Camping in the mountains is the perfect summer getaway for family and friend groups. The gorgeous scenery makes the trek well worth it, especially since the mountain heights are usually several degrees cooler than areas closer to sea level.
Picking the best camping destination for your group can seem overwhelming because of the number of options available. Once you narrow it down by region or type of activity, it becomes easier to find your perfect adventure. Here are the seven top mountain camping destinations for the summer.
1. White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire/Maine
This stunning forest is part of the northern end of the Appalachian mountains, so they’re too cold for casual hiking in the winter. However, they’re perfect for summer, especially since you’ll be within driving distance of other great east coast destinations like Bar Harbor and Boston. You can either hike up or drive up Mt.Washington and other mountains with gorgeous views of the surrounding forests.
White Mountain National Forest is so large that it takes up a large chunk of the state of New Hampshire. You have plenty of campsites to choose from, depending on which mountains you want to try. For the west end of the park near Mt. Moosilauke, try Lost River Valley Campground, or try the Bluff or Osgood Tentsites on the east side near Mt. Adams.
2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
The Great Smoky Mountains are the go-to option for anyone living on the east coast, but they’re accessible for most of the country since they’re near the Knoxville Airport. You can enjoy tourist attractions like Dollywood in nearby Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg when you’re not hiking through the heavily wooded mountains.
The Balsam Mountain Campground in North Carolina is an underrated destination more secluded than the more popular areas of the park in Tennessee. Because the whole national park is in the south, any area of the park is warmer than the average mountain camping experience. Because of this, it’s a good choice for camping in the rain or even spending the spring or fall camping.
3. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
No discussion of mountain camping is complete without Rocky Mountain National Park. The Rocky Mountains are home to some of the tallest and most scenic mountains in the U.S. Since it covers over 400 square miles, you’ll have plenty to explore in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Veteran campers recommend Aspenglen Campground for its scenic pine forest and nearby river. For serious hikers wanting to try Longs Peak, the Longs Peak Campground makes a great base camp. The entire area is popular with tourists due to its proximity to Denver, so you have plenty of campgrounds to choose from, but make sure to make reservations in advance.
4. Milo McIver State Park, Oregon
Camping around Mt. Hood gives you amazing views of forest, lakes, meadows and more in addition to Mt. Hood itself. The weather is beautiful and allows you to camp comfortably at lower elevations. Experienced hikers can make their way farther up the snowy peak.
Keep in mind, some areas of the park aren’t open until July, including the famous Timberline Trail. Some trails also require river crossings, so you’ll want to make sure your trail is family-friendly if you’re bringing kids. Try the Alpine Campground for easy access to the base of Mt. Hood or the Badger Lake Campground for something more remote.
5. Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming
A lesser-known mountain to hike is Pole Mountain, which is more than 2000 feet shorter than Mt. Hood and much more accessible to intermediate hikers. The sprawling area around the mountain is full of impressive meadows and reservoirs perfect for fishing. It’s also famous among mountain bikers, thanks to its rugged yet accessible trails.
If you don’t want to sleep in a tent, you can rent a glamping-worthy cabin nearby. However, the campgrounds around the park have multiple reservable and first-come, first-serve options available. You can also use nearby Medicine Bow National Forest as your base.
6. Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Oregon/Idaho
This gorgeous national forest is best for hikers who can handle the rocky crags of He Devil and other famous peaks around the park. Hike along the Snake River and take full advantage of the secluded area’s relative quiet. You’ll also have easy access to the adjacent Payette National Forest and Idaho’s Ponderosa State Park.
The area is difficult to get to from outside Oregon or Idaho because it is far from the nearest airports, but it’s worth the haul once you get there. It’s a great option for minimalist camping, especially if you camp near one of the streams or lakes. Camp out at Black Lake Campground for hiking on the east end of the park, or choose Williamson Campground for the west end, closer to Sacajawea Peak.
7. Mount Mitchell State Park, North Carolina
This state park’s namesake is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, so it’s perfect for hikers in the region who want a new challenge. The Blue Ridge Mountains are stunning from any angle, so pick an approach that’s comfortable for your skill level. Despite being relatively far south, the weather isn’t always warm, even in the summer, so be prepared with extra layers and rain gear.
Camp out at Mount Mitchell Campground for a base close to the peak. If you’d rather camp at the base close to the main road, try the Black Mountain Campground. Other campground options are limited, so make reservations at one of these as early as possible.
Getting Ready to Hit the Road
It’s important to have an honest assessment of the hiking skills and stamina of you and your party before deciding where to camp. Some of these park trails are more challenging than others, and individual trails within a park can vary widely.
With the right preparation and equipment in hand, you’re sure to have a fantastic adventure. Have a backup plan, if needed, but stay optimistic about the journey ahead. You can always reach out to other campers in the area for advice and troubleshooting, especially if you’re in a major national park.
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