Camping Hot Spots
Find great places to camp and gain insights into activities to make the most of the top camping hot spots. Get the scoop on where to go next. Discover destinations that offer unique opportunities for you to experience the great outdoors through recreation activities, wildlife viewing, and unforgettable vistas.
Straddling the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of America's finest national treasures. This park and its surrounding foothills are called "smoky" because of the mists and haze that swirl through the tree-covered peaks. This gives the mountains a romantic, old-world feel that connects to the heart of every visitor.
The Smoky Mountains are a part of the Appalachian Mountain range, the ridge that runs nearly the whole length of the Eastern United States. These glorious mountains, often referred to as "the Smokies," are home to the most visited national park in the U.S. 9 million people visit this area every year, admiring the incredible views and abundant wildlife.
When you visit the Smokies, you can head into the national park or spend your time in the neighboring Nantahala National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, and Cherokee National Forest. The national forests are an ideal choice for anyone who wants to get away from the crowds or enjoy activities like hunting, dog walking, off-roading, and ATV riding. Inside the national park, on the other hand, you'll find protected old-growth forests, interpretive trails, viewpoints, and helpful rangers.
The Smokies include stunning peaks like Mount Le Conte, Balsam Mountain, and Tricorner Knob. Most of the highest mountains are part of a 75-mile stretch that runs between the Little Tennessee River and the Pigeon River. The highest point is Clingmans Dome (6,643 feet). Visitors can drive to within 300 vertical feet of the summit and hike up a paved trail to the top. If the day is clear, you can see as far as Georgia and Kentucky from the peak.
Not only are the Smokies known for their amazing wildlife, but the park is also called the "wildflower national park" because of the breathtaking spring and summer blooms. Depending on the time of year, you can see trilliums, bee balm, Solomon's seal, native rhododendrons, azaleas, and even orchids growing wild in the mountains. More than 10,000 species of plants and animals have been documented in the park.
Animals are a hallmark of the Smoky Mountains. Inside the national park, there are around 1,500 black bears. You'll also see deer, chipmunks, squirrels, groundhogs, and more than 200 bird species. If you're out at night, be sure to watch for owls and bats!
Fishing is a traditional Smoky Mountain activity. You'll find brooks and rivers with headwater trout, smallmouth bass, and brook trout. There are also hundreds of miles of roads and trails to explore. Hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are all popular pursuits. This is also a great park to explore by car. You can buy inexpensive booklets that guide you through sights like the Newfound Gap, the Upper Tremont, Cades Cove, and the Cataloochee Valley.
Be sure to keep an eye out for waterfalls and historic sites. Nearly 80 historic buildings are part of the park, from churches and schools to grist mills and barns. These include the best group of log buildings in the eastern United States! Many of these structures have been preserved by park staff and volunteers.
The high, dry country of the Intermountain West is a special place -- a place filled with dramatic scenery, wildlife, and rugged beauty. Set near Nevada's border with Utah, Great Basin is one of the newest additions to the national park system. This swatch of land surrounding Wheeler Peak (a 13,063-foot landmark) includes sagebrush fields, bristlecone pine stands, rocky moraines, and even a stunning set of underground caves.
Things To Do
Great Basin National Park is a fabulous place to enjoy a scenic bike ride, a hike up Wheeler Peak, or a day of caving and rock climbing. You'll find excellent fishing here, as well as the chance to gather your own pine nuts. In the spring, wildflower viewing is a popular activity. Artists and photographers bring their equipment to the park and set up tripods and easels in front of panoramic views.
This is also a great place to come for star-gazing. Recent studies show that a third of all Americans can't see the Milky Way from their backyards. If you're longing for a clear view of the nighttime stars, head to Great Basin. The park has superb visibility at night and was recently documented as one of the darkest places in the country.
During Your Visit
If you only have a short time to spend in the park, head to the Lehman Caves for their hour-long tour of this amazing cavern system. Afterwards, you can take a drive along the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive for some incredible views of the mountain and the surrounding countryside. Or, if you prefer, take the self-guided Mountain View Nature Trail through the pinyon-juniper forest.
