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Places to Camp to Stay Cool in the Heat of the Summer

As we approach the month of July, it is hot outside. Reports of record temperatures abound in California, Nevada and Arizona, and the mid-west and eastern parts of the country are not immune to the heat. When the weather is like this, it is easy to want to stay indoors where it is air conditioned. Do your best to resist that temptation; though it may seem unlikely, the truth is there are many places where you can enjoy camping AND stay cool in the middle of July. Whether it is a place that stays cooler in summers, or offers great water sources (or both), with a little planning you can have a great time and be comfortable. The following are some recommendations of places to camp throughout the United States that will offer a respite from the heat of summer as well as plenty of opportunity for adventure.

Ouray, Colorado

Ouray is one of my favorite places; a few years back some friends were going to check it out and invited me and the kids to join them. I figured, “why not”?  And am I glad that I did. There is something almost magical about Ouray; it is a small town surrounded by mountains. I read somewhere it is the Switzerland of the United States. Since that initial visit I have been back several times. And every visit, I look forward to returning.

So what is it about Ouray that makes it a great summer camping getaway? Let’s start with the fact that the high temperature today was 71 degrees. With a low of 55 degrees, this is some great camping weather. Some friends are there this weekend and sent pictures…there is actually quite a bit of snow in the mountains! Aside from the cool weather, the scenery is amazing. And you are very likely to encounter wildlife just by walking down the street of the town…we have seen quite a few deer on several visits. Should it be warmer when you visit, or should you warm up while on a long hike, there are plenty of water sources to jump into; waterfalls, rivers and creeks. For some warmer water, there is the hot springs pool, filled with fresh mineral water, which has three different sections:

  • The Hot Section (102-106 degrees) with 25,000 gallons of water with an average depth of three feet.
  • The Shallow Section (92-98 degrees) with 200,000 gallons of water with an average depth of three feet.
  • The Deep Section, which has seasonal temperature variations (from 67-80 degrees) and includes 800,000 gallons of water.



Camping Options

There are plenty of places to camp near Ouray; some very close to the town itself but still in the mountains, others a bit further out.

Amphitheatre Campground:

The Amphitheatre Campground is the closest to the town of Ouray, on the side of a mountain above the town and easy to get to from the town itself. Gambel oaks and mixed conifers surround the campsites and you can get great views of Ouray from a scenic overlook. This campground is best for tents and smaller RV’s (no more than 35 feet). The campground has potable water and vault toilets and can be reserved on reservation.gov at $20 a night.

Thistledown Campground                                  

Thistledown Campground is not far from the town of Ouray and is popular among those planning to hike into Mount Sneffles, drive on the jeep trails or take in the wildflowers of Yankee Boy Basin. This campground is best for tent camping. The campground has a vault toilet and does not have water. This campground is first come-first served and sites are $10.

Big Cimarron Campground

This campground is a bit of a drive from Ouray and great for those looking to get away from it all. The campground is along the Big Cimarron River and campsites are surrounded by Spruce and Cottonwood trees that provide plenty of shade. This is a small campground with 10 total sites, half of which are next to the river. This campground does not have drinking water, however a few miles away water is available at the Silver Jack Campground. A vault toilet is available. Big Cimarron Campground does not take reservations.

Hood River, Oregon

Many years back, on a visit to Portland, I decided to visit Mount Hood. The drive to the area and the campground where we stayed took us through Hood River, which at the time was a quirky little down. I remember the drive from Portland to Hood River (about an hour and ten minutes) being pretty amazing, and we stopped for a long hike along a creek. We viewed a few waterfalls on the way and drove through Hood River to Lost Lake Campground. I fell in love with the Lost Lake campground and brought my family back last year in the middle of summer.

As we approach July, the weather in Hood River is certainly warm, with 89 degrees being the high. At Lost Lake, which is around 20-30 minutes away, the high today is 81 degrees. But even if you get hot, there is no shortage of water with which to cool off; there is the Columbia River, numerous waterfalls, and if camping at Lost Lake, the lake itself. You may get hot in this area, but it is very easy to cool off.


Camping Options

Lost Lake Resort and Campground

I could probably write all day about this campground. I fell even more in love with it the second time I visited and even extended our stay an extra night. Lost Lake is sort of its own little community, and a quiet and pleasant one at that. Our campsite was multi-level, surrounded by trees and very private. It was an easy walk to the lake where we could swim and a short walk to several hiking trails, one of which offered a gorgeous view of Mount Hood. Water and vault toilets are available, as well as pay showers. Rentals are available for water activities on the lake. Nightly rates for campsites start at $27 and group sites are available. In addition to camping there are lodge rooms and cabins available. A general store at the campground makes it easy to purchase any items you may have forgotten. From Lost Lake Resort and Campground it is about a 30 minute drive to Hood River, where you can jump into the Columbia River and cool off while watching windsurfers and their colorful sails.


Viento State Park

This state park offers easy access to the Columbia River and some of the better windsurfing in the Gorge. There is a pleasant picnic area where one can enjoy their meal while listening to the sounds of a nearby creek. A railroad station was once located here and the campground is next to a railroad line; expect to hear train horns during your visit. There is a one-mile handicapped accessible trail from the park to the Starvation Creek waterfall. The campground itself offers RV and tent campsites with plenty of space, easy access to hiking trails, flush toilets, hot showers and potable water. Reservations can be made on reserveamerica.com for $22.00 per night.

