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These are fall's most popular US camping destinations, according to Campspot

By Maya Stanton
September 25, 2020
Gardnier Campspot 2
The Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park in Gardiner serves as a base of operations for exploring the Hudson Valley's Minnewaska State Park Preserve @ Campspot
As people across the US take to the road in search of socially distant holidays, outdoor endeavors are more popular than ever, with campsites, cabins, and RV parks filling up fast for fall.

For insight into where travelers are heading as the leaves change colors, the platform Campspot consulted the booking data for its roster of family campgrounds, RV resorts, glamping sites, and more to determine the most in-demand destinations for autumn camping, based on the number of reservations from just after Labor Day through October. In no particular order, here are the top 10 places Campspot campers are flocking this fall. 

Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice.

An aerial view of Big Timber Lake RV Camping ResortNear Cape May, Big Timber Lake is an RV resort with plenty of amenities © Tyler D. Way/Campspot

Cape May, New Jersey

Less than 20 miles from the family-friendly beaches, old-school boardwalks and historic painted Victorians of Cape May is Big Timber Lake RV Camping Resort, a sprawling site with basketball, volleyball, bocce, and shuffleboard courts, kayak rentals, mini golf, an arcade, and a 2,000 square-foot pool. 

Cabins among trees at Lake Rudolph Campground, IndianaHoliday seekers can get into the spirit of the season in Santa Claus, Indiana @ Sun RV Resorts

Santa Claus, Indiana

It’s never too early for Christmas in southwestern Indiana’s Santa Claus, and its Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort has Christmas cabins and holiday cottages, not to mention Santa's Splashdown Waterpark, which has two big tube slides and a reindeer-themed water playground. 

A cabin in a gravel lot with a grill at Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort: QuarryvilleCamping in Quarryville offers a front-row seat for the fall-foliage action © Campspot

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Southeastern Pennsylvania’s fall foliage rarely disappoints, and Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort: Quarryville offers a front row seat for the action. It’s situated on 65 wooded acres abutting a 100-acre county park, but it’s more resort than camp, with two swimming pools, two hot tubs, a water zone, and a giant inflatable jumping pillow, plus laser tag and escape rooms for an extra charge. 

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach is a party town at the height of summer, and though it’s more low-key during the cooler months, there’s still plenty to do. Guests at Carolina Pines RV Resort may not want to leave the premises – there’s a bistro and a yoga studio on-site as well as a mini golf course and an arcade – but for those who prefer to get out and explore, the beaches and trails of Myrtle Beach State Park are just 20 minutes away. 

An aerial view of Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Luray, VirginiaThe restorative scenery of Shenandoah National Park is less than two hours from the nation's capital © Campspot

Shenandoah National Park – Washington, DC

An hour and a half west of DC, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is an easy day trip from the nation’s capital, but it feels a world away. The Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park in nearby Luray, Virginia, provides the chain’s signature amenities, from mini golf and gem-mining to pools and water slides; accommodations include pet-friendly cottages, RV sites, and primitive tent camping. 

Central Michigan

The lakes of Michigan are a picture-perfect setting for a summer getaway, but they’re not too shabby in fall colors either. Central Michigan’s Cedar River plays host to Gladwin City Park and Campground, a back-to-basics set-up with rustic cabins and sites for tent and RV camping, while Beaverton’s Calhoun Campground has Ross Lake-facing rustic, electric, and full hookup sites. 

A cream-colored cabin with a green roof at Jellystone Park in Western New YorkAccommodations at Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park in Western New York include this two-bedroom A-frame chalet with cable and WiFi @ Sun RV Resorts

Buffalo, New York

In a few months, only the hardy will be taking camping trips in upstate New York, but for now, the region that boasts natural beauties like Niagara Falls and Lake George is a solid option for leaf-peeping. About an hour outside of Buffalo, Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort: Western New York has chalets, cabins, wooded and open tent sites, and full-hookup RV sites, all pet-friendly with WiFi access.

A row of cabins at Wine Country RV ResortIn Paso Robles, the Wine Country RV Resort has RV sites as well as chalets and cottages © Sun RV Resorts

Paso Robles, California

There’s nothing like winery-hopping on a brisk sunny day, and between the shopping, the golf, the wining, and the dining, San Luis Obispo County's Paso Robles region has more than a few options for oenophiles. Wine Country RV Resort is centrally located,  with pull-through and back-in RV sites as well as chalets and cottages. 

Arches National Park – Moab, Utah

The red sandstone of Arches National Park creates a stunning setting for one of nature’s biggest playgrounds, and nearby Moab serves as the gateway for outdoor adventures in the vicinity. Six miles south of the park gates (and less than 40 miles east of Canyonlands) is CanyonLands RV Resort & Campground, where the region’s signature red rocks overlook the swimming pool. Tent and RV sites are available, as are cabin rentals. 

