“Location, location, location.” While that’s the mantra for investing in real estate, it’s also a guiding force when you’re choosing a place to camp. There’s no doubt that a trip outdoors is even better when you score the campsite with the sweeping mountain view, the perfect spot on the lake, the prime position near the beach, or even the site that sits near the restroom or other creature comforts. We all have our own definition of what makes a campsite the best. But, no matter how you define it, Alabama’s state parks and other natural areas boast several ideal campsites, from the rocky outcrops of Cheaha Mountain to the Gulf Coast.
The trick is knowing just exactly where to find the best campsites at your destination. To give you a leg up, we’ve highlighted seven destinations and specific, highly coveted campsites at each place. Just remember, you’ll need to plan and book early to score the best location.
Gulf State Park
No matter what season you plan a trip to visit Alabama Gulf Coast you had better make your reservations far in advance if you want a campsite at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores.
The park is the home of arguably the most popular campground in the state. Even with 496 improved campsites it’s difficult to reserve a spot. The reason? The Gulf beaches, of course. The campground is located only 1.5 miles north of those sugary white beaches and turquoise waters. But, that’s not the only reason the campground is popular. There’s hiking at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, walking and biking on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, restaurants, nightlife, you get the picture.
The campground has 11 air-conditioned bath houses (a must along the coast almost year round), swimming pool, laundry, even tennis courts. The best sites? On the water, of course. Sites 11-37 and even numbers from 220 to 226 are right on the beautiful shimmering waters of Middle Lake, while site numbers 469 through 496 are along the narrow Boat Canal that feeds the lake. Either way, you’ll have great views and an easy put-in for you canoe or kayak.
Joe Wheeler State Park
Beautiful, tranquil, serene. These are just a few of the words used to describe the campground at Joe Wheeler State Park.
Located on the banks of Wheeler Lake between Florence and Huntsville, this resort-style state park and campground features 116 improved and 30 primitive campsites with plenty of shade and more-than-adequate spacing for a restful night’s sleep.
While there, hike one of the park’s three trails, grab a racket and hit the tennis court, or maybe hit the links on the 18-hole course.
And, if you get tired of S’mores (but really, who would?) take in a beautiful sunrise breakfast or sunset dinner at the park’s lakeside restaurant.
The campground has three loops, and each has wonderful waterside sites. In Section A, try to get sites 24, 25, or 26. In section B, the best sites are 17, 20, 22, 24, and 26 through 28. The absolute best is site 9 in Section C—it’s right on the water. Each loop has its own clean bathhouse with three hot showers and plenty of space.
Cheaha State Park
Cheaha State Park has one of Alabama’s highly desirable campgrounds because it makes the perfect basecamp for exploring the miles and miles of trails, thundering waterfalls, and awe-inspiring overlooks of the Talladega Mountains.
Atop the state’s highest mountain there are 72 improved sites in two campgrounds, 25 semi-improved sites at the CCC tower, and plenty of primitive sites. The stone bath houses are the original facilities built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, updated, of course, with more modern fixtures. Both are heated, which is a welcome touch if you camp here in winter.
In the spring, the is hopping as people flock to enjoy the blooming wildflowers and flowing waterfalls. It’s also a popular place in summer when the swimming is cool and relaxing in Cheaha Lake, and in fall when the leaves put on a dazzling show. Things really get busy the weekend of the Talladega 500 NASCAR race. During winter, visitation drops significantly, but it’s still a good time to spend a night or two, when a dusting of snow enshrouds the mountains.
Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of the improved sites at Cheaha. Tucked away in the forest they’re all pretty nice. But, you might want to be closer to the bathhouses if you have kids or if it’s very cold out (they are heated, after all). Sites 3, 8, 14, 16, 19, 21, 23, or 25 in Campground #1 are each located next to one of the bathhouses. If you visit in the summer, check out the 30 sites in the lower Campground #2, which is only a short walk or drive to Cheaha Lake for some swimming.
Wind Creek State Park
Wind Creek along the shores of Lake Martin is touted as the largest state-operated campground in the United States with 586 improved campsites. Of those, 156 are waterfront.
