Not-so-touristy camping destinations in the US
July 11, 2013 6:49 AM   Subscribe

We just completed a car-camping trip to the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming and loved it. While there were clearly many others camping there also, it had zero tourist factor. We want to find other places like this. We love to camp, so that is a requirement.

This means avoiding most national parks (sadly), although finding something that is driving distance to a national park is a plus.

Because I'm a teacher, this means summer travel as well (so please don't recommend somewhere that is 105F all summer long). I'm aware of this question, which has some good ideas, but others do not pertain.

A couple places that look like possibilites: White Mountains in NH, Allegheny forest in PA, and Shawnee forest in IL. But I'm sure there are many state parks/forests that we (Minnesotans) don't know about.

I'd also happily welcome specific tips of things to see at a destination. For example, if you are in the Bighorns, you should check out Crazy Woman Canyon and hike from West Tensleep Lake up towards Mirror Lake.
posted by BradNelson to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho would be a great place to visit if you think volcanism is interesting. Don't bring open-toed shoes unless you want to open your toes.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:58 AM on July 11, 2013

Best answer: Baxter State Park in Maine. Really it should be a national park; it's gorgeous and very non-touristy. Excellent camping and hiking. It's also driving distance (2.5 hrs) from the very touristy Acadia National Park.
posted by pie ninja at 7:00 AM on July 11, 2013

I just got back from this part of the Pike National Forest in Colorado (Brookside-McCurdy Trail) that was totally deserted. In two days of July, we saw maybe three people total. They allow for "dispersed camping" which means you don't have to pitch a tent at any given campsite, just that you must be 100 feet back from any trail, stream, or lake. The Pike & San Isabel National Forests are huge and I'm sure you could find a remote / deserted part of it even during "peak" season. As far as driving to a National Park, well, Rocky Mountain National Park is roughly two hours away.

In Canada, you might consider Granby Provincial Park in BC:
Granby Park is one of the least-known and least-explored wilderness areas in southern British Columbia. This undeveloped park encompasses the headwaters of the Granby River and several adjacent basins, and is one of the last major watersheds in the Boundary region to be protected from logging.

This 40,845 hectare park is very new, having just opened up to the public in 1995. The park is so new that is lacks adequate signage and formal facilities. There are no facilities in the park, not even an outhouse. All camping in the park is wilderness camping, and visitors are expected to practice 'no trace' camping. Visitors need to be self-contained and prepared to wait for help in case of emergency.

posted by mattbucher at 7:09 AM on July 11, 2013

This might sound odd since it's the most-visited National Park, but Great Smoky Mountains National Park is beautiful and is so big that you can pretty easily avoid the over-travelled areas if you want (just hiking straight through on the AT will take you 5 days, and there are several hundred miles of side trails beyond that). It's easier to do this if you're backpacking, the parts accessible by car (like Clingman's Dome) do get a lot of traffic.
posted by ficke at 7:10 AM on July 11, 2013

I highly recommend the camping on the island of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. I went last summer, during the low season there, so the camping area was almost deserted. Cinnamon Bay is inside the park, and you can sleep just off a wonderful beach with fantastic snorkelling. I didn't find the weather too hot, and there's loads of hikes and other beaches to explore on the island.

I hesitated about answering this question, because it is such an undiscovered gem in the summertime. I don't want it to get crowded. I'm resigned, though, and happy to answer any logistics questions if you have them.
posted by eulily at 7:31 AM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just spent the extended 4th of July weekend in the White Mountains, hiking around the King's Ravine area. It isn't car camping friendly per se, but if you're willing to do a 3.5 mile hike in, there's a set of cabins operated by Randolph Mountain Club that make a great base for exploring a bunch of the excellent trails in the area and have magnificent sunrises. The King's Ravine is on the shoulder of the Presidential Range, so you can plan dayhike summit treks to the tops of various mountains like Adams, Jefferson and Madison, and is also doted with a bunch of waterfalls and streams with natural swimming holes.

Otherwise I've found that car camping in the Whites to be a mixed bag as they do get crowded in the summertime, especially on the weekends. I don't know what you classify as "tourist factor". If a "tourist" is avoiding a bunch of clogged roads full of RVs and tour buses, then, yes, that won't be much of a problem in the Whites. If "tourist" are trails overrun with folks who have cameras, sneakers and fanny packs, then there are certainly a bunch of trails in Franconia Notch and the Pemigewasset Wilderness that may fall in this category; especially the largely flat streamside wide (ie. The Flume) that run alongside the car camping spots.
posted by bl1nk at 7:38 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: eulily: We went to St. Thomas and St. John's on our honeymoon and loved Cinnamon Bay. I agree that it is quite a gem and surprisingly not overly touristy. Sadly we can't drive there (and flying with camping gear is unappealing).

bl1nk: Yes, basically we want to avoid the roads clogged with RVs and busses, or packed hiking trails.
posted by BradNelson at 7:53 AM on July 11, 2013

Best answer: Try West Virginia, especially the Monongahela. Bonus if you're into that sort of thing - many bluegrassy/folk festivals nearby, from a big flashy one in Floyd to something more downhome at the Carter Family Fold.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 8:09 AM on July 11, 2013

Best answer: the rocky mountains are full of these places. The black canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, and the silver thread highway that traces all the headwaters of the Rio Grande (a really beautiful drive). Flaming Gorge at the Wyoming/Utah border. Dinosaur national monument in Utah. Bear lake. Really the whole area where Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho come together is pretty remote and not all the heavily visited by tourists. It is mostly public lands and you can camp anywhere.

