More Thousand Trails Fails: Tennessee

As we’ve mentioned previously, not all Thousand Trails campgrounds are created equal. Our standards are not too high, especially when we’re not paying more than our membership fees to stay there, but even we have limits.

There are two Thousand Trails campgrounds in Tennessee: Cherokee Landing and Natchez Trace. We stayed at both, and while neither is a place we would particularly recommend, the first moved to top of our list of places to avoid. Here’s what you should know if you’re planning to visit Tennessee and stay in the Thousand Trails network.

Cherokee Landing

This nearly abandoned piece of property in southwestern Tennessee along the Mississippi border is in need of some serious TLC. According to their website, Cherokee Landing “truly has it all” but we seem to fundamentally disagree on the meaning of that phrase.

We arrived in the late afternoon, after deciding not to break up the drive from Hot Springs with an en route overnight stop but to just push through a long driving day and get there in one day. What greeted us after our long day was a locked gate, no one in the gatehouse, and though we were clearly within the check-in hours, no one answering the call phone to let us in. Eventually we were able to find an employee, but not before our kids started to lose it a little after too many hours in the car. This was our first indication that customer service might be more than a little lacking.

The website also invites visitors to “get off the beaten path” which may just be the truest thing on the whole site. Not only is it miles and miles away from anything, like civilization or a cell tower, but an actual beaten path would have been easier to drive on than the road that awaited us once we finally got past the gate. One would anticipate that an RV campground would have a certain understanding for the kind of road surface that is most convenient for an RV to drive on, or at the very least avoid a surface that empties the contents of your closets onto the floor and stirs them around a bit. Sadly, this assumption leaves you staring at your belongings in one large pile and wondering if it’s worth sorting it all out when you will soon be exiting back out the same road.

Because exit again was what we wanted to do. Some of the sites were passable, but most tested the limits of understanding. The numbered electric posts (when you could see them and they weren’t behind a tree or over a small cliff) were the only ways of recognizing most of the “sites” as there was no discernible prepared, or even remotely flat, surface. We found a site that felt okay and set up for the night. The second order of business was to change our reservation.

We had a somewhat pressing matter to take care of, and since we hadn’t had phone reception for the last hour of the drive, we asked at check-in about internet access. There was wifi available in the lodge. What she didn’t say is that the lodge is kept locked, even during the day, which is highly unusual. I waited nearly an hour for someone to come and unlock it for me.

Had we come earlier in the day, had we not already had such a long day, had there been anything else available in the vicinity, we would not have stayed even one night. As it was, we were tired and hungry. We made dinner and took a walk around the campground to stretch our legs after sitting in the car all day. Our opinion of the campground did not improve by seeing more of it. We could count our fellow guests with our fingers, and wondered how many others had come early enough to leave and go somewhere else.

Unfortunately, when the conditions are this bad, it’s difficult to get enough guests to be able to afford to make the needed improvements. I’m not sure what it’ll take to turn things around, but I’m not willing to hang around with my kids in substandard conditions to try to help. If they can’t fix things to a reasonable standard, they should probably just close the campground.

Tennessee Thousand Trails

The only picture we took at Cherokee Landing – mostly to capture Staffan’s efforts at receiving the wifi signal from the lodge. But the state of that grill is a pretty good indication of the overall quality.

Natchez Trace

After what we left behind, it wasn’t hard for any campground to be better in comparison. And Natchez Trace was much better. Still on the lower end of the Thousand Trails spectrum, in my opinion, but perfectly adequate.

The campground is just off of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which is maintained by the National Park Service. The parkway is a scenic drive through three states with a lot of recreational activities all along it. It sounded perfect – except when we got there most of the parkway in the area of our campground was closed for repairs, and therefore there was no access road to any of the trails we had hoped to explore.

A disadvantage to the campground being so close to the Natchez Trace Parkway is clearance. When you exit the parkway toward the campground, there is an overpass with only 11 feet of clearance. We were told that there was a bypass in the dirt on the side of the road, but with no official height marking, driving into the ditch on the side didn’t seem worth the risk. We got out the map and began looking for routes around, which there are, but they’re far and we were running low on gas. Our plan, since we were so close to the campground, was to leave the camper and head back out for gas and other errands. Suddenly a 20 mile unexpected detour turned much longer as we searched for a town with a gas station, which took us even further off our route. The campground’s website has a directions page that addresses this obviously common clearance problem, so if you’re headed there, be prepared.

We spent three nights at this hilly campground. Honestly, I have never seen such steep roads in a place designed for large vehicles and trailers. I would not want to navigate that area in the winter. It’s also very spread out, so there weren’t too many good opportunities to take walks around the campground and doing laundry meant loading it all in the car and driving to the laundry room.

Tennessee Thousand Trails

Not a bad site, all things considered.

 

Tennessee Thousand Trails

The playground wasn’t too bad either!

Nearby, along the Natchez Trace Parkway, is the death and burial site of Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame). Again, the National Park office was closed and so we weren’t able to stamp our national park passports or learn very much about the area, but we could see the monument at his grave site and read more about the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death.

Natchez Trace Parkway

 

So overall, our trip through Tennessee turned out to be a series of failures and misadventures. At least we were able to take a few days to catch up on school and laundry and errands. From the kids’ perspective, a trip to Pizza Hut was an easy remedy for a week full of frustrations.

And so, loaded with groceries, clean laundry, and leftover pizza, we shook the dust off our feet and continued our journey to the north and east. Next stop: Mammoth Cave!

 

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