A red cabin with a mountain range in the backgroundThe Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park in Gardiner serves as a base of operations for exploring the Hudson Valley's Minnewaska State Park Preserve @ Campspot

Minnewaska State Park Preserve – Kerhonkson, New York

A 22,275-acre park in the Hudson Valley, Minnewaska draws outdoorsy types year-round for everything from rock climbing to snowshoeing. Six miles away, the sprawling Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park in Gardiner has rustic tent sites and premium cabins, as well as luxe lodges and full houses for rent. 

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Inspiration

Would you dare baptism in the Devil's Bathtub?

Close my eyes and count to three as I anticipate to dive into the deep, ice cold pool of water - The Devil’s Bathtub, located in Southwest Virginia. Jumping in is not recommended for the faint of heart. I stare into the aquamarine abyss and question the life choices that led me to this. Deciding if I have the courage to jump into the Devil's Bathtub. Photo by Maddie Luchsinger. The Devil’s Bathtub is a place that no person can stay for very long - it is wicked in the way its cold can take the breath away of the people who dare to jump in. It is the type of cold that sucks the breath right out of your lungs and frightens every skin cell of your body. It is a bathtub-sized pool that is, perhaps, 25 feet deep, full of the fresh spring water falling off the mountains. You’ve hiked 2.5 miles up a mountains, crossing a river 17 times. Your muscles are sore. So jump into the Devil’s Bathtub and find out what happens when you dunk them in ice. After I was baptized by the Devil in southwest Virginia, I felt cold for days. It was a deeply guttural coldness, like I was thawing slowly from the inside out. Photo by Maddie Luchsinger In all the time I’ve spent exploring the world, there are only one of a handful of times I can remember being this cold - in the middle of the night, camping in the desert in North Central Mexico. I was there on a church trip, to build houses in the slums of Tijuana. This was something the church of my youth did a lot in the 1990s/2000s - took groups to do manual labor rural parts of Mexico. That year, in the desert of Baja California, El Nino brought on exceptional rains that flooded our campsite and soaked my belongings. The temperatures at night would reach just above freezing, and the lumber that kept our campfires roaring was wet and ineffective. I have this memory of huddling around the dwindling embers of a dying campfire, desperate to get warm, under a deep sea of stars. I remember feeling like I would never feel warm again. The second time I’ve felt that cold was whitewater rafting the Upper Youghegheny River in Upper Pennsylvania in the early spring. My group spent the entire weekend camping in a pouring rainstorm, on 50 degree days, and then rafted a flood-stage river of class IV-V rapids. I fell out twice, and swam down a class IV+ rapid called the Meat Cleaver. I remember feeling cold for days after, and vowing to never go whitewater rafting again. When I jumped into the Devil’s Bathtub, these were the memories that came flooding in. This was a uniquely painful kind of cold. And the thing that was so devilish about it - it was an enjoyable pain. Maybe I’ve cursed myself, jumping into the Devil’s Bathtub. but in 2020, who can tell the difference? _______ Photo by Maddie Luchsinger How to find the Devil’s Bathtub — At the end of Highway 619 just outside of Duffield, Virginia. Duffield is located less than 2 hours from Knoxville, about an hour North of Kingston, Tennessee. This is a popular hike with an established parking lot at the trailhead. Hikers can choose to go left when the trailhead splits for a 4 mile roundtrip journey to the Devil’s Bathtub, or take a right for a 7-mile loop through the mountains. The trail is clearly marked with a yellow square tag. Plan for the trail to take an hour per mile, and wear shoes that can get wet. You have to hike across a river 17 times, and you are almost certain to get wet. There are a few areas of treacherous terrain and sharp drops, so keep an eye on young children and dogs at all times. The hike can be found near Duffield, Virginia, about an hour north of Kingston, TN. I recommend camping at Natural Tunnel State Park, less than an hour away. NTSP has a well maintained and safe campground, good for car campers or RV tows. Natural Tunnel is a rock formation that has naturally formed in the mountains, created a naturally carved train tunnel. The park offers a fun chairlift to the bottom, a fun activity for families or tired hikers.

Inspiration

Rediscover the San Juan Islands: Adventure-seekers will love this Northwest destination.