Except for a couple of months in the middle of the summer the north rim of the Grand Canyon is pretty empty (especially if you stay off the main lodge). Toroweap point is really cool if your car can make it.

Silver City/Pinos Altos/Gila Cliff dwellings in southwestern New Mexico. It is remote, high altitude and some of the only old growth ponderosa forest still to be found anywhere on the planet. This whole area of New Mexico/Arizona is full of old mining ghost towns and small ranching/mining towns with tons of history(a lot of the spanish stuff is older than the US and the Indian stuff is much older than that). There is also the Very Large Array (VLA) and white sands pretty close (white sands is really, really, really hot in the summer). Or go north to Monument Valley, Canyon De Chelly and Mesa Verde (this area is also kinda warm during the summer but not unbearable).
posted by bartonlong at 9:11 AM on July 11, 2013

Best answer: There must be camping around Lassen Volcanic National Park (I guess it's not "touristy" because it's one of the 10 least-visited national parks!). It's a beautiful place.
posted by wintersweet at 10:18 AM on July 11, 2013

Best answer: Olympic National Park is far from touristy and is surrounded by even more, even less touristy National Forest.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:25 AM on July 11, 2013

Best answer: Check out the national forests. Many of them have car camping campgrounds with limited facilities (e.g. 8 sites with fire rings and a flat spot to pitch a tent, with a shared pit-toilet outhouse), and they tend to not get much traffic because people haven't heard of them or don't want to camp without indoor plumbing.

I can personally recommend the Colville National Forest north of Spokane, Washington. The mountains and lakes there are beautiful, the weather's sunny and dry because it's in the rain shadow of the Cascades, and when you're used to Minnesota mosquitoes it's like this magical wonderland of no buzzing or itching. Plus you can pick your own amazing peaches and cherries at the local orchards during the summer.
posted by vytae at 10:43 AM on July 11, 2013

Best answer: Cedar Breaks National Monument is right in the Dixie National Forest and is super-lovely, like a mini-Bryce but also near a lot of foresty stuff. It's largely deserted, within easy driving distance of a lot of great Utah stuff, and since it's at 10,000 feet it doesn't have the same problems with heat as other places that might be good for this (Red Canyon, Kodachrome State Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante...all of which I have happily done in the summer (I teach, too) but which require significantly more planning so as to not get baked).
posted by charmedimsure at 10:51 AM on July 11, 2013

Minnesotans? Have you been to many North Dakota areas? The Devils Lake area is great for camping but might be too much like home for you if you live by one of Minnesota's many lakes. How about Cross Ranch State Park in North Dakota? I love it because it restricts RVs/motorized off-road vehicles and enforces quiet, and it's beautiful! So not only is it not a tourist-trap, it is a truly outdoor, peaceful place to go. Medora and Ft. Abraham Lincoln are nice too, but Medora especially is touristy. Ft. Abraham Lincoln isn't as touristy but it does have a lot of tours and historical structures to explore.
posted by Eicats at 11:38 AM on July 11, 2013

Best answer: If you go to the Monongahela National Forest as RandlePatrickMcMurphy suggests, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Dolly Sods Wilderness. Follow with a burrito at Hellbender's in Davis and beer/ice cream/bluegrass at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas. No car camping in the DSW, but you can backpack and primitive camp, car camp at Blackwater Falls SP, or stay at the Purple Fiddle's hostel or guest house. Message me if you end up going that way, I can recommend more in that general area.
posted by domnit at 5:15 PM on July 11, 2013

Shawnee National Forest is nice if you're in the vicinity (a refreshing contract to the endless sea of corn and soybeans that is Illinois/Iowa/Indiana/Missouri), but it's not something I personally would drive all the way from Minnesota to experience.

Parts of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are spitting distance from Shenandoah National Park, although I think some parts of it (Mount Rogers, e.g.) are as good as anything on offer in Shenandoah itself. And I also second RandlePatrickMcMurphy's recommendation of Monongahela--there are a couple of popular spots that are a little crowded (Seneca Rocks comes to mind) but there are also some really great camping and hikes that are practically deserted.
posted by drlith at 9:23 PM on July 11, 2013

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