Camping in the Smokies
Abrams Creek Campground
Campers don't just stumble into this well-kept secret, hidden at the end of a gravel road off a meandering valley road. But those who find it make it worth their time. Located at the extreme western edge of the Smokies, Abrams Creek Campground may be off the beaten tourist path, but nearby there are plenty of footpaths, as well as a few other activities. Located in a wooded flat along a tranquil section of Abrams Creek, this intimate campground provides a relaxing setting not found in most national park campgrounds. The 16 sites are usually filled only on weekends and holidays. The place seems nearly deserted on lazy summer weekdays. About half the sites are creekside, but all are well shaded.
If relaxing under a towering white pine in a quiet woodland beside a cool mountain stream is your pleasure, this is the campground for you. This place exudes an atmosphere of escape from civilization. Since it is in the park's lowlands, this campground can be fairly warm, if not downright hot, in the summer. But no matter how hot it gets during the day, you can always expect it to cool down in the evening. A water fountain and cold running water, situated in the middle of the campground, are there to slake your thirst and satisfy your water needs.
The creek and campground were named after Old Abram, Cherokee chief of the town of Chilhowee, at the confluence of Abrams Creek and what was once the Little Tennessee River. Since dammed, it is now called Chilhowee Lake. Spanning 1,747 acres, it is nine miles long and only a mile wide at its widest point. A boat launch is conveniently located on U.S. 129 near the Foothills Parkway, 7 miles from the campground. And the lake provides fishing opportunities for trout, bass, bluegill, and catfish.
Don't let the low elevation of the campground make you underestimate the ruggedness of this country. Between the sharp, wooded ridges flow twisting streams overgrown with rhododendron, where black bear, deer, and other fauna forage for their livelihood. The area recently got a little wilder, as the park service acquired 400 critical acres near the park border downstream from the campground. Despite its wildness, a fine trail system offers pleasant hiking.
And for those in a walking frame of mind, the Cooper Road Trail conveniently starts at the back of the campground. Once on the Cooper Road Trail, you can make a 7.5-mile loop hike. This will give you a good taste of the pineoak woods within this area of the park. Using a combination of the Little Bottoms, Hannah Mountain, and Rabbit Creek trails, you will see the Abrams Creek Gorge and a couple of old homesites while passing three backcountry campsites. The loop ends at the Abrams Creek Ranger Station near the campground. Another hike, historical in nature, takes you to the old Buchannan Cemetery using a combination of the Cooper Road and Cane Creek trails. This cemetery underscores the fact that people once lived in the Smokies, and many locals in the nearby Happy Valley still feel a special kinship for their Tennessee mountain homes.
If you are feeling really aggressive, climb Pine Mountain. It's 2 miles up the Rabbit Creek Trail, starting near the Ranger Station. Cross Abrams Creek on a footlog with a handrail, pass the old homesite on your left, then start climbing. A semicircle of stones marks the high point on the trail, where Chilhowee Mountain can be seen to the north. On the way down, see if you can spot the Ranger Station between the trees.
A rewarding hike is the 10-mile round-trip walk to Abrams Falls, a popular destination, but few make the trip from Abrams Campground. After a short mile on Cooper Road, turn on the Little Bottoms Trail and continue to follow Abrams Creek to the falls. The wide rush of Abrams Creek drops into a large plunge pool, where hot hikers often take a dip in the cool mountain water. In late spring this route is brightened by the pink and white blooms of the ubiquitous mountain laurel.
Downstream, a long quiet pool abuts the campground, enticing its share of swimmers and anglers alike. Rainbow trout inhabit these waters, and since its the park's lowlands, this is one of the few park streams that also include feisty rock bass and their larger cousin, the smallmouth bass. A Tennessee state fishing license is required, but the license allows anglers to fish park waters in both Tennessee and North Carolina.
If you need supplies, head back out to U.S. 129, turn right, and drive 5 miles to the old-time Tallassee General Store. Established in 1933 and complete with a potbellied stove, it offers both modern camping supplies and old-fashioned dry goods. Run by Charlie Lunsford, it also serves as the post office and gossip center for the surrounding community.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication