We were unable to get a campsite within Zion National Park, and ended up camping here for a few nights instead. The campsites were clean, with access to toilets, showers, laundry facilities, and even a game room. They were near the south gate to the park, which offered a very scenic drive into the heart of the park, although the drive was a little longer than would probably be ideal. We actually ended up being relieved we stayed here instead of inside the park, simply because the park was so crowded! It was nice to escape at the end of the day to a place with just as magnificent views.
We visited Havasu Falls in August…one of the hottest times of the year. Even then, the hike was gorgeous and enjoyable! We drove into the Hualapai Hilltop the night before and set up a campsite on one of the many nearby cliffs overlooking the canyon. It was absolutely breathtaking. There is a chemical toilet onsite and they will provide bottled water for free if you require any. Parking is free, but you have to contact the Havasu reservation ahead of time so they know to expect you. Campsites book up fast and far in advance, but if you keep calling every other day, it isn't uncommon for spots to open up closer to your desired dates, so don't give up!! You can rent a pack mule to carry your things if you want, but there is no guarantee when your packs will arrive at the town of Supai, and I'd recommend backpacking for the full experience. Leave early in the morning to beat the midday heat! Before noon, much of the hike is in the shade of the canyon, which is nice. You can either hike out after your stay, or you can pay for a helicopter ride, which is first come/first serve and offers gorgeous views of the canyon!
It's about an 8 mile hike to the town of Supai, and then another 2 miles or so to the campsites. There is access to a chemical toilet and a fresh fern spring for water. Most sites also have picnic tables, and there are plenty of trees to string up hammocks if you desire. There are many falls along your hike to the campsites, and then two more beyond the campsites. The climb down to Mooney falls is very steep and slippery, so be sure to bring good shoes and leave your gear at the campsite…you'll need your hands to grip the chains! At parts the descent is near-vertical.
We were actually quite unlucky in the fact that there was a monsoon a few days before we arrived, so instead of the clear turquoise waters Havasu Falls is known for, we were greeted with waterfalls of opaque mud! However, the hike in and descent into Mooney falls was still gorgeous and one of my favorite experiences to date. I cannot wait to return to Havasu Falls (hopefully when I'll be able to see their trademark waters)! That being said, we explored the walls of the canyon beyond Mooney Falls and were able to find some fresh springs trickling through the rocks. This oasis offered the clear water and lush vegetation we were hoping for, and seemed such a start contrast to the urban environment we spend most of our days in….it seemed utterly untouched.
While reserving a campsite and getting a helicopter ride out (if you choose to do so) can be a little unorganized and frustrating, it is definitely worth the trip…even IF the water ends up being brown! :)
During my time in Alabama, I kept hearing wonderful things about Sipsey Wilderness, and its many waterfalls, rocky landscapes, and great hikes. Since it's "wilderness," there are no established campsites, and there is a strict "leave no trace" policy. That being said, the opportunity to pick your own home away from home on your backpacking trip leaves you with a plethora of gorgeous options! Be sure to check the water levels before your trip, because while Sipsey is always beautiful, it isn't abnormal for many of the waterfalls to be dried up after a hot summer. Also, if you park at the Sipsey River Picnic Area Trailhead, be sure to pay the $3/day parking fee. They will give you a steep ticket otherwise! I had read about the fee, but upon arriving didn't see where to pay and figured it must have been an outdated post. Turns out, there was just a car blocking the pay station, which is near the chemical toilet when you turn into the parking lot. It's a dated deposit system, where you put your payment in an envelope, drop it in a dropbox, and put the perforated proof of payment tag on your dashboard. So be sure to bring exact change!! I was expecting something a little more modern, so even if I had seen the deposit box, I wouldn't have had exact change on me.
