Southern Campgrounds for a Weekend Escape

Southern Campgrounds Assateague Island National Seashore, MD
Photo: James Adams / EyeEm

Need an escape? Here are a few spots to head for the weekend. Sometimes, we just need to get away. Soak in the great outdoors, turn off our phones, and step far away from the television. Fortunately, the South is the best place for scenic, relaxing, must-head-to camping sites. This is the weekend to plan an impromptu camping trip that calls for the basics: a tent, a sleeping bag, a pack of hotdogs, and all the fixins' for s'mores, of course. You have plenty of options–from the romantic beaches along the Eastern shoreline to mountains covered in stunning fall color, the South has plenty of natural landscapes for camping this season. Whether you prefer lake camping or pitching a tent right over a Georgia swamp, these relaxing options will help your mind hit "reset." What are you waiting for? Start planning your escape.

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Assateague Island, Maryland

Southern Campgrounds Assateague Island National Seashore, MD
James Adams / EyeEm

Assateague Island is a 37-mile-long barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia with beautiful beaches, salt marshes, forests, and bays. Plus, an island where wild horses can roam free. Camping is only allowed on the Maryland side of the island, and is subject to change with weather conditions. During the off season, which is November 16-March 14, sites are first come, first serve. Activities in the park include swimming, wildlife watching, biking, fishing, surfing, off-roading, and whitewater paddling. There are six campgrounds on the Assateague Island National Seashore: Oceanside Walk-In Campground, Oceanside Drive-In Campground, Bayside Drive-In Campground, Assateague Island Group Campground, Assateague Island Horse Campground, and Assateague Island Backcountry Camping.

For more information, see the official website.

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Tishomingo State Park, Mississippi

Southern Campgrounds Tishomingo State Park, MS

The South's most scenic parkway runs directly through Tishomingo State Park, which is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Visit this park for timeless, natural beauty, like the enormous rock formations you won't find anywhere else in the state. The park offers year-round campgrounds, primitive campsites, cabins, and group camp facilities. For an amazing view, set up camp nearby Haynes Lake. Available activities include swimming, wind sports, hiking, boating, and horseback riding. There are 69 campsites (four guests and six vehicles allowed per site), and lodging includes cabins, tents, and RV parking.

For more information, see the official website.

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William B. Bankhead National Forest, Alabama

Southern Campgrounds William B. Bankhead National Forest, AL

This expansive National Forest covers thousands of acres of waterfalls (rain permitting), hiking trails (over 150 miles), improved and primitive campgrounds, 16 wilderness areas to explore, plus a lodge with a restaurant. Bee Branch, a 500-year-old poplar tree in the park, offers plenty of shade and a magnificent visual experience. Plan to canoe, picnic, or horseback ride. Other available activities include biking, climbing, wind sports, fishing, swimming, and wildlife watching. The improved campgrounds are open through October, but you can access primitive campgrounds with a permit during the off-season. There are four campgrounds in Bankhead National Forest: Clear Creek Campground, Houston Recreation Area and Campground, Bushy Lake Recreation Area, and Corinth Recreation Area and Campground.

For more information, see the official website.

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Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

Southern Campgrounds Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, GA

A refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife, Okefenokee Swamp is like "no place on earth." The swamp is one of the largest intact freshwater wetlands in the world and serves as home to some of the region's most unique wildlife. Endangered species find refuge in the swamps that surround the 120-mile Wilderness trail system. Visitors to this southeast Georgia destination can canoe or kayak along the trail system to designated campsites. Permits are required for camping—but it's worth investigating. Although, your GPS will not be enough to get you there. You'll need to follow the specific directions provided.

For more information, see the official website.

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Big Bend National Park, Texas

Southern Campgrounds Big Bend National Park, TX
Education Images / Contributor

"Magical" is the term often used to describe this West Texas refuge. In fact, it is one of the top 10 places in the world for stargazing, Big Bend has the darkest skies in the lower 48 states and has been designated an International Dark Sky Park. Big Bend National Park has a huge landscape that runs from the Chihuahuan Desert to the Chisos Mountains, making it one of the most geographically diverse parks in the United States.There are almost 200 miles of dirt roads and trails to discover, from scenic drives to challenging hiking paths through historic settlements and hot springs. Other activities in the park include fishing, wildlife watching, paddling, and horseback riding. It has three campgrounds, which are open year-round: Rio Grande Village Campground, Chisos Basin Campground, and Cottonwood Campground.

