The highest mountains in the Eastern United States, the wildest beaches, the biggest swamps: the Southeast has it all when it comes to family camping.
Surf rods or trout rods? Canoe or kayak or bass boat? You want alpine views or beach sunsets? Just pick a spot, and start packing.
Florida boasts of more than two dozen first-order freshwater springs that bubble to the surface to form fabulous swimming holes and clear-water rivers. Many anchor state or federal parks with great family camping, and many are close enough to attractions like Orlando and the Florida beaches for a do-it-all vacation. It’s the best of both worlds: Visit the Mouse, sleep in the wilds. My family’s favorite is Alexander Springs in the Ocala National Forest, with large wooded campsites, a sweet sand beach by the spring, and great access to easy canoeing along a wildlife-rich river.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Along the famed Outer Banks of North Carolina, you are literally on the edge of the continent with your toes about as far into the Atlantic Ocean as you can get. This “ribbon of sand” is a series of barrier islands framed with gorgeous marsh on one side (think kayaking and clamming) and the finest beaches in the South on the other (think surfing lessons and fabulous fishing). There are four national park campgrounds along the seashore; snag a site at the Ocracoke campground for the most privacy. And don’t overlook commercial campgrounds. Frisco Woods Campground is a great one.
Grayson Highlands State Park
It’s a little bit of Switzerland in the high country of Virginia: Expansive rolling alpine meadows crown some of the tallest peaks in the state. These are the “balds” of the Southern Appalachians, ancient grasslands where you can see for miles, hike among wild ponies, and do your best not to hum “The Sound of Music” for days on end. The state park campground provides easy access in a gorgeous forested setting.
It doesn’t get much more Southern than this hallowed region of South Carolina. There are two major lakes along the Santee and Cooper Rivers: Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. Together, there have more than 450 miles of shoreline. There are places where the lakes are studded with cypress trees, other places with wide sandy beaches, and wide open waters that are famous for catfish. Tons of family campers show up with boats in tow, everything from pontoons to johnboats to high-dollar bass sleds.
At Georgia’s Stephen C. Foster State Park you actually camp inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which sprawls across 400,000 acres of cypress swamp and freshwater ponds, plus miles of the famed Suwannee River. This is a wildlife lover’s dream, a remote wilderness park with alligators, wood storks, black bears and endangered woodpeckers.