Updated: May 24
Update: As of May 2023, Camp Mountain Lake Retreat has been sold to new owners who have updated the property to a brighter, more colorful retreat. The camp has reopened under the new name Camp Swann. You can follow their journey on Instagram at @campswann.
We are out-of-the-house people, so last fall, after six months of being cooped up for COVID, we were itching to get out, somewhere—anywhere!
When Alyssa found the cabins at Camp Mountain Lake Retreat on AirBnB, it checked all the boxes.
Way out of town? Yup.
Outdoorsy but not a Naked-And-Afraid level of roughing it? Yup.
Pet friendly? Bingo.
We packed up the dogs and the camping gear and hit the road for a four-day stay. We met some friends there who stayed at an adjacent cabin. This would be the perfect spot for a friend retreat or a multi-family trip because everyone can have their own space.
Inside, the cabin came complete with the bare necessities. Basic electricity-powered lights, a microwave, coffee pot, mini-fridge, and a comfy bed. The kitchenette also included a basic set of dishes and utensils, as well as a sink to wash them in.
The cabin didn’t have a stove, but I set my camp stove up on the rail outside and cooked everything out of a cast iron pan—glamping by my standards!
The cabins are situated around a big stone firepit with built-in seating, and we got to know a few other visitors cooking smores over the flames the first night. Camp Mountain Lake Retreat is literally just a few minutes from town, but it feels totally secluded inside the camp gates.
Immediately upon getting unpacked, we set out for a brief hike. I mean, you can literally step out of your cabin and onto a hiking trail at Camp Mountain Lake Retreat. The dreary October chill made for perfect walking weather, and we spent that first afternoon wandering over bridges at Grundy Lakes and ooh-ing at the coke ovens, where coal was made for use in blast furnaces in the creation of iron and steel.
As luck would have it, rain set in our first full day there, but we worked around it and darted out for a few two-mile hikes when we could. We managed to hike the Stone Door and Greeter Falls, both no more than a couple of miles. As far as toughness goes, they were pretty easy hikes, the stellar views remarkably easy to come by.
After a long day of hiking, or if the rain kept us indoors, we kept ourselves busy with books and games (this was at the height of Among Us madness!). One day, we took a drive up to Sewannee to take a look at the beautiful college campus there.
My rating: five out of five stars. Camp Mountain Lake Retreat was a truly unique place to stay, and the area is fun to drive around and explore. Hiking is ample. Great getaway, hardly a big box store or chain restaurant in sight.
Who is This Trip for?
You have a kid who is minimally outdoorsy. Camp Mountain Lake Retreat gives you the best parts of camping -- the fire, the hiking, the wilderness -- but also a refuge to come back to with power and a shower and a killer pizza place just down the street (Hank’s Corner).
You have a large party. If you want to share an experience with friends without sharing a house, Camp Mountain Lake Retreat is perfect. Different parties can have their own cabins and there is plenty of communal space on the campgrounds.
You love to hike. There are dozens of trails for hikers of all levels right next door at South Cumberland State Park. We didn’t go this trip, but the Fiery Gizzard is one of the coolest (and most rigorous) trails I’ve ever hiked. Lots of waterfalls, too.
You need to get away from it all. Cell service is delightfully spotty in Camp Mountain Lake Retreat. It is set far away from heavy traffic. There’s no TV in the cabin. Even venturing into town, you get the vibe of being secluded in a slow-paced mountain town.
You like beer. I wouldn’t call myself a beer enthusiast, but every grocery store seemed to have the widest array of local craft beers. It was fun to try a few brews I’d never heard of, and I even brought some back home with me.
This trip isn’t for you if:
You don’t like roughing it at all. Showers were in another building, but they weren’t inconvenient to access. There’s no plumbing in the cabins. Toilets are compostable toilets, which are actually not gross or stinky.
You need screen time.
You’re looking for a poppin’ nightlife scene.