Camping is fun, but even more so when you get to do it in one of the most remarkable states in the US: North Carolina.

Only 15 miles away from North Carolina’s popular Tail of the Dragon road lies Lake Santeetlah, one of the most unspoiled lakes in the southern American states. Boasting 76 miles of shoreline and surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest, this lake lies in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains. With that sort of setting, it’ll come as no surprise that camping at Lake Santeetlah is becoming more and more popular each year.

With just about 200 homes and around 50 permanent residents, the surrounding namesake town is as serene and quiet as can be, and acts as the perfect escape from the busy throngs of city life.

But what also makes Lake Santeetlah unique among other tourist destinations in the state is the large number of campgrounds, both paid as well as dispersed, surrounding it. Which is fantastic news if you’re camping enthusiasts like us!

If you are looking for information on the best camping spots in and around Lake Santeetlah, you are in the right place.

That’s because right here we will share with your our favorite Lake Santeetlah campgrounds and show what makes them unique, and what’s close by to each.

We then look at the best time to go camping at Lake Santeetlah, share the rules on dispersed camping at Lake Santeetlah, and give tips on bear safety.

Then lastly we have a free camping game for kids (and fun adults!) that’s perfect for camping in this region. You can find that at the bottom of this article.

But first, here’s our eight favorite campgrounds in and around Lake Santeetlah for fun, views and adventure!

The Best Campgrounds in Lake Santeetlah For Fun, Views & Adventure

1. Cheoah Point Recreation Area

Like waking up to the sound of birds beneath the trees and watching the lake glimmer in the sunlight? Then Cheoah Point is your ideal camping spot.

Located six miles north of Robbinsville near Lake Santeetlah, this campground is cheap, sparsely crowded, and serene. It is seasonal like most Lake Santeetlah campgrounds, opening only from April through to October every year.

The campground itself offers various opportunities for fun. Lake Santeetlah is only a short walk from any of the sites and offers opportunities for non-motorized boating, canoeing, swimming, and jet skiing. You may struggle to get a phone signal here but you won’t struggle for things to do.

Whilst if you walk down the trail across from the campsite, you will come across a fishing spot with an enchanting view of the lake.

About a quarter-mile walk from the electric sites lies Cheoah Point Beach too, which is perfect for a swim. Another plus point is that this is a pet-friendly Lake Santeetlah campground!

Amenities and Facilities

This campground has 23 sites, each of which can accommodate up to 10 guests and 2 vehicles. Six of these are RV sites and provide 15/30/50 amp electrical hookups.

The campsites also have a picnic table and a campfire ring with grills. You can also access shared flush toilets, hot showers, and drinking water.

Don’t have a tent or RV to camp out in? No worries! The grounds also have two cabins, each of which can house up to 6 people. Though there are no electrical outlets inside the cabins, they are equipped with lights and ceiling fans. 

What’s Close By

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Located 12 miles north of the campground, this national park is renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life.

The park has some popular destination trails to Alum Cave, Rainbow Falls, and Chimney Tops. As for camping, the park also offers backcountry, front country, group, as well as horse camps across its grounds in case you want to camp somewhere different.

Santeetlah Dam: A 20 minute walk away from the campground is this pretty dam built on the Cheoah River. 

The Important Info

Rates: Starting at $20 per night

Address: 1373 Thunderbird Mountain Road, Robbinsville, NC 28771

2. Horse Cove Campground

Located near the entrance to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, the Horse Cove Campground has the pretty Little Santeetlah Creek running next to it.

With an abundance of mature hardwoods, spruce trees, and rhododendrons, this campground is known for its natural vibrancy and is the perfect Lake Santeetlah camping option for someone who wants to get back to nature.

The campground is separated into two loops. While it is partially seasonal, six of the 18 campsites laid out near Joyce Kilmer Road are open around the year. The rest of the sites are located along Horse Cove Creek and can house tents as well as mid-sized trailers.

The campground is an ideal spot for fishing, as you may find rainbow trout, brook trout, and brown trout at the end of your hook when fishing at the creek.

Amenities and Facilities 

Each of the campsites is equipped with a picnic table, a fire ring, and a parking pad.

The campground has vault toilets but no trailer dump or hookups. Water is available through spigots as and when the main campground is open. 

