Summer heat bringing you down? I’ve got the perfect antidote. Its nearby and it doesn’t cost much. Rock Creek Campground will cool you off, get your head right and maybe bring back memories of your childhood. Back in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps developed the area as a showcase of the Cherokee National Forest.
What a fine area they had to start with. The national forest is fraught with tall timberland and clear mountain streams that nestle against the backbone of the Unaka Mountains. Of course, the Forest Service has improved and maintained the area since the days of the CCC. But the old-time feel remains, as well as most of the original infrastructure. Today, as then, we can camp in the cool, shady cove of Rock Creek.
Mother Nature landscaped the campground well, with tall hardwoods looming over a thick understory of moss, ferns, rhododendron and small trees amid gray boulders. Rock Creek Campground has a deepwoods feel. The farther back you go in the cove, the more this is evident. The white noise of Rock Creek is your constant companion here.
Loop A has 10 sites, each with a parking area large enough to accommodate an RV. Loop B has 11 sites, including 3 double sites. Loops A and B both offer electrical hookups and share a modern bathhouse with flush toilets and warm showers. Loop C is located farthest back in the cove, against a steep hill. It has a very thick understory for maximum privacy. The 13 sites are ideally suited for tent campers. Farther up from Loop C are four walk-in tent sites.
One of the most intriguing features of Rock Creek Recreation Area is the swimming pool. A vestige of the CCC’s efforts, the pool is a concrete-and-rock-lined basin of clear stream water lying behind a small dam. A creek runs into the head of the pool, which is circled by a walkway. Trout will be swimming with you. The Rock Creek Trail parallels its namesake, passing small waterfalls in a classic, deeply wooded mountain stream. A bathhouse with changing rooms, restrooms and showers for each gender is nearby. Come for a swim during your visit; frolicking youngsters will be splashing about and having fun.
Maybe you should save your swim until after a scenic hike in the Unaka Mountain Wilderness that borders the campground. Leave your vehicle at the campsite and depart directly from the campground. The Rattlesnake Ridge Trail climbs east for 3 miles to the Pleasant Garden Overlook at 4,800 feet. And it is a climb.
At the base of Unaka Mountain is Rock Creek Falls. The Rock Creek Trail leads up a gorge. A few creek crossings later, the falls’ multiple descents appear beneath the forest canopy. Splashing water sounds echo off the stone cathedral surrounding the falls. This hike is 2.3 miles one way. Other short hikes emanate from the campground. Take the 0.4-mile Hemlock Forest Trail Loop and learn about this important component of the Southern Appalachian woodlands. Then, walk the 0.2-mile Trail of the Hardwoods Loop for comparison’s sake.
Bicyclists have the 0.8-mile Rock Creek Bicycle Trail to enjoy as well. For any supplies you may need, Erwin is a short drive away. However, it feels like civilization is light years away at Rock Creek Campground and the Unaka Wilderness.