There’s a reason fall festivals, rituals and celebrations increase as days dwindle down toward years’ end: campers reluctantly say goodbye to summer and for many, that officially ends their favorite outdoor experience.

There is compensation. Fall ales tastes crisper. Bonfires feel warmer. This season is filled with wonder…which is why you must plan a fall camping trip to end the year on a positive note and grab one more adventure before things get too cold to wander the woods for more than a sunny afternoon.

You don’t have to bring pumpkin treats or prepare warming stews over a campfire if you prefer not to spend this glorious season toiling away, but there are plenty of recipes for dishes that warm the heart, spirit and tummy–and we’ll help you find them.

Got snug sleeping bags? Know how to build and maintain a proper fire? Start your own family tradition by taking a fall camping trip to end your year on a colorful note.

All about the weather

Heavy Clothes Over The Mountain with Autumn Foilage
Because our readers live in so many different areas it’s hard to profile one region, but there are plenty of generalities you can apply to your upcoming camping trip. Our inspiration? A blog post featured on the KOA website that addresses the topic “How to Make the Switch from Summer to Fall Camping.” That’s exactly what you’ll be doing as you look forward to the benefits of autumn camping.

Though temperatures will drop, there aren’t as many bugs and insects to contend with in fall and frankly, if you find campgrounds to be less than appealing when they’re crowded with people, you enjoy more privacy in the fall, too. Having a big chunk of the woods all to yourself certainly gives you more opportunities to cuddle! Ditto drenching rains that force you into your tent so you can listen to romantic raindrops.

Can things get downright hairy? That depends upon whether you’re camping in Rome, Georgia or Rome, New York. Be prepared for any dramatic weather change you can imagine before you leave home and use common sense while onsite so you don’t wander off on long hikes when skies indicate dense fog, lightening threatens or an impending snowstorm. Double down on securing your tent if camping in an area known for gusty fall winds.

The biggest caution of all? Don’t get wet. You’re going to regret it because even a warm change of clothing won’t vanquish the feeling of being chilled to the bone if you’re caught in a downpour. After all, fall camping is supposed to be fun not torture.

‘Tis the season for folks on a budget

Image of a piggy bank showing budget
Because the kids are back in school, the post-summer vacation glow has diminished and you’re back to business as usual, a fall camping trip won’t cost you as much if you intend to patronize a campground. Whether you plan to pitch a tent or park an RV, bookings decline after Labor Day, but you’ll have to don your Sherlock Holmes hat and do some sleuthing for the area you wish to visit because some campgrounds close early.

For example, Indiana posts a list of rates on the state’s website associated with amenities, locations and special interests like horseback riding and canoeing in addition to camping. Each rate is broken down by the days you wish to camp between April and early November. If you want to camp after November, you must contact the parks department directly to make arrangements, and other states may have the same restriction.

The birds and the bees

Rabbit stationary among autumn leaves
You already know everything there is to know about sex (or most of it), but fall brings changing behaviors in animals that could get you in more trouble than you imagined. Think bears and bees so you imagine the range and scope of animals busily adjusting to their own change of season. While hibernation behaviors don’t usually kick in until late fall/early winter, that doesn’t mean critters aren’t preparing to do their thing.

When temperatures cool, animal species grow more comfortable “coming out.” They instinctively know that the numbers of humans decrease at this time of year so become familiar with wildlife species that could decide to pay you a visit in your neck of the woods. Because bears spend around 20 hours a day foraging for food in the fall, a good piece of advice is to set up your campsite as a triangle: cook in one spot, store food in another and set up your sleeping quarters in a third. Estimate 100 yards each separating the three.

But bears aren’t the only creatures of which you should be mindful. Bees sense that winter is coming and they tend to get more aggressive than usual at this time of year. For this reason, if anyone in your party is allergic to bee stings, err on the side of caution by throwing an Epi-pen into your first aid kit.

Enjoy the splendor

Spectacular Fall Camping
It’s one thing to talk about fall foliage and calendar-perfect landscapes painted in shades of red, yellow and green. It’s another to see this color show in person. Fall camping is a feast for the eyes so if you love to snap photos, have at it. Take advantage of the landscape by planning as many hikes as you can fit into your schedule, remembering that exposure in the fall can be a trickster.

A bright sun beating down doesn’t mean temperatures won’t drop dramatically if you climb a mountain, to become a master of layering so you can peel off and pile on lightweight garments in accordance with your body temperature. With each layer, air is trapped in-between to create an insulation that keeps the body warmer than wearing a single, thick garment. That’s why stowing extra knit shirts and socks into your backpack can save the day if nature decides to throw a weather curve ball your way.

Hibernate at night like the bears

Your summer sleeping bag won’t cut it, autumn camper. You must make sure that your sleeping bag(s) is rated for temperatures between 10- and 35-degrees F, so you don’t wind up cutting your trip short after night one. When in doubt, chat up your camping gear store manager to make certain you’re reading that information tag on your bag correctly. Also, it’s smart to add a sleeping pad to your equipment list because these foam-based pads help keep the ground chill at bay and give you additional insulation.

One of the biggest mistakes campers make when they camp in the fall is assuming that if they sleep in multiple layers of clothing, they will stay warm–especially since layering is the most appropriate way to dress when you’re up and moving. But, body heat loss is exacerbated when you sleep, so piling on layers of clothing can actually make you feel colder since 50-percent of all heat loss comes from your head.

