Our Dry Camping (or Boondocking if you will) adventures this Spring have been taking us down some interesting roads to beautiful spots in the middle of nowhere. But often cell signal has been weak, and the nearest town may be 45 minutes away or a town may be too small to get supplies. But we struck gold at Meriwether Lewis National Monument Campground near the town of Hohenwald, Tennessee. Find out why this is one of the best free campgrounds in Tennessee.
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Meriwether Lewis National Monument is located in Hohenwald, Tennessee. The park is roughly 1.5 hours South West of Nashville. The roads leading to the campground are well paved, but in very rural Tennessee. Stay alert, there is a wonderful bridge that won’t allow anything other than a car or short van to pass. We didn’t have any issues getting there in our own 26ft travel trailer and large Ford truck.
The roads and campground can accommodate RVs as large as 45 feet. We had friends meet us with a very larger diesel pusher Class A and they had no issues finding a spot.
National Park Service
This is Tennessee National Parks Camping!!
The Meriwether Lewis National Monument sits on the Tennessee portion of the Natchez Trace managed by the National Park Service. The grounds, trails, facilities, and campsite are kept in impeccable condition by the dedicated staff. There is an information center (Open Friday – Sunday) where you can learn about the Natchez Trace and Meriwether Lewis, one of America’s great explorers.
Being part of the National Park Service really gives you a strong feeling of security and competence to the dry camping experience.
Remarkably though, the campground is FREE and no advance reservations are needed. Accommodations are on a first-come-first-served basis. If you pull up and see an open spot, you can take it whether you are in a tent, trailer, motorhome, van, or skoolie.
Meriwether Lewis Campground allows for a maximum of 14 consecutive days, and a total of 30 days of camping per year.
Oh, and yes, you can use your generator until quiet time. But you’ll feel guilty like we did every time we ran it.
Although this campground does not have any amenities, it is very kid-friendly. The campsites themselves are large with a picnic table and room to play. Depending on the site you pick, the land may slope down the mountain, so kids need to be made aware of drop-offs and watched.
There is a hiking path down to a wonderful shallow stream with plenty of space for play and picnicking. More about this in the “Hiking and Streams” section below.
If you are Roadschooling with your kids, there are plenty of opportunities to learn about nature, consumption of resources (hello dry camping), and history.
Find books about Lewis & Clark HERE.
Find books about Natchez Trace HERE.
Paved, Level Sites
Dry Camping often means bumpy roads, strange directions, and questionable sites. Meriwether Lewis Campground, however, is quite the opposite. The monument and campground are easy to reach by major roads so your GPS/iPhone/Android won’t let you down.
The campground consists of 32 sites in two loops, with most of them being pull-throughs (no worries about backing in) in little turnouts from the loop roads.
All sites are asphalt and quite level (not perfect, but good).
There is also 1 ADA accessible site on a concrete pad located by the toilets.
Sites do not have water, sewer, or electricity. We are dry camping after all aren’t we?
If you are like us, however, you’ll start to fantasize about being a campground host here… the 1 host site has water, sewer, and electricity.
A note: our Verizon Hotspot received adequate signal to be able to browse the internet and easily watch Netflix at a low data level (we did not sample Netflix at an HD level).
They Have Toilets, NOT Port-a-Potties!
These are the mintiest smelling toilets you’ll ever experience while Dry Camping. Seriously.
The toilets at the campground, by Swann Creek, and at the entrance are super clean and smell great. You’ll feel bad violating the airspace taking care of business. No worries though. They’ll be minty again soon enough.
These full flush toilets, plumbing, and warm air hand dryers are open around the clock for when you have need of civilization.
Additionally, there are a couple of electrical outlets too, so if you’re desperate, you can charge up your cell phone in your hour of need…
Things to do
Most Dry Camping sites we’ve been to have had access to hiking, but the low utilization of the trails and campgrounds have made us feel a little hesitant to go out on a hike.
Meriwether Lewis Campground, however, has well-trod, but clean and inviting trails in two loops in addition to the Old Natchez Trace foot trail running through the park.
Our children had a great time completing a scavenger hunt from the campground down to Swann Creek and back up along the road.
Little Swann Creek
We also had the opportunity to go for a chilly dip in Little Swann Creek. Recent rains had the creek running full and a few spots near the parking lot at Little Swann Creek were close to three feet deep. Enough to swim about a bit with the fish and crayfish. This was definitely an unexpected treat and a big highlight of our stay for us and the kids!
The area around the creek also has plenty of picnic tables and grills, ready for a wonderful picnic and afternoon enjoying the great outdoors.
Meriwether Lewis Exhibits
While camping out, make sure to explore the historical exhibits detailing Meriwether Lewis’ last days on Natchez Trace. The monument itself is located at milepost 385.9 and nearby, a cabin with interpretive displays about the man and his adventures.
Dry Camping, but there is Drinking Water.
Meriwether Lewis Campground has two freshwater lines that you could pull up to (or walk to) and hook up your hose or gallon jug.
We ran dry on freshwater towards the end of day 3 as is normal for us, and it was a great relief to be able to go for a short walk to a spigot and grab some water for handwashing, dishwashing and helping out with the toilet flushing.
Mind you, you still have to find somewhere to dump your grey and black water. But if you need freshwater, it is there!
One water line is located between the two loops on the entrance/exit road, and the second is located near the toilets and the host site of the campground.
Meet Amazing Campers
We have been to many east coast campgrounds. In Tennessee though, we were surprised by the kaleidoscope of very nice campers that we met.
There was an experienced couple from Germany who has been adventuring in their Class C through Central America apart from their RVing in Europe. You can visit their blog here. It’s in German, but Google does a great job translating!
We also met two sets of Quebecois who make it a lifestyle to travel together in the lower 48 states year after year.
Then we met tent campers, both young and old making their way through life enjoying their adventures.
And we will never forget the soil scientist, the artist, and the many other great people enjoying what Meriwether Lewis Campground and National Monument have to offer.
If you get the opportunity, go to this campground. It is one of the best free campgrounds in Tennessee.
If you would like to know more about Boondocking, check out our RV Boondocking posts here.