Of course, the lake is the big draw here for fishing and swimming, and most of those 500+ sites are reserved well in advance. The campground itself has beautiful, clean and modern bath houses scattered throughout, as well as two laundries.
The park is located only a few miles from the remarkable hiking trails that were built by the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association, including the Smith Mountain Fire Tower Trail and the new John B. Scott Forever Wild Trail. But, within the park, there is plenty to keep you and your family busy like the archery range, paddle boats and kayaks, a visit to “Creem on the Creek” for a sandwich, pizza, or maybe some ice cream, and the brand new Zipline Canopy Tour.
Choice sites are located near the camp store in the Orange loop, including sites 22, 24, 25, 29, 30, and 32 through 40. Odd numbered sites 13 through 32 in the Red Loop are located near the swimming beach area. Sites 122 to 128 in the Blue are nice waterfront sites as well. All of the loops are located at the tips of fingers that jut out into the lake.
Meaher State Park
Small in size but not in popularity, the campground at Meaher State Park in Spanish Fort is coveted for its location—right smack dab in the middle of Mobile Bay, less than 10 miles from Mobile and right at the gateway to the second largest delta in the country, the Mobile-Tensaw.
The park has nice renovated bath houses and boasts 61 improved RV sites and 10 improved tent sites. It’s a cozy setting, maybe a little too cozy for some. The park itself is only 1,300 acres in size, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in nearby activities. You can head to Mobile for the nightlife, museums, or even experience Mardi Gras at the birthplace of the celebration.
The real draw, however, is the delta itself. Just across U.S. Highway 98 from the park is the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center, which has an exciting and educational exhibit hall, a theater where outdoor- and nature-related movies play almost constantly, and a gift shop. The Center also has pontoon tour boat or kayak rentals so you can view alligators in the wild.
The best sites to catch a beautiful sunset on Mobile Bay are the odd numbered sites from 7 to 35, and also numbers 52 and 54. A real favorite is site 52, which is furthest away from the Causeway and more secluded.
If you’re looking for something more downscale from a resort-style state park—a more traditional camping experience—then one of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds will be to your liking. All USACE campgrounds combine peaceful, beautiful landscapes with clean facilities and plenty to do.
One of the most popular is Deerlick Creek, tucked away in the oak, beech, and pine forests along the banks of Holt Lake in Tuscaloosa.
Deerlick has 46 sites in all, and 6 of those are primitive. While primitive sites are normally an afterthought at most parks, these are phenomenal and are located on a bluff overlooking the lake.
The campground has several short hiking trails, a road biking trail, laundry, and a nice, clean central bath house.
Keep in mind that this place is hopping during college football season when the Alabama Crimson Tide have a home game. The campground is closed November through February.
Some of the best sites are actually not directly on the banks of the lake. Instead, they’re up just high enough where you get a good, unobstructed view. These sites are 5 through 9, 13 through 18, and 34 through 39. The best part for tent campers is that the facility doesn’t restrict the number of tents per pad.
Corinth Recreation Area
One of the most fascinating areas to explore in Alabama is the Bankhead National Forest and the Sipsey Wilderness, also known as the “Land of a Thousand Waterfalls, ”which lies within the national forest. The most popular site to pitch camp and explore this wonderland is the USDA Forest Service Corinth Recreation Area.
Located 7 miles from Double Springs, the campground has 102 campsites in 4 loops, each with ample room between sites and plenty of shade from the hardwoods. The bath houses are nice and clean, with one located in each loop.
Of course, being on the banks of Lewis Smith Lake there is great swimming and fishing, with striped bass being the main catch. There are also basketball and volleyball courts, and you can swim in the lake. And, of course, you are only a short drive away from the waterfalls and canyons of the Sipsey.
The best sites include 15 and 18 in the Yellow Hammer loop, and 38 through 41 in the Firefly loop. All of these sites have good shade (a blessing in summer heat), and they offer a view of the lake. Of course, some views are better than others. The best is Yellow Hammer 15, which sits on a bluff above the water's edge.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.