The best part about living in Western North Carolina is communing with nature 24/7. Camping is a great way to spend a weekend outside and explore the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Even a campsite 20 or 30 minutes outside of town will give you nights scored by a symphony of crickets and frogs under a sky full of stars.
It’s not as simple as going out and rolling out a sleeping bag, though. Western North Carolina is a wild place and nature is beautiful but demands your respect at all times. New campers and people who have spent their entire lives outdoors alike will want to take a quick look at this guide to know what to expect when they go out into the woods for a weekend.
The Types of Camping
The Asheville area is home to a number of diverse camping sites, each with their own regulations and requirements for use. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you’ll find:
- Campgrounds:These are by far the easiest route and are ideal for newbies. Campgrounds typically allow you to park your car right next to your campsite. You’ll be able to put all of your trash right into the car when you’re done with it and you have an outlet right there if you want to inflate an air mattress or run an electric coffee maker in the morning. Most have established fire pits, pads, and a picnic table on each site. Others have amenities like restrooms and trash cans, and most are staffed by a park ranger for at least part of the day. Most campgrounds take reservations and you will have to pay to camp there.
- Roadside Camping:Certain areas through the Pisgah National Forest have designated roadside camping spots. These spots are free and available to anyone without a reservation. These sites have no amenities, but you’ll still be close to your car. They are along a relatively high-traffic roadway, though, and park rangers advise that you stay with your belongings at all time to prevent theft.
- Pack-In Camping: Pack-in camping is generally on a first-come, first-served basis. You’ll find pack-in sites along many popular trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway and other hiking areas. Pack-in campsites often have an established fire pit, but you’ll have to bring everything in on your back. Be sure to read the full list of regulations for the area you’re camping in before you head out.
What to Bring Camping
This will vary a bit depending on which type of campsite you’re visiting and the time of year. Two essentials in any scenario are a tarp and a waterproof tent cover. The weather in the Blue Ridge is somewhat unpredictable: storms move in fast and a clear day can turn into a rainy night very quickly. If you’re deep in the woods you likely won’t have access to a weather app that will give you alerts as these storms roll in, either. It’s better to be safe than sorry and roll out a tarp under your tent and set up your waterproof cover as a habit than get soaked in a downpour.
There are very few trashcans along the Blue Ridge Parkway and some of the most popular trailheads don’t have any in the parking area. Make sure you bring in only what you intend to pack out. Bring extra bags or containers that can carry your food scraps and waste like wrappers without leaking on the rest of your stuff. These parks are a treasure that is meant to be a beautiful retreat for everyone—don’t leave behind anything that could damage the ecosystem or be a blight to future campers.
Don’t Feed the Bears!
If you’re new to the area you may not be used to some of the woodland critters that are native to Western North Carolina. The animals here are generally docile and won’t cause you much trouble as long as you’re smart. The key is to know how to prepare for each different animal.
- Bears: Black bears are active pretty much everywhere around here, including around town. When you’re out camping you’ll need to take extra precautions to avoid a bear encounter, especially if your backcountry camping. Make sure you buy bear-proof containers to store all of your food and food waste. Never throw scraps in your campfire and pack out everything you bring in with you.
- Ticks and Mosquitoes:These pests are a little harder to deal with. Make sure you use a DEET spray and always do thorough checks on your body and any camping partners/pets with you after hikes. Ticks are most active in spring, summer, and fall—so pretty much the entire camping season. Take extra care during these months.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than this list. Half of the fun of camping is learning along the way. While your first excursion may be a bit messy, you enjoy yourself and take notes on what new gear you need to make your next trip easier and more fun. There are no letter grades for perfect camping and the most important thing is that you get in touch with the beautiful place we’re so lucky to call home.
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