I’ve loved camping since I was young -- whether on our farm or at the nearby State Park. Whenever I need camping recs, I turn to my friend, Tina. She’s one of the most adventurous spirits I know, and someone I consider an outdoor expert. In this perfect camping season, I’ve asked her to share her favorite place to throw up a tent and embrace nature.
‘Tis the season here in the South… leaf season, that is. As the weather gets cooler, our abundant deciduous hardwoods produce brilliant shows of color. But here in North Carolina, there’s also a high-elevation spruce-fir forest that’s typically associated with the northern stretches of the continent, like Canada or Maine. Partially due to their rarity, and partially due to their oddity, these high-elevation forests are among my very favorite places to camp.
11,000 years ago, much of North America was covered by glaciers. Spruce-fir forests were abundant across the southern Appalachians for several thousand years. But when global temperatures warmed and the glaciers retreated, these forests retreated to the highest peaks of North Carolina. Now, the small stands that remain are known as “sky islands,” self-contained habitats located within the highest elevations of the southern Appalachians. Only about 10 of these forests now exist worldwide.
Thankfully, they’re easily accessible. The Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and Pisgah National Forest are all open—and free—to the public, and offer a variety of camping options, from aggressive backcountry treks to dedicated drive-in options. For those camping for the first time, call ahead or check online for registration, rules, and regulations. If you want a campfire (and who doesn’t?) you may need to bring certified firewood or buy it in the park, so no pests unintentionally hitch a ride on your kindling. How about eating — do you plan to cook? I’m a fan of all things cold-soaked (including my coffee). The fewer dishes I have to do on vacation, the better. Chipmunks, black bear, and even flying squirrels are common here. And yes, the colorful autumn leaves will also be abundant.
—Tina Haver Currin
More about Tina
Tina has used her combined skills in writing and organizing—as well as a generally irreverent attitude—to launch several viral campaigns for social justice. Her work has been featured in places like The New York Times, NPR, and Rolling Stone. Tina capitalized on this success by dropping off-grid and moving into a van with two cats and a dog, ensuring that everything she owns would always be covered in some amount of pet hair. She has since explored more than 125 National Park units, climbed countless mountains, and thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail—with a broken toe. When she’s not writing about her mishaps and misadventures, Tina somehow gets paid to wear a big hat and help others explore and protect our natural wonders.