What’s Close By

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest Loop Trail: Less than a mile away from the campground lies this two-mile loop trail that begins at the parking lot of Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and leads into Poplar Cove.

Considered an easy hike by many, the trail takes about an hour to complete and crosses the stream in many places.

Avey Branch Boat Ramp: Up for some boating? This boat ramp located less than two miles away from the campground is a great launch site into Lake Santeetlah with plenty of parking spots beside it.

The Important Info

Rates: Starting at $15 per night

Address: 1070 Massey Branch Road, Robbinsville, NC 28771

Lake Santeetlah Camping

Lake Santeetlah campgrounds

3. Rattler Ford Campground

Located a quarter-mile from the entrance of Joyce Kilmer Forest, Rattler Ford is the only group campground surrounding Lake Santeetlah.

Similar to most other campgrounds in the area, this one is also seasonal, opening only from April through October for the year.

With four units that can accommodate up to 25 people each, this is our go-to place for a full family vacation or a getaway with a large group of friends. 

While the large trees and thick forests surrounding the campground offer moderate shade if you want to sit down and watch the water, the open meadows on the campground will also put you in a mood for games with loads of space to play sports.

The Santeetlah Creek that passes by the campground can add to the pleasure of your camping experience too, especially if you are into fly fishing and other water activities.

In addition, the horseshoe pit and volleyball court at this campground also offer scope for fun and games for large groups of people. 

Amenities and Facilities

Each site is equipped with multiple tables, campfire pits, and grills. The campground also has flush toilets, hot showers, and access to drinking water. 

What’s Close By

Cherohala Skyway Landmark: On your way up to Lake Santeetlah, or on your way back, stop at this high elevation landmark less than 2 miles away from the campground. There you’ll get spectacular views of the scenic landscape. 

Stewart Cabin: Set less than six miles away from the campground, this national forest historic landmark is a wonderful photo opportunity, and there’s plenty of dispersed camping options around it too.

The Important Info

Rates: Starting at $75 per campsite per night

Address: 1070 Massey Branch Road, Robbinsville, NC 28771

Lake Santeetlah Camping

Lake Santeetlah campgrounds

4. Simple Life Mountain Retreat and Campground

Camping with a smidge of civilization – that’s how you might describe staying at Simple Life Mountain Retreat and Campground.

A quiet, 15-acre slice of land located minutes away from the Tail of the Dragon, this campground is the largest of its kind near Lake Santeetlah and is ideal for family vacations, camping getaways, and motorcycle adventures. 

While there isn’t much to do inside the campground except sit back beneath the woods and relax, the pristine lakes and giant mountains surrounding it means there is never any scarcity of nature to explore.

Amenities and Facilities

The tent campground can hold up to 30 people and is equipped with picnic tables and firepits. You will also have access to bathhouses with hot showers, firewood, and WiFi.

Whilst the RV camping sites also have full hookups installed for use.

Want air conditioning? Go for the slightly more expensive cabins that have beds and linens to assure you have a comfortable stay.

And if you decide to ride your motorbike to this campground, there are covered parking spots to shelter them overnight. 

What’s Close By

River’s Edge Treehouse Resort: Camping with only the most basic facilities can be tiring. Unwind at this exquisite tree house resort before you go back to your busy lives. Click here to find out more.  

Papa’s Pizza To Go: Craving some good food? Head over to this roadside restaurant less than a mile from the campground which has fantastic pizza and great service.

The Important Info

Rates: Starting at $24 per night

Address: 88 Lower Mountain Creek Road, Robbinsville, NC 28771

Lake Santeetlah Camping

Lake Santeetlah campgrounds

5. Hidden Waters RV Park

If you like falling asleep to the sound of creek water running over and through rocks, Hidden Waters RV Park is the place for you.

This year-round camping park is located along Tulula Creek, 12 miles southeast of Lake Santeetlah.

The park allows you to camp in both tents as well as RVs and houses 12 spacious sites on its grounds. It’s green, forested and pretty. And close to some great fishing spots too, including the creek which is a peaceful place to teach kids how to fish.

Amenities and Facilities

The park has full water, sewer, electric hookups, and shower facilities on the grounds. 

What’s Close By

Nantahala Fly Fishing Co: Walk less than ten minutes to this fly fishing school to learn the tactics of this entertaining outdoor sport in just one day.

