If you love camping in the summer, but reserve fall for cozying up indoors with a good book, listen up — Fall camping is amazing!
There are no bugs, no crowds, and the sun sets early for awesome star gazing. And then there’s leaf-peeping. Hot campfire drinks. Crisp, cozy mornings. Wooly sweaters. The peace and quiet of fall camping totally rivals the frantic pace of summer camping. And I’m counting down the days!
Yes, camping in the fall means chilly nights, but you can handle it, I promise, especially if you read our fall camping tips before heading out on your adventure.
Ready? Let’s go camping!
Why Camping in the Fall is Awesome
Think about all the things you love about fall — crunchy leaves under your boots, wooly sweaters, crisp, cool days, and mulled cider, to name a few.
Now think about how you can enjoy those things to the fullest. A fall weekend camping trip is just the thing, I promise.
So, just to remind why camping in the fall rocks, here are some reasons to get out there:
- You won’t be a sweaty mess when you go for a hike. Cool fall temps are so great for hiking big peaks.
- No mosquitoes!!
- Early campfires. Want to stay super warm and toasty in the evenings? Try some of our favorite hot drink recipes, both kid and adult versions.
- Later sunrises. If catching a sunrise is on the agenda, you will be comforted knowing it’s not as early as it was in the summer.
- No noisy neighbors. Actually, you may not have any neighbors. Fall campground campers can choose from all the very best spots available, as there’s very little competition.
Where to Camp in the Fall
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? If you’re like me and you live in the northeast, you’ll find that most campgrounds close around mid-October. The exception is national forest campgrounds, which are usually open year-round.
I’ve got a few suggestions for fall camping in New England if you’re looking for amazing fall foliage without the crowds.
There are so many national parks that are perfect for fall camping too. If you don’t want super cold-weather camping, stick to parks in the lower elevations, as parks like Glacier, Yellowstone, and the Tetons may already have snow.
Our favorite national parks for fall camping are the Utah national parks, Joshua Tree National Park in California, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
National Forests are great affordable options for fall camping, and you can often find amazing national forest campgrounds near popular national parks.
Fall Camping Gear
If you are a summer camper, then you’ve already got most of the gear that you need. Just keep in mind that fall weather can change quickly, moving from warm and sunny to cold and rainy in the course of a day.
Whether you are fall tent camping, camping in an RV, or luxuriating in a camping cabin, the most important things to think about are staying dry and warm. In addition to your shelter — tent, RV, cabin, etc., here’s what you need to pack for fall camping gear.
- A warm sleeping bag and pad. This is the single most important element to keeping you warm in your tent on a cool fall night. Most sleeping bags have a comfort temperature rating to help you plan for cool nights. Sleeping pads are designed to provide comfort and warmth while camping and are assigned an R-value, which is how well it will insulate you from the cold ground.
Invest in a warm, high-quality sleep system and you will love fall camping. You just may not want to get out of bed in the morning. Here’s a great article describing R-values for sleeping pads and an overview of my Sea-to-Summit sleep system for women that is super amazing for three-season camping.
- Cooking gear – Fortunately, your camp kitchen won’t change too much from summer to fall. You may be doing more cooking over your campfire and less over your camp stove, but your basic gear won’t change. Here’s a complete camp kitchen gear list, which is everything we pack — spring, summer, and fall.
- First aid kit – You’ll need a first aid kit no matter what season you’re camping in. In your fall camping first aid kit, you can add hand and foot warmers as well as a few mylyar emergency blankets. If the temperature drops too low, you can put the warmers in your socks and spread the emergency blanket on the inside roof of your tent to reflect heat. Bonus: Keep hand warmers next to your phone in your pocket so your batter lasts longer.
- Bug spray and sunscreen – You won’t likely find many mosquitoes on your fall camping trip, but fall is a busy season for ticks. Ticks are active in all 50 states, so be vigilant because they’re nasty critters. We’ve got some tips for preventing tick bites here.
- A kitchen tarp – This is listed in our camp kitchen guide, but I wanted to mention it here too. Rain is common in the fall, so the first thing you should do when you set up camp is set up a tarp or two to keep your cooking area dry. We have been using the Kelty Noah’s Tarp 12 for 10+ years and it has saved countless camp meals! We set it up right over our picnic table. When the weather is nice, we flip one side over the other so we can soak up the sunshine.
Clothing for Fall Camping
One word will describe your fall camping wardrobe. Layers. They will go on and come off over the course of your trip, which exactly what you have them for.
There’s a bit of an art to layering, but I usually wear three layers first thing in the morning and peel them off as the day wears on. Here’s an overview of the fall layers you need for your camping trip.
- Wool socks. We wear wool socks all through the year. In the fall, we opt for full cushion wool boot socks by Darn Tough Vermont. Not to be salesy, but these are the only brand of socks we buy and we can’t recommend them enough. Made in Vermont. Lifetime guarantee. Nuff said.
- Wooly Layers. Merino wool layers are the best thing every invented! We can usually get by with thin base layer for fall. Perfect for both hiking and sleeping. Our favorite brand is Woolly Clothing Co., which makes affordable, sustainable merino wool for both men and women.
- Hiking pants – On fall camping trips, I pretty much switch between hiking pants and fleece pants (below).
