There are few things more magical than camping in the fall - especially during the first half of the season. Campsites are quieter than in the summer and nature is at its finest, with the leaves turning beautiful shades of orange, yellow and red. Wildlife is busy preparing for the long winter ahead. There’s still a decent amount of daylight when fall camping and, while the weather is usually pleasant, the evenings are cool enough to justify a roaring campfire. As with any camping trip, you need to think about what to pack so you have the best time possible when camping in the fall.
In this article we’re going to look at why camping in the fall is awesome, where to camp in the fall, what to pack, what to eat and how to stay warm in your tent. Follow our guide and fall camping could easily be the best outdoor experience you will ever have.
Why Camping in the Fall is Awesome
The French writer Albert Camus said: “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” Nature is at its most impressive in the fall. The mornings can be crisp and misty. The evenings promise dramatic sun sets. Nighttime means clear skies with great opportunities for star gazing.
Mellower than the blazing heat of the summer, in the fall you don’t have to worry about sun burn and sun stroke. The milder weather means comfortable walking without sweating.
There are fewer bugs to bother you. There’s less need for mosquito repellant and nets. However, there is still plenty of wildlife on show. Many animals are rushing around storing up food for the winter. It’s also the ideal time of year to do some foraging for berries and fruits.
There are also far fewer people around. Campsites are at their busiest during the summer months when kids are off school. If you can get away for a break after Labor Day, the car parks will be quieter and there will be far more spaces at camp sites. Heading out into the wide open in the fall can offer greater peace and tranquility.
Of course, as the fall progresses into November, the nights will be drawing in and the weather is more likely to get colder and wetter. But skin, as they say, is waterproof. If you pack the right gear, there is no nothing the fall can throw at you which you won’t be able to handle in comfort.
Where to Camp in the fall
It might be an easier question to ask where NOT to camp in the fall. There are so many perfect locations across the United States.
The Northeast, with its abundance of trees, is probably the most famous for changing leaves. But there are many places to enjoy the transformation from summer to winter.
Here are some of our favorite places to enjoy the best of the fall for camping.
The Catskills, NY
Part of the Appalachian Mountains in southeastern New York, around 100 miles north-northwest of New York City, The Catskills are a perfect destination for fall camping.
The peak period for fall foliage in The Catskills is the second week of October. The blazing colors are some of the most vivid in the whole of the United States. People head here from all over the country to enjoy some leaf-peeping. At this time of year, the area is famous for its apples and apple cider.
Green Mountains, VT
The native sugar maple trees of Vermont in New England make the area world-famous for its fall foliage. The leaves are at their most beautiful in the first two weeks of October.
Wildlife in this area includes coyote, black bear, beaver, moose, wild turkey and white-tailed deer.
The Green Mountain National Forest, which encloses close to 400,000 acres, is one of the best places to head for fall camping. Popular camping spots include Chittenden Brook Campground, Davey Falls, Silver Lake, and Grout Pond Recreation Area.
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Colorado can claim to be one of the best places for fall camping. The golden foliage of the Aspen leaves flourish in mid-September. This coincides with elk migration season,
The Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the United States with elevations from 7,869 feet to 14,259 feet. However, you don’t need to head so high.
There are four reservable campgrounds – Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, Timber Creek, and Moraine Park. However, be careful because all except Morain Park close for the summer season in September. Morain Park is open until October 11.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
The Smoky Mountains, or Smokies, which take their name from the fog which often hangs, are on the Tennessee/North Carolina border. The area is home to over 100 different species of trees including oak, hickory and maples.
The highest point is Clingmans Dome, the tallest mountain in Tennessee, at 6,643 feet.
Big Bend National Park, TX
The South can do fall camping too! Big Bend National Park in Texas, one of the less visited parks in the United States, is a great place to head during the fall season, especially for those who like to tranquility and solitude.
The heat of the summer gives way to more pleasant temperatures when it is mild during the day and cool at night.
While much of the park remains green because of the rainy season, there are still some fall colors to be seen. The Window Trail is a great place to see the best fall foliage in the park.
What to Pack for fall Camping
The weather can be very changeable when camping in the fall so you need to be prepared. The main thing is that the evening and nights can be cold, so you’ll need to think about your clothing and your sleep system.