For more information, see the official website.

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Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri

Southern Campgrounds Ozark National Scenic Riverways, MO
Eddie Brady

Ozark is the first of its kind, established to protect a river system that's made up of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. This area is home to some of the largest springs in the United States. These spring-fed rivers are not the only attractions—find freshwater springs, caves, and historic sites like Alley Mill, too. The park is home to feral horses, and wild elk have been reintroduced in surrounding areas and are expected to begin inhabiting the area in the future. Activities in the park include johnboating, canoeing, swimming, fishing, tubing, hiking, bird watching, and hunting in undeveloped areas. There are 7-year-round campgrounds and 10 backcountry sites.

For more information, see the official website.

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Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Southern Campgrounds Pisgah National Forest, NC
Tim Drivas Photography

Hundreds of trails on this national forest take visitors through the Carolina Hemlocks region, and offer a diverse range of hikes and backpacking opportunities. The area is also known as the Land of the Waterfalls, which sounds like it belongs in a fairytale. Some campgrounds are closed as winter approaches, but the Davidson River and North Mills River areas are open year-round. It also features Richland Balsam, the highest peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway at more than 6,000 feet. Along with high peaks, the area also has deep gorges and over 1,000 miles of trails, making it perfect for hikers, mountain climbers, and adventurous bikers. Other available activities in the park include boating, fishing, paddling, off-roading, wildlife watching, horseback riding, swimming, and whitewater paddling. There are 18 campgrounds in Pisgah National Forest, including Wilson Creek Wild and Scenic River Area and Rocky Bluff Campground.

For more information, see the official website

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Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Southern Campgrounds Congaree National Park
Glenn Ross Images

Along with dreamy landscape scenes, Congaree offers the largest expanse of old-growth hardwood forest in America. This floodplain forest also features one of the highest canopies in the world. Not to mention, plenty of space to canoe, hike, fish, bike, wildlife watch, and camp. Only tents and hammocks allowed, and camping is by-reservation. There are two campsites open year-round, and free backcountry camping. Congaree National Park's campsites are Bluff Campground and Long Leaf Campground, where there is both beach and forest terrain.

For more information, see the official website.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Southern Campgrounds Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

Straddling the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America's most-visited and one of the most biologically diverse forests in the country. With historic log buildings, plenty of waterfalls, and a heavy dose of refreshing Appalachian Mountain culture, this park has plenty of stunning places to camp. Some close at the end of October, but others (like Cades Cove and Smokemont) are open year-round. Activities in the park include biking, hiking, horseback riding, and wildlife watching. There are eight campgrounds available: Abram's Creek Campground, Cades Cove Campground, Cosby Campground, Elkmont Campground, Cades Cove Group Campground, Anthony Creek Horse Campground, Look Rock Campground, and Cosby Group Campground.

For more information, see the official website.

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Fort De Soto Park, Florida

Southern Campgrounds Fort De Soto Park, FL

The Sunshine State's Fort De Soto Park covers five islands and 1,136 acres on the Gulf of Mexico. At the heart of the park, Fort De Soto offers a historical attraction, while over 328 species of birds draw the nature-loving crowd. They will also appreciate that, from April to September, loggerhead sea turtles use the islands to nest and lay eggs. If your visit is timed just right, you might get the rare chance to witness sea turtle hatchlings emerge from the white sands and clamor towards the Florida waters. Moreover, mangroves, palm trees, and hardwoods grow in this area, and nature trails can be found across the islands. Activities in the park include biking, boating, hiking, fishing, wind sports, and swimming. The park has both family camping areas and primitive camping options, with over 200 available campsites across the five islands.

For more information, see the official website.

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Cloudland Canyon State Park, Georgia

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn, GA
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Located in the northwest part of Georgia and on the western edge of Lookout Mountain, Cloudland Canyon State Park is one of the most gorgeous camping locations in the southeast. It is also one of Georgia's most popular parks because of its sandstone cliffs, flowing waterfalls, and idyllic views of the Appalachian Mountains. Visitors can explore all kinds of natural treasures throughout the area's rugged terrain and diverse environment, including huge canyons, sandstone cliffs, caves, waterfalls, creeks, and woodlands. The park offers tent sites, cottages, yurts, a lodge, and a handful of backcountry campsites. Activities in the park include whitewater paddling, fishing, wildlife watching, biking, caving, horseback riding, and disc golf. Its sole campground is the Cloudland Canyon State Park Campground.

For more information, see the official website.

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