No matter what time of year you feel the call of the wild, camping in the South is accessible to anyone who’s got a tent and a few dollars. What you’re getting in return is an experience that perfectly encapsulates the most valuable treasures of outdoor America.
The best campgrounds in the South have mild temperatures, wandering hiking trails and a collection of beloved lakes, rivers and streams that have been capturing the hearts of travelers for centuries. Whether you’re setting up a cooler and a camp chair for a quiet weekend of relaxation or getting the mountain bike out for an epic ride, these campgrounds offer the perfect home-away-from-home—free from the distractions of the “real world.”
In celebration of summertime, we’re counting down some of the best campgrounds in the South that are also perfect for social distancing and staying safe.
LOUISIANA: Sam Houston Jones State Park
Although it is one of the smaller state parks in the U.S., Sam Houston Jones has managed to emerge as one of the most memorable places to camp. Water sports enthusiasts, like boaters, jet-skiers and kayakers have considered Sam Houston Jones to be a favorite for decades, primarily because of the majestic Calcasieu River and the access that it provides to the nearby Gulf of Mexico.
Luscious lagoons prove an important natural habitat for dozens of migratory bird species, making this one of the best bird-watching destinations in the entire country. Park officials estimate that there are nearly 200 species of birds that call the area home.
NORTH CAROLINA: Pilot Mountain State Park
The Blue Ridge Mountains have truly become one of America’s most cherished natural landscapes. Perhaps that’s why camping in them during the North Carolina summer feels so true to the national spirit.
Pilot Mountain State Park has about 50 campsites, all of them quite primitive. There are restroom and shower facilities, and each campsite includes a flattened tent pad and a fire pit/grill combo, along with a picnic table.
Kayakers and paddle-boarders can find some pretty cool primitive camping on the other side of the river if they are willing to paddle over to it. The added seclusion should be a big draw for some people. The park’s namesake is the uniquely-shaped Pilot Mountain, which rises over the landscape in such a way that has made it the perfect navigational tool in the area.
NORTH CAROLINA: Uwharrie National Forest
When you are standing in the center of Uwharrie National Forest at the heart of North Carolina, it is hard to imagine that you are standing on the oldest mountain range in North America. At about 1,000 feet in elevation, the Uwharrie Mountains are hardly as towering as the Rockies or the Appalachians, but geologists think that they were once massive volcanic beasts rising to 20,000 feet.
Today, it is the lush forests of pine and hardwood that give Uwharrie National Forest its real drawing power. A collection of small lakes combined with the Uwharrie River makes this place a prime destination for anglers.
The Uwaharrie National Forest is also a pristine place to camp, largely because it has remained a tent-only camping area for some time in an effort to limit the impact on the environment.
GEORGIA: Cloudland Canyon State Park
Nestled in the hills of Georgia is an adventure lover’s paradise: a brilliantly colored landscape that offers access to hiking, mountain biking, disc golf, fishing and horseback riding all inside of a relatively small 3,500-acre area.
Imaging loading the truck up with every outdoor toy you have, including the bike, kayak, discs, creel and tackle. Once your campsite is set up, you can take off on any of those adventures on a whim. This kind of versatile excellence is the real strength of Cloudland Canyon State Park and why we highly recommend it to anyone who has never been.
Cloudland Canyon is also a great place to do some spelunking for any adventurous cave enthusiasts out there.
TENNESSEE: Fall Creek Falls State Park
On the eastern tip of the Cumberland Plateau, there is a 26,000-acre collection of trails, forests and brilliant colors that are iconic to the land of Tennessee. In fact, the fiery red and orange hues of autumn have made Fall Creek Falls State Park one of the most popular leaf-looker destinations on the entire planet.
The park’s namesake, Fall Creek Falls, is a waterfall that is nearly 300 feet tall, making it the biggest one in the eastern United States. As far as camping facilities are concerned, Fall Creek Falls is one of the most accessible and user-friendly campgrounds in the U.S. It has more than 200 campsites and an additional 16 backcountry campsites, none of which feel cramped or small. Prices here are also lower than elsewhere in the U.S., with basic tent sites starting at just $8 per night.
FLORIDA: Ocala National Forest
Just north of Orlando, there is a national forest where brilliant streams, lakes and natural springs cut across dense forests of oak and pine. It is these water features that give Ocala its true character. Canoeing, kayaking and snorkeling are some of the area’s most sought-after activities.
One of Florida’s most popular long-distance walking trails cuts a path through the center of the park and given hikers and backpackers easy access to some of the park’s most scenic terrain. But hikers who aren’t interested in walking the full 67-mile trail can enjoy one of the dozens of smaller day-hike trails.
As the summer tourist crowds start to disperse, the temperatures dip only slightly, allowing people to enjoy Ocala National Forest all the way through the winter.
No matter where you end up, the best campground is the one that you are in, with the fire crackling at the end of a long day of adventure, leisure, or, both. The campgrounds that we listed above provide primarily primitive camping, although some of them have spaces for RVs.
Remember, campgrounds in the South can be in high demand, especially from April through November. Most campgrounds take reservations up to a year in advance, so it doesn’t hurt to start planning your time outdoors early.