Best Spots for Camping in the Fall
Related: Great Fall Escapes
Small Towns We Love
9 Southern Happenings that will Actually Get You Excited for New Year's
People make a lot of fuss about the fall color up in New England. And while those Maine and New Hampshire roads are beautiful, the South can give the North some gorgeous competition. One of our favorite ways to experience fall beauty is on camping trips. Think about it: cooler temperatures are great for daytime hikes and fishing trips; clear skies make stargazing and gathering around the campfire for s’mores and ghost stories a must. Whether you’re an RV-toting type camper or a minimalist still using your great-grandaddy’s tent, we’ve rounded up some of the most beautiful spots across the South to camp. Our only request is that you pack plenty of marshmallows.
Fall Creek Falls, Tennessee
The 26,000 acres of this Tennessee State Park are some of the most-visited in the state. Waterfalls, creeks, gorges, and lush plant life can be explored on over 34 miles of trails. Enjoy the autumn colors as you hike out to take a gander at the 256-foot high Fall Creek Falls, which is one of the tallest waterfalls in the eastern US. The park has a full-service inn, a campground, and backcountry camping is allowed with a permit. A large nature center offers programming led by naturalists, and horse stables offer guided tours. And for those who feel like it, the Park is actually home to an 18-hole golf course.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
From the low elevation of the basin to the heights of the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park is immense and offers a wide range of landscapes to explore. Fall is a good time to go, when the dry heat of summer has passed. Sweeping vistas can be enjoyed by a number of popular day hikes. Birding is another popular activity in the park. For comprehensive park information, download the Paisano, the free guide offered by the National Park Service. One more reason to go in the fall? That big, dark Texas sky is perfect for watching the numerous meteor showers in October and November.
Congaree National Park, South Caorlina
This National Park in South Carolina is known for its hardwood forest system and floodplains, which offer a variety of flora and fauna. The 27,000 acres of Congaree house the largest old-growth hardwood forest left in the South. Explore it through its trails and boardwalks, or canoe on Cedar Creek to enjoy the fall splendor. For those with a curious mind, ranger-led programs are held on Saturdays year-round. Stay in one of two campgrounds in the park for a nominal fee, or camp in the backcountry (fires are not permitted there) for free.
DeSoto State Park, Alabama
Perched atop Lookout Mountain in North Alabama, this State Park offers camping experiences from tents all the way to log cabins. Popular for its waterfalls and wildflowers, the park blazes into bright beauty in the fall. Bring your fly-fishing gear, hiking boots, and best ghost stories. Rent a kayak or canoe and take in the splendor of the fall leaves reflected in the calm waters of DeSoto Falls. Or simply stay in a log cabin, eat at the park’s restaurant, and enjoy the fall color and fresh air.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee
No matter which side of this national treasure you choose to explore, fall is the perfect time to do it. The majestic foliage, the waterfalls, the many camping options–there are more reasons than we have room here to list to visit the park. This is the most biodiverse park in the national system–there are five different forest systems in the park–and the variety of flora and fauna on display are just another reason to visit.
Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Visit this popular Florida spot during fall, when summer crowds have dissipated, but the climate is still temperate. Visitors can rent cabins equipped with screened porches, or bring tents or RVs. The 2,600 acre park on the St.John’s River is a designated manatee sanctuary. Time your visit right (from mid-November all the way to March), and you’ll be able to spot the gentle creatures in the spring’s crystal clear waters. Consider a boat tour, or explore the park on a hiking trail or one of the boardwalks that access the pristine plant communities on display.
Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
The Ozark National forest covers more than a million acres of the Ozark mountains in Arkansas. The Park’s mix of flora makes for a particularly lovely show in the spring, when the dogwoods are blooming and, of course, in the fall, when the park breaks out into riotous oranges, yellows, greens, and reds. With over 230 miles of hiking trails, there is plenty of ground to cover via foot, mountain bike, horseback, or ATV. Canoe or kayak on one of the six rivers designated as “Wild and Scenic” by Congress. Fishing and hunting are also popular activities, with the proper permits. But really, the star here are the leaves. Shoot for late-October for prime leaf-peeping.