On your second day in the park, hit the Bristlecone Pine Trail and view Nevada's only glacier at the base of Wheeler Peak. For a longer hike, visit the Lexington Arch or climb all the way to the summit of Wheeler Peak, the second highest point in Nevada.
In the summertime, Great Basin enjoys pleasant, warm temperatures in the 70s and 80s. This is a great time to go hiking, since trails are likely to be dry and clear. Watch for afternoon thunderstorms that can come up quickly -- always take a raincoat with you when you hike in the high desert!
Fall is a beautiful time at Great Basin. The aspen trees turn yellow and gold, and the days are crisp. In the winter, the park turns quiet. Snow at the higher elevations pushes the wildlife lower, making this an excellent time to see deer, marmots, and other creatures. Many visitors bring cross-country skis and snowshoes, so they can explore the silent, snowy trails. In the spring, trails can be wet with melting runoff. Still, this is the best time to see wildflowers like Indian Paintbrush, Prickly-Pear Cacti, and Globe Mallow.
Great Basin has terrific fishing. Many of the nearby creeks and streams offer brown trout, brook trout, and rainbow trout. Visit Lehman Creek, Baker Creek, Snake Creek, and Williams Creek. If you'd rather set your rod for cutthroat trout, head to Strawberry Creek or Baker Lake.
Pine Nut Gathering
These tasty, nutritious little nuts -- a staple in pesto and other gourmet dishes -- are part of the park's natural fall bounty. Every fall, visitors are allowed to gather pine nuts, provided that they don't break any branches, harm any plants, or drive off marked roads. The nuts must be for personal use (not for resale). Every family can collect 25 pounds of pine nuts or 3 gunny sacks full of cones each year. These limits were designed to let people collect nuts for their own meals, but also leave enough behind for the squirrels, pinyon jays, and nutcrackers to eat.
With its unobstructed views and sparse underbrush, Great Basin is a terrific place to watch for birds. When you're in the park, keep your eye out for flickers, sandhill cranes, herons, kestrels, hawks, quail, eagles, magpies, and red-winged blackbirds. Waterbirds like green-winged teals, northern pintails, northern shovelers, and cinnamon teals also frequent the park. If you're out at night, see if you can spot a great horned owl or an elusive nighthawk.
It may seem like a contradiction in terms -- skiing in a place that's known for beaches and sunshine? But at Southern California's ski resorts, you'll find deep powder, massive slopes, and the same gorgeous scenery you'll find on ski mountains anywhere. If you're looking for a wintertime escape that leaves you just miles from sunshine, warmth, great golfing, and gorgeous beaches, head to one of these fabulous ski areas for a day of snow-play.
Here are just a few of our favorite California ski destinations:
Bear Mountain and Bear Valley Mountain
The twin resorts known as Big Bear are famous in California for the great skiing they offer. Beyond the terrific slopes and well-groomed runs, you'll also find great special events at the Big Bear resorts. Look for giant slalom races, special ski classes and snowplay programs, and the kids club for kids aged 4 - 8. You'll love the stunning views!
This is one of California's most popular ski resorts. With well-groomed hardpack and areas for skiing and snowboarding, Mammoth offers 3,500 skiable acres, 3100 feet of vertical drop, and a starting elevation of around 8,000 feet. Most of the runs are for intermediate skiers, but you'll find beginning and advanced runs as well.
Deep, packed powder, short lift lines, and a great location all set Mount Baldy apart. The lift tickets are affordable and there are plenty of advanced runs. You'll drop from 8600 feet to 6500 feet as you zip down these powdery runs.
For short lift lines, great runs, and special toys like jumps and rails, head to this Southern California favorite. Mt. Waterman is sixty-percent advanced runs, so this is the perfect destination for skilled skiers.
Just an hour and a half from L.A., set in the charming town of Wrightwood, this is a family-oriented ski resort. This ski center prides itself on its low rates, special events like night skiing, and its volume of snow -- said to be 30 percent more than the Big Bear resorts get.
