Off-Season camping is a wonderful experience. The crowds have thinned and access to many campgrounds, trails, and parks is much easier. We have been the only campers in a National Park campground on a weeknight in December! The downside to the decreased volume of visitors in many areas is a decrease in demand for sites; this leads to many camping areas closing completely, or partial closures of camping areas to save funds during the less busy times of year. The snow and ice of winter lead to road closures that make some facilities close simply because they are inaccessible. The East coast can be particularly challenging – there aren’t very many areas of land available for free dispersed camping, so established campgrounds are often the only option. Here are a few resources to help get you on the road…. and then back off again sleeping in a nice, legal campsite.
- Allstays is probably the most helpful website/app I have come across so far for road trip and camping planning, particularly when looking for year round campsites. They have some free guides on their website and a “pro” subscription for a fee – which I feel it is well worth it. They have several different apps (https://www.allstays.com/apps/) which will cost you a little cash but will save you a whole lot of time. Their Camp & RV app ($9.99) allows you to search around your location for a variety of different camping options, from campgrounds, BLM land, to truck stops and parking lots allowing overnight parking in a pinch. Each type of facility has a different icon on the map. The best feature for off-season searching? Their robust filters, which allow you to narrow your search by facility type, amenities, AND a filter for “open all year”. Their website takes things one step further and allows for all of the searching and filter functionality, PLUS an option to add map layers that will show you the trails around your camping area. The website is available for varying prices (depending on length of subscription, but around $30 for a year) and can be used on the mobile device as well. If you spend a lot of time hitting the road, this app/website subscription is well worth it.
- This website (http://www.snowbirdrvtrails.com/offseason.htm) maintains a pretty good listing of year round campgrounds in the Northeast (it includes New England and New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania). The information isn’t guaranteed to be up to date, but it’s a great start. If you’re looking to hit some Northeast destinations check out this site – and then call the campground to be sure the information is accurate before you get left out in the cold.
- They may not be remote, not always scenic, and sometimes a little crowded – but there are a lot of them and there will likely be one fairly close to major parks and attractions. They have a list of all of their year round campgrounds for easy planning.
- Cabins, tent sites, and RV sites in a larger RV-park like atmosphere. Again, probably not secluded and remote, but it’s a place to stay that will be open and have bathrooms and showers.
5. Eastern US National Parks
- Acadia National Park – one year-round campground (Blackwoods). The campground is CLOSED to auto traffic, campground is only available as walk in.
- Shenandoah National Park – all campgrounds are seasonal, typically open from late March to November
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Two year round campgrounds at each end of the park, Cades Cove and Smokemont
- Everglades National Park – two campgrounds, open year round
- Visit https://www.nps.gov/subjects/camping/campground.htm#4/34.20/-94.31 to find more information on National Parks that offer camping. There is a handy map with links to click directing you to each individual park’s page.
6. Phone a Friend
- Perhaps the best resource for finding camping any time of year – and especially in the off-season – is the local park staff. Not sure where to go? Call the local state park division, forest service ranger, etc. Better yet, stop in to an office or visitor center if possible. They’ll tell you what’s open, what’s accessible, which roads might close based on weather (I’m lookin’ at you Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive), etc. TALK to people. It’s invaluable.
With some advance planning and a hefty dose of flexibility, an off-season camping trip just might be your best ever. Get out there and enjoy the solitude – happy camping!