Pick from half a day of learning the basics to a full-fledged guided fly fishing trip along the waters of the Great Smoky Mountains. Click here to find out more.

Carolina Outfitters Whitewater Rafting: Just sitting around your RV all day long can be no fun. But travel less than eight miles from this campground and you can experience the challenge and thrill of whitewater rafting. Click here to find out more.

The Important Info

Address: 4509 Tallulah Road, Robbinsville, NC 28771

Lake Santeetlah Camping

Lake Santeetlah campgrounds

6. Stecoah Valley RV Resorts

Open from May through October of every year, this RV park lies along Hyde Town Road in the valleys of the Great Smoky Mountains. Scenic landscapes and awe-inspiring views make Stecoah Valley as good as its competitors.

With less than 10 out of the 70 RV sites open to the public at the time or writing, this campground is never too crowded so the tranquility of the surrounding area is unlikely to get disturbed.

Feel free to dip your feet in Stecoah Creek which passes right by the campground. And guess what? If you happen to fall in love with this place, you can buy a site here to come and go as you please!

Amenities and Facilities

The campground is equipped with water hookups and electric hookups.

There are two picnic shelters if you want to sit out in the shade and cornhole boards if you are up for a game. 

What’s Close By

Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center: From art and craft classes to concerts and harvest festivals, this cultural center always seems to have an event pushing people through its doors every week. Do drop by and take a look as you drive past. Click here to find out more. 

Prince Boat Dock: From pontoon boats to floating cabins, this boat rental less than nine miles away from the resort has everything you need for a day on Fontana Lake. Click here to find out more. 

The Important Info

Rates: Starting at $40 per night

Address: 415 Hyde Town Road, Robbinsville, NC 28771

Lake Santeetlah Camping

Lake Santeetlah campgrounds

7. Fontana Campground

Around 23 miles away from Lake Santeetlah, on the shores of the Little Tennessee River, lies Fontana Campground. With 19 sites for tents, trailers, and RVs of less than 30 feet, this campground overlooks the Fontana Dam which is lit up at night to give a magical view. 

The resort the campground is part of has numerous recreational opportunities such as a mini golf course, a professional disc golf course, sand volleyball, tennis, and basketball courts, cornhole boards, game rooms, and much more. 

Although over 20 miles from Lake Santeetlah, with the views and activities on offer at this campground, it’s definitely one of the best options for Lake Santeetlah camping.

Amenities and Facilities

The campground has picnic tables, fire pits, electric and water hookup sites, and a dump station set some distance off the entrance.

The bathhouse on the grounds has hot showers and bathrooms for all guests. Campers also have full access to all amenities at the Fontana Village Resort which includes a swimming pool, shops, restaurants and bars.

What’s Close By

Shuckstack Fire Tower: Situated six miles north of the campground, this tower offers a fascinating view of the Great Smoky Mountains and Fontana Lake.

The trail to the tower is quite a strenuous hike at 2000 ft elevation on the Appalachian Trail, but it’s well worth the effort.

Tapoco Tavern: On your way out, stop by this restaurant on the banks of Cheoah River for a yummy bite. The carrot cake, tavern burger, and pulled pork here are exceptional. Click here to find out more. 

The Important Info

Rates: Starting at $30 per night

Address: 300 Woods Road, Fontana Dam, NC 28733

Lake Santeetlah Camping

Lake Santeetlah campgrounds

8. Teaberry Hill RV Campground

This family-owned and operated RV campground has 12 sites that sit on six acres of land around 11 miles from Robbinsville near Fontana Lake. Nestled on the side of the Big Elk Knob Mountain peak, the grounds offer a breathtaking view of the sunset.

In fact Teaberry Hill Campground is actually a popular outdoor wedding destination due to the scenic canvas the landscape offers.

This seasonal campground is open from mid-April to October every year and can accommodate big rigs. A few of the sites are situated near creeks, creating a natural environment for you to rest in tranquility.

And unlike other campgrounds in the area you will get live entertainment here! Thursday music evenings are great fun for campers with performances from various local musicians.

Amenities and Facilities

The campground has water and sewer hookups and electric hookups of 30/50 amp.

The sites are pull-through and are equipped with picnic tables and fire rings. The grounds have laundry facilities and means for trash disposal and are wheelchair accessible. 

