Fall Camping 101

Fall Camping 101

By: Mecca R. Dennehy

Don’t put your tent away just yet: fall camping season is upon us, and you won’t want to miss out on the fun. Imagine waking up to a quiet, crisp morning on an empty lake, or having an afternoon campfire after a day of hiking through the orange leaves. Fall is one of the most underrated seasons for camping, mainly because most people see it as the end to summer and back to school and work. Which means that all the wonderful places to explore will have significantly less people, which is great for us fall campers! And, while weather can be a little iffy as you head into October in some areas, being prepared and packing some warm weather clothing should suffice. Ready to try your hand at fall camping, but not sure how to prepare? Don’t worry, we’ve got some handy tips for you.

Tip #1: Pick a fall-friendly location

As the weather begins to cool, a little rain at lower elevation could mean snow in the mountains. Make sure when you’re choosing your camp spot that there isn’t already snow covering the trails or blocking roads to get there. Check the Alltrails app and see what they say on access to the trail. Or, you can call your local forest district ranger and ask about current conditions.

This also might be the time to check out a spot you’ve been wanting to see but in the summer months is always incredibly crowded. Think of some spots that may require advance entry permits through September that, in the fall, are open for autumn explorers.

A person gazing over a river in a fall forest scape.

Another tip for choosing a location is to think of what you want to do when you’re camping. While swimming may be out of the question, there are so many fun fall activities. Do you want to go on fall hikes to see the change in colors? Pick a spot that is full of maples, aspens, or larches (or any other tree that shows off its gorgeous fall colors!). If you want to chase waterfalls or relax in some hot springs (two very fitting fall activities), then find a spot that is near some trailheads.

Tip #2: Pack for warmth and the rain

While you may have gotten away with living in your bathing suit and a pair of shorts during your summer trips, fall camping will require a little (well, a lot) more clothing to stay comfortable during the chillier nights. Make sure to pack your puffy jacket, a rain jacket, a beanie, some wool socks, and make sure you pack your waterproof hiking boots. Also, always pack your thermal underwear! They are the comfiest thing to wear when you sleep and even as an extra layer under your regular hiking clothes.

Two people with their backs to the camera looking out over a forest.

If you’re backpacking, make sure to bring extra gear for warmth. Pack your thickest sleeping pad to keep you as high off the ground as you can, and your warmest sleeping bag. If you want to add extra heat, pack an emergency blanket and lay it under your sleeping pad. Make sure you pack your three-season tent and make sure the rainfly doesn’t have any holes! And always bring a tent footprint or tarp to lay underneath.

Since fall also means the rainy season is coming, being ready for all types of weather is key. Packing waterproof matches and a fire starter of your choosing (we like packing Vaseline and dabbing some onto some pinecones or some dry twigs) to make sure that, even if it’s wet, you can still sit by a warm fire.

A campfire at night.

Tip #3: Pack all the warm, extra carbs

After a long day of hiking around a serene lake, fishing by the river, or relaxing in a hot spring, a nice, hot meal is the best way to refuel and get ready for the evening. Always make sure to bring extra fuel for your stove as cooler temperature means longer cooking times. Bring extra meals and make sure you fill up to keep your body fed and warm. Packing your favorite tea and sipping on that throughout the afternoon is a great way to keep your body temperature up.

A campfire in a forest with two packs of camp food in front of it. As with any adventure, there are some things to be mindful of for fall camping: the change in season also may mean the start of mating season for some wildlife. Research the wildlife in the area you are planning to explore and be mindful that some wildlife may be more aggressive as winter nears. And while most places will have a low level for fire, check in with your local ranger district to make sure there are no fire bans. Always bring a first-aid kit, a flashlight or headlamp, and let a family member or friend know where you are going.

While fall camping does take a little more preparation than summer trips, you might end up liking it as much if not more—being outside watching the change in season, exploring places with the crowds gone, and chilly nights by a roaring fire and a hot chocolate in hand. Does it get any better than that? We sure don’t think so.

About the Author: Mecca R. Dennehy

Mecca is an adventure writer and photographer based in Oregon and loves everything the rainy PNW has to offer. You can find her hiking to alpine lakes or camping with her husband and her two rescue pups, Finn and Ruby. She is also an adventure wedding and elopement photographer and loves to capture couples as they start the most epic adventure of all together.