Sleep Under the Stars
Spring is in full swing, and that means it’s time to sleep under the stars. With perfect, pre-raging-humidity camping weather around the South, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite escapes for comfy nights of outdoor slumber. From low-key coastal islands to scenic sites high in the mountains, here are four prime spots to pitch a tent.
Capers Island Heritage Preserve, South Carolina
For those looking for a remote coastal adventure, Capers Island in South Carolina is top choice. Located just an hour north of Charleston, the island is only accessible by boat via the Gadsdenville public boat launch. As one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands on the Southeastern seaboard, Capers Island is a biodiversity hotspot, with habitats including several miles of beachfront, large salt marshes, and upland maritime forest.
A permit is required to camp (obtained from the SC DNR website) and then sites are available on a first come, first served basis. Sleeping on the beach, you’ll be surrounded by the wild nature of this island, which holds alligators, white-tailed deer, loggerhead sea turtles, and dozens of bird species including belted kingfishers, great blue herons, ibises, ospreys, and bald eagles.
Savage Gulf State Park, Tennessee
Savage Gulf State Park holds the unbridled scenery of the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee. Sheer rock faces, deep canyons, and seemingly endless waterfalls define this rugged landscape. Deep in the gorge there are old growth eastern hemlock trees and remnants of abandoned moonshine stills. All this wildness and history is located just an hour from Chattanooga and an hour and a half from Nashville.
During a stay in the park you can hike around the rim trail, which offers incredible views of the gorge and the surrounding valleys. In the heat of a Tennessee summer, you’ll want to take a dip in one of the seven different waterfalls or any one of the many spots in the park’s deep, cold streams. Blue Hole and Greeter Falls are two of the park’s most spectacular places for a swim.
With nine backcountry campgrounds hosting 62 total campsites, there is usually room to make a reservation in this vast park any time of the year. Of the camping options, Savage Falls Campground stands out, as campers sleep just a jaunt across a bridge from the cascading Savage Falls. Currently all campsites in the park are primitive, requiring a short hike in, but the park is slated to receive money to install front-country and RV sites in the coming years.
Wilson Creek National Scenic River, North Carolina
Every time I go to Wilson Creek in Caldwell County, I am blown away by the stream’s immense beauty. While the lower section of the creek is famous among whitewater paddlers for its thrilling rapids, upper Wilson Creek, north of Coffey’s General Store, hosts some remote places to camp right along the water. I have found few places better for a solo camping trip, with remote swimming spots, rock hopping, and fishing up and down the creek. Being part of Pisgah National Forest, reservations aren’t required at one of the existing sites along the upper section of the creek.
A bit farther downstream, the Mortimer Campground is an excellent choice for families. Tucked near the small, old town of Mortimer, the campground is the ideal basecamp to explore the lush forests, trickling tributaries, and rushing waters all around. The surrounding area feels like an old-timey river town and you’re almost certain to make friends with some camping neighbors. While the campground is easily accessible from a gravel road, the area is far from any major roads and feels very remote. Make sure to check availability and book sites in advance.
Peaks of Otter Campground, Virginia
Tucked in a narrow valley between two large mountains, the Peaks of Otter campground is quite possibly the best camping option along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Located off milepost 85.4 in Bedford County, the campground holds 24-acre Abbott Lake and a clear mountain stream that flows through. Anglers should bring their gear, as the lake and streams are home to bass, bluegill, and trout.
This area is filled with pristine mountain meadows that explode with wildflowers, butterflies, and other pollinators throughout the summer months. Hiking opportunities near the campsites vary in difficulty; you can trek to the top of the surrounding mountains or have a leisurely stroll around Abbott Lake.
While the campsites are serene and rustic, Peaks of Otter offers many amenities including picnic tables, fire rings, light posts, drinking water, and flush toilets. There are campsites available via advance reservation as well as sites accessed on a first come, first served basis. To resupply on camping essentials or to grab a meal, check out the nearby Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant and the Sharp Top Country Store.
Cover photo: From the South Carolina Coast to the mountains of Tennessee, the South is full of scenic camping options. Photo courtesy of Mpowered