When summer ends, it’s not too late for camping. In fact, autumn is one of the most underrated times of the year to pack the car, hit the road, and pitch a tent. The season’s milder temperatures and fewer crowds give you an even better chance of snagging the perfect campsite. Here are seven places across the West to set up camp and sleep outside.
Bothe Napa Valley State Park, California
In the heart of wine country, camping in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park offers a contrasting experience to the wine tasting and vineyard tours the area is most known for. Trade the tasting room for dense forest, dirt trails, and the cool waters of Ritchey Creek, all just minutes from Calistoga’s best wineries. Camping is spread out among 50 sites, with group, RV, tent, and hike-in sites available. If glamping is more your speed, the park also offers lodging in five fully restored historic cabins and 10 yurts. Even though fall is typically less crowded than summer, it's a good idea to make reservations online through Reserve California and call the park to check current conditions and rules before you go.
Kirk Creek Campground, California
Wake up to the sound of waves crashing on the beach at Kirk Creek Campground, just 30 miles south of Big Sur on the Cabrillo Highway. Out of the 40 campsites located on an open bluff, 13 have a clear view overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Only two are first come, first served, while the others can be reserved online in advance. This area is one of the busiest on the list, but campers can get lucky in fall when the weather cools off. For an alternative to the beach, explore the Vicente Flat Trail that starts across Highway 1. The 10.9-mile out and back hike climbs for 2,500 feet, but you only have to walk a few miles to get panoramic views.
Pinnacles Campground, California
Fall is peak season in Pinnacles National Park, when the brutally hot temperatures finally dip into the 60s and 70s. Spend several days enjoying the park—from California condor sightings to talus caves expeditions—by staying overnight at Pinnacles Campground, which has 134 reservable sites. Access the campground from Highway 25 on the east side, heading toward Bear Gulch. Oak trees provide shade on warmer days, and amenities include coin-operated showers, potable water, RV hookups, barbecue pits (only to be used when fires are allowed), and an unheated swimming pool that’s open through the end of September. In autumn, the cottonwoods and evergreens show off their golden and amber foliage.
Lower and Upper Lehman Creek Campgrounds, Nevada
One of the least visited national parks, Great Basin is the place to retreat when you’re in need of a respite from crowds. These two campgrounds, established along a bubbling creek, have 34 sites between them. Open year-round, Lower Lehman Creek Campground is just minutes from the Lehman Caves, a dazzling array of stalactites and stalagmites. Upper Lehman Creek Campground sits at 7,500 feet up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and closes after the first snow, usually in October. Neither area has potable water, staff on site, camp stores, or cell reception, but vault toilets are available.
Kershaw Ryan State Park, Nevada
On the outskirts of Caliente in Eastern Nevada a desert oasis awaits. Natural springs in the canyon irrigate fruit orchards, wild grapevines, white oaks and willows, and rose gardens, while also filling a wading pool and a koi fish pond with clean water. Cool off in the water and shade created by the canyon’s 700-foot-tall walls. Kershaw Ryan State Park’s small and newly retrofitted, 16-site campground has coin-operated showers, shade ramadas, fire rings, grills, and picnic tables—all you need for an extended stay in the colorful canyon. Nevada doesn’t have a reservation system for state parks yet (coming in 2023), so this campground fills on a first-come, first-served basis. Arrive on a weekday for the best chance at getting a spot.
Valley of the Gods, Utah
In a land of RV parks and established campgrounds, sometimes it’s nice to be all alone and without resources for once. For self-sustained travelers, Valley of the Gods is a vast dispersed camping area near Mexican Hat that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. This spot is completely primitive, which means no bathrooms, campground hosts, or other facilities. Off Highway 163, a dirt road leads to dozens of flat spots for parking a camper or pitching a tent among sandstone buttes, mesas, and pinnacles. Arrive prepared for solace and solitude, and respect the sensitive desert ecosystems by following Leave No Trace principles. With very little shade, the area is best enjoyed in the cooler seasons such as fall.
Joseph H. Stewart Recreation Area, Oregon
As one of the largest campgrounds on this list, and one that’s open year-round, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a site during the off-season at Joseph H. Stewart Recreation Area right outside Prospect. Make it your home base for exploring the nearby Rogue River or Crater Lake National Park, which is only 60 miles away. Or hunker down at one of 200 sites for adventures right outside your tent on the shores of Lost Creek Lake, such as hiking sections of the 18 mile perimeter, stand up paddleboarding, and fishing. Reservations can be made on short notice (72 hours in advance) through the Jackson County website.