7 Boat-In Campsites to Check Out this Paddling Season

Unless you own a lake, live near a river near a National Forest, or reside on the coast where you can paddle out to some unnamed barrier island for a weekend of camping, you have to do a little work to find a campsite that combines two great things: boats and tents. Plenty of campgrounds in the Southeast and MidAtlantic have water access and plenty see boaters pull up, drop anchor, and set up camp. But what about boat-in only camping? These sites are more difficult to find but they offer a bit of privacy and exclusivity previously enjoyed only by hikers willing to hump their tent over hill and dell to find that perfect patch of backcountry. Boaters, kayakers, canoeists and SUPers were left out. Until now. We searched our maps and found seven places where the camping is accessible only by water and that means you have some reading—and some trip planning—to do.

High Falls State Park, Jackson, Ga.

Midway between Macon and Atlanta sits the 650-acre High Falls Lake, a hotspot for bass fishing and home to a paddle-in primitive campsite big enough for you and two-dozen of your closest friends. The campsite sits on a peninsula on the northwestern edge of the lake and is far removed from the rest of the park. After a 30-minute paddle to the campsite you’re about as secluded as you can get. Bring your fishing kayaks or don’t, the campsite comes with five canoes for your paddling pleasure. When you’re done fishing, check out the park’s namesake falls on the Towaliga River or, since you’ll have that campsite all to yourself, a swim au naturel may be in order.

High Falls primitive camping 1
Midway between Macon and Atlanta sits the 650-acre High Falls Lake.

Deer Island Park, Philpott Lake, Henry, Va.

East of the hip town of Floyd and north of Bassett a little island sits in the center of a little lake and it’s quite the storybook picture. This is Deer Island, home of 21 primitive campsites that, barring a miracle or a dam break, you can only access via your floating vehicle of choice. Campsites are clustered together in three spots along the shore with one exception: #21, which is set off by itself, making it the most private of the campsites. You’re limited to six people per site, so if you’re coming with a group larger than your champion flip cup squad, you’ll want to go for sites 15-20, which are on their own side of Deer Island away from the main camping cluster.

Devils Fork State Park, Lake Jocassee, Salem, SC

Don’t be scared off by the name, Devils Fork State Park has nothing to do with the Dark Lord (ok, maybe it does, I can’t get anyone to give me an answer on the origin of the name) and everything to do with Lake Jocassee. You can camp along the shore of the lake, but why do that when there’s a perfectly good island where you can set up your tent for the weekend? Paddle out to Double Springs Boat-in Campground where there are 13 campsites that put you out in the lake, making you that much closer to all the fishing and boating you can handle.

Devils Fork State Park features 13 campsites that put you out in the middle of Lake Jocassee, making you that much closer to all the fishing and boating you can handle.

Lake James State Park, Morganton, NC

Lake James, the 6,812-acre reservoir just outside Morganton, has everything a good state park should: hiking, mountain biking, fishing, swimming, boating, and plenty of picnic tables for card playing and picnicking. But this park went the extra mile and built an outstanding set of campsites on Long Arm Peninsula that are there for the exclusive use of boaters. Thirty campsites spread across three different parts of Long Arm sit about a mile away from the swimming beach and heart of the park, but that’s far enough to give you a stunning star show at night.

Lake James, the 6,812-acre reservoir just outside Morganton, has everything a good state park should.

White Oak Boat-in Campground, Laurel River Lake, Daniel Boone National Forest, KY

When it’s close to sunset and you’re motoring or paddling back to White Oak Boat-in Campground you’ll know exactly why you chose this spot. In the morning, when the sun rises and hits the mist rising off the lake you’ll get another reminder, not like you’ll need it. Set in the rugged mountains of the Daniel Boone National Forest, these 51 campsites make for as perfect a lakeside spot as you can get. The views are knockouts; the fishing so good you won’t tell anyone about it; and the water of Laurel River Lake is clean, clear, and cool, just the way it should be. Make your reservation here.

Nancy’s Boat-to-Shore Campground, Raystown Lake, Pa.

Pennsylvania’s Raystown Lake is known for the Allegrippis mountain biking trails but if you’re not the singletrack sort or if you just need some time out of the saddle, hop aboard a boat, kayak, canoe, SUP or jet ski and head to Nancy’s. There are 50 campsites here and it’s a popular spot to spend a few nights, so you won’t be alone. You will be surrounded by folks like you, the ones who decided some time in nature was necessary and who said car camping is just a little too easy this time around.

Nancy's Camp (4)
Nancy’s Boat-to-Shore Campground features 50 campsites.

Dale Hollow Lake, Celina, Tenn.

Dale Hollow Lake spans the Tennessee-Kentucky border and while you can have a perfectly nice visit with a trip to Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park on the Kentucky side, try boating in and primitive camping on the Tennessee side. This lake is huge—more than 27,000 acres and 620 miles of shoreline—and there’s loads of camping. Only a handful of the 32 designated camping locations are accessible by car, so between the secluded shoreline spots in both states you’ll have your pick of places to paddle (or motor) to.

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