Car Camping--5 Amazing Destinations for Ultimate Adventure

Hit the road for adventure this summer with a visit to one of these incredible car-camping destinations.

By Rachel Walker

Car Camping--5 Amazing Destinations for Ultimate Adventure
Photograph Courtesy of Go RVing, Inc.

There’s something downright elegant about stripping life down to its basic elements: shelter and food (and, ideally, good company). We’re talking about car camping. For a fraction of typical lodging costs, car camping often brings you to stunning outposts and remote beaches, the kinds of places you’d expect to be off limits, were it not for public lands and clever road builders. And there are really no limitations on what you can bring.

Better yet, there’s no right way to car camp. There’s the couple with the tricked-out cargo van, and the gal sleeping in her Mazda hatchback right next to her mountain bike. There’s the family in the station wagon, the dudes on their motorcycles, and the retired folks piloting their R.V. around the country. Here are five top car camping spots around the country that deliver high adventure.

1. ROCKY MOUNTAINS: Oh Be Joyful Campground, Crested Butte, Colorado

Photo By © Jerry Sintz

Best Time to Visit: Late June through August

What to do: Located about five miles from Crested Butte, an iconic Colorado mining-town-turned-outdoors-mecca, this campground straddles the Slate River and offers 360-degree views of the shark-toothed elk mountains.

World class mountain biking trails start from the campground. There’s also an abundance of fly-fishing, hiking, and stand up paddleboarding. July is peak wildflower season.

Essentials: When the sun goes down, the temperatures plummet. Bring a down jacket and warm hat so you can stargaze sans chills.

Contact: Campground info; Crested Butte recreation 

2. MIDWEST: Indiana Dunes State Park, Chesterton, Indiana

Photograph Courtesy of Indiana Dunes Tourism


Best Time to Visit: This is a great summer car camping destination, but May is a prime month to visit, when more than 370 species of birds migrate through the area.

What to do: Birders will love the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival in mid-May. The park abuts the southern tip of Lake Michigan and offers world class beaches. Hikers should tackle the Three Dune Challenge, which involves climbing the three highest sand dunes.

Essentials: A proper sandal or camp shoe like the Oboz Footwear Campster to protect your feet from the ground is essential. Polarized sunglasses are also recommended, and a good set of binoculars like the Athlon Optics Midas ED.

Contact:  Indiana Dunes State Park; Visitor info 

Quick tip: No matter how long or short your car camping trip is, a well-insulated, leak-proof cooler is an invaluable investment. I like both Yeti and OtterBox coolers; I’ve tested each, and both keep ice frozen for days and food cool and fresh.

 

3. SOUTH: Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Photograph Courtesy of Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau 

Best Time to Visit: Mid-December through April, when the temperatures range from 70- to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

What to do: The park has an award-winning beach and historic bridge to an offshore island. Popular activities include snorkeling, kayaking (rent them at the marina if you don’t have your own), tarpon fishing and swimming. And Key West is just over an hour’s drive farther south.

Essentials: Snorkel and mask, sunscreen, and fishing gear.

Contact: Bahia Honda State Park and The Florida Keys and Key West 

4. NORTHEAST: Somes Sound View Campground, Mount Desert, Maine

Photograph Courtesy of Somes Sound View Campground 

Best Time to Visit: September in Maine is ideal; most tourists have gone home, the daytime temps are warm, and the ocean is still warm enough for (quick) swimming.

What to do: This ocean-view campground is a water lover’s paradise. With canoe, kayak, and paddleboat rentals (the paddleboats are relegated to an old quarry), opportunities to float abound. There’s also a heated pool, playground, and 50 miles of bike-friendly carriage roads. More than 120 miles of hiking trails are in striking distance of the campground.

Essentials: Sturdy hiking boots, camp chair and Thermocell for your campsite since there are still lingering mosquitos in early autumn in Maine.

Contact: Somes Sound View Campground

5. NORTHWEST: Smith Rock State Park Bivouac Area, Terrebonne, Oregon

Photograph Courtesy of SmithRock.com

Best Time to Visit: This high desert destination in Central Oregon is most pleasant spring and fall.

What to do: Smith Rock State Park is home to several thousand rock climbs, the four-mile Misery Ridge Trial, and the 7.5-mile Summit Trail. Though primarily a draw for rock climbers, the park also allows hiking and mountain biking, and offers stunning views of the Three Sisters, defunct volcanoes that define the Central Oregon horizon.

Essentials: A reliable hydration pack and a sturdy sun hat are essential for staving off the high and dry climate.

Contact: Smith Rock State Park; Visitor Info 

Car Camping Checklist

Unlike backpack camping, where every ounce counts, weight is not a factor when car camping, so you can bring almost anything including luxury items that elevate car camping to glamping. Use this list of basics as your starting point then customize it for your next car-camping getaway:

  • Tent
  • Tarp or shade canopy
  • Paracord
  • Knife or multitool
  • Sleeping bags
  • Sleeping pads
  • Pillows
  • Camp stove
  • Cooking utensils, pots, pans
  • Food
  • Cooler
  • Grille grate
  • Camp chairs
  • Insect repellent, Thermocell
  • Sunscreen, lip balm, first aid kit
  • Base and mid-layer clothing
  • Rain gear
  • Warm hat and gloves
  • Socks
  • Clothes pins
  • Zip-lock bags in various sizes
  • Sunglasses
  • Hiking boots, sandals or wading booties
  • Headlamp
  • Larger lamp for camp table
  • Binoculars
  • Day pack
  • Water bottles or water bladder to fit in pack
  • Fishing gear
  • Frisbee, board games, deck of cards
  • Camera o Extra batteries for all items
  • Charge cords for phones and electronics
  • Dust pan and brush
  • Small rug to put in front of tent
  • Plastic bucket for carrying water
  • Plastic tubs for dishwashing/rinsing feet
  • Pack gear in plastic bins or laundry baskets to keep things organized

 


About the Author: Rachel Walker is a travel writer based in Boulder, Colorado, who never misses an opportunity for a car-camping road trip. Follow her on Twitter at @_writerwalker.

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