We’re just finishing up a one month stay at Raccoon Valley Escapees RV Park at Heiskell, TN, just north of Knoxville. The setting of the park is scenic, in a pretty valley with tree covered ridges on either side. Of course, this is eastern Tennessee, home of the stunning Smoky Mountains. Without doubt, this is a great area. The campground itself is basically a gravel parking lot. Sites are very close to one another with one’s neighbor’s utilities in your front yard. The grounds are well kept, the rest rooms clean, and there’s a nice activity center.
The campground hosts a weekly gathering of local musicians who sing and play for a few hours each week. Anyone who plays an acoustical instrument is welcome to join in. The music ranges from pretty good to “not pretty good” (if you get my drift.) However, everyone is having a good time and it makes for a friendly, easy going evening.
The monthly prices here are quite good and that has drawn a variety of residents. There are traditional Escapees who travel in their RV’s full time and there are working people who had never heard of Escapees, but joined to get the discount rate as residents of this park. Most everyone is friendly or at least cordial. Because of price, location, and limited sites the park stays pretty busy.
My Verizon signal was good. Our satellite TV is via Dish Network. There are plenty of over-the-air TV stations but the primary Dish channels are on the Dish “eastern arc.” Since my dish is a western arc one, and since the trees pretty much blocked my western satellites I decided to bite the bullet and buy the replacement LNBs. I found them on Amazon for around $25. After swapping them out and aiming the dish to the eastern satellites I had all my channels again. From what research I’ve done, I’ll be using the eastern satellites for another month or two and in the future I’m sure I’ll be glad to have the option of switching between satellite sets when we travel east.
Honestly, a month was too long for us to be at this park. Had the campsites had a bit more elbow room we would have liked it better but it still would have been longer than we really wanted. I’d return here for a week or maybe two, but that’s about it.
Just south of Knoxville is Marble Springs Historic site. It’s the last remaining home of John Seiver, first Governor of Tennessee and Revolutionary War hero. The buildings are representative of his life and times. They include a tavern, loom house, smoke house, spring house, and the John Sevier Cabin and detached kitchen. The large loom in the picture is over 100 years old. The tour guide shows how they prepared and spun wool, cotton and flax.
While looking for a good place to take our morning walks we decided to visit the University of Tennessee Arboretum at Oak Ridge about 20 minutes from our campground. I was looking for a place to walk on flat trails through pretty gardens at this working University Research and Education classroom. It is set up to be a natural laboratory and wildlife area. There are plenty of hiking trails but they steeper and rougher than I expected. At the visitors’ center there is a large collection of walking sticks for visitors to use as they hike the trails and enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors. It was an interesting place to visit but the trails are a bit more challenging than I wanted for a morning walk! We did find a great, paved walking trail along the Clinch River in nearby Clinton. We enjoyed walking there several times.
The highlight of our time in eastern Tennessee was two especially enjoyable day trips. One was to Pigeon Forge where I wandered through the shops and enjoyed seeing the old mill. The other a fun and beautiful drive up to Newfound Gap high in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We drove to the top, right on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. However, we were up in the clouds and the view was lost in the fog. A bit lower down the mountain we ate a picnic lunch by a beautiful stream. The weather was cool and cloudy but it didn’t take away from the beauty of it all.
We picked a pretty day to visit Knoxville’s Market Square for the Dogwood Arts Festival. There was a wide variety of items for sale there including jewelry, pottery, photography, metal art as well as a booth you could have a Henna design applied. There were many food trucks there providing a variety of tempting treats as well as local restaurants doing a brisk business. My favorite thing was the music stage where we heard the Empty Bottle String Band performing.
Nearby Oak Ridge is famous for its part in the Manhattan Project where uranium was enriched to be used in the first atomic bomb ever made to end World War II. We visited the American Museum of Science and Energy and did a bus tour of various facilities where scientists searched for ways to quickly produce what was needed for an atomic bomb. At the Graphite Reactor we heard a lecture on how it worked. We could walk around some and saw the actual log entry made when the enrichment was finally achieved. We were surprised to learn that several other buildings still being used for research and by the Department of Energy. Along the way we saw two original churches with their cemeteries that were part of the rural community before the area became a research area in World War II. The American Museum of Science and Energy has many hands on activities relating to atomic energy as well as information on the coal mining done in the area.
As you can see the Knoxville area has a lot to offer sightseers. It’s no wonder that it’s such a well known and loved area.
