From the 120-mile-long “Texas Grand Canyon” to trophy trout fishing in Oklahoma, the American South is no slouch when it comes to incredible opportunities to get outdoors. Enjoy a relaxing soak in some rustic hot springs as you stare up at the blazing night sky over New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness. Or maybe you’d appreciate more of an adventure, like mountain biking the Sierra Vista Trail? Definitely spend a night or two at the best campground in Big Bend National Park, complete with access to all the most popular hiking trails that’ll get you into the high country and out of the Texas heat. You could spend a lifetime exploring the South with one memorable camping experience after another. Here are The Dyrt campers’ top 10 favorites to get you started.
1. Sierra Vista — New Mexico
Forty minutes from White Sands National Park and with unrivaled views of the Organ Mountains, this free and dispersed camping area is a must-stay. Begin and end each day with views of the sunrise and sunset spilling over the mountains right from your campsite at Sierra Vista. The town of Las Cruces is just about a 10 minute drive away for supplies, but this area still has a private, wilderness feel with great access to hiking and views of wildlife. As camper Kate B. put it, “The views are gorgeous, yet it’s close to the city and amenities.” Unlike many dispersed campsites, Sierra Vista has noise restrictions and is frequently visited by BLM rangers that help ensure a great experience for all campers.
Departing right from Sierra Vista is the 29-mile Sierra Vista Trail, which goes across state lines, ending in the Franklin Mountains of Texas. This trail is a hidden gem, offering unrivaled mountain and desert views. The Sierra Vista Trail is most often used by mountain bikers, but also makes for great hiking!
2. Chisos Basin Campground — Texas
Widely regarded as the best campground in Big Bend National Park, Chisos Basin Campground is a prime location for spectacular views and access to the park. At an altitude of 5,400 feet, Chisos Basin has mild temperatures (even in the summer) compared to other campgrounds in the park. Many of the most sought-after trails Big Bend has to offer, including the South Rim and Lost Mine trails, have trailheads right off of this campground. One of the trailheads near the campground is the Pinnacles Trail, which offers stunning scenery and access to the park’s highest point, Emory Peak, at 7,825 feet. Bears can sometimes be seen near or around the campground, and every site comes with a bear-proof storage container.
If you’re thinking about taking your big rig on a trip to Chisos Basin Campground, you might want to think again. The road to the campground could be described as “treacherous” and is not recommended for trailers over 19 feet and RVs over 24 feet.
3. Petit Jean State Park — Arkansas
Arkansas’s first state park, Petit Jean, sits perched atop its namesake mountain. There is more than enough to see near the park’s campground, from the towering 95-foot Cedar Falls to the impossible-to-miss rock arch known as Natural Bridge. The park’s campground offers many different types of accommodations. Tent sites, RV sites, yurts, cabins and a 24-person lodge all serve as great base camps for the many sights to be seen.
Do you like hiking and history? Be sure to take a stroll down the Rock House Cave Trail to see one of the largest bluff shelters in the state.
4. Palo Duro Canyon State Park — Texas
Whether you want to backpack into a remote site surrounded by rugged canyon walls or stay in the park’s new glamping accommodations, Palo Duro Canyon State Park’s campgrounds have you covered. Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” the second-largest canyon in the country is sure to impress with its miles of hiking trails and stunning natural features. Most campsites include trees for shade — which you’ll be thankful for in the Texas heat!
Forget something at home? No worries! There’s a trading post in the park with the necessities: groceries, firewood and great burgers.
5. Buffalo Point — Arkansas
Situated beside the limestone bluffs of the 135-mile Buffalo National River, Buffalo Point campground is the largest and most developed campground in the area. The campground offers outstanding scenery, surrounded by densely wooded areas and rock bluffs up to 440 feet high. There is plenty of fun to be had on the water, too. Kayak rentals are offered on-site, and swimming, fishing and hiking along the river are all popular activities.
In peak season and on holidays, a restaurant is open at the campsite, offering meals if you get back late from a hike or just don’t feel like cooking at camp.
6. Rio Chama Campground — New Mexico
Set up camp along the multi-colored sandstone rock formations and rushing water of the Rio Chama, a designated National Wild and Scenic River. The scenery, with its river canyons and lush trees, is hard to beat and the river offers countless activities like fishing and boating. The 11 campsites are all first-come, first-served and include picnic tables and fire rings for your camp enjoyment. With such few campsites, Rio Chama Campground offers a “more private, primitive, and exciting camp feel compared to the Amphitheater campsite nearby,” said camper Lila. L.
Thinking about taking your boat out for a spin on the Rio Chama? Be sure to enter the lottery system ahead of time, which will assign you a launch date. The number of boaters allowed in the river has been limited to protect the natural beauty and fragile ecosystem of the area.
7. Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway — Texas
Filled with roaming bison herds and over 90 miles of trails, Caprock Canyon State Park & Trailway is a wonderland 100 miles southeast of Amarillo. With 44 sites that include hookups for RVs, 80 walk-in or hike-in primitive sites and 12 equestrian sites, this selection of campgrounds has something for everyone. If you love wildlife viewing, there is more than just iconic bison herds. Songbirds and waterfowl are plentiful, too.
Summer can be a hot (dare we say, scorching) time to camp in Texas. Lucky for you, Lake Theo, located within the park, makes for a great swimming hole in which to escape the summer heat!
8. Blanchard Springs Campgrounds — Arkansas
Located in the heart of the Ozarks, Blanchard Springs Campgrounds is an oasis surrounded by rugged rock bluffs and pristine swimming holes. Water is a main feature of this campground, whether you are going for a swim in the creek or hiking to the thundering waterfall. Great caving opportunities are also just minutes from the campground at Blanchard Springs Caverns.
With so few sites, the campground often fills up in peak times. However, the rainy season can be a great time to visit since rain gives even more power to the Blanchard Springs waterfall!
9. Gila Hot Springs Campground — New Mexico
This peaceful, private campground is the perfect destination for tent and trailer campers who want to enjoy the area’s hot springs and the surrounding Gila Wilderness. Camp in the shade of big cottonwood trees along the Gila River and spend the day soaking in rustic tubs (access is included with your campground fee!). At night, prepare for some incredible stargazing thanks to this campground’s remote location in the heart of Gila National Forest.
Many members of The Dyrt community have mentioned the kind camp hosts and quiet vibe this spot offers. More than anything, this is a place to recharge and soak it all in. PRO camper Daniel J. agrees: “Gila Hot Springs is a great place to relax and recover,” he says. “Not a party spot. Well managed, and a respectable surrounding community.”
10. Beavers Bend State Park — Oklahoma
Yes, there are mountains in Oklahoma, including the beautiful Kiamichi range, which is where you’ll find Beavers Bend State Park. The park’s campground is nestled along the shores of Broken Bow Lake and offers a whopping 443 campsites plus 47 cabins and a 40-person lodge. Float the Mountain Fork River, fish for trout (including some catch-and-release trophy areas), go for a hike, or play 18 holes at Cedar Creek Golf Course.
Be sure to keep an eye out for deer, which frequently roam the campground!
- Price: $18-165
- Number of sites: 443, plus 47 cabins
- RV sites: yes
- Fires allowed: yes
- Pets allowed: yes
Images provided by The Dyrt
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