Fleece pants Fleece pants work really well over a base layer and are great for warming up on chilly days. These sherpa-lined sweatpants are like wearing pjs, but better.
- Wool sweater – Fleece works up top too, but I prefer a thin wool layer because it stuffs into my backpack better than fleece.
- Waterproof layer – A rain jacket is a must for fall camping trips. If you’re buying new, order a size up so that you can layer your waterproof layer over a sweater.
- Puffy layer – Throw a down puffy into your bag for mountain summits and cold nights in your tent. Just don’t get it near the campfire. I made that mistake once and there were feathers everywhere.
- Wool hat and gloves – Especially useful for early mornings when the campfire is just getting going, but you still need to prep breakfast and make the coffee. Turtle Fur is based in Vermont, and we love their collection of warm hats. These fleece gloves from Columbia are so warm (and affordable).
- Waterproof boots and camp shoes – My absolute favorite pair of boots for fall/winter are made by Oboz. The Oboz Bridger 7” insulated waterproof boots have totally changed the way I do cold weather. They are the perfect mix between fuzzy slippers and super rugged hiking boots. They make me feel invincible on slippery trails. And warm. I could sing their praises all day, but I won’t. Just get some before winter. For kicking around camp, you may want to add a pair of fleece-lined Crocs to your pile of gear.
Fall camping with little ones? We’ve got a separate post for layering babies and toddlers in cold weather.
Tips for Staying Warm in Your Tent
If you invest in a good sleeping bag and pad, you’ve already won half the battle. You’ll likely stay super warm all night during your fall camping trip. But just in case the thermometer really drops while you’re out there, here are a few more tips that we’ve found useful over the years.
- Share your body heat. Invite your favorite sleeping partner to snuggle up. As long as they’re warm-blooded — dog, child, or partner, you’ll be cozier than sleeping alone.
- Use a hot water bottle. Heat up some water over your campfire before bed. When it’s time to turn in, pour it into your Nalgene bottle and tuck it into the bottom of your sleeping bag for toasty toes.
- Do some jumping jacks. Think it’s warm sitting around the campfire? That’s external heat that will totally disappear as soon as you walk toward your tent. Make your own heat by taking a minute to do jumping jacks or another type of exercise before hitting the sack.
- Use an emergency blanket to reflect heat. You can drape it over your sleeping bag if it’s really cold, or tape it to the inside of the ceiling of your tent.
Great Fall Camping Activities for Your Whole Family
Camping is an activity in and of itself, but in case you need some more ideas for what to do on your fall camping trip, here ya go!
- Go geocaching. I’m still obsessed with geocaching even though my kids are grown up and don’t do it with me anymore. It’s basically an outdoor treasure hunt using the GPS on your phone. You can go geocaching in every season, but fall is great because some of the growth has died back a bit so you aren’t bushwacking to find your cache. If you don’t know anything about geocaching, start here. Or just download the Geocaching app and have fun!
- Play with your camera. Fall foliage is one of my favorite things to photograph, year after year. What I love about fall camping is that I have all the time in the world to play around and experiment. I almost always bring a tripod for night shots, plus a waterproof camera cover in case of rain.
- Go canoeing or kayaking. Fall paddling is pretty special. There’s just something about the colorful trees reflected in the water. Choose a warm day with lots of sunshine, pack a picnic and head out on your favorite lake or pond.
- Go bird watching. You don’t have to be an expert birder to enjoy bird watching, especially in the fall. Many birds are preparing for a long migration, and because the leaves are starting to fall, they are easier to spot. If you are new to birdwatching, download an app like Merlin to help you with identification. We also have a comprehensive article about bird watching with kids, which is useful even if you don’t have kids.
- Carve pumpkins. What better place to embark on a super messy craft than out in the woods. Pick up some pumpkins before your fall camping trip, and don’t forget newspaper, serrated knives, and some big spoons. The best part? You can cook your pumpkin seeds over the campfire. Just rinse off the seeds before cooking them in a few tablespoons of oil and seasoning in a cast-iron skillet. They’re so good!
- Play Ghost in the Graveyard. If you’re camping with a crowd that involves some kiddos, this is a super fun game, especially if you are camping in a forest where there are lots of hiding spots. It’s a twist on hide-and-seek and great because you don’t need any extra equipment, just a group of fun-loving campers. If you’ve never played (or it’s been a while), here’s an overview of the rules.
Fall camping really is one of the best ways to explore and enjoy the outdoors. Hopefully, our fall camping tips were helpful, but if you want to read more of our camping tips, hacks, and ideas, check out these posts:
- Awesome Long-Distance Hiking Trails for Families and Beginners
- Making the Perfect Cup of Camping Coffee
- The 10 Easiest Camping Meals for Families on the Go
- Campground Etiquette: Keep Your Neighbors Happy and Make Friends While Camping
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Tara is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers and Vermont Explored, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone.
Thursday 16th of April 2020
I love to travel and camp. Thank you for such brilliant ideas and tips while planning camping in the fall.Thanks for sharing this article with us.
Neora camping tips
Tuesday 19th of November 2019
Thanks very much for always putting so much helpful information into your blog posts! I am learning so much reading them!