Camping Guide: Beyond Ohio

Bob Downing
Ohiopyle State Park

Ohiopyle State Park

Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania

Drive from Columbus: 3.5 hours

Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands is a camping park, a paddling park, a bicycling park and a hiking park all in one. You can paddle the rapids of the Youghiogheny River or pedal the Great Allegheny Passage, a rail-trail that stretches 150 miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. There are also 80 miles of hiking trails, as well as 226 camping sites.

About 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, the 20,500-acre park in Fayette County is best known for the Youghiogheny (pronounced yawki-gay-nee), one of the most popular whitewater runs in the East. The 7-mile paddle from the hamlet of Ohiopyle includes a dozen bouncy and splashy rapids. For those looking for a different kind of ride, swimmers can, at certain water levels, bob through two natural water slides on Meadow Run, a side stream.

The region includes both natural and manmade beauty. Youghiogheny Falls is one of the park’s biggest attractions—a 25-foot drop on the river. Nearby are also Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, two iconic homes designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Advance reservations are a must.

Blackwater Falls State Park

Davis, West Virginia

Drive from Columbus: 4.5 hours

The big attraction at West Virginia’s Blackwater Falls State Park is the 57-foot-high namesake waterfall. Outside the town of Davis at the edge of the Canaan Valley, the falls on the amber-colored Blackwater River are one of the most photographed spots in West Virginia.

The 2,358-acre state park features a 65-unit campground, along with cabins and a 54-room lodge. It’s open from late April through Oct. 31, and you can make reservations from Memorial Day through Labor Day. If those campsites are filled, look about 10 miles south to Canaan Valley Resort State Park, which has 34 campsites, 23 cabins and a 160-room lodge. Mountain biking also is popular in Canaan (pronounced kah-NAYNE) Valley, and it has its own downhill ski area. Nearby Dolly Sods is a stellar federal wilderness area for hiking and backpacking.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Oneida, Tennessee

Drive from Columbus: 5 hours

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area remains a hidden gem. The federal park covers 125,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau in southeast Kentucky and northeast Tennessee along the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.

Remote and rugged with impressive rocky gorges, stone arches and sandstone cliffs, the park also features whitewater rafting in the spring, 150 miles of hiking trails and 150 miles of equestrian trails. You can ride the Big South Fork Scenic Railway and visit Blue Heron, an old mining community. There are five campgrounds in the park, the two biggest of which are Bandy Creek, with 181 sites in Tennessee, and Blue Heron, with 45 sites in Kentucky.

Indiana Dunes National Park

Chesterton, Indiana

Drive from Columbus: 5 hours

Indiana Dunes National Park is the 61st and newest national park. Elevated from a national lakeshore in February, the park is known for its dunes and beaches along the south end of Lake Michigan in the shadow of the sprawling Greater Chicago region.

Mount Tom, at 192 feet, is the tallest sand dune in the 15,067-acre federal park that stretches along 15 miles of shoreline east of Gary, Indiana. The park offers 54 drive-in and 12 walk-in campsites at the Dunewood Campground in Beverly Shores. Indiana Dunes State Park, which is surrounded by the federal park, also offers 140 campsites.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Empire, Michigan

Drive from Columbus: 7 hours

Further north, sand is also the big attraction at Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near Traverse City, Michigan’s No. 1 beach town, known for its white sands, aquamarine waters, golf courses and celebrated wine trails (it’s surrounded by 35 wineries that offer tastings on the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas). Traverse City also is a growing foodie town and a winter sports mecca.

Sleeping Bear Dunes has two campgrounds: D.H. Day and Platte River. The Day campground near Glen Haven includes 81 sites at the edge of a Lake Michigan beach. It is one of the most popular camping sites in northern Michigan. It is open from late April to late November, and you can reserve spots from May 1 to Oct. 15. The Platte River Campground with 179 sites near Empire is open year-round. You can reserve spots from May 1 to Oct. 15. You can tube and paddle the river, too.

The park covers 71,200 acres in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Its top attraction is the Dune Climb, a hike up a 110-foot wall of white sand. You also can camp 15 miles from Traverse City at Interlochen State Park, with its 490 campsites. It’s close to the Interlochen Center for the Arts, which hosts the summerlong Interlochen Arts Festival with big-name musicians and a Shakespeare festival. For information, go to


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By Emma Frankart Henterly

Camping often eschews social norms like relieving yourself indoors or sleeping on a plush mattress, but even in the wilderness, following a few basic guidelines ensures the great outdoors is enjoyable for everyone. First and foremost, leave no trace of your adventure—don’t disturb local flora or fauna, clean up your garbage and pick up any existing litter you find. You might hear or read the phrase, “Take only pictures; leave only memories,” at local, state or national parks. It’s a good mantra to follow.

For more on being a courteous camper, we asked Heidi Hetzel-Evans, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, to share tips from veteran campground coordinators. Here’s what they advise.

  • Follow all pet rules—keep them on a leash and never leave them unattended.
  • Observe quiet hours at communal campgrounds and keep lights low in the evening.
  • Drive slowly: Children are playing everywhere.
  • Wash dishes only at approved sites, not in bathroom sinks.
  • Discard waste in its place: Trash goes in dumpsters, not in campfires—this goes for cigarette butts, too—and always carry out what you bring with you on a hike or picnic.
  • Be a good neighbor: Say hello to your fellow campers and follow the golden rule of treating others the way you wish to be treated.
  • Treat the campground as your home: Act as though your mother were watching.
  • Enjoy the wildlife by watching, not interacting. Never attempt to pet or feed a wild animal.

Camping Courtesy