6 Amazing Fall Camping Destinations

In most parts of the country, summer is indisputably camping season. The days are long, the temps warm, and the kids are out of school. The flip side is that summer days can be hot, humid, and buggy. And campgrounds and parks are overrun with tourists. If you’re tired of fighting the summer crowds or feel at home in cooler temperatures, we’ve got a solution for you: fall camping.

There are many reasons we think fall is the perfect time of year to camp, but here are just a few to consider:

  • Cooler days for outdoor activities and cooler nights for campfires
  • Less flies, mosquitoes, and other bugs
  • Fewer people in the parks and on the trails
  • Better campsite availability
  • Fall colors

One problem (if you can call it that) with fall camping is that it can be tricky to narrow down a destination. You can see beautiful leaves and experience great weather from Maine to Washington. But after you’ve got that figured out, it’s only a matter of timing. Good weather and fall colors vary a bit from year to year but you can typically narrow it down to the months of September and October. (By late October, most locations are past peak color.)

Ready to give fall camping a try? Here are 6 amazing fall camping destinations.

1. Aspen, Colorado

With a reputation for luxury living, celebrity sightings, and world-class skiing, it’s easy to forget about Aspen’s humble namesake: the aspen tree. Yet each fall, their bright gold leaves make even the most distracted tourist sit up and take notice. Like much of the Rockies, the area around Aspen tends to be busy year-round. But here’s a secret: Immediately after Labor Day and until the snow flies, Aspen is refreshingly subdued. The streets are quieter, the shops are less crowded, and it’s far easier to reserve a hotel room or campsite.

When: After Labor Day to mid-October

Where: Just a few miles outside Aspen is the stunning Maroon Bells Scenic Area. In summer, the area is so popular that tourists need to park-and-ride just to reach the iconic lake at the base of the mountains. Snag a campsite at one of the park’s three (extremely small) campgrounds, and you’re free to drive in. Keep your eyes open for moose and black bear! And if you camp, be prepared for temps to drop to the 30s at night.

What: If you have a trail-ready vehicle, there are many miles of 4WD trails around Aspen that will take you through beautiful valleys and up the sides of the mountains. Now that’s a fall color drive.

2. Stowe, Vermont

Whenever there’s a “top fall trips” list, Vermont tends to be on it—particularly the little village of Stowe. Set at the foot of the scenic Green Mountains, Stowe is a popular skiing destination in the colder months. (Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont, is nearby.) Yet, Stowe really puts on a show in late September when the hillsides are full of yellow, orange, and red hues. And if you decide to make the trip, late September is also the perfect time to join the fun at the Trapp Family Lodge Oktoberfest.

When: Late September to early October

Where: Fourteen miles outside Stowe is Little River State Park, an 800-acre state park along the shores of the Waterbury Reservoir. It offers 70+ campsites, 20 lean-tos, and 5 cabins.

What: Take a drive on the Green Mountain Byway for spectacular fall views or get a closer look while hiking on one of the area’s many trails.

3. Acadia National Park, Maine

The hills and Atlantic coastline of Acadia are worth exploring no matter the season. But if you’re looking for a slower paced atmosphere and pockets of autumn color, you have to time it just right. The leaves tend to peak in early October but we recommend a trip in late September. That way, you’ll get the fall experience and be more likely to miss the bulk of the cruise ships that arrive in Bar Harbor each fall. You’ll also be just in time to take a whale-watching trip before the whales head to warmer waters in October.

When: Late September to mid-October

Where: Reserve a campsite at Blackwoods Campground (the park’s most popular) or Schoodic Woods Campground (the park’s newest).

What: Hike and bike the trails or catch a ride on the park’s network of historic carriage roads.

4. St. Croix Valley, Minnesota

In a land of scarlet maples and golden oaks, it’s easy to find great fall color (and camping) in the Midwest. The string of communities along the St. Croix River (just a short drive from the Twin Cities) are worth a road trip as the air turns crisp. Starting in historic Stillwater, you can drive along the state’s only designated “wild and scenic” river towards Taylors Falls, making stops at small towns, orchards, and wineries. Or catch the views from the water aboard an old-fashioned riverboat in Stillwater or Taylors Falls.

When: Late September to mid-October

Where: Camp along the river at Interstate State Park or William O’Brien State Park.

What: Hike the state park trails or visit one of the valley’s many wineries.

5. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon & Washington

The breathtaking Columbia River Gorge is an 80-mile-long canyon that carves through the Cascade Mountains between Oregon and Washington. At 4,000-feet deep, the gorge is home to more than a hundred dramatic waterfalls—the most famous being the 620-foot Multnomah Falls. As a National Scenic Area, this stretch of wilderness has also been protected from development, making it an incredible place to camp.

When: September to October (though the campgrounds close at the end of September)

Where: In addition to a variety of lodges and private campgrounds, you can reserve a site at one of two national forest campgrounds—Eagle Creek Campground and Wyeth Campground. Backpacking sites are also available.

What: Travel the historic Columbia River Highway, hike to a waterfall, or for more adventure, try kiteboarding on the eastern end of the river (or just watch!).

6. Black Hills, South Dakota

In the fall, the rocky ridges and pine forests of the Black Hills are an ideal backdrop for the changing aspens, birches, and oaks. Explore this rugged landscape by car on a scenic highway, on foot via a hiking trail, or on horseback. Custer State Park’s famous wildlife loop is a beautiful drive that will put you in the path (sometimes literally) of the antelope, prairie dogs, wild mules, and bison that make their home here. Speaking of bison, each September, thousands of people attend the annual buffalo round-up. This once-a-year event involves cowboys and cowgirls rounding up the park’s bison herd for medical checks, testing, and sorting.

When: Late September to mid-October

Where: Custer State Park offers a few camping options—try Sylvan Lake Campground or Blue Bell Campground.

What: Hike to the top of Black Elk Peak or take an open-top fall color ride through the park.