Help me find a national park geographically between my friend and me
February 16, 2015 5:11 PM   Subscribe

I want to go camping in a national park (or a really great state park) between my friend in Indiana, and myself in Austin, TX. I was initially thinking about Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it looks like a huge percentage of it is closed during our proposed dates, around March 20th. And the reason for that is weather - as a texan it had not occurred to me, but the highs even in the warmer parts of the park are in the 60s with lows in the low 40s/high 30s. That's probably not really very suitable for us (there will be several small children) Is there anything between us (say, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas) that might be suitable around March 20th? Lows in the upper 40s/low 50s would probably be about as low as we're really willing to go. That might be a really limiting factor at that time of year?
posted by RustyBrooks to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
I forgot to mention - there will be several of us there, probably 3 adults and 4 kids, with various tolerance/interest in the outdoors. So we'll want to camp someplace you can drive into, rather than backpack into. We don't need a cabin per se but we'll want water and possibly electricity. Access to wilderness is desired, but being directly in it isn't.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:16 PM on February 16, 2015

I haven't been to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, but it's on my short list of National Parks to visit next. It looks like the campground has drive-up sites and there should be basic facilities available — toilets, potable water, showers (though the showers may have a nominal cost).
posted by cmerrill at 5:31 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have been to Hot Springs National Park. Its mostly a block of historic bathhouses in town. Definitely not a cabin-or-camping-in-the-woods-type park. Although, there are probably state parks near by (that are less, um, "urban") that also have hot springs?
posted by mon-ma-tron at 5:45 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have very fond memories of trips to Devil's Den when I was a kid. NW Arkansas, might work well for you.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:52 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lake Ouachita State Park is pretty, and has cabins, and it's roughly halfway between Austin and Indianapolis...
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:28 PM on February 16, 2015

I was going to suggest looking into Giant City State Park in southern Illinois, but I don't know if it'll meet your temperature criteria, as lows will likely be in the upper 30s/low 40s in mid-late March and you could certainly still get freezing temps that time of year. In fact, looking at the average last frost map for Arkansas I don't know if anywhere in that state meets your temp. criteria.
posted by drlith at 8:13 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

we'll want water and possibly electricity

Rent an RV, or scrap the camping idea and stay in a lodge or cabin at or near the places you want to visit. A heated RV might extend the range of temperatures you'd find acceptable as well.

Access to wilderness is desired, but being directly in it isn't.

Wilderness areas in national parks don't allow motorized transport. If you don't want to sleep in the wilderness area, which is unlikely to have plumbing (I'm assuming that's what you meant by "water") and electricity, you won't be able to get very far into the wilderness on a day hike with small children.

There are some rare national parks where you can hike through a wilderness area and arrive at a cabin or lodge, but they usually require reservations far in advance.
posted by yohko at 10:30 PM on February 16, 2015

I've been backpacking in Arkansas in mid-march, and our water bottles froze solid that night. It looks like we caught some unseasonably cold weather, though, as this long-term forecast looks pretty in line with what you say you're looking for.

There are lots of places in the Ozark mountains of Southwest MO/Northern AR that are nice. Somewhere on either Table Rock or Bull Shoals lakes might fit the bill.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:48 PM on February 16, 2015

You can find all the national parks, monuments, etc., that are in between the two of you here :

There aren't all that many national parks, at the temperature you want try starting with the farest south ones and see if you can find one with things your group wants to do. Lows in the 40s is really not something you can count on in March in places like Kansas.
posted by yohko at 10:52 PM on February 16, 2015

Well, that's kind of what I was afraid of. Like I said, I've lived in Texas a long time, and past the early spring, it gets *hot* and it doesn't take long before you're assured comfortable temps during the night. I'll look into the place above.

By "water" though I mean just that - some place I can get drinking/washing water. Doesn't necessarily mean toilets and it doesn't have to be directly adjacent to the camp site.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:16 AM on February 17, 2015

I'd look at and around the Natchez Trace Trail. There are lots of historical sites and camping opportunities along the parkway, plus a few state parks associated with it.

Definitely not the Smokies -- it can be cold in July there.
posted by susanvance at 8:03 AM on February 17, 2015

By "water" though I mean just that - some place I can get drinking/washing water

Often developed camp grounds with a tap for water won't have drinking water. If the water is marked "non-potable", you should not drink it.

I usually bring 2 gallons of water per person per day for car camping, where I live it is common to find FS camp grounds with paved parking, picnic tables, and pit toilets, but no running water whatsoever.

Away from municipal water supplies, having clean drinking water flowing from a tap is expensive to set up and maintain. If you want that it's going to cut back still further on where you can camp.

I'm assuming you want to do car camping, but if you want to hike in and camp with running water and have it be that warm at night you are pretty much asking for the impossible.

Five gallon plastic jugs for water can be had for around $10 or $15.
posted by yohko at 3:10 PM on February 17, 2015

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