South Holston Reservoir is a showstopper of a lake. The watery oasis sits in the shadow of Holston Mountain and spreads from Tennessee over to the Virginia state line.
It’s just one more outdoor asset in the Mountain Empire that is upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The impoundment stretches 24 miles from its dam to where the lake backs up no more. Construction started in 1942, but World War II intervened. The lake was eventually completed in 1950. Boat ramps and marinas are plentiful, and so is camping. My favorite destination at South Holston is Little Oak Campground.
Lakeside camping is literally a breeze at Little Oak. It is sizable and well laid out, lying atop the remnants of Little Oak Mountain after the Holston River Valley was flooded to create South Holston Lake.
Though large, Little Oak is widely dispersed on four loops that jut into the lake. This arrangement allows for many spacious lakeside sites, and each loop feels like its own little campground. Short paths slope from each lakeside site to the water’s edge. Campers tie up their boats in front of their site, or swim and fish right from shore. There are so many attractive sites from which to choose. This campground was designed for a pleasant camping experience, not just a weigh station for the urban masses to cram into.
This campground is virtually surrounded by the lake, giving it a very aquatic ambience. For a different perspective of the lake, take the Little Oak Mountain Trail. The path leaves the campground near the pay station and makes a jaunt into the woods above the water. For yet another perspective on Little Oak, get out on the lake itself. A boat ramp is conveniently situated between the Hemlock and Poplar loops. Swim, fish or take a pleasure ride up the lake into the state of Virginia.
In East Tennessee, the high country is never far away. Little Oak is near the Flint Mill Scenic Area, which has a broad representation of Southern Appalachian flora and fauna and elevations exceeding 4,000 feet. Turn right out of the campground onto Forest Service Road 87 and drive a short 1.4 miles. The Josiah Trail (Forest Trail No. 50) starts on your left and ascends for 2.2 miles to a saddle on Holston Mountain and Forest Trail No 44.
To your left at 4.3 miles are the Appalachian Trail and the Double Springs Gap backcountry shelter. To your right after 3.4 miles is the Holston Mountain Fire Tower and views aplenty. Flint Mill Trail (FT No. 49) climbs 1 steep mile to Flint Rock and some fantastic views of South Holston Lake. The trail is 2.2 miles on the left beyond the Josiah Trail. You can clearly see the islands of South Holston Lake and even the location of Little Oak Campground. It is my favorite vista spot on Holston Mountain.
To get there from Bristol, take US 421 east for 14 miles. Turn right on Camp Tom Howard Road (FS 87) at signed intersection for Little Oak Campground. Follow FS 87 for 6.5 miles. Turn right on FS 87G. Follow it for 1.5 miles and dead end into Little Oak Recreation Area. For more information, please visit www.fs.usda.gov/cherokee.
Johnny Molloy is the author of several outdoors guidebooks. Visit www.johnnymolloy.com.