After the long days and blistering heat of the summer, the cooler weather, shortening days, and crisp air of fall is a welcome sensation. With the changing of the seasons and the falling of leaves from the trees, life in the natural world slows down, but your outdoor activities don’t have to.
Instead of staying inside as the mercury drops, spend this fall in the great outdoors. The fall can be one of the most magical times of the year for a camping trip. But, before you head out for a weekend of autumn fun, we’ve got some top tips for making the most of your camping experience this fall.
Coming up, we’ll walk you through why fall is one of our favorite times of the year for outdoor recreation. Plus, we’ll clue you into some must-have fall camping essentials and even give you some insight into our favorite fall camping trip locations. What are you waiting for? Let’s get to it!
Why Fall Camping is Awesome
While most people think that the summer is the best time of year for a camping trip, anyone who stays indoors during the autumn is really missing out. If we had to choose just one season of the year to spend outdoors, fall would definitely be our top choice. Here’s why:
Sure, you might have to pack a warmer sleeping bag and a down jacket, but who doesn’t love curling up next to a fire with a cozy sweater when there’s a chill in the air? Thanks to the cooler temps, during a fall camping trip, you’ll spend much less time sweating and more time enjoying that lovely afternoon breeze.
Yes, you read that right: In the fall, there are way fewer bugs outside than in the spring and the summer. Most mosquito and tick hatches happen in the days and weeks after a major snowmelt, which offers the perfect conditions for those little buggers to proliferate in our favorite outdoor locales.
In the fall, however, cooler temperatures and the occasional frost usually chase the bugs away. While you’ll probably still see some bugs, you’re unlikely to need that bugspray or a headnet to enjoy some time outside during a fall camping trip. That’s something to smile about.
Two words: fall foliage. If you’ve never experienced the brilliant colors of a deciduous forest in peak fall foliage, you’re missing out. The vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows of broadleaf trees mixed in with the occasional green conifer is truly a wonder to behold. Your only opportunity to experience this life-changing phenomenon is during the fall, so you won’t want to spend this time indoors.
Fall Camping Essentials
Now that you understand why fall is one of the best times of the year for a camping trip, let’s discuss some of the fall camping’s essentials. Sure, much of what you’ll need during a summer camping trip is still applicable here, but there are some things you won’t want to forget if you want to have an amazing fall camping experience. Here’s what you need:
Cold Weather Sleeping Gear
As the days get shorter, the nights get colder. So, this fall, don’t forget to bring some cold weather sleeping gear with you when you head out on a camping trip. While you’ll need to do some research into the weather conditions before you leave home, usually, fall camping trips call for sleeping bags that are in the 0-20 degree Fahrenheit range.
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you bring some expedition-weight long underwear with you to help you stay warm in your sleeping bag at night. A quality warm hat and some liner gloves are a must-have, too.
If all of that isn’t enough to keep you warm at night, you can bring a hot water bottle with you to snuggle with in your sleeping bag. Should a proper hot water bottle not be available, near-boiling water in a Nalgene water bottle does the trick, too!
Don’t Forget The Hot Drinks!
Chilly nights are the perfect time to enjoy a hot drink before bed. Non-caffeinated tea, hot chocolate or hot apple cider are fan-favorites for pre-bedtime warmth in the cooler fall months.
Powdered hot chocolate and apple cider (yes, that’s a thing!) are available at most grocery stores – you’ll just have to look through the coffee/tea aisle to find them. Don’t forget to pack a thermos, mug, or 16oz mini Nalgene bottle to enjoy your hot drink in!
Bring The Light With You
After the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere at the end of June, the days get progressively shorter until mid-December. Thus, it usually gets dark fairly early during a fall camping trip, so you’ll want to be prepared.
A high-quality, waterproof headlamp is a great option for campers, as it allows you to walk around and stay active, while also providing ample light. If you’re with a large group, you might also want to consider packing some additional LED lanterns to light up your kitchen for a round of cards or socialization at night.
Have Firestarter At The Ready
Nothing beats sitting around a fire during a chilly fall night. So, if you’re backpacking, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of firestarter with you to kick things off.
Car campers, on the other hand, will want to check with their local land managers to inquire about bringing firewood with them to the campground. If you’re not allowed to bring wood with you, chances are pretty good that you’ll be able to buy it at your campsite. Just don’t forget the s’mores!
Best Fall Camping Trip Locations
Fall is a magical time of year, so you’ll want to make the most of it with a fall camping trip. If you’ve never been out on a fall camping trip, you might not be sure where you ought to go. Here are our top picks for the best fall camping trip locations in the United States:
Adirondacks, New York
If you want to see amazing fall foliage, nothing beats the Adirondacks. The six million acres of the Adirondack State Park are home to some of the most stunning fall foliage in the world, thanks to the area’s unique mix of sugar maples, beeches, birches, and conifers.
Apple cider, maple syrup, and some awe-inspiring views are just some of the many things you can look forward to during a camping trip in the Adirondacks. Whether you set out to climb as many of the “high peaks” as you can, or you enjoy a relaxing weekend at a family campground, there’s nothing better than the Adirondacks in the fall.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Where else could you possibly go for a fall camping adventure in California than Redwoods State Park? Home to some of the tallest trees in the entire world, Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a fantastic place to enjoy the serenity of the fall.
While Big Basin and the Wastahi Campground are hopping during the summer months, the area sees significantly fewer visitors in the fall, making it an ideal getaway for an autumn camping trip. Although you won’t experience the same fall foliage in California as you will in the Northeastern United States, the peace and quiet of Big Basin in the fall is a wonder in itself to behold.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
If you live in the Southeast, there’s still plenty of opportunities to experience all the joys of fall, especially in a place like Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With great fall foliage that peaks in early October, you won’t want to miss a weekend away in the Smokies.
Straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to some great campgrounds where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of city life to spend some time in the mountains. The best part of fall camping in the Smokies? No crowds.
Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks
There’s something magical about the desert in the fall months when the sun is much less intense, and an occasional layer of snow blankets the highest elevations. During a fall camping trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, you can enjoy the wonders of the desert without the blistering heat.
With cooler nights and occasional snowstorms, fall isn’t a time to underestimate the harshness of the desert, but it’s still an amazing time to get out and explore some of the crown jewels of the US National Parks system in the Zion and Bryce Canyon.
A professional mountain guide and experienced outdoor educator, Gaby enjoys traveling and exploring the world’s most remote locales. As a writer and editor, Gaby has written for a variety of climbing and travel blogs, news sites, and climbing magazines. She is currently finishing a master’s degree in outdoor education but in her free time, Gaby loves a strong cup of coffee and searching for the next great adventure. Check out more of Gaby’s work on her website.