The trails can get a little complicated, as there aren't really any trail markers, so be sure to buy a map of the area and bring it along with your compass. I found a map at mountain high outfitters at the Summit in Birmingham, AL, and it served us well. The 209 trail follows the river and is known as one of the more scenic routes. Nearby sites within the Sipsey Wilderness include Big Tree (the biggest tree in AL), Eye of the Needle, Ship Rock, numerous waterfalls, and several scattered cemeteries. All of these will be marked on a good map.
The area is very buggy, and the trails can get cramped/overgrown in parts, so I'd recommend wearing long pants and lots of bug spray!
We stumbled across Cave Springs campground on a roadtrip across the Southwest. We added Sedona as a last minute stop, and it ended up being one of our favorite stops on the trip! Sedona itself is known for the beautiful red rock formations, which make great day trips and local hikes, but the Cave Springs campground itself seems like a totally different environment. It is a wooded area, with a crystal-clear creek nearby that is surrounded by wild blackberry bushes. We had an amazing time swimming in the creek, exploring it's rocky shores, and indulging in fresh blackberries. The campsites have a community bathroom facility that has a chemical toilet, but no showers. The campsite welcome center (where you check in) sells some snacks, water bottles, firewood, and other necessities if you forget anything. The campsites are quite spacious and have access to a fresh water pump.
Sliding rock is nearby and makes a fun day trip, although it can get crowded. We completed the hikes to devil's bridge and Cathedral rock, and both were amazing and offered beautiful views of the surrounding wilderness. North of the campsite, there is a navajo trading post you can stop by if you want to shop or check out authentic native pottery, jewelry, etc.
I've camped/visited Devil's Fork State Park numerous times, and each time has been amazing. There are few places in the southeast that are as beautiful as the crystal-clear waters of Lake Jocassee!
The first time I visited, we reserved a drive-up campsite, which had an on-site fresh water pump and electricity hookup (although we didn't use it). The second time, we went with one of the hike-in campsites, which are a little closer to the water. The hike-in sites are still very close to the parking lot, so they aren't too "rustic" compared to other campgrounds I've been to. The hike-in sites have access to a community fresh water pump. The drive-up sites are arranged in a loop, with a central bathroom/shower/laundry facility available 24/7. I believe there are about 4 toilet stalls, 2 sinks, and 2-3 showers. It's also nice that it is heated in winter! The laundry facility has washer and dryers which you can pay for with quarters. I don't remember there being any detergent, etc., available for use, so if you plan on using these, be sure to bring your own. We had no intention of doing laundry during our stay, but we were immensely grateful for the dryers after all of our clothing and sleeping bags were soaked in an overnight rainstorm!
The people who work at the Devil's Fork ranger station are so friendly and accommodating. We were running late on one trip, but called ahead, and they had no problem leaving the gate open for us and allowing up to check in early the next morning. Plus, they had great recommendations on what to do and see during our stay, and their gift shop sold several things (such as firewood) that could come in handy if you forget to bring your own!
We rented our kayaks from the Jocassee Outdoor Center (http://www.jocasseeoutdoorcenter.com/), which we've had terrific experiences with. Their prices were affordable, they are very friendly and knowledgable, and they delivered our kayaks to the Devil's Fork docks in advance. Be sure to ask for their map of waterfalls in the area! They are really beautiful, although I'd recommend checking the water levels first, if possible. :)
Jocassee itself is absolutely beautiful. The clear waters contrasting with the rocky and red clay shores looks like a natural wonder from another planet…not like something you'd find in South Carolina! Water sports are great here, as is fishing and swimming. Even just walking along the shores offers beautiful views and is somewhat challenging at the rockier parts. Because it is a smaller campground, the large lake never feels too crowded. Jocassee is a man-made lake, and there is actually a small town at the bottom of it. Those who are scuba-certified can scuba dive down to the town and explore old churches, school houses, and even cemeteries, which I'm sure is a unique experience (although I've never done it myself).
All in all, Lake Jocassee and Devil's Fork State Park are truly jewels of the southeast and should not be missed!