Set in the San Bernadino mountains, this is a Nordic, or cross-country, skiing center. With 12 miles of groomed trails and plenty of space for snowshoeing, you'll have a great time gliding down the Rim Nordic trails. The paths are wide enough for skate skiing and there are plenty of classes for first-timers. They also offer cross-country ski rentals and snowshoe rentals. During the summer, this is a great place to come for mountain biking.
For beautifully groomed hardpack and terrific viwews, head to Snow Summit.
For short lines, uncrowded runs, and friendly service, take a trip to Snow Valley. Be sure to check out the special lift rates on Wednesdays and other deals from Sports Chalet and Sports Authority. With plenty of beginner runs, this is a perfect family resort.
Beautiful Colorado is a skier's paradise. With the dramatic slopes of the Rocky Mountains and the Inner-Mountain West's dry powder, Colorado offers the kind of glorious skiing that no snow-bunny wants to miss. This winter, why not plan a trip to the Rocky Mountain state and take to the slopes? You'll find a number of ski mountains and resorts throughout the state.
Colorado offers more than twenty different ski resorts. They range from the large, world-famous resorts like Vail and Telluride to lesser-known gems like Steamboat, Eldora, and Loveland. If you'll be staying in Denver, you may want to frequent the slopes near the Mile-High city, like Breckenridge or Echo Mountain, the state's newest ski area.
You'll find excellent skiing on Denver's Front Range, but if you're looking for a smaller-town experience, head off the beaten path to resorts like Powderhorn, Sunlight, and Monarch Mountain. In small towns like Steamboat Springs you'll find charming downtowns, gorgeous scenery, and fewer crowds on the lifts and slopes.
Other terrific Colorado ski areas include Arapahoe Basin, Beaver Creek, Buttermilk, Crested Butte, Keystone, Durango, Silverton, Ski Cooper, Snowmass, SolVista, Winter Park, Wolf Creek, and Aspen's two resorts, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain.
Even if you aren't an experienced skier, you can still have a great time at the Colorado ski areas. First, consider taking a ski class. You'll find group classes and individual classes at any of the state's resorts, so you can learn at your own pace. Find a class in your age group and get started. If you already have some skiing skills but want to improve, you can take a class with a pro and get some one-on-one tips. The resorts also offer snowboarding classes for anyone who wants to try this exciting sport.
More than Just Skiing
Colorado's ski areas offer much more than just lifts and slopes. You'll find miles of cross-country ski and snowshoeing trails, areas for tubing and sledding, and snowboarding spots. There may be a run with jumps and moguls, or a way to get out into the remote back-country. And of course there's always a cozy lodge with a roaring fire and plenty of hot cocoa and coffee. Many of the ski areas are set above mountain towns that offer fabulous shopping and amazing restaurants. You'll find a wide array of sports shops and sporting equipment retailers, international cuisine, book stores, holiday shops, and specialized boutiques.
A number of ski areas put on special events during the winter. Ask about their night skiing options, holiday specials, and other fun events. You can often spot Santa skiing down the slopes in late December!
If you're in Denver in early November, you won't want to miss the annual Colorado Ski and Snowboard Expo, an event that's held at the Denver Convention Center. You'll find huge bargains on last year's ski and snow equipment as well as clothing, early-season lift ticket deals, and fun giveaways.
As you trek up and down your chosen mountainside, be sure to keep an eye out for Colorado's amazing wildlife. From golden eagles to elk and pronghorn antelope, you'll find that this state is filled with wild creatures. You might see marmots scampering across the snow, catch a glimpse of a snowshoe hare, or see parties of tiny mixed birds gathering birdseed off the ground. Wildlife is so plentiful here, you can even see elk, foxes, and antelope from the highways and state roads.
If you're looking for a picture-perfect winter getaway, complete with snow-covered meadows and dangling icicles, head to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The deep forests and open fields of this area make it perfect cross-country skiing and snow shoeing country.