Seasoned travelers know the stretch of Interstate 40 between Newport, TN and the North Carolina State Line as “The Gorge”. It’s wild, beautiful country – a winding, heart-pounding drive with soaring mountains and a plunging drop-off to the Pigeon River running below the southern shoulder of the interstate. Located an hour west of Asheville and an hour east of the Smoky Mountain tourism zone, there seems to be no civilization around. This is where the Pisgah National Forest, Cherokee National Forest, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park convene.
Pigeon River Campground
This is the “adventurous side of the Smokies”. In the heart of this wilderness sits Hartford, TN, known as the “whitewater capital of the Southeast”, and home to the Pigeon River Campground.
With easy on-off access from I-40, the Pigeon River Campground is on the bank of the Pigeon River. It has been called a “boutique” campground due to its size, amenities, and natural beauty. It boasts 10 full-hookup RV sites with fire rings, charcoal grills, and picnic tables at each site. There are 6 rustic camping cabins with waterfront porches, and twenty tent sites. There’s a camp store with basic supplies, a laundry room, a pavilion with an event-sized gas grill, swimming pool, dog kennel (first come, first serve) volleyball net, and lawn and board games. The bath house features attractive, individual private bathroom / shower units.
This is a place to relax by the water and do nothing, or avail yourself of the many adventures available in the area. There’s a bamboo forest begging for exploration on-property, and a boat ramp for private boating, tubing, floating, or fishing. During whitewater rafting season, you can enjoy a steady parade of colorful rafts.
Smoky Mountain Outdoors
You’re right next door to Smoky Mountain Outdoors. The largest river outfitter in Hartford, base camp for the third most popular rafting river in the United States. Get in on the rafting action with a camp & raft package! Ask about raft & zipline packages with CLIMBworks, a nationally acclaimed leader in the zipline industry. Check out the CLIMBworks mountain bike trails, or do it yourself on the trails of the Cherokee or Pisgah National Forests.
When you stay at Pigeon River Campground, you are a short drive from the Appalachian Trail and some of the most scenic hiking destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Catch a spectacular 360-degree sunset from the summit Pisgah’s Max Patch, and finish the evening by the campfire back at camp.
RV sites and camping cabins do sell out on popular weekends, so make your reservations in advance. Avoid the crowds and plan your stay early in June, late August, or September. The campground is open March 1 – October 31. Rafting is available during this same time, with scheduled whitewater releases from Mid-May through Labor Day.
Photos: Pigeon River Campground