The best time for camping is the first couple of weekends after the air first starts to feel crisp in the morning — that long-awaited departure from the heavy blanket of humidity that greets us on most summer days in Chattanooga. The more pleasant temperatures also usher in the always-stunning effect of the leaves' transformation from shades of green to vibrant yellows, oranges and reds.
It's comforting to know there are forests full of fall colors waiting to see us. Here are a few of the spots we've been daydreaming about.
Cloudland Canyon State Park - Lookout Mountain, Georgia
Whether you prefer to enjoy the views as close as possible to your car or during a hamstring-challenging ascent of more than 1,000 feet, Cloudland Canyon has the leaf-peeping experience you are looking for. The park's 3,500 acres feature 64 miles of hiking trails and 30 miles of mountain biking trails. Try the moderately challenging, 5-mile West Rim Loop for stunning views of the canyon, or take the daunting metal staircase down into the canyon for the worthwhile reward of two waterfalls. Camping options include backcountry, tent and RV sites, and even yurts for the glampers.
Amicalola Falls State Park - Dawsonville, Georgia
Amicalola Falls State Park is not only home to Georgia's tallest cascading waterfall, it also boasts some of the state's most spectacular vistas for viewing fall colors. Pitch your tent or park your camper in one of the park's 24 wooded campsites to wake up in the midst of nature's annual autumn work of art. The spacious, private sites are limited to six campers and include water, power, a grill, a picnic table and a fire ring to gather around and take in all the s'mores and ghost stories your heart desires. The campground has showers, laundry facilities and restrooms on-site, but there's no water during the off-season.
Pisgah National Forest - Hot Springs, North Carolina
The drive is almost as good as the destination when you're traveling to North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest, a 500,000-plus-acre wonderland of waterfalls, whitewater rivers and hundreds of miles of trails that serves as the perfect backdrop for fall colors. While the massive expanse of forest — much of which was once a part of the Biltmore Estate — contains many camping areas, one of our favorites is the Davidson River Campground. With wooded sites nestled along the river, the campground is located close to the town of Brevard and worthy side trips like Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock.
Desoto Falls Recreation Area - Cleveland, Georgia
Desoto Falls Recreation Area in Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest is a leaf peeping mecca. October is the best time to see the show, pitching your tent under the dense forest canopy as the leaves take on their most vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange. Spend your waking hours fishing in Frogtown Creek, along which many of the campground's 23 sites are located, or hike to one of the nearby waterfalls. Note that while the campground is open year-round, drinking water, outdoor showers and flush toilets are only available from April to the end of October.
This story was originally published in September 2020.