We had a pleasant day seeing one of Chattanooga’s many tourist sights: Lookout Mountain Incline Railroad. Each car holds 40-some people and goes almost straight up the side the mountain. We got there around 11AM, paid for parking, bought our tickets, and got on board. We immediately started to climb up the mountain. It was very steep out the back door and side windows. As we continued up we could see the expanding horizon and town through the windows in the top of the car. The trip up or down takes about 15 minutes and especially for people like me who don’t like heights, it’s an exciting ride! At the top we walked up two more flights of stairs t0 enjoy a panoramic view of the area. On a lower level we saw the engine that powers the cars.
We walked a few blocks from the railroad to Point Park, a memorial park that overlooks the Lookout Mountain Battlefield with the city of Chattanooga far below. We enjoyed this beautiful park and it’s pleasant, easy walk with impressive views all around. We were lucky to see dogwood trees and redbuds in bloom. As we walked to and from the park we talked about the beautiful mansions there on top of the mountain. We thought the visit was well worth the time. Of course, there are other terrific attractions in the area and we intend to pick up where we left off on future visits to this great area.
This campground is operated by Camping World in Chattanooga. Interestingly enough, the store is in Georgia while the campground and service department is across the parking lot and in Tennessee! I don’t think anyone would consider this campground to be a destination campground. The sites are quite narrow and the campground has a generally tired feeling about it. And it is urban camping: a motel parking lot was across the tall chain link fence by our rig. The restrooms were clean but the pool wasn’t open yet for the summer. Surprisingly, it looks as though there are a few long term residents here (let me mention, though, that all the sites were clean, etc.) People come to the campground to await getting service done on their RVs and to take advantage of the low price during a visit to the tourist town that is Chattanooga. We saw one happy camper moving from their old RV into a new one that had been parked facing them in the neighboring campsite. I saw elsewhere that if you renew your Good Sam membership at the store (which is where you register) that camping fees were waved. I asked, and we got the same deal – not just for one night, but for both nights of our stay. Our Verizon signal was very good and I had a clear view of the sky for satellite reception (although cable TV was available at each site). We arrived in late afternoon and all the 50 amp sites were taken. The second day many of them were open into the evening. If you are visiting Chattanooga, don’t mind a crowded campground, and are okay with taking your chances on getting a spot, you might want to keep this place in mind.
At the conclusion of my previous review of Natchez Trace Thousand Trails near Hohenwald, TN a couple of years ago I commented that on a future visit I hoped to see some of the maintenance issues of this campground addressed. Frankly, as we finish up our second stay here, I have to report that my previous review is still accurate. If nothing else, I’d say the mile and a half road back into the campground has even more potholes than it did two years ago. I mentioned that good WiFi was one of the real bright spots, but this stay it wasn’t working well with lots of dropouts even with a strong signal. I mentioned it at the office a couple of times and near the end of our stay someone may have looked at it because it finally settled down and disappeared less often.
As we arrived there were two other rigs just ahead of us. We found out they were a mom and dad from the northeastern part of the country meeting their son and his family from Texas for a two week stay together. They were very disappointed in the campground. The son wasn’t a member and had paid the “rack rate” for a two week stay in his brand new 5th wheel. After walking around the campground for a long time, looking at every available site and digesting the news that there were no 50 amp sites at all, they settled on a couple of rougher sites next to one another. The next day they pulled out, looking for a nicer campground. I don’t know if they got a refund or not.
Let me say that I think that was a bit of an over-reaction. Anyone who looks online can see that there is only 30 amp service here. Still, for someone looking for a nice campground with some amenities I can understand the feeling of disappointment. For us, the campground itself is at the low end of “acceptable” and not a place I would look forward to visiting aside from it being easy on my camping budget as a fulltime traveler. The primary other positive is that our stay coincided with the peak of the fall foliage here and the colors were glorious.
I don’t understand the layout here. At the front gate there’s a store, pool, min-golf, and lake access. However there are no campsites. The campground for members is a mile and a half away, over a very rough and hilly road. There’s plenty of room for a campground in a big, wide open area near the amenities and I have no idea of why anyone ever thought isolating the primary campground as it is would be a good idea. Aside from that I know the long term residents and the staff of this Thousand Trails are still hoping cooperate will finally turn its attention to this long neglected campground. I suggest that happen sooner and not later.