The journey starts with either a ferry or a floatplane—there are no bridges to the San Juans Islands. Leave stress behind as you board in Anacortes and set sail on the marine segment of the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway. You can relax, you’re on island time now. The San Juan archipelago in Washington State is nestled between three great cities for visitors – Seattle, Vancouver B.C., and Victoria B.C., surrounded by the Salish Sea. Of the 172 named islands in the San Juans, three of them – Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan – have accommodations, attractions, and amenities for visitors. The archipelago is blessed with a temperate marine climate and life in the “rain shadow” of the Olympic Mountains means an average of 247 days with sunshine annually and about half the rainfall of the Seattle area. San Juan County has more than 400 miles of shoreline punctuated by rocks, bluffs and beaches. The arts, historic preservation and environmental stewardship flourish in the Islands. San Juan County is considered an “Arts Hot Spot” by the Washington State Arts Commission for the number of artists and galleries in the islands. It is also the first county in the USA to be designated a voluntary “Leave No Trace” area. Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, the archipelago’s only incorporated town, was named a Destination of Distinction by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. No matter your style of vacation, you’re bound to find it in the San Juan Islands. For nature enthusiasts, there’s world-class wildlife watching including orcas, humpback whales, bald eagles, Steller sea lions, and red foxes. And there’s a variety of ways to see it: along a network of waterfront hiking trails, from shoreline parks, from tour boats and private vessels. For adventure seekers, beautiful landscapes and a calm inland sea make the San Juans a prime sea kayaking spot. Paddle your own kayak or set out with one of the many knowledgeable kayaking outfitters on San Juan, Orcas, or Lopez Island for three-hour to three-day tours. For foodies, find quality local products, and experience the sense of community shared by island chefs, growers, winemakers, distillers, brewers, and other agricultural artisans. Some local farms even offer stays for guests who want to get up close and personal to the islands’ bounty. If art’s your thing, you’ll find a gem in the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, with three to four first class exhibitions a year. The San Juan Islands Sculpture Park at 20-acres is one of the largest outdoor sculpture parks in the Pacific Northwest. Humpback calf 'Slate' breaching by Jeff FriedmanFind variety, beauty, serenity ... day after amazing day. As we navigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, we are following the guidelines set by the Washington State Department of Health and Governor Inslee’s office. San Juan County is currently in a modified Phase 2 of Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan. Accommodations are open at 100%, and restaurants vary between curbside pickup, delivery, and limited indoor and outdoor seating. Face coverings are required to enter all businesses and public spaces. Editor's Note: we are working with local tourism boards to highlight destinations that are ready for tourists. Given the ever-evolving situation on COVID-19, please make sure you check the tourism website for the most up-to-date planning information. From Nature to Nurture the San Juan Islands provide inspiration for the senses (www.visitsanjuans.com).

Inspiration

The fall foliage in New England is set to be remarkable – and early

If you’ve been lucky enough to travel through New England during fall, you’ll know that there’s nothing quite like kicking up the rust-colored leaves, hiking the rugged hills or driving down the open roads amidst the captivating hues of greens, oranges, reds and browns. Well there’s some good news on the horizon for leaf peepers – weather experts are expecting a vibrant (and perhaps early) season this year. According to a Fall Foliage Forecast released by Yankee Magazine’s NewEngland.com, there is “potential for a big color punch this year if the right weather scenario lines up”. The magazine’s fall foliage expert, former meteorologist Jim Salge, has said that the season could go one of two ways, but both will be beautiful. The first scenario sees this year’s especially dry summer leading to more intense foliage colors, especially if it’s kick-started with an early cold spell. Cold fronts from Canada may lead to a striking display that makes the foliage dazzling, but it may lack longevity. The second scenario sees tropical weather activity making for a longer-lasting display that will still delight, although it will be less intense. Vermont experiences beautiful colors every year during autumn © Sean Pavone / ShutterstockStressed trees tend to change their colors earlier, and if they do, they are more prone to producing red pigments as green ones fade. Because of this, a short but bright burst of color is expected in late September in northern New England and from mid- to late-October in southern New England. CLICK HERE FOR THE BEST NEW ENGLAND FALL FOLIAGE ROAD TRIP ITINERARYJim Salge also shared with Lonely Planet what he feels makes New England so unique during that time of year. “About 90% of the land in New England is forested. In the northern zones especially, much of the forest is dominated by sugar maple, which is a tree that can turn anywhere from yellow to bright red depending on the weather and conditions in any given year. Leaf peeping is part of the culture. People drive around, look at leaves, and plan trips each year to coincide with the best colors. Because of COVID-19, this fall will be different. But the outdoors is among the safest places we can be, and many people have responded to the pandemic by getting more in touch with nature. There are still plenty of ways to safely enjoy the beautiful tapestry of colors and the crisp autumn weather.” Fall foliage expert Jim Salge said this year is likely to be striking © Dene' Miles / ShutterstockSome of Jim’s favorite spots include Smugglers Notch in Vermont, and Crawford Notch in New Hampshire, protected forest areas where glaciers came through during the last ice age, providing spectacular viewing. The full forecast is due to be updated on www.NewEngland.com. The website also lists suggested outdoors activities and events, as well as weekly posts focusing on the best place to find color on any given weekend.

