Little Oak Recreation Area -- South Holston Lake
Endless flatwater paddling exploration potential and backcountry camping aplenty are predominant features on the backside of South Holston Reservoir.
There aren't really any bad places to go canoeing or kayaking on this lake. Nowhere on Lake SoHo are the views just so-so. But an out-of-the-way recreation area carved into a remote peninsula wrapped in the Cherokee National Forest could lay legitimate claim to being the best.
You do like idyllic, don't you?
Little Oak Recreation Area on the eastern shore of South Holston Lake in Sullivan County, Tennessee launches boaters immediately into the vicinity of irrepressible mountain enchantment.
Pick a direction and start paddling. Quickly you'll find yourself enveloped in beauty and serenity. More or less limitless is the array of courses you can float to find unique perspectives on the diverse and dizzying landscape.
There is beauty here capable of melting away anyone's inability to experience awe.
Saddle up your boat, then ride it off into a sunset -- or a sunrise. The scenery's embrace will reflexively strike up your sense of wonder.
A little bit of extra drive-time investment goes a long way at Little Oak. And there’s nothing ugly about the drive anyway, whichever way you take to get there. It’s 40 minutes from Bristol and a little over an hour from Johnson City or Kingsport, and a little less than an hour from Mountain City.
This destination is out there a ways, but that’s a big part of what makes the place special. Weather permitting, once you arrive you’re not going to wish you were anyplace else.
Little Oak doesn’t get much powerboat launching use because just about every other boat ramp on the lake is quicker and easier to get to. A blacktop forest service road wending its way to Little Oak is of good quality, but expect no shortage of twists and curves as you’re enveloped by the curvaceous folds of backcountry topography.
The U.S. Forest Service recreation area gets its name from the mountain on which it sits. When the lake was formed in 1950 the new reservoir’s waters turned Little Oak Mountain into a complex peninsula inundated with secluded coves and magnificent panoramas.
A hydroelectric reservoir managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, South Holston Lake covers 7,580-acres and laps up against Holston Mountain, which is connected to the Iron Mountains, a historically significant and recreationally captivating subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The lake pool reaches back 24 miles into the river valley behind South Holston Dam. The Tennessee-Virginia state line bisects the lake and is located about seven miles above the dam, and about three miles above the HWY 421 bridge.
Little Oak Campground tends to earn accolades from boondock-seeking campers looking to launch a waterborne foray into the Appalachian outback.
Little Oak Campground: $12
Undeveloped backcountry shoreline campsites: FREE
Little Oak Campground consists of 69 primitive, universally accessible RV and tent campsites arrayed along four paved loop roads. Many of the sites are located on the water or boast panoramic lakefront views.
Centralized vault toilet buildings serve each of the loops. An eight-shower bathhouse serves the campground. A boat launch area also within the campground also offers a single vault toilet.
In addition, there are free backcountry campsites in virtually every direction dotting the South Holston Lake shores around Little Oak. These are boat-in accessible only and they are secured on a first-come-first serve basis. If you're looking to find a campsite in a peak season on a weekend you might want to plan on hitting the water earlier rather than later on Friday afternoon. During the week you should have your pick of the litter -- and speaking of which, be sure to pick yours up before you leave because this is obviously a pack-it-in-pack-it out kind of situation.
Note: This is bear country, so take the necessary precautions with food and refuse.