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4 Top Locations in the Southern U.S. for Winter Camping

Photo by hobo_018 via iStock

Winter camping in the Southern US is an awesome experience. With its milder weather and proximity to urban areas, the Southern US wilderness areas are prime spots for cold-weather camping. 

Winter camping is preferred by some outdoors enthusiasts over warmer weather excursions, so I’ll be keying in on that idea but also including the Fall season for our cold-weather camping discussion.  

Table of Contents:

Winter Camping Ideas

Mature black woman sitting on the top a hill and having tea break during her hike in the mountains.

Photo by MilanMarkovic via iStock

Winter or cold weather camping has unique challenges and comes with some very special rewards for those willing to undertake the challenges. 

The Southern US has some beautiful spots for winter camping, from state parks to national parks to coastal areas and mountains. By Southern US, I’ll be keying in on what is viewed as the traditional South, which geographically is actually the Southeast region of the United States. Florida and Texas have their own special place for discussion, as does the Southwest US region. 

One of the nice aspects of winter camping in the Southern US is that generally speaking, the weather is milder than in some other wilderness areas of America. I say generally speaking because it can still get really cold in certain areas and during outlier weather events, so it pays to be prepared for extremes of weather, including heavy snowfall, howling winds, and bitterly frigid nights.

Cold weather camping in the Southern US provides fun areas for recreation, relaxing spots for getting away from it all, and many opportunities for landscape, nature, and wildlife photography. A lot of the areas I’ll highlight in this short list cover all 3 of those!

I winnowed it down to 4 areas to consider, but this is by no means a comprehensive list. There are so many places to go that you could make it a full-time job visiting them all. How cool would that be?

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DeSoto State Park, Alabama

Minnehaha Falls during Autumn in the Georgia mountains

Photo by Marilyn Nieves via iStock

DeSoto State Park in Alabama is located in the far northeast corner of the state near the historic small town of Fort Payne, Alabama. 

It has over 3,500 acres of wilderness areas, including rivers, lakes, mountains, and waterfalls. The state’s highest waterfall, DeSoto Falls, is located within the area; it has a height of 104 ft and has carved out a beautiful canyon area.

Activities you can find there include horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, and extreme camping. There is also a 94-spot camping area with hookups for RVs and tents, plus various cabins, chalets, and motel rooms if you’re inclined that way.

Photographically, late Fall brings amazing colors, but all cold weather camping in DeSoto has wonderful opportunities for nature and wildlife photography. Hiking the trails brings you to various spots with wide panoramic views of landscape photography ideas.

Some trails qualify as extreme, perfect for the ultra-adventurous camper, hiker, or photographer.  

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

View of Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains from the park's famous Skyline Drive Jewell Hollow Overlook.

Photo by Different_Brian via iStock

Shenandoah National Park runs along the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia and is easily accessed via the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive, which has many spots to turn off, leading to camping areas, hiking trails, and various natural sights.

Part of the Appalachian Trail runs through this national park, one of the most visited national parks in the southeast region of the United States. Once you see it, you’ll understand why so many songs have been written about his gorgeous area.

For winter camping, sometimes parts of the park are only accessible by means of hiking in, especially when the Parks Service closes Skyline Drive. Even with that caveat, much of the park remains open year-round, with some areas and many of the park-related businesses and the improved campgrounds with amenities closed between December through March.

You can enjoy so many things in this wonderful national park: The Appalachian Trail, other trails from easy to extreme, mountain wilderness, forest wilderness, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, rugged mountain peaks, wetlands, and lots and lots of wildlife.

There are over 300 square miles of backcountry for wilderness extreme camping and hiking available to aficionados of roughing it; just be careful not to annoy the bears or give them a reason to annoy you. 

You’ll end up returning to this park repeatedly, both to try out new things and enjoy your favorites. October is peak fall foliage time, which may be outside of what counts as winter camping, but you’ll want cold weather gear and clothing if planning on camping at higher elevations, even during that time of year. It may not be the Rockies, but it’s a mountain area that can get quite cold.

Calhoun Falls State Park, South Carolina

Fall in Missouri with colorful vivrant trees. Part of Ha Ha Tonka state park.

Photo by alejandrophotography via iStock

Calhoun Falls State Park sits on the border of Georgia and South Carolina in the northwest part of South Carolina and is open all year. It is on the shores of picturesque Lake Russel and has horse trails, hiking trails, boating, and various levels of camping.

You can fish, swim, and boat on the lake, with kayaking being a popular activity. It’s photographically diverse and has a backcountry wilderness for the adventurous. Sunsets and sunrises are gorgeous, and there are plenty of birds to keep you busy cataloging or photographing.

Cloudland Canyon State Park, Georgia

Watkins Glen State Park: Gorge Trail - Glen Cathedral

Photo by stefko via iStock

Cloudland Canyon State Park is in the far northwest corner of Georgia and is almost as close to Nashville as it is to Atlanta, so it is easy to get there. A prime attraction of this park is the many caves and the deep canyons in it.

If you like rugged, this park has the attractions for you! It has trails that are among the most strenuous in the Lower 48, 1000-foot deep canyons, many tall waterfalls, and backcountry camping is allowed. 

Lookout Mountain is in the park borders, and most park areas are open year-round, so this area is a great choice for winter camping. Charge your camera batteries and bring extra memory cards because you’ll be taking tons of pictures, capturing high mountain vistas, those wildly deep and rugged canyons, and more wildlife than you thought existed inside a state line.

Winter Camping Mobile Base Camp

rustic mountain overland 1

Now that you know a few places to go for some enjoyable winter camping, let me also tell you about one of the best ways to take advantage of these marvelous areas: a mobile base camp based around a multi-purpose tent trailer.

I wrote a full review of the one I’ve been testing, the Anzac GFC Moto Hauler. It’s manufactured by Rustic Mountain Overland, located in Alabama, and has features you’ll want for winter camping.

rustic mountain overland 3

The tent for sleeping is on top, and the cargo area is down below, on the first floor. Not only does that make sense for practicality, but it also minimizes your footprint in wilderness or backcountry campgrounds.

It has full-sized tires, which I find very important. I hate pulling trailers that have those tiny, utility cart-style wheels. Full-sized tires and wheels are the way to go for interstates or unimproved back country roads. It also closes up very tight for travel or storage, being quite easy to haul behind my vehicle.

rustic mountain overland 4

One of the neatest things about this mobile base camp idea for winter camping is that you can access the ATVs or bikes below your sleeping area without leaving the trailer. That’s a nice feature for sloppy and messy winter camping days.

The hatch doors all open towards the top, becoming an overhang for rain, snow, or protection from the sun. Whether staying out for a couple of days or a couple of weeks, this combo tent and vehicle hauler is a great answer for how to stay reasonably comfortable while winter camping.

rustic mountain overland 5

Whatever your choice for national or state parks for winter camping, you’ll feel safe and be set up to enjoy all of the fun these wilderness areas offer with a mobile base camp set up. 

What’s your favorite area in the Southern US for winter camping? Drop me a line and include some pics so I can make my way over to it next time!

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