Inspiration

What a sustainable restart to travel could look like

Once the COVID-19 lockdowns, quarantines and restrictions end, I know I’m absolutely raring to start traveling again. But one of the things that many of us are coming to realise is just how fragile the world we love to explore is, and how important it is to be good stewards of it while we do so. There’s a whole industry out there for ecologically friendly holidays, and that’s great. But beyond the eco-yurt – although we do love a good eco-yurt – there are choices that we can all make to reduce our contributions to climate change when we start traveling again. Many older aircraft won't return to the skies © imagean / Getty Images / iStockphotoNewer aircraft with lower emissions For most travelers flying to their destination, the airline journey will be the largest part of their environmental footprint. That’s not just because of the emissions produced, but also because they’re released at higher altitudes, which amplifies their effect. Newer aircraft like the Airbus A350, A320neo or A220, or the Boeing 787, have an emissions footprint about a quarter lower than the jets they replace. With COVID-19’s drop in the demand for travel, many of those older aircraft have been retired and won’t return to the skies, and we’ll be flying on those newer and more efficient aircraft. Look out for the newer aircraft when booking – although the kind of aircraft you’ll actually travel on is never guaranteed – and, if none are available, contact your airline to make your views known. Beyond that, you can make a number of individual choices to minimise your personal environmental impact on the plane: bringing food with you, selecting vegetarian or vegan meals on board, and packing as light as possible, for example. Night trains are having a comeback, particularly in Europe © Laborant / ShutterstockMore lower-carbon travel options In many parts of the world, there are great alternatives to air travel for short-haul or even medium-haul travel. These aren’t just lower-impact, they’re often more fun and provide a fascinating slice-of-life view en route. The growing numbers of high-speed rail networks in many regions, as well as their city-center-to-city-center networks, make them a superb option – even for passengers who might previously have jetted between multiple destinations in a single trip. Night trains, too, are having a comeback, as more and more travelers discover how convenient, cost-effective and time-saving a way to travel they are. Keep your eyes peeled for more and more of these being introduced, especially in Europe. But of course it’s often complicated to find, plan and book trips that include rail rather than air travel, and takes, time, effort, and resources. Fortunately new tools and guides are coming online all the time. Much better rail integration One of the areas where a bit more coordination effort is needed is in getting rail networks in particular to play better with each other and with other forms of transportation. An example: if you buy an airline ticket with connecting flights, the airline is (by and large) responsible for making sure that you make your connection or are rebooked free of charge to the next flight, and provided with accommodation if an overnight stay is required as a result. This is known as a “protected connection”. Protected connections are very rarely available in rail travel. Apart from the CIV rules covering international tickets within Europe, which allow for next-train travel if your previous train is late, it can be very complicated and there’s no guarantee space will be available. It’s not just rail-to-rail connections that need work, either. Rail-to-air tickets are growing in availability, but these will usually have a clause stating that the airline isn’t responsible if the rail part of your trip is delayed. Lufthansa’s Rail&Fly service, in cooperation with Deutsche Bahn, states: “Every passenger is responsible for arriving at the airport in good time. Lufthansa accepts no responsibility for missed flights due to the delayed arrival of a bus or train.” Overall, the travel industry really needs to start making it easier for travelers to make more sustainable choices. Several large cities are working to be bike-friendly, but more can be done © canadastock / ShutterstockBetter walking and biking options It’s been fantastic to see so many cities and towns boosting their cycling and walking facilities to help people get around during the coronavirus crisis. The trick with this when traveling, though, is access to cycling in particular as part of an integrated travel network. Making short-term and medium-term cycle rentals available to travelers is often complicated, and without wanting to get into the perennial debate about helmet requirements, making them accessible to those travelers who would like them is not yet mainstream. Some larger cities’ bike-share schemes are a great start, but there’s much for accommodation providers to do here as well. That’s especially true for hotels, which are in a great position to reduce their guests’ environmental impact, whether they decide to create their own bike provisions or partner with a local company to take care of the details. Booking sites too, can do more to flag up these choices or offer them as filters. Travel is important: it broadens the mind, exposes us to new ways of life and new parts of our shared world, and can be a vital part of global development. More than ever, though, it’s crucial to make travel more conscious and more sustainable.

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