Vermont offers every conceivable comfort level when it comes to camping, from no trace in the most remote backwoods to comfortable lean-tos and compostable toilets at state parks to RV hookup campgrounds with laundry facilities. As autumn leaves start to pop, turning the Green Mountains to hues of golden amber, many campgrounds close down, and hunting seasons open, leaving folks wondering: Just where is the best fall camping?
By far, the best camping in the state is at Vermont State Parks. There are more than 55 state parks scattered throughout all regions of Vermont, and more than half offer camping from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A handful of campgrounds operate through Columbus Day weekend, and a select five are open for camping through mid-October:
Gifford Woods State Park routinely offers some of the state's best fall colors, with its prime multiple elevations of forest located at the base of Killington and Pico Mountains. Conveniently situated between the Appalachian and Long Trails, Gifford Woods contains 22 tent/trailer sites, 20 lean-tos and four cabins, as well as a rare patch of old-growth hardwood trees.
Smugglers' Notch State Park is located in Stowe near Bingham Falls and has 20 tent sites and 14 lean-tos. Located 2 miles from the historic, 1,000-foot narrow mountain pass of the same name, Smugglers' Notch State Park provides a pristine, mountainous environment of its own, with close access to the foliage wonderland of Stowe.
The campground at Quechee State Park sits on the site of the former recreation area of a woolen mill, which was powered by the waters flowing through Quechee Gorge—Vermont's deepest canyon. Quechee's Connecticut River Valley location and proximity to the waters of the 165-foot gorge below Route 4 on the Ottauquechee River offer breathtaking foliage views.
The campground is spread amongst stunning pine trees and equipped with 45 tent/trailer sites and seven lean-tos.
Hike Vermont's highest peak for the most dramatic fall foliage views, and camp at Underhill State Park, located within the 39,837-acre Mt. Mansfield State Forest. Four summit ridge trails begin in the park, making for multiple routes in and out for a variety of round-trip hiking choices. There are two group camping areas, plus an additional 11 tent sites and six lean-tos, with the elevation making the individual sites hike-in access only.
Mt. Ascutney State Park in Windsor, Vermont, features some of the very best stonework crafted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. A summit road and meandering trail lead to the park's famous fire tower, and the entire park offers panoramic views. There is also a hang gliding launch point. The campsites—39 tent/trailer sites and 10 lean-tos—are wooded.
After October 14, these parks officially close. However, on November 1, all Vermont State Parks begin their winter seasons, with free access and completely Leave No Trace rules in effect. Parking is outside of the main gates (as the gates are locked) and off of any roads. There is no running water nor restrooms, and hunting is permitted in the parks, so precautions should be taken.
The Vermont State Parks ask interested campers to submit a request for Off-Season Camping.
A few of the Vermont State Parks offer remote camping during the autumn season—the best being at mountain lakes with rustic lean-to sites accessible by canoe, kayak or a hike. Osmore Pond and Kettle Pond, both with registration at New Discovery State Park in the Groton State Forest, offer pristine carry-in/carry out (both trash and water) campsites. Farther north in Hyde Park, water-access remote campsites can also be found at Green River Reservoir. Remote camping at Vermont State Parks ends Columbus Day weekend, but then opens back up again November 1 with the same Off-Season Camping requirements.
For completely uninterrupted access, camping in the Green Mountain National Forest is available year-round and for no fee.
Silver Lake is a secluded, mile-long lake located past the Falls of Lana on Route 53 between Brandon and Middlebury, with primitive hike-in or mountain bike-accessible campsites dispersed around its shores. In Southern Vermont, Grout Pond in West Wardsboro sits in a 1,600-acre recreation area, with walk-in campsites and a few sites accessible by canoe.
Merck Forest and Farmland Center in the Taconic Mountain range in Rupert, Vermont, offers an impressive collection of rustic cabins available year-round. All cabins are hike-in, come equipped with woodstoves and require a two-night minimum stay. Tent sites and shelters are also scattered around the 3,100 acres of sustainably managed and preserved working landscape.
A yurt rental might be your sought-after experience, and Maple Wind Farm in Huntington rents two 24-foot yurts, each sleeping 10 people. However, rentals don't begin until the snow flies, so keep an eye on the late fall weather.
Mountain bikers can pedal to Millstone Hill, a 1,500-acre, single track wooded terrain in and around abandoned granite quarries in Barre, and camp the night in a collection of tent sites on the property, available through the end of October.
Apple Island Resort in South Hero, Vermont, is an RV camping resort acting as the gateway to the Champlain Islands, a hidden gem in Vermont's northwest corner. The resort caters to large RVs but also offers campsites, cabins and cottages. The view of Lake Champlain is second to none, and camping runs through October 20: later than many other RV-type campgrounds. Plus, this one has a golf course.
If you're looking for one of the best fall camping options in Stowe, Gold Brook Campground at Nichols Lodge is open year-round for RV and tent camping, or rooms in the lodge—if you crave the experience and beauty of fall camping with extra comforts.