Moss Creek Campground

The Moss Creek Campground is across the Columbia River in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest and is in the state of Washington. The campground is next to the Little White Salmon River and is surrounded by hemlock, cedar, fir and maple trees. Plenty of shade makes it a great place to stay out of the heat. The campground is best for tents but can be used by those with small RV’s. There are vault toilets and drinking water is available. This is a great location for those looking to explore the Columbia River and want to relax and stay cool. Reservations can be made on reserveamerica.com for $16.00 per night.

Asheville, North Carolina

Whenever I think of the south in the summer I think of it being hot and humid. This was confirmed a few weeks ago when visiting my brother in Georgia. It was hot and humid and it was hard to be motivated to do much outside of walking to the local pool or staying in the air conditioned house. We ventured off to Tennessee where the weather was much the same. Fortunately, it is possible to get some relief from the heat of the southeast. One such place is the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. Today, temperatures in Ashville were a high of 85 degrees; warm but not miserable. And those who enjoy the outdoors can head to the mountains outside the city and enjoy Pisgah National forest and all it has to offer; made up of three ranger districts, the Pisgah national forest includes waterfalls, rivers and lakes. There is plenty of opportunity to explore and stay cool.


Camping Options

Lake Powhatan Campground

In the Pisgah ranger district, this campground is close to the city of Asheville. The campground is next to Lake Powhatan with four loops. The campground is surrounded by a mixed forest of deciduous and conifer trees and campsites are spaced out and offer privacy.  Lake Powhatan as a sandy swimming beach which allows you to quickly cool off. This campground is close to the Blue Ridge Parkway and offers access to many hiking trails and water sources, to include rivers, lakes and waterfalls. There are flush toilets and potable water. Reservations can be made on recreation.gov for $28 per night.

Davidson River Campground

Also in the Piscah ranger district, this campground is close to Brevard, North Carolina. The campground, with eight loops, follows the Davidson River. Each of the eight loops offers something different, whether it be backing up to the river, more shade and privacy, a large field, an informal river swim area, or electric hook-ups. Springtime offers the beauty of Rhododendrons and Dogwoods. Hot showers and restrooms with flush toilets are available. Reservations can be made at recreation.gov for $22 per day.

North Mills River Campground

About 15 miles from Asheville, the North Mills River Campground has two loops, one on each side of the river. The campground enjoys a thick forest of trees and some site have excellent privacy. Tubing is popular on the North Mills River, and tubes can be rented. The North Mills River is also great for trout fishing. The loop on the east side of the campground offers more shade as well as a few riverside campsites. The west side is more level and sunny. Flush toilets and potable water are available. Reservations can be made on recreation.gov for $22 per night.

South Lake Tahoe

Last year, we were visiting a relative in Sacramento and it was hot. The heat seemed to cause everyone’s motivation to be low. Looking at the weather report for today, this year is no different; the high today is 101 degrees. Yikes. This is the norm for the summer in central California. The good news is that you have the option to drive just a few hours east and experience something more comfortable; the high temperature in South Lake Tahoe is 83 degrees today. While I am not a fan of crowds and would avoid the more popular campgrounds in Lake Tahoe, there are some pretty neat areas that will keep you cool and offer amazing scenery. The highlight of our trip to the area last year was Horsetail Falls; the hike was around a three mile round trip and followed a beautiful, clear stream to an amazing cascading waterfall. And beautiful pools of cool water to swim in.


Places to Camp

Ice House Campground

This campground, in the El Dorado National Forest, offers easy access to Horsetail Falls and is outside the more populated Lake Tahoe area. The campground is located on Ice House Reservoir and offers hiking, biking, swimming, trout fishing and jet skiing. Campsites are surrounded by ponderosa pine trees which leave a pleasant vanilla scent in the area. Some campsites are on the shoreline and others are further back, with plenty of shade provided by the ponderosa pines and cedars. Hiking and biking trails are available, as are vault toilets and water. The campground is also close to Bassi Falls, a 109-foot waterfall. Reservations can be made at reserveamerica.com ($25 per night for tent only sites).

Wrights Lake Campground

Located in the timber belt and close to the lake shore, this campground offers views of the rocky peaks of the Sierra Nevada’s. This area is popular for hiking and birding, and beautiful wildflowers. It is also not a far drive to get to Horsetail Falls. The campground contains pine and fir trees and wildflowers abound in the spring and summer. Wrights Lake is accessible from the campground and is popular for its quiet atmosphere. Fishing, swimming and boating are popular. Vault toilets and drinking water are available. Campsites can be reserved on reserveamerica.com ($20-$36 per night).

You Can Beat the Heat

I hope these ideas help you to beat the heat this summer and have some fun along the way. I try to remind myself that it is not too hot to camp if there is water nearby to jump into. Please share some of your favorite places to camp where you are able to cool off during a hot summer day.

  • Updated March 1, 2017
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Ilyssa is a mother of four who is employed full-time as a grant writer and who enjoys writing freelance articles in her spare time. Ilyssa has a great love of adventure and the outdoors, which she hopes she is passing along to her children. Last summer Ilyssa and her family took a five week road trip, camping and exploring most of the western United States. The trip inspired Ilyssa to work towards achieving flexible employment and/or financial freedom, so that she and her family may continue to travel and explore all nature has to offer, and not just for a few weeks out of the year.