Unwind on the rolling, tree-covered green hills just outside Memphis, at one of Tennessee’s most family-friendly state parks.
Experience the great outdoors with ease and fun at Chickasaw State Park. Whatever your family’s interests or ages, Chickasaw has something for everyone. Hike, bike, fish, swim, golf, play ball or ride a horse – all within 14,384 acres of timberland.
Well, we knew we wouldn’t be able to explore all 14,384 acres, or even the 1,280 that are used for recreation. We were just happy to escape the city for a weekend to swim in a lake!
When we arrived, we followed the signs to the tent campsites. Campers choose from three types of campgrounds at Chickasaw, each with its own playground and bathhouse offering hot showers and restrooms. The 29 tent campsites have water, a picnic table, fire ring, upright grill and lantern post; the 52 RV camping and 31 wrangler sites (designed for visitors traveling with horses) have electrical hookups.
Tent sites are situated on a hilly section alongside Lake Placid, and cars can pull up directly in front of each site. We found ourselves lucky to get an empty campsite – discovering later that on most summer weekends the grounds are packed. Tent campers can stay at an RV site if they need electricity, but wrangler sites are open to non-equestrian campers only in the winter when the other sites are closed. Tent sites are $11 a night; RV and wrangler sites are $17. All are first-come, first-serve, and if they happen to be full, overflow camping is allowed on the grassy field across from the wrangler camp grounds.
Our site was situated close to the bathhouse, and although we weren’t right on the lake, we pretended, since the water was in view. All the sites are well-spaced to provide privacy, which is aided by the tall pines. Pets are welcome, as long as they are leashed.
After pitching the tent on the hard – but level – ground, we immediately began to gather wood for the evening fire, no wanting to have to search in the darkness. Dead and fallen tree limbs can be collected, but due to the large number of people who camp on the grounds, the pickings are slim. We would have benefited tremendously from a pickax to break up the plentiful large fallen trunks, but were happy to find and abundance of twigs. You can take your own wood, of course, or purchased it at the camp store.
After all our twig breaking, we decided to check out the lake’s beach. A foot bridge spans the length of the lake, accessible from the Lakeshore Nature Trail that runs beside the tent camp and leads to the swimming area and snack bar. The enclosed sandy stretch is free for cabin guests and $1.50 each for registered campers. Two lifeguards were on duty, one on the beach and one on a free floating dock, equipped with two diving boards, one a high dive. A tree-shaded grass area offers relief when the sun and sand get too hot, but of course the water is the best, and many people remained there, floating on inflated mattresses and inner tubes.
During the summer months, a park recreation director conducts group games, arts and crafts, evening movies, campfire programs and hayrides. While we were at the beach, we watched a watermelon roll, which consisted of a group of kids, teens or adults wrestling over a watermelon in the water, trying to get it to shore. Luckily, after all that hard work, the watermelons were cut into big hunks and shared. Usually one or two activities were planned each day, and we found a weekly schedule posted above the water fountain at the bathhouse. Other activities while we were camping included a softball tourney and batting competition.
For more fun, paddle boats can be rented on the beach side of Lake Placid for $2 per person per hour. Fishing rowboats are $3 per hour, $6 per half-day or $10 a day. The lake is stocked with bass, crappie, catfish and bream; a valid fishing license is required for ages 13 and older.
Families looking for land activities can visit the horse stables, which offers an hour-long guided trail ride for $10 per person. Children younger than 9 may not ride. We walked on our own two feet along the Lakeshore Nature Trail and happened upon a sign for the Forked Pine Nature Trail. On the forest trail we felt as though we were in the heart of the woods, surrounded by silence and shaded by trees – until the trail curved and we were walking alongside Highway 100! We couldn’t see it, but we could hear the roar of the cars.
To get really lost in the forest, explore the more than 50 miles of gravel roads and trails for horses, hikers, mountain bikers or cars that lie beyond the park recreation area. They were fairly empty on the weekday we ventured away from camp – we happened only upon horseback riders, who appeared rather surprised to see us. We kept careful note of all our turns, as the roads were clearly marked and we wanted to be able to return to camp before dark.
Other family options include tennis, basketball, volleyball, softball, horse shoes or archery at one of the many facilities throughout the park, though equipment is not provided. Boredom is not an option at Chickasaw – whatever your family might be into. Just be sure to remember to save some time to unwind around the campfire for s’mores and stories.
Brenna Hansen is a freelance writer for this publication.