flickr / Va. Dept. of Conservation & Recreation

6 Summer Campsites Across The Country You Need To Reserve In Winter

flickr / Va. Dept. of Conservation & Recreation
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It’s the dead of winter. It’s freezing. While thoughts of punching Jack Frost are surely dancing through your head, channel that mythical creature rage by planning your family’s annual camping trip. Ironically, there’s really no better time to book a campsite than right now.

Seriously. Recreation.gov, which features a database of more than ready-to-reserve 60,000 campsites across the country, suggests booking a campsite 6 months in advance. The reasons are fairly obvious: 1) Popular weekends (think July 4) for desired sites are booked fast; 2) You can save some cash because camp websites still list winter booking fees; and 3) The earlier you reserve, the more likely you’ll get to camp at the most sought-after sites — in other words, not your backyard.

Now that you’re in a s’mores and flask-of-bourbon-once-the-kids-are-asleep frame of mind, here are some of the best campsites for families. Book ’em fast. As in now.

Jellystone Park, Larkspur CO

Yes, this is a Yogi Bear-themed campground. And yes, costumed versions of the sandwich-thief and his tiny companion Boo Boo make appearances. But don’t let that Disney-esque feature throw you off. The area, situated within the Rockies and Roosevelt National Forrest is as scenic as they come. Yurts, teepees, tents, and bathroom-equipped cabins are available to rent and a selection of activities, from ranger-led day hikes to fossil digs, keep everyone occupied. Just look out for your picnic baskets.
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Fort Yargo State Park, Winder, GA

Georgia’s Fort Yargo State Park is known for its 260-acre lake with a large beach area and 20 miles of trails. If you’re looking for something a bit upscale, reserve one of the permanent yurts on the beach, which come with electricity, furniture, and a fire ring. Or you can go old-school and just stake your tent. Hiking is a big draw, as is the park’s First Time Camper program, which allows families to try camping before spending their cash on equipment. What’s more, the program features camping lessons from a ranger, so beginner dads can learn a few lessons. Like how to hang a bear bag or what leaves not to wipe with.
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Natural Bridges National Monument Campground, Lake Powell, UT

If you’re able to snag one of the 10 campgrounds at this coveted park, come prepared: The nearest town with food and lodging is 40 miles away. There’s no running water, electricity, or hookups at the sites but there are grills and picnic tables. But this site is more about the beauty than the bells and whistles. The park features 3 majestic rock bridges: The Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu. Named after the Native American tribes that once lived in or near this Utah park, they’re just a short hike away from the grounds — and are some of the most spectacular natural formations in the country.
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Echo Park Campground, Maybell CO

Raising a pint-sized paleontologist? Bring ’em here. Since it’s located about 40 miles within Dinosaur National Monument, Echo Park is packed with fossils and prehistoric drawings called petroglyphs. The 17 camp sites sit on the bank of the Green River beside Steamboat Rock, which houses dino-bones and the early drawings, so you won’t have to dig to find them. Living animals also roam: big horn sheep and deer are frequent visitors. Unless you want to be night-licked by a deer, you best keep those goldfish in a safe spot.
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Creek Ridge Campground, Hot Springs, NC

Rustic cabins, standard stake-in sites, and open-sided coverings called peka structures are some of the accommodations that await at this North Carolina site. Located right near the French Broad River, Creek Ridge is made for water lovers, with tubing, fishing, and rafting are all available. That doesn’t mean the hiking is weak: Hot Springs is the unofficial “Hometown” of the Appalachian Trail, as it’s the first real settlement hikers reach on the trail’s south-to-north path. It’s also home to only 620 people — and several of the steamy natural attractions from which its name is derived.
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Douthat State Park, Millboro, VA

Planning a camping trip with the in-laws? First of all, apologies. Secondly, pack plenty of beer. And finally, try booking a spot at Virginia’s Douthat State Park. The park has more than 30 log cabins and lodges to accommodate large parties (there are also 35 traditional campgrounds and more than 50 RV hookups). You can hike some of the 43-miles of trails that wind through the Allegheny Mountains, or spend your days relaxing by the 50-acre Douthat Lake. Both stream and lake fishing are popular, but if you don’t get a bite, fear not: there’s an on-grounds restaurant. You can pretend their catch of the day is yours.
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