You clothing checklist should include:
- Warm and breathable base layer
- Choice of mid layers
- Waterproof jacket
- Warm socks
- Warm hat
One of things we love about camping in the fall is cooking an evening meal – something warming and nourishing to enjoy around the campfire. Another consideration when packing is your cooking equipment and ingredients.
You’ll also want a decent tent with a rain fly, to protect you from getting wet.
If you want to have a comfortable trip, make sure you bring along a camping chair for everyone. Sitting on the floor loses its appeal very quickly. To really enjoy the fall evenings, you want to be sitting with your back supported.
One of our favorite chairs is the Selkirk XXL Camp Chair, which boasts a comfortable removable headrest, extra-large cup holder and a pouch.
Here’s some tips on the most essential items to pack for fall camping.
This is the time of year to use base layers to keep you warm if the temperature drops, particularly at night.
A base layer, made from a breathable material, will keep you warm but also allow any sweat to wick away. Look for base layers made from fleece, silk, nylon, polyester or wool. They will be light but warm.
Your base layer should go underneath a mid-layer – which could be a jacket, sweater or fleece, depending on the weather.
Over that you can take a waterproof jacket in case it rains.
For fall camping you need a sleeping bag which can cope with the average lowest and highest temperature in the place you’ll be staying.
In most places that means a three-season bag which is designed for temperatures between 20 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit and up.
All sleeping bags now are rated using the International Standard (ISO) which should make it easy to choose the correct one for your trip.
It’s wise to choose a sleeping bag which can cope with lower temperatures than you are expecting, to ensure maximum comfort.
The best, and most expensive, sleeping bags are made from Down or imitation Down. These bags will be lighter and warmer than the alternatives.
A sleeping bag is no use without a sleeping pad to insulate you from the ground. We’d recommend looking for an inflatable sleeping pad which will be lighter than a foam mat – unless you choose the superior option of a camping cot.
Eat Hearty Meals
One of the great pleasures when camping in the fall is cooking up a hearty meal in the evening.
Enjoying a warming stew or chili can provide a focus for the day, sitting around the campfire or at a camping table.
Plus, a warm meal in the evening will give you the nourishment and fuel you need for another night and day in the great outdoors at this time of year.
Here’s some tips on cooking for fall camping.
Cooking Tips for fall Camping
- If you are cooking from scratch, focus on one pot meals or foil packet meals which are not only delicious, there’s also less washing up.
- Do as much preparation as you can before setting off. You can bag up chopped vegetables and meat.
- Make sure you bring your food and drink in a good quality camping cooler which will stop it spoiling. A camping cooler can also keep wildlife away from your food.
- Make sure you bring extra fuel. There is nothing more disappointing than running out of fuel before your water has boiled or your food is hot. You’ll use more fuel than you expect when the evenings are colder.
- Food and drink cool down quickly outside during the fall. Double insulated bowls and mugs can keep things warmer for longer.
Fall Camping Meal Ideas
Are you keen to try out some new recipes this fall? Here’s some of our favorite dishes for camping in the fall.
One Pot Chili Mac – combining the best of a chili with the best of a mac & cheese
Campfire Hobo Stew – a stew recipe which cooks in foil packets
Campfire Baked Apples – the perfect recipe for baking over a fire
Green Curry – lightweight because of powdered coconut milk – and vegan and gluten free too
Campfire Tacos with Sweet Potato, Black Beans and Poblano Peppers – Vegan tacos with the flavors of the southwest.
How to Stay Warm in Your Tent
With the colder nights it’s vital to keep warm throughout the night.
The most effective way is to make sure your sleeping bag is the correct rating – and you have a good sleeping pad.
Other ways to stay warm include:
- Bring along a hot water bottle to tuck into your sleeping bag. Or you can fill a water bottle with warm water and use that as makeshift hot water bottle.
- If weight is not an issue, and you not backpacking, consider taking a quilt or blanket to keep you even more toasty at night.
- Another option is to take along a sleeping bag liner which can add a few degrees of warmth to your bag.
- If space is not an issue, you will be a lot warmer if you get yourself off the ground by sleeping on a camping cot. A camping cot is a portable bed which can be assembled in your tent to give you a perfect night’s sleep.
- Cozy up next to someone else or something else. You can sleep close to a loved one or a friend – of either the human or furry variety. Some people even like to share a double sleeping bag for maximum warmth.
- If it’s feeling colder than expected and your gear is not warm enough, step outside for some exercise. A few jumping jacks will get the blood flowing before you get back into your sleeping bag for the night.