Save Your Summer, Part IV: Camping

This is the fourth and final installment in our Save Your Summer series, an attempt to help you salvage a summer of adventure. Check out our previous pieces on Hiking, Backpacking and Paddling.

Davidson River campsite (photo courtesy CampgroundReport.com)

Davidson River campsite (photo courtesy CampgroundReport.com)

Take a look at the calendar, but promise you won’t freak.
August 25!?!
Where, oh where, did the summer go? you wonder.
Summer is a period of high adventure hopes that have a tendency to go unmet. Yards to mow, beach vacations to take, backyard barbecues to attend. Before you know it, it’s August 25 and your summer adventure list remains unchecked.
To a degree, that’s OK. You can hike, backpack, paddle any time of year. What’s not OK is passing up your summer camping trip. Camping is a true rite of summer: set up the tent, set up camp, get everything in place — then crawl into your hammock and let the birdsong and the sound of kids playing like we did years ago transport you to your happy place. Sure, take a hike. Take your fly rod. Check out a nearby waterfall. But above all, establish your weekend retreat and do just that: retreat.
We’ve scouted five campgrounds that, for one reason or another, are especially good at offering retreat. Three are in the mountains, and because you may not think you have time to drive all the way to the mountains, two are in the Piedmont.

1. Davidson River

We start with arguably the best campground in the state. Located at the southern gateway to the Pisgah National Forest with hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trail, trout streams, waterfalls and all around great exploring. Add to that the convenience of being just outside of Brevard (Walmart, two bike shops and an outfitter are a mile from the gate) and its no surprise that the campgrounds 160 sites are in high demand come summer weekends; reservations are highly recommended, lest you feel lucky taking a chance on one of the few walk-up spaces.
Location: US 276 1 mile north of US 64/NC 280 in Brevard
No. of campsites: 160 (not all open year-round)
Stuff to do nearby: hiking, mountain biking, fishing, fly fishing, waterfalls.
More info and reservations: 877.444.6777, www.recreation.gov.

2. North Mills River

North Mills River group campsite

North Mills River group campsite

You call Davidson River and it’s full. Rats! you say. I really wanted to explore that area. And you can, by moving your base camp a few miles east to the North Mills River Recreation Area and Campground. North Mills River is smaller and there’s no guarantee you’ll score a space here. But if you do, you’ll have access to a less explored region of the Pisgah. Here, hiking trails snake up the Blue Ridge Escarpment and, on the map, at least, appear to end. But an abundance of old logging roads provide a connective network that lets you do some real exploring. Interested in testing your map and compass skills? Head up the Fletcher Creek Trail and see what happens.
Location: N. Mills River Road (SR 1345) 4.7 miles from NC 191, Mills River.
No. of campsites: 31
Stuff to do nearby: hiking, mountain biking, fishing
More info and reservations: 877.444.6777, www.recreation.gov, www.forestcamping.com

3. Mount Pisgah

Mount Pisgah (above the Mount Pisgah Campground)

Mount Pisgah (above the Mount Pisgah Campground)

For summer camping, the higher you go, the better you sleep. That’s a big plus at the Mount Pisgah Campground, which, at 5,000 feet, sees overnight lows drop into the low 60s and upper 50s, even when daytime highs hit the 80s. Most spots in this National Park Service campground are secluded from their neighbors, insulated by a thicket of rhododendron that dominates much of the area. Easy access to the Mountains-to-Seat Trail, which runs through the area, NPS trails leading out of the campground, and great hiking 20 minutes to the west in the Shining Rock and Graveyard Fields area make the campsite especially attractive to hikers.
Location: Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 408
No. of campsites: 70.
Stuff to do nearby: hiking
More info and reservations: 877.444.6777, recreation.gov

4. Lake Norman State Park

Watery fun awaits campers at Lake Norman (photo courtesy N.C. State Parks)

Watery fun awaits campers at Lake Norman (photo courtesy N.C. State Parks)

Because of its size — it’s the largest manmade lake in the state at 32,510 acres — Lake Norman attracts a goodly number of motorboats. But because of the vast number of watery fingers snaking off the main channel, there are opportunities for peaceful paddling as well, making this a popular base camp for kayakers and canoeists. There’s also 6 miles of hiking-exclusive trail and more than 30 miles of mountain bike trail making for a weekend of recreational escape. This is the Piedmont, however; evenings won’t begin to cool appreciably and consistently until the end of September; plan your sleeping attire accordingly.
Location: 159 Inland Sea Lane, Troutman
No. of campsites: 33
Stuff to do nearby: Paddling, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, swimming (seasonal)
More information and reservations: 877.722.6762, www.ncparks.gov

5. Hanging Rock State Park
Love a good adventure weekend? Then pack the gear and head to Hanging Rock St

The view from atop Hanging Rock

The view from atop Hanging Rock

ate Park, where your campsite serves as basecamp for: 1) hiking on 18 miles of trail that visit vista-filled summits (Hanging Rock and Moore’s Knob) and cozy, rhododendron-choked gorges rife with waterfalls; 2) climbing on Cook’s and Moore’s walls, which extend nearly two miles in length and reach heights of 400 feet; 3) paddling, including stretches of Class III water on the nearby Dan River. The park also has a 12-acre lake with sand beach, ideal for lolling away a summer’s day.
Location: 1790 Hanging Rock Park Road, Danbury
No. of campsites: 73

Stuff to do nearby: Hiking, swimming, fishing, mountain biking, waterfalls
More information and reservations: 877.722.6762, www.ncparks.gov

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Find more campground options on our online guide to adventure, here.