For the one-night getaway, few tent-and-bonfire options are as easy to come by as the classic car-camping expedition. Requiring no backpack—no baggage at all if you don’t mind camping gear flying around in your car—no knowledge of orienteering and no extra time allotment for getting from the trailhead to the site, car-camping is ideal for the not-quite-outdoorsy hobbyist who still wants a night away. And one of the best free, car-friendly campsites nearby is Davis Pond.
Site: Davis Pond in Prentice Cooper State Forest
According to www.TN.gov, Prentice Cooper State Forest is home to hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails, hunting and rock climbing opportunities, and two campsites. Of the two sites, Davis Pond Campground is further off the beaten track.
Across a parking lot from its namesake pool, the campground is a wide, flat, grass clearing with a fire ring, picnic table and slightly questionable lavatory.
The diameter of the clearing, paired with the significant distance from any metro area, makes for excellent stargazing.
From Chattanooga, take Highway 27 north to Signal Mountain Road. Continue northward on Signal Mountain Road until turning left onto Suck Creek Road, which you’ll follow for 8 miles. Turn left onto Choctaw Trail, which has a large brown Prentice Cooper sign. Stay left when Choctaw forks, and take the first left onto Game Reserve Road.
At this point, you’ve only been on the road for about 20 minutes, but the rest of the trip is on gravel. Though you only go 7 miles down Game Reserve Road, you’ll probably feel like you’ve gone another 20 before you come to your turn. You pass two cemeteries, a pair of suspicious-looking gates and several side roads before you find a wooden sign that says "Davis Pond." That sign means "turn left here," and after you do, drive another half-mile to the campsite. Total time from Chattanooga: Roughly 45 minutes.
As you’ll strain your eyes for the last 10 minutes of your drive looking for the Davis Pond sign—and as the park is locked after dusk—plan to get into Prentice Cooper at least half an hour before sunset.
This campsite is very spacious, so if you’re looking for a free group outing, this is your place.
Fishing is allowed in the pond.
No registration is required, but per the website, "camping is first come, first serve."
If you go during hunting season, hunting hounds with lights on their collars may wander into your site and start sniffing around. It happened.
Conner Armstrong spends his time trying to keep up with his wife's intellect, his son's energy and his lawn's weeds. He writes fiction when he can, trade magazine copy when he must and freelance columns when the spirit moves. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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