These five great campsites offer amazing views and plenty of solitude for spring camping.
By Kraig Becker
Now that spring is in the air and warmer temperatures are nearly upon us, it’s time to start thinking about that first camping excursion of the year. If you’re looking for a unique and off the beaten path destination to pitch your tent this spring we have some amazing suggestions on where you should go.
These hidden-gem destinations are great all year round, but in the spring they provide an extra dose of seclusion before the arrival of the busy summer season. Here are five of our favorite camping getaways where can lose the crowds.
Located in the shadow of Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia, Spruce Knob Lake Campground is a quiet place to pitch your tent nearly all year round. The campsite itself is found inside the Monongahela National Forest sitting on a ridge that overlooks the scenic lake below. It is surrounded by numerous thick hardwood trees, which helps to add to the sense of privacy and solitude.
Activities: Visitors will discover more than 60 miles of trail to hike in the area, with the campgrounds situated just off the picturesque Big Bend Loop. Adventurous hikers or trail runners may want to climb to the top of the 4863-foot Spruce Knob itself, where an observation platform provides excellent views of the surrounding countryside. Other activities include trout fishing, boating, or kayaking on the lake itself.
Reservations: The campgrounds are traditionally closed until mid-April, so consider that when making your plans. Because they are lightly used all year long, however, reservations aren’t typically needed. However, you can claim a spot prior to arrival on recreation.gov, with prices ranging from $13-$28 per night.
Quick Tip: Recreation.gov is a great place to not only check availability and reserve campsites in U.S. national parks, forests, and preserves, but to obtain permits for special activities and buy tickets for tours and events, too.
When describing Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Texas, most locals wouldn’t exactly call it a hidden gem. The popular outdoor destination can get quite crowded on weekends as visitors pour in to make the hike to the top of the iconic 1825-foot granite dome from which the park gets its name. But most of those visitors never go beyond the parking lot or the summit trail, which leaves the backcountry –– including its campsites –– relatively traffic free.
Activities: Enchanted Rock offers 11 miles of hiking trail to wander with the most popular routes taking hikers to the top of the dome. From there, visitors can see for miles in all directions, with the rolling Texas Hill Country spreading out around them. The park also offers fantastic stargazing on clear nights and has some of the best rock climbing in the state. Whether you’re an experienced climber or a complete beginner, you find a lot to like here.
Reservations: The park features 35 campsites with running water and another 20 primitive locations. All require a bit of a hike to reach, but that helps provide campers with a quieter experience. One tip however, is far easier to reserve a spot in the early spring than it is as the season warms up. The sites run $14-$18 per night and can be claimed on the Texas State Parks website.
Spring comes early to Tennessee, which means the camping season starts early, too. One of the best places to set up camp is at the Pickett CCC Memorial State Park, which covers more than 19,200 acres on its own. But the park also sits adjacent to the 125,000 acre Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, which means there is plenty of wilderness to explore.
Activities: Visitors will discover seemingly endless miles of towering bluffs and twisting gorges to explore, with numerous rivers and streams crisscrossing the area. Options for staying busy include plenty of hiking, rock climbing, and fishing, with exceptional whitewater kayaking in the spring months too.
Reservations: Pickett State Park features 31 campsites in total, with a mix of RV and primitive options. Those looking to truly escape the crowds can elect to hike to a backcountry location as well, where they’ll not only find plenty of peace and quiet, but amazing views of night sky too. Reservations can be made on the Tennessee state parks website.
How To Find Great Camping Spots Near You:
If you’re looking to discover the best camping (or hiking, fishing, and hunting) locations near you, head to the Step Outside home page and enter your zip code or the name of the city you wish to visit. Our search engine will automatically populate the interactive map on the page to help you locate the top trails, campsites, public lands, and other places that will allow you to explore all of the options for outdoor recreation in your area.
The Step Outside search engine will drop a pin on the map to represent all of the options found in your area. Those pins can be clicked on to learn more information about those places, including addresses and a brief description of what can be found there. In many cases, you’ll even find a link to an official website for that place, which can help when looking to reserve cabins or campsites or finding permits for other activities.
When traveling to another part of the country, the Step Outside website can be a useful tool when planning for your trip, too. Just enter the location that you’ll be visiting to see a list of options for outdoor activities in that place as well. This can come in handy when searching for campsites while on vacation for instance or when looking for good hiking trails near cities and towns where you’ll be staying.
At the southern end of the California’s Lost Coast Trail you’ll find a campground that is truly a hidden gem. The Sinkyone Wilderness State Park falls right on the beach, with the Pacific Ocean stretching off into the distance, while unique candelabra redwood trees form a dense forest around the area. The location is made all the more magical thanks to elk meandering through the area, while sea lions and harbor seals frolic in the waters nearby.
Getting to the campground can be a bit challenging as the road into Sinkyone is narrow, steep, and best for trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. That helps to keep the traffic down, particularly in the spring when hikers and campers are just starting to head back outdoors.
Activities: Visitors will find access to a variety of hiking routes, including the Lost Coast Trail itself, and the proximity to the ocean provides opportunities for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and swimming. Horseback riding is allowed as well, making this popular location for equestrian camping.
Reservations: All campsites are primitive with a $5 per day fee. Reservations are not accepted online but can be obtained at the Needle Rock Visitor Center before heading to the campgrounds.
Quick Tip: When planning a spring camping trip, check the weather closely. During the spring, conditions can vary greatly and shift from cold to warm and back again in a matter of just a few days. Depending on where you’re camping, rain and even snow can be a concern as well, so be sure to dress in layers for added versatility.
Utah is home to five of the most spectacular national parks in the U.S., with Bryce Canyon ranking amongst them. The park itself isn’t necessarily a hidden gem, but strike out on to its 23-mile long Under-the-Rim Trail and you’ll find eight different campsites that are off the beaten path, breathtakingly beautiful, and generally free from travelers during the spring time.
Activities: The Under-the-Rim trail will keep most hikers busy for at least two or three days but there are hundreds of miles of other trails to explore as well. The geological wonders on display in the park will enthrall just about any visitor and at night, the skies over Bryce Canyon are a dream for stargazers too. There are even options to take guided night time hikes when the moon is full, casting a pale glow over the otherworldly landscapes found there.
Reservations: Backcountry camping inside Bryce Canyon require a permit, which is obtained at the visitor center prior to setting out. The permits cost $5 per night and reservations can be made up to 48 hours in advance.
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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 Geographic, Popular Mechanics, Gear Institute, Digital Trends, OutdoorX4 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.