What’s Close By

Yellow Creek Falls: 16 miles away from the campground lies this scenic waterfall in Nantahala National Forest.

The Falls are a short and moderately easy hike of about one-third of a mile from the highway, and are a real treat for the eyes. 

Fontana Dam: A 20-minute ride away from the campground, the Fontana Dam is the tallest in the eastern US.

Near the dam’s visitor center is a parking area with a picnic pavilion, pier, and overlook that offers an amazing view of Fontana Lake. 

The Important Info

Rates: Starting at $55 per night

Address: 727 Upper Sawyers Creek, Robbinsville, NC 28771

Lake Santeetlah Camping

Lake Santeetlah campgrounds

The Best Time to Camp in Lake Santeetlah

The town of Lake Santeetlah has a little bit of everything. Whilst the town does get an average of 61 inches of rain a year, it also gets 204 sunny days on average. The temperature can be as high as 84 degrees in the summer and as low as 24 in the winter. 

Since spring and fall are never too extreme weather wise in this small town, all of the recreational activities offered during the summer tend to be available in these seasons too, but without the scorching heat of the sun. That often makes these seasons perfect for hiking and fishing.

You can also enjoy the beauty of a winter wonderland as snow transforms the town in the winter. Unfortunately, most of the Lake Santeetlah campgrounds are seasonal and are closed from November through March. Though let’s be honest, winter is not a great time to camp outside anyway.

Of course the weather isn’t the only thing that can dictate when to embark on any Lake Santeetlah camping adventure – regional events can too.

With April comes the Spring Fling and the Smoky Mountain Relay and that’s followed by Robbinsville Township’s Community Festival in June. The annual Appalachian Evening summer concert series is held in June-July, whilst the Annual Fall Harvest Festival at Stecoah Valley Center with its country fair, quilt show, craft, and food sale happens between September and October.

To add to all of that, the Smoky Mountains Farmers and Artisans Market is open on all weekends from May through October. 

So if you want a Lake Santeetlah camping holiday that incorporates a bit of local culture as well as nature, why not tie in your trip with one of the events above.

Dispersed Camping at Lake Santeetlah: Everything You Need to Know!

Developed campgrounds can seem a little limiting, especially if you have a dog that doesn’t want to be kept on a leash over the entire weekend.

Luckily though, the land surrounding Lake Santeetlah has one of the largest numbers of primitive camping sites in the state!

But there still are a few rules and regulations you need to stick to if you want to camp in these rustic campsites.

  • Primitive dispersed camping is allowed anywhere except in developed campgrounds, day-use areas, and any space with a “No Camping” board.

  • Dispersed camping is allowed only for a maximum period of 14 days within a consecutive 28 day period.

  • After 14 days, the camper(s) must move outside of a 25-mile radius of the previous site. This rule prevents the destruction of sensitive resources by people occupying the same space continuously.

  • Make sure to only use dead and down wood while making campfires. Restrain from bringing wood from outside the area so as to protect from invasive plants and insects.  

Here are some of the most popular primitive campsites around Lake Santeetlah:

  1. Long Hungry FDR #2586 
  2. Joyce Kilmer Road NCSR #1134
  3. Pine Ridge Road NCSR #1147
  4. Panther Creek FDR #2604B
  5. Santeetlah Creek FDR #81
  6. Wolf Laurel Hunter’s Camp FDR #81F

Lake Santeetlah Camping: Bear Safety Tips

Like many areas of the U.S., there are a few bears roaming around Lake Santeetlah, and there have been bear sightings in recent years.

While encounters are extremely rare, you must take steps to avoid attracting bears to your campsite. 

With that being the case we advise:

  • If you have a vehicle nearby, store food there rather than in a tent.
  • Use a bear box or bear canister to store food, rubbish, and anything with a scent.
  • Don’t pitch your tent near where food is being stored.
  • Never approach any bear, regardless of its size.
  • Don’t spray anything with a scent – that can attract bears.

Lake Santeetlah Camping: Scavenger Hunt Game!

If you’re looking to keep kids amused while camping at Lake Santeetlah – or you fancy having some fun for yourself – then we’ve created a printable scavenger hunt game!

Download it (right click on the image and save) and print it out, then tick off what you find and achieve during your camping holiday.

The game encourages players to get out and discover wildlife and nature, as well as make new friends and do fun camping activities. Enjoy!