Camping in the Southeast United States - My Top Six Spots
Camping is a family activity that can be as rough or as elegant as you want it to be. Often, people view camping as dirty, buggy and primitive. It can be that way but there are many other options. There are varieties of camping units and campgrounds for all budgets and with all types of amenities.
Our family loves to camp. We've spent the last nine years camping during our vacations and extended weekends. While a great way to bond as a family, camping is also a lot more inexpensive than staying in a hotel! As an added benefit, there are no bedbugs to worry about!
Over the years we have camped in tents of all shapes and sizes. After a few years we graduated to a pop up camper that we loved and used for a couple of years. Before we moved to Tennessee, we sold our pop up. In 2006 we purchased a 19-foot camper that just fits the three of us plus a large dog. I wouldn't trade anything for it.
We have been camping in the Southeast United States in dozens of campgrounds in nine years. We have done the primitive thing. We have camped in high dollar resorts with spas. Out of all of them, here are my top six.
DeSoto State Park, Fort Payne, Alabama
DeSoto State Park, in Fort Payne, Alabama, is located in the northeast corner of the state. Covering 3,502 acres, the area is lush with waterfalls, hiking trails and many things to do. In the improved camping area, there are 94 full hook-up sites (water, electricity and sewer) with two nearby comfort stations. The primitive camping area has 20 sites and a pit toilet.
There is a lodge with a restaurant (that has a spectacular view), a playground and seasonal nature programs. Our favorite attractions nearby are The Little River Canyon National Preserve, the unique Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel, the Alabama Fan Club Museum and Sequoyah Caverns. The nearby small town of Fort Payne is dubbed the "Sock Capital of the World." Chattanooga, Tennessee is only about an hour away with even more activities for all.
For more information or to make reservations, call DeSoto State Park at 1-800-ALA-PARK.
Tickfaw State Park, Springfield, Louisiana
Tickfaw State Park, in Springfield, Louisiana, is about forty-five minutes from Baton Rouge and an hour from New Orleans. Only about 10 minutes away is the city of Ponchatoula, known as "America's Antique City."
Situated among ancient trees dripping with Spanish Moss, Tickfaw State Park is a lovely place for a getaway. There are 30 improved campsites (water and electricity) and 20 with water only. One restroom is located within the campground. The four hiking trails offer glimpses of the swamp, forest and the Tickfaw River. Our family enjoyed renting a canoe to travel down the Tickfaw River (in spite of the fact that we once capsized). The water playground is provides a nice break in hot weather and the Nature Center is one of the best we've visited.
For reservations at Tickfaw State Park, call 1-877-CAMP-N-LA toll free.
Stone Mountain Park, Stone Mountain, Georgia
Stone Mountain Campground, within Stone Mountain Park outside Atlanta, Georgia, has numerous amenities. There are primitive (no hook-ups) and developed sites (some with water and electricity, and some additionally with sewer). There is a pool, playground, lake sites with fantastic views, fishing, seasonal hayrides and ice cream socials. In season, there is ferry service to Stone Mountain.
Two of our all-time favorite restaurants are nearby. Metro Cafe Diner is located just outside the park boundary and Gladys and Ron's Chicken and Waffles (as in Gladys Knight) is several miles away in Lithonia. Atlanta offers hundreds of things to do, from the Georgia Aquarium to the Coca-Cola Museum to CNN Center.
For reservation information at Stone Mountain Campground, call 1-800-385-9807.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There are ten developed campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that is half in Tennessee and half in North Carolina. In the national park, "developed" means that there are designated campsites, suitable for tents or campers. There are no electrical or water hook-ups. Restrooms with cold running water are available. Wildlife, including black bear, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and more are abundant. Rules concerning cooking materials and food storage are very strict, so as to discourage the wildlife from approaching campsites.
Our favorite campgrounds are Cades Cove (lots of bears and deer), Elkmont (sites on the Little River) and Smokemont (elk nearby). All the campgrounds are extremely popular and fill quickly. Reservations are strongly recommended, sometimes months in advance.
Call 1-877-444-6777 for reservations at a campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Note that some of the campgrounds are on a first-come, first-served basis.
St. Andrews State Park, Panama City, Florida
St. Andrews State Park, in Panama City, Florida, is a popular spot for campers and day-use visitors. The campground accommodates tents and RVs with your choice of hook-ups. A few sites are on St. Andrews Bay. Within the park are two different swimming areas, one of them being popular for snorkeling. I love this campground for having its own private beaches. Hiking trails are popular and birdwatchers will love the rookery.
Call 1-800-326-3521 for reservations at St. Andrews State Park.
Blue Spring State Park, Orange City, Florida
Blue Spring State Park, a 2,600 acre paradise in Orange City, Florida, is about an hour or so from Walt Disney World and Orlando. On the banks of the St. Johns River, this campground offers water and electrical hook-up sites. Swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving are popular in the crystal-clear Blue Spring. Hiking trails wend through the ancient oaks.
Manatees winter in the St. Johns River where the water is warm. They can be seen swimming up and down the river beginning in November each year. Water activities are not permitted when manatees are present.
The St. Johns River Cruises offers boat tours down the river and a variety of birds, wildlife and alligators may be seen.
Reservations for Blue Spring State Park can be made at 1-800-326-3521.