Camping is typically considered a summertime activity. But pitching a tent in the cooler months is equally great—if not better—thanks to the lack of crowds, more manageable (read: less sweat-inducing) temperatures), and fewer insects.
The best part? You don’t need to travel far to soak up the best of the Great Outdoors (with survivable weather). Here are six campgrounds across the U.S. worth checking out this season. Just remember to pack an extra blanket or two (or in some cases, actual winter gear)—and leave your bug spray at home.
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Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Stay At: Malaquite Campground
Why Go: Nestled in the dunes with a view of the Gulf of Mexico, this 48 semi-primitive site campground sits on the world’s longest barrier island, which offers 70 miles of coastline and nature preserve. You can pitch your tent at the campsite—or on the beach, where you’ll soak in brilliant sunsets and fall asleep to the roar of the ocean. Sites are all first-come-first-serve.
Typical Temperature: Highs in the upper 70’s in November, and low 70’s in December.
Activities: Canoe or kayak in in both the salt water of the Laguna Madre and the open ocean. Walk along the beach, frolic on the shoreline and peep native wildlife, like sea turtles, songbirds, jellyfish, and Ghost crabs.
More Info: nps.gov/pais/planyourvisit/malaquite_campground.htm
Credit: Carol Wood / Getty
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Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Stay At: Garden Key Campgound
Why Go: This 10-site primitive campground sits on the island of Garden Key within Dry Tortugas National Park, one of the most isolated parks in the country. Located 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, the site is accessible only via public ferry, private boat or seaplane. The eight individual sites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis; the group site can be reserved in advance, and an overflow area is available as needed.
Rates: $3 per person per night.
Typical Temperature: Expect sunny—and mild—conditions. Temperatures range from the mid-60s to the mid-70s in November and December.
Activities: Be sure to pack your snorkel as the azul waters are teeming with endangered corals, sea turtles, manatees and schools of brilliantly colored fish. You can also hike, sea kayak, angle, or simply sunbathe. And if you need a break from the ocean, check out Fort Jefferson, a massive coastal fortress and the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas, located on Garden Key island just north of the campground.
More Info: nps.gov/drto/planyourvisit/upload/campingdrto.pdf
Credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
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Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Stay At: Zapata Falls Campground
Why Go: Perched at 9,000 feet at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this 24-site primitive campground (23 individual sites; 1 group site) provides sweeping vistas of the San Luis Valley, the San Juan Mountains, and nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park—along with stunning sunrises, sunsets, and night skies. Winter weather turns the Zapata Falls—a 30-foot chasm carved in the rock of Sangre de Cristos—into a giant ice sculpture. Just be sure to tote your own H20 as the site doesn’t offer water.
Rates: $11/night for individual sites; $20/night for group sites.
Typical Temperature: Bundle up—temps average 45°F in November and 35°F in December.
Activities: A new trailhead out of the campground links to the South Zapata Creek Trail, a 9-mile out-and-back loop that passes a hidden waterfall, several old miners cabins, and a high alpine lake. For a shorter trek, try the North Fork South Zapata Trail, which sits above the campground in the day-use area and links to a mildly steep half-mile hike to the campground’s namesake falls.
More Info: fs.usda.gov/recarea/riogrande/recarea
Credit: Gary Koutsoubis / Getty
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Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Stay at: Tilly Jane-A-Frame
Why Go: If you’re craving a snowy mountain getaway—and feeling extra adventurous—consider booking a night (or two) at this A-frame log cabin, which is one of the oldest structures on Mount Hood and requires visitors to hike, snowshoe, or ski to its doors during the winter months. The two-story structure has a sleeping loft that can accommodate up to 20 folks. But just because it’s a cabin doesn’t mean it has the amenities: you’ll need to provide sleeping bags and pads, warm clothing, headlamps, cooking pots/pans, stove and fuel, matches or a lighter. Basically, bring everything you’d need for a backpacking trip—minus the tent. Reservations must be made at least 2 days in advance.
Rates: Vary, based on availability, but typical November/December rates are $20 per person per night.
Typical Temperature: You’ll want to dress warmly for this one—temperatures average 46°F in November and a brisk 35°F in December.
Activities: Nearby trails offer an array of day trips that you can tackle on foot, snowshoe, or ski. Consider trekking to the Cooper Spur Stone shelter, which offers unadulterated views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainer.
More Info: reserveamerica.com/camping/tilly-jane-a-frame
Credit: Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images
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Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
Stay at: Gulpha Gorge Campground
Why Go: A babbling brook cuts through this 36-site scenic campground that’s nestled in Hot Springs National Park (the nation’s smallest National Park) and surrounded by the town of Hot Springs (together, the two are called “The American Spa”). The park features the natural hot springs of the Ouachita Mountains, which have attracted bathers for more than 200 years. Campers rave about the site’s clean, modern bathrooms, but be forewarned: there are no showers, so either accept the inevitable stench or plan a visit to the nearby Buckstaff Bathhouse.
Rates: $10/night for standard camping; $30/night for RV hookups.
Typical Temperature: Around 53°F in November and 45°F in December.
Activities: Experience the namesake main attraction at the Buckstaff Bathhouse, which offers first-come-first-serve thermal bathing in 143°F water. The campsite also links up to the entire Hot Springs National Park trail system, which offers 26 miles of hiking. And for an alternative (and dare we say, educational) activity, you can check out the Fordyce Bathhouse at the Visitor Center, a historic and super fancy bathhouse built in 1915.
More Info: nps.gov/hosp/planyourvisit/campground.htm
Credit: Gulpha Gorge Campground
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Death Valley National Park, California
Stay at: Furnace Creek Campground
Why Go: This popular 136-site campground, centrally located within the park, offers expansive views of the mountains, which explode with oranges, reds, and yellows during sunrise and sunset. The site is open year-round, but late fall and winter is by far the better time to go as temperatures dip comfortably below 100°F for the first time in months. One caveat: there are no showers at the campground, but for $5, you can use the pool at the Furnace Creek Ranch, just up the road in the village area. And be sure to bring plenty of s’mores fixings—each site contains a picnic table and fire pit.
Rates: $22/night for standard camping; $36/night for RV hookups.
Typical Temperature: Temps average a high of 77°F in November and 65°F in December. It’s rare for the Mercury to slip below freezing, even in December (the coldest month), so no need for aggressive layering.
Activities: You can access a paved bike path within the facility. And trails to a natural bridge, the Golden Canyon badlands and the salt flats of Badwater Basin (aka the lowest point in North America) are just a short drive away.
More Info: https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/camping.htm
Credit: Manuel Sulzer