camping in our RV (a.k.a., “RVing”), our log book shows two distinct trends. First, we spent the vast majority of our camping time on government land, either state parks, U.S. Forest Service campsites, or National Park Service campgrounds. The second trend is that we rarely go to the same place twice. It isn’t that we are especially hard to please, although we are very selective about where and how we spend our precious RVing time. It’s just that the USA is such a big place – with so much to see – that we prefer to keep moving in hopes of covering more of this scenic nation.
Indian Mountain State Park – An Exception to Our Rule
We recently broke our “no place twice” rule for Indian Mountain State Park in Jellico, TN. This was a special event, because we have only done this at one other place – Cloudland Canyon in Georgia (see my separate article on Cloudland Canyon). I had considered staying at Indian Mountain once before, but passed on the opportunity. I will be honest here about my rationale, which was incorrect, in case anyone else might have the same thoughts.
When I first came across Indian Mountain State Park on the Tennessee State Parks website my initial thoughts were that the photographs of the park were really quite beautiful. I read with interest about how the park is 203 acres with its own lake and three hiking trails. “Ah, ha! This place fits the bill,” I thought to myself. It has its own lake (generally one of our requirements), isn’t too big to see everything, and offers several hiking opportunities (hiking is also generally one of our requirements).
However, I then read how the park was a reclaimed strip mine, and that the abandoned mine had been acquired as part of a joint reclamation project between several government agencies. Having grown up in the Appalachian region of the country, I have seen how ugly the mining industry can be – and I just couldn’t grasp how an abandoned mine could be turned into a “nice” park. With that in mind, I passed on Indian Mountain and selected another park. However, I never quite forgot about those pretty pictures.
On a recent multi-day trip north we found ourselves needing a one-night campsite somewhere in northeast Tennessee or southeastern Kentucky. I began researching campgrounds in the area, and once again found myself reading about Indian Mountain on the Tennessee State Parks website. With leaf season fast approaching, every campsite in the area - except for one - was already taken. There was one campsite that appeared to be a prime, lakefront site at Indian Mountain. This time around I read more carefully about the park, which the website described as “a popular camping park.” I learned how there are 47 campsites with water hook-ups, electricity available with 30-amp breakers and a dump station. I also learned that the park, which is in Tennessee and situated right on the Kentucky border, was established for “beneficial use” in 1971. Surely, I thought, four decades as a state park would ensure that Indian Mountain had become a pretty place. I continued my research, which took me to some online travel and campground review sites, which had great reviews of this campground. “Perhaps I had was wrong,” I thought and, after all, it was only for one night. I decided to snag the last open campsite, right on the lake, and give it a try.
Indian Mountain Campground - A Very Pleasant Surprise
We rolled into Indian Mountain campground on an autumn evening just before sunset. The 6-acre Indian Mountain Lake, chock full of geese and ducks, spread out in front of us as we approached our campsite. There was just enough sunlight left to get our RV's water and electricity hooked up before the sun changed places with a lovely moon. I could see that our RV pad, and all the others around us, were new looking concrete pads (I hate campsites with those sharp little gravels for pads!). I could also see that we had a shade tree and a fire ring perched on a little hill out behind our camper, overlooking the moonlit lake. With a little bit of chill in the air, I built a small campfire and we settled in for a comfy evening in front of the fire as ducks softly quacked all around us.
Early the next morning our dogs woke me up for their breakfast and walk. Stepping out into the nippy morning air as the fog lifted off the lake I found a very pleasant surprise – a small, well-manicured and well appointed campground located in a lovely lakefront setting with the autumn colors of the Cumberland Mountains rising up all around. As my dogs walked me on their leashes, I realized that the park was surrounded by water, and that the water was surrounded by wildlife.
A 203-Acre Park Surrounded by the Cumberland Mountains
Ballard Lake Nature Trail
A few hours later we had to pack up and leave, but we made a last minute decision to stop when we saw a sign for the Ballard Lake Nature Trail. The entrance to this trail is located across the road from the main park office, which is the first building you pass on your way in, and the last building you pass on your way out of the park. We were so glad that we took the opportunity to take a stroll with our dogs on this peaceful, .75 mile, loop around Ballard Lake.
The Ballard Lake Nature Trail is a very easy, level walk with trees arching overhead. I later read that this trail is beloved by many because its level design and wide access bridge allows persons of all ages and abilities to get outside and enjoy nature. We left the park feeling invigorated, and knowing that we had to return soon.
Return to Indian Mountain
When we got home from our northern trip, I immediately booked the following weekend at Indian Mountain’s campground. We wanted to go back soon to try and maintain the tranquil feeling we found in the park. And, we hoped to catch an even brighter burst of autumn leaf colors. We were lucky enough to get another lakefront site, and left home earlier in the day so that we would have more time to explore the park.
On the route to Indian Mountain State Park we found ourselves driving through the adjoining small town of Jellico, Tennessee. As luck would have it, there were signs on Main Street indicating that we had arrived on the weekend of their Annual Fall Festival. Once we set-up camp it was time to go hiking and exploring, and after some discussion of the walking distance involved we decided to try and walk to the main street and check out the festival. My wife turned out to be correct, as usual (sorry dear!), and it wasn’t very far. After all, what’s better for a weekend of leaf peeping in the Cumberland Mountains than a small town fall festival complete with pumpkins, cornstalks, and scarecrows!
Because we had our dogs with us, and there weren’t sidewalks, we didn’t want to walk along the road that enters the park from town. So, we decided to take what looked like a safer walking route and follow a shortcut through the woods off the Ballard Lake Nature Trail. The shortcut brought us out behind the municipal baseball fields, and we made it into town by walking beside the railroad tracks for about two blocks, thereby avoiding almost all foot travel public roads. After a delightful stroll through the festivities, we loaded up on home baked goodies at one of the many local vendors - including homemade pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and fudge. The next morning, a bowl of cinnamon and raisin oatmeal and homemade pumpkin bread slathered with butter made for the perfect autumn camping breakfast.
An Easy Walk into Downtown Jellico
A Walkable, Historic Small Town
My wife and I were thrilled to find a campground from which we could walk into town, yet still have lakes and nature trails at our disposal. Granted, Jellico is a small town, or even village, with a population of approximately 2280 in 2014. However, small size is what gives the town its charm and, regardless of size, you can find most anything you would need to stock a cooler or RV fridge for a camping trip there. Much of Main Street is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the historic buildings contribute to the charm. All of these things contribute to the perfect camping combination and will all contribute to us definitely returning to Indian Mountain State Park.
Historic Downtown Jellico
Visiting Indian Mountain State Park
Indian Mountain State Park is located at 143 State Park Circle, Jellico, TN 37762
Park Telephone: 423-784-7958
Hours of Operation
Park: 7:00 AM to Sunset
Office: 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM
Park Website (Reserve Campsites Online in Advance)
Map and Directions
Tennessee State Parks Promo Video
© 2016 Dave Sumner