Fall is one of the best times of year to hit the road with your tent and sleeping bag in tow. Busy summer crowds give way to peaceful campsites with cooler evenings, fewer bugs and increasingly colorful scenery.
America’s East Coast is teeming with uncrowded beachfront and wooded campgrounds that are calling your name this autumn. These five are the cream of the crop when it comes to bathing in the Atlantic Ocean, snapping photos of fall foliage and feeling the salty air breeze through your campsite at night.
Dry Tortugas National Park, accessed by ferry from the coast of Key West, is one of the most scenic primitive camping destinations in the world. The 100-square-mile national park features seven picturesque islands.
Come to the campground prepared, because you have to bring everything you need (including toilet paper and water). However, the pristine beaches, crystal-clear water, abundant marine life and fluorescent coral reefs will make you forget about the lack of facilities in no time.
Park campsites are adjacent to the island’s Civil War-era Fort Jefferson, and they’re available on a first come, first served basis. Don’t forget to bring your kayak aboard the ferry to the island, because you’ll want to spend a lot of time on the water gazing at the surrounding (but off limits to humans) islands.
North Carolina’s Outer Banks are a 200-mile-long stretch of picturesque barrier islands, and they’re just waiting for you to pitch a tent. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a string of islands that have been groomed by wind, water and brutal storms throughout the years. They’re surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the mellow Pamlico Sound on the other, where kayaking and kiteboarding are common activities.
Visit the famous black-and-white-striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, ride the waves of the Atlantic (the water is surprisingly warm in fall), catch some rays, cast a line or enjoy a number of other outdoor activities on the uncrowded sands of our nation’s first national seashore. There are four National Park Service-operated campsites along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and all of them offer a hefty dose of sand and sea.
You don’t have to choose between bustling city life and the laid-back beach lifestyle at James Island County Park in Charleston. Your campsite will be minutes from the award-winning dining options, historic sites and the unlimited shopping options of downtown Charleston. Beach bums can head just 15 minutes southeast to plant a towel on the sand at Folly Beach.
James Island County Park offers 124 campsites along the Stono River marsh. You don’t even have to leave the park to get a taste of Charleston’s southern charm.
4. Fort De Soto Park — Florida
Photo credit: Pinellas County
Don’t feel like you have to camp primitively to enjoy southern Florida’s cozy fall temperatures and turquoise waters. Fort De Soto Park is a stunning 1,136 acres in size, and it consists of five linked keys (or islands). Campers can access Fort De Soto Park via Highway 679 from St. Petersburg, Fla., in less than 30 minutes.
Arrive, and you’ll be sitting with your toes in the sand, snapping photos of sea life, kayaking through mangrove trails, swimming in the ocean and hiking nature trails faster than you can say the park’s name. Even better, all of these beachy activities take place steps from your campsite.
Fall travelers who aren’t as concerned about warm air and water temperatures will sacrifice summer-like weather for some of the country’s most stunning autumn scenery. Maine is home to 32,000 miles of rivers and streams, 17-million acres of forest and 6,000 ponds and lakes. Acadia National Park offers campers a taste of all Maine has to offer with jaw-dropping views of fall foliage from atop Cadillac Mountain, and unforgettable outdoor activities like birdwatching, horseback riding, tidepooling, rock climbing and late-season fishing.
Acadia National Park offers five campgrounds ranging from the Schoodic Woods Campground, with RV sites, to the Duck Harbor Campground, which is accessible only by mailboat. The natural beauty of the Pine Tree State is guaranteed to leave a lasting memory no matter which campground you choose.