Light up your night

Shining Against Canyon At Night
One of the most amazing benefits of camping in summer is that it stays light for extra hours and even after the sun sets, skies fade slowly to friendly shades of gray. In winter, not only are days shorter but (no joke) the dark is darker—especially if you camp in the Pacific Northwest, New England states, Northern Plains and Alaska.

Don’t get so carried away with the colors of autumn that you fail to keep track of time. You don’t want to be caught on a long hike as the sun disappears from the sky, especially if you’re in unfamiliar woods or you haven’t properly marked your trail so you can follow it back to your campsite.

Because it gets darker faster, bring extra lights so you don’t have to worry about finding your way to an outhouse or moving around after the sun goes down. Your campfire will offer lots of illumination, but bringing headlamps and LED lanterns along expands your ability to see in the dark–especially if the crunching noises you hear outside your tent sound suspiciously like wildlife out for a midnight stroll over fall leaves.

‘Tis also the season to eat hearty

Food Chicken Meat Outdoors Salivating
Getting away with sandwiches, finger foods and the occasional batch of s’mores in summer won’t do in the winter when activity, the weather and your hunger for more than just chips conspire to prompt a full-blown desire for hot and hearty foods that will keep you going even when temperatures drop.

Sure, you can pack hot dogs and hot cocoa mix, but how about taking a page from Buzzfeed to up your food game when you camp this fall? We recommend their yummy dishes which are long on taste and short on manual labor. From breakfast biscuits to campfire burritos and from nachos to grilled veggies, these recipes are so easy to prepare, nobody winds up slaving over a campfire when they could be hiking amid brilliant fall colors.

Where to go and what to do

Your job, time and money are going to determine where you go and what you do on your fall camping trip, but if time and money are no object, we’ve selected a representative sampling of campsites across the nation that promise to turn an ordinary fall camping trip into a lifetime of memories.

Who better than The Wilderness Society to identify 15 places guaranteed to offer sensory pleasures within this nation’s national park system? We’ve alphabetized them so you can locate parks near your home turf. Use the accompanying links to make sure you don’t travel to a destination only to find the park closed to visitors.

Location: Alaska

Destination
Denali National Park; rugged mountains serve as a dramatic background to vividly colorful trees.

Best viewing time
Leaves begin to turn in August, so this area’s prime viewing time is early fall.

More information

Location: Arizona

Antelope Canyon Lower Canyon
Destination
Grand Canyon National Park; photo opportunities abound, especially on the high North Rim.

Best viewing time
Late September to mid-October. Some areas close early in the season so check in advance.

More information

Location: California

Someone hiking with a view of the Yosemite Mountain in Fall
Destination
Yosemite National Park where fall colors don’t just impress; they mesmerize.

Best viewing time
Late October to November.

More information

Location: Colorado

Rocky Mountain Fall Colorado
Destination
Rocky Mountain National Park. Evergreens and golden trees paint a glorious color landscape.

Best viewing time
September to October.

More information

Location: Maine

Acadia National Park Cadillac Mountain
Destination
Acadia National Park; especially Cadillac Mountain where vistas are extraordinary.

Best viewing time
Late September through October.

More information

Location: Maine to Georgia

Destination
The historic Appalachian Trail attracts hikers from across the nation and overseas.

Best viewing time
September to November; New Hampshire is paradise in late September.

More information

Location: Montana

Lake McDonald at Glacier National Park
Destination
Glacier National Park has so many amazing places to camp, plan to spend extra time there.

Best viewing time
Mid-September to mid-October.

More information

Location: North Carolina and Tennessee

Destination
Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be decked out in orange, red and gold this season.

Best viewing time
Mid-to-late October.

More information

Location: Ohio

Destination
Cuyahoga Valley National Park where the railroad tour isn’t to be missed for fall foliage fans.

Best viewing time
October

More information

Location: Texas

Destination
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef.

Best viewing time
Can be as late as November.

More information

Location: Utah

Destination
Zion National Park is one of the nation’s most often-visited destinations year-round.

Best viewing time
Late fall; from October to November.

More information

Location: Virginia

Destination
Shenandoah National Park is home to a one-of-a-kind Fall Foliage Bike Festival.

Best viewing time
Second half of October.

More information

Location: Virginia and North Carolina

Destination
The Blue Ridge Parkway spans historic Shenandoah to the romantic Smoky Mountains.

Best viewing time
Second half of October.

More information

Location: Washington State

Destination
Mount Rainier National Park; leaves start changing in August.

Best viewing time
Late September. This park closes in early October so plan accordingly.

More information

Location: Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park Fall
Destination
Grand Teton National Park’s clear lakes doubly reflect the colors of autumn.

Best viewing time
September to mid-October. Arrive early if you’re eager to see aspens turn gold.

More information

End of the trail

Next to forgetting to bring toilet tissue in your rush to get out of town before those leaves fall, there’s one tip that must be shared so your fall camping trip doesn’t turn out to be disastrous: Don’t bring along equipment that you don’t know how to use.

One family thought they were terribly clever by taking a fall camping trip with a cool new cooking appliance designed for the outdoors that cost them a bundle. After setting up the campsite, everyone was eager to try the new appliance–until they realized they had left the “use” instructions home in the box.

With no idea how set this appliance up for use, the evening quickly grew dark as campers tried to figure out ways to prepare a meal using ingredients brought specifically for their new toy. They wound up resorting to good, old-fashioned tree branches and a cast iron pan.

Our tip? Audition all new things before leaving home. That includes the two-person winter sleeping bag you bought to make sure it actually fits two people. We’ll leave you with that image.