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6 Ways to Go Car Camping

The best part about camping out of your car? No experience is required.

If you want to get out there, but you don't want to get "out there," these car camping spots are the perfect compromise. (Chris Yule/Flickr)

The best part about camping out of your car? No experience is required.

On the totem of simple summer getaways, car camping is at the top—almost all the gear you need can be culled from your garage, you don’t have to go very far, and there’s no need to give up too many creature comforts. Chances are there’s an easy-access spot near you, but here are some of the country’s best to get you inspired.

Best for: Wilderness with a Hint of Civilization

(Frank White/Flickr)

Lake Powhatan Recreation Area, North Carolina

Amenities: Picnic tables, tent pads, lantern posts and campfire rings with grills, hot showers, flush toilets, ice and firewood, and inner tube rentals.
Price: $22 per night.
Reservations: (877) 444-6777

Lake Powhatan Recreation Area is only 15 minutes from Asheville, yet it’s location in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest makes it feel far removed. There are 44 miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers; for kids, there’s a beach and swimming in Lake Powhatan. Not far away: Sliding Rock (natural waterslide), Looking Glass Falls, and the French Broad River (popular with anglers looking to hook white bass, skip jack shad, and striper). When civilization beckons, head to Asheville for some savory Southern cooking at Tupelo Honey

Best for: Island Life

(Jennifer Walker/Flickr)

Big Bay State Park, Wisconsin

Amenities: Picnic tables, fire rings, hot showers, and flush toilets. 
Price: $15 per night for Wisconsin residents, $17 per night for nonresidents. All vehicles must have a parking permit: $7 per day or $25 annual sticker for Wisconsin residents, $10 per day or $35 annual sticker for nonresidents.
Reservations: (715) 747-6425

It’s worth the 25-minute car-ferry ride to the 2,350-acre Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island (the only one of the 22 Apostle Islands that isn’t included in Lake Superior’s National Lakeshore) because the 60 campsites just off the sandy beach are extremely quiet. Rent a kayak to explore the coastal bluffs, or have an SUP delivered from Bayfield to paddle the calm lagoon. On land, the best way to explore the 14-mile-long, three-mile-wide island is by bicycle. Take a break from camp cooking and pedal to La Pointe for fresh trout or whitefish at the Beach Club.

Best for: Groups with Kids

(Kristofer Gigante/Flickr)

Whiteface Mountain KOA, New York

Amenities: Hot showers, flush toilets, heated pool, game room, bike rentals, mini-golf, tennis, laundry, store, Wi-Fi, and breakfast dining room.
Price: $31 to $38 per night.
Reservations: (800) 562-0368

This pet-friendly, privately owned site in the Adirondack Mountains is like summer camp—packed with organized activities for kids like hayrides, movie nights, and DJ dances. From camp, a trail leads to impressive views of the Ausable River Gorge, or walk about a half-mile from the campground to Flume Falls and its popular swimming hole. This is also a convenient base for exploring nearby Lake Placid, where you have your pick of adventure sports: rock climbing, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, kayaking, SUPing, and farm-to-table restaurants.

Best for: Solitude 

(Rick Obst/Flickr)

Cascadia State Park, Oregon

Amenities: Picnic tables, flush toilets, and communal fire pit.
Price: $17 per night.
Reservations: (800) 452-5687; the 25 individual tent sites are first come, first served, so call ahead for availability.

Surrounded by Douglas firs and cedars deep in the Willamette National Forest, this campground feels more remote than it is. Take an easy walk along the creek to Lower Soda Falls or to the South Santiam River, where you can swim and fish. If you’re feeling like a serious hike with some Native American history, the 7.5-hour Cascadia Cave tour departs from the Ranger District Office in Sweet Home and takes you to the site of 8,000-year-old petroglyphs. Mountain bike trails and whitewater rafting are also nearby.

Best for: Friends or Couples

(Scott Schrantz/Flickr)

D.L. Bliss State Park, California

Amenities: Restrooms, hot showers, fire pit with grill, picnic table, and bear locker.
Price: $45 per night for beach campsites, $35 for all others.
Reservations: (800) 444-7175; books up quickly, so plan ahead.

A rarity on the shores of Lake Tahoe, this campsite is far enough from Highway 89 to mask the traffic noise. Leave the kids at home and bring your toys: bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, and beer. Mountain bike on either the 14-mile Flume Trail or parts of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail. Put in at Lester Beach. Hike the 6.5 miles from Rubicon Point to Emerald Bay. Hungry? Blue Dog Pizza in South Tahoe is a quick trip.

Filed To: Travel
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.


(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.