5 Great Early-Spring Camping Destinations

It may still be cold up north, but these five camping destinations are already warm and awaiting your arrival. 

By Kraig Becker

5 Great Early-Spring Camping Destinations
Photograph Courtesy NPS

Spring may be just around the corner, but many parts of the country are only now starting to thaw out from a long, cold winter. If you’re looking to escape the frigid weather and get an early jump on the camping season, we have some suggestions on just where to pitch your tent. So, dust off your boots, grab a sleeping bag, and head out to one of these warm-weather destinations for a great spring getaway.

1. Cleveland National Forest (California)

Photograph Courtesy U.S. Forest Service

San Diego is always a great destination for those looking for a warm weather escape, and thankfully you don’t have to travel too far out of the city to find some great places to go camping. In fact, you only need to drive about 30 miles to reach the Cleveland National Forest, which offers some excellent remote campsites for backpackers to enjoy, as well as nearby cabins for those who prefer a less-primitive option. Permits are required, of course, and it can get busy in the spring, so be sure to reserve your spot well in advance.

While you’re in the area, be sure to hike the 6.6-mile Cedar Creek Falls trail. This moderately-strenuous trek offers an impressive payoff in the form of a spectacular 80-foot tall waterfall, which is at its highest flow in the springtime, before it all-but disappears during the summer months.

2. Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)

Photograph by Kraig Becker

Located a short drive outside of Las Vegas, the Valley of Fire State Park offers some of the most dramatic landscapes that the state of Nevada has to offer. The 40,000-acre park derives its name from the flame-red sandstone towers and walls that stand in sharp contrast to the gray-and-tan limestone cliffs that are common throughout the region. The park is also home to a number of petrified trees, as well as an array of ancient petroglyphs that were imprinted on the rocks by Native Americans more than 2000 years ago. 

The Valley of Fire is comfortably warm throughout the spring, making it an excellent location to wait out the last days of winter. It features two campgrounds with as many as 72 campsites, which are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Backpackers will most appreciate the Arch Rock campsite when it comes time to settle in for the night.

Quick tip: Staying hydrated while outdoors is critical, especially at many of the destinations mentioned here where temperatures can be warm, and water may be in short supply. Camelbak has a cool hydration calculator that allows you to input a variety of variables to determine exactly how much water you should be drinking to stay properly hydrated.

3. Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Photograph Courtesy NPS/Cookie Ballou

Early spring is one of the best times to visit Big Bend National Park, as the hot Texas summer tends to arrive early and linger well into the autumn. Big Bend is a massive wilderness area that offers visitors unprecedented solitude and tranquility, not to mention some of the best views this side of the Rio Grande. If you’re looking to truly get away from it all, this is the destination for you.

The park offers a number of primitive campsites located deep in the backcountry, and permits are required for their use. Hike and camp the Chisos Mountain Trail to take in the epic landscapes that Big Bend is famous for or wander deep into the desert where the night sky will reveal more stars than you’ve ever imagined. Just be sure to bring plenty of water, because even in the spring it can be in short supply.

4. Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

Photograph Courtesy NPS

Home to one of the oldest hardwood forests in all of North America, Congaree National Park is among the best wilderness areas in the entire South. Visitors can explore the park on foot or by canoe and kayak, making this one of the more unique camping destinations in any season. The park has two designated campsites in the frontcountry that require reservations prior to arrival, but the backcountry is wide open. Permits are still required, and campsites must be at least 100 feet from major water sources, but beyond that backpackers are free to pitch their tents virtually anywhere. 

The 10-mile-long River Trail and 12-mile Kingsnake Trail are two popular backpacking routes that offer scenic views and easy hiking. But be aware that the entire park sits in a floodplain, so be sure to check the local weather forecast before setting out to avoid any sudden rises in water levels.

5. Cayo Costa State Park (Florida)

Photograph Courtesy Florida State Parks Department

Sunny Florida always offers a welcome respite from the cold weather and there are few better places to camp than in Cayo Costa State Park. Situated on a barrier island along the Gulf Coast, the park requires visitors to come by private boat or ferry but rewards those efforts with an experience unlike any other. A network of trails crisscrosses the island, allowing travelers to explore on foot or by bike. Swimming and snorkeling are popular activities just off shore, of course, while sharp-eyed campers might even spot manatees or dolphins swimming nearby. 

The park features 30 reservation-only campsites, some of which are even hammock-ready. Most of those sites are located close to the beach, allowing campers to be lulled to sleep each night by the tranquil sounds of the surf just outside their tents. 


About The Author: Kraig Becker is a freelance writer, journalist, and consultant who covers mountaineering expeditions, polar exploration, adventure travel, and other outdoor pursuits. He is the editor of The Adventure Blog, the founder of The Adventure Podcast, and a contributor to online and print outlets like National GeographicPopular MechanicsGear InstituteDigital TrendsOutdoorX4 Magazine and others. He serves as the Adventure and Outdoor Travel Expert for about.com and is currently working on his first book, Reaching Beyond Boundaries with co-author Don Mann. 

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