Over Memorial Day weekend, I got the opportunity to camp at the Dale Hollow Dam Campsite in Celina, TN. We had a great time, and it’s just the first of several camping trips we have planned for this year. I figured I’d write a little review of our experience camping there, along with some pros and cons of the campground.
What Happened and What We Did
We arrived at 3 PM on Friday and set up camp, but it was hot… like, crazy 90 degrees hot. The sun was beating down on us as we set up our 12-person tent without any tree coverage, and because it has been a year since we set it up, we had to look over the directions again. After we got it up (without the rain fly), we decided to drive to the local Dollar General to get some air conditioning and some frozen fruit pops so we could cool down. Best decision ever. We inhaled the fruit pops (and orange soda) and returned to camp to finish setting up. Turns out, we made it back just in time.
When we made it back, Glenn looked behind us over the river and said “get the rain fly!” I looked up, and sure enough, a massive, severe thunder storm was headed straight for us. We got the rain fly on just in time for the storm to beat down on us, but unfortunately the storm was a lot stronger than we expected.
We could feel the wind blowing up under the tent, lightning and thunder, and we were scared. One side of the tent completely lifted up (tent stakes ripped out of the ground) and we had to get out and run to the car before the whole thing came down on top of us. Zoey was screaming and crying, I was hurting from the tent frame hitting me in the back, and we were completely drenched. My car keys were left in my purse… in the tent. So we were in the car without any air, it was foggy, hot, and straight out of Jurassic Park. I half expected a t-rex to come across the river.
When we were in the car, it was raining so hard, I couldn’t see if the tent was still up. I was thinking through how I was going to get my purse back. Luckily, our tent did NOT completely blow away like we expected, and only half of it had come down. When the storm was over, we set it back up and double staked it, just in case… but the ground was so saturated, we were able to put the stakes in the ground with our hands. Good news is because we had the rain fly on just in time, the tent didn’t flood. It just got a little wet on the one side that blew up, but nothing a towel couldn’t clean up. Also, the fact that we made it back from Dollar General in time… that could have been sooo bad if we were still gone because the rain fly wasn’t on when we left. Had we already set up all our stuff and weighed down the floor, I don’t think the tent would have blown up like that, but because nothing was in it but a couple of bags and ourselves, the storm about destroyed it.
After this incident, I stared at the radar on my phone the rest of the weekend, but luckily we didn’t have any more issues with storms. The rain that pounded Celina on Saturday stayed west of Dale Hollow the entire weekend.
The rest of the weekend we played by ear. We took the kids to one of the playgrounds to play quite a bit, we took part of a trail down to the river so the kids could wade in the water, we took walks, we sat around until 1 AM and drank coffee (lots and lots of coffee), we drove to the dam, we went swimming at Dale Hollow Lake and walked across the swinging suspension bridge (scared me to death), and just enjoyed being outside and together as family and friends. We cooked good food and enjoyed the scenery. It was a nice camping trip!
- Riverfront Camping Available. We got a nice campsite on the Obey River. Although I wish it had some more trees – I think we got the ONE site without any trees. It was hot! It was neat to see the fog roll in on the river, and really nice to feel the cold air blow in off the river onto our campsite. Nature’s air conditioning.
- Clean Bathrooms and Hot Showers. Overall, the bathrooms were pretty clean. If campers would just clean up after themselves and be respectful, they could have been cleaner, but the staff did a good job of keeping up with them. There was just one night that the bathrooms were incredibly low on toilet paper, but this is why it’s good to carry your own in a little bag! As for the showers, I only used them once the whole trip and it was nice. I’m not prissy when it comes to camping, so I’m good to shower just once on a trip like this. We arrived on Friday and I had showered that morning, so I didn’t shower on site until Sunday, then waited until we got home on Monday to shower again.
- Slow-Moving River. The Obey River moves sooo slow, so it was nice to let the kids wade in it a little bit and not worry about them being swept away by a currant.
- Nice Playgrounds. We spent a lot of time taking the kids to one of the playgrounds and it was pretty nice. The pavilion by the playground is awesome and has one heck of an amazing outdoor stove! I’d love to rent that thing sometime and have a party over there.
- Quick Responding Local Police/Ranger. This may not sound like a pro, considering we had to call the cops at 1 AM on some shady shirtless dudes who were driving the wrong direction through the campgrounds and looked drunk… I was terrified they were going to drive right into our tent, because when they stopped and asked me for a cell phone (to which I promptly said no), they were so out of it. Not even 3 minutes after we called, 2 officers and the ranger were there and they took those people down quietly, so I don’t even think anyone else on the campground knew what was going on. We found out later that drugs were involved, and we were told we did a good thing by calling the police. So local police are quick, friendly, and responsive… and after the shenanigans, they made their presence known the rest of the weekend, which made me feel even safer.
- Quick Drive to Dale Hollow Dam/Lake and Pleasant Grove + Free Life Jackets. We took a drive to Dale Hollow Dam/Lake and Pleasant Grove to swim and check out the swinging suspension bridge, and it was an easy, very beautiful drive. The awesome thing is life jackets are free to borrow, so we didn’t have to pack any with us or rent them like we expected. It was only $5 to park at Pleasant Grove, so for 6 of us, it was obviously cheap entertainment. The swinging bridge is cool to look at, but I’m perfectly content to never step foot on it again. I realized that I don’t do swinging bridges…
- No Camp Store = Offsite Firewood. We had to drive offsite to get firewood, which honestly wasn’t too bad, but it’s more convenient to have it on site like we’ve had at other places we’ve camped. We came across a local “honor system” wood pile where you put $5 into this metal tin for a big bag of wood. Word of advice: do NOT get this wood for 2 reasons: 1. It smells like dog poo. Literally. 2. It is cut so poorly (large blocks) and is so dense, it won’t burn well. It takes forever to light. Once it gets going, it burns forever, but the time it takes to get it started is simply not worth it. If you carry a decent ax with you when you camp, then by all means, get the stinky dog poo wood. But if you don’t, and would rather not smell dog poo, then drive to the local Citgo and get the good stuff for $3.99/bundle.
- Broken Grill. I reported our broken grill to the front desk only to be told they already knew about it before we came… and clearly didn’t think fixing it for a busy holiday weekend was necessary. Luckily, we had a propane camp stove and didn’t have to rely on the grill for all of our food, but I wasn’t pleased with the response I received when I reported it. The one time we did grill, we just used the grill grate on the fire pit. But I have to say, I would have enjoyed using the grill more if it wasn’t on the ground. We had more items we could have grilled, but we didn’t.
- Unfriendly Trail. The “trail” on the river isn’t kept up at all. It’s narrow, covered in poisonous plants, and just not what you expect for a trail on a campground that is known to be family friendly. Even some elderly people we met were too afraid to go on the trail because of what they saw. The direction between our campsite and the docks was fine, but it’s not very long. The other direction is out of control. We started down it and then I panicked because of all of the dangers I noticed, so we turned right back around and avoided it. It was narrow, severely overgrown, and not for small children unless they are dressed in jeans, closed-toe shoes, and a hoodie. Since it was 90 degrees out, we were in shorts and tank tops.
My experience camping at Dale Hollow was a good one, and I’d definitely go back. However, I’ll make sure we get a site with tree coverage next time, and will maybe bring something to cut down the river trail path a little better. I’d also like to try a little paddle boat on the river. We didn’t fish, but it seems like a great place to fish, so I’d want to do that next time as well and maybe cook up some fish for dinner one night.
If you’ve been to Dale Hollow for camping, what was your experience like?