Lakeside camping is a breeze at Little Oak over in Sullivan County on South Holston Lake. Part of the Cherokee National Forest, the camp 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. There are so many attractive sites from which to choose. This campground was designed for a pleasant camping experience, not just a way station into which the urban masses cram. On my last trip, we drove each loop numerous times — seeing one ideal site and then seeing an even better one — we were sure other campers were going to turn in our license plate to a ranger.
Water spigots, flush toilets and hot showers are part of the camping experience at Little Oak. Just beyond the pay station is the Hemlock Loop. It contains 14 sites nestled beneath a thick stand of hemlock trees. Lone Pine Loop is for those who prefer sunny sites. Two small fields lie adjacent to the loop and allow more light into the camping areas. Only the north end of the loop has lakeside sites.
Big Oak Loop has lakeside 16 sites and is located on a spit of hardwoods and evergreens that juts north into the lake. The view from Big Oak Loop into South Holston Lake is my personal favorite. Poplar Loop is the largest loop with 23 sites facing west and south into the lake.
Our group finally settled on Big Oak Loop. After setting up camp, we watched the sun turn into a red ball of fire over South Holston Lake. Gentle waves lapped at our feet as we sat along the shoreline, then took a dusky dip.
Campers often bring their own boats. 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 Upper 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 #50) starts on your left and ascends for 2.2 miles to a saddle on Holston Mountain and Forest Trail #44. To your left at 4.3 miles is the Appalachian Trail and the Double Springs Gap backcountry shelter.
Flint Mill Trail (FT #49) climbs one very steep mile to Flint Rock and some fantastic views of South Holston Lake. Drive 2.2 miles past the Josiah Trailhead on FR 87 to reach the Flint Mill Trailhead.
To reach Little Oak 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.