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Most people think of warm summer evenings in the mountains when they think of the perfect camping season. But truthfully, you can go camping any time of year. You just need to be prepared for the conditions you can expect. Some enjoy snowshoeing into a rustic campground and snuggling up to a roaring fire, while others only want beachside breezes with temperatures around 80 degrees. The choice is yours!
What is the Best Time of the Year to go Camping?
When is the best time to go camping? The answer depends on the region you want to explore. Northern latitudes are best explored during summer, but there may be some great off-season opportunities during late spring and early fall. Tropical or subtropical destinations are great during the winter, so you avoid excessive heat and bugs.
How Long is a Camping Season?
For most of the country, the camping season dates are dictated by the severity of winter weather. The farther north or the high the elevation you travel, the harsher the winters and the less camping can be done. Therefore, the classic definition of the “camping season” is from late spring, around Memorial Day in May, until fall, usually around Columbus Day in October. Many people enjoy camping before and after these dates, though, in what are commonly known as “shoulder seasons.”
These two American holidays mark the edges of the traditional outdoors camping season for many parts of the country, but there are many parts where you can camp year-round. If you travel far enough south, the seasons completely reverse. If you want to go camping in Florida’s Everglades National Park, the peak season is the middle of winter. During the summer, hordes of hungry mosquitoes and sweltering subtropical heat and humidity keep most campers away, although the campgrounds are open all year.
Camping in Seasons
The advantage of springtime camping is that it’s a shoulder season. The weather is just turning pleasant, but most folks aren’t ready to go camping. If you’re up to the challenge of dealing with some chilly temperatures, spring camping can be a great way to beat the crowds. You will also avoid some of the negatives of summertime, like bugs, hot days, and muggy nights.
For the northern half of the nation, summer is camping season. It’s warm enough to get by with lightweight clothing, tents, and sleeping bags. In many places, you can camp cowboy-style with no tent. It’s a great time of year to watch the stars overhead and enjoy every minute of your time outdoors.
Fall is a beautiful time of year to go camping since you get to enjoy days that are still warm and nights that are just starting to get a little chilly. They’re perfect for sitting by the campfire with a warm cup of cider. Many people make a camping trip out of their leaf-peeping trips to the mountains. It’s a great way to get off the beaten path and see parks like Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks after the crowds of cars leave the highway. Like spring, fall is a shoulder season in most areas as park visitation falls off and fewer people come out camping.
Winter camping in freezing temperatures and heavy snow is a specialty activity that requires the right gear. You can snowshoe into some incredible, majestic places and never see another soul. But it requires heavy sleeping bags, layers of high-tech clothing, and personal fortitude that many occasional campers don’t even want to ponder.
One thing to ponder for wintertime camping is the length of the day. The farther north of the equator you are, the shorter the days will be. It leaves less time for camp set up and enjoying the sunshine than you might expect!
In the South, however, you can find spots to camp snow-free all winter long. Most of the southeast United States and many temperate areas along both coasts are open and welcoming. You’ll find fewer tourists and fewer bugs, with temperatures that only rarely get below freezing.
When Do Campgrounds Open?
Campgrounds in the United States are typically classified based on whether or not they’re open during winter. Four-season campgrounds are open year-round, but they may have limited services available during their off-season time. When “off-season” is will depend on their location. Remember, it’s not impossible to find four-season campgrounds in any area, even in cold climates during the winter.
If a campground is open for three-seasons per year, it usually means they’re shut down during the winter. If this is the case, they open when the weather allows in the spring. It varies greatly not only by geographic region but by site elevation. The only way to know for sure when a campground opens is by checking their reservations website.
Picking the best time to go camping is part of the adventure. Every area has its own camping season dates, and local conditions usually dictate the most pleasant time of year to visit. Travel books and camping guides can be excellent resources for learning more, as can the park or campground websites.