The Best Camping and Biking Destinations in the Southeast US
As a full-time traveler, I’m always on the lookout for camping locations with good off-road bike trails nearby. While the sport of cycling can cover everything from riding around the campground or RV park on a cruiser bike to hardcore mountain biking, easy-to-intermediate mountain biking is what I enjoy most.
I’ve kept track of campgrounds located in or very close to off-road and mountain biking areas during my travels. A good number of locations with fun biking and great camping are on public lands, such as state or national forests and state parks. Some of these spots will offer developed campgrounds, while others offer boondocking or dispersed camping.
Here are some handy tips for finding biking areas and a few of my favorite destinations in the southern United States.
How to Find Biking Areas
Several apps make it easy to find everything from mountain bike parks to rails-to-trails paths. The trick is to find places with both good trails AND great camping!
Since you’ve found Campendium, I assume you know how to find great camping. To find mountain biking, the apps I regularly use are best-known www.mtbproject.com, www.trailforks.com, and www.singletracks.com, and for point-to-point rail-trails, www.traillink.com.
Weather and elevation can make easy trails quite a workout, so be sure you know your limits and be properly prepared before heading out.
My Favorite Mountain Biking Trails in the Southern United States
The following list of my 10 favorite places to camp and mountain bike are chosen because they offer a variety of trails, are at least 5 miles long, and are diverse enough to welcome the novice rider yet interesting enough for the more experienced. And of course, they all have great camping.
An additional perk is an access to a point-to-point trail or rail-to-trail for relaxing, warming up, or cooling down. So let’s get started!
1. Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Tennessee & Kentucky
This massive chunk of land in western Tennessee and Kentucky is camping and biking paradise. With campgrounds that range from primitive to full-hookup, there are five trail systems totaling nearly 100 miles.
Biking: The Canal Loop Trail System is 11 miles (14 miles with connectors), offering scenic views of the lakes and woods in the northern section of LBL. The Central Hardwoods Scenic Trail, also 11 miles long, is a mix of paved sections and compacted stone that traverses LBL’s width from Kentucky Lake to Lake Barkley. In the south section, the Fort Henry trail system has nearly 30 miles of trails with an opportunity to see old homesteads and cemeteries.
Camping: With well over a dozen designated campgrounds and unlimited dispersed camping, LBL has something for everyone. In the north section with access to the Canal Loop Trail, the Nickell Branch Campground has 21 dry sites overlooking the Cumberland River. The Canal Loop trail crosses the road to the campground just before the fork by the pay station. With access to the Fort Henry trail between sites 1 & 2, at the south end of LBL is Boswell Landing Campground. It has 19 dry camping sites with views of Kentucky Lake.
2. Arrowhead Bike Farm, West Virginia
Arrowhead Bike Farm is a small campground with 20 primitive sites and 6 RV sites (up to 28 feet) with 30 amp hookups. Arrowhead is a one-stop camp-bike-clinic-shop-restaurant-bar located in the amazing New River Gorge of central West Virginia. The mountain biking here can be as leisurely or challenging as you like. Arrowhead offers clinics for those just starting out or looking to improve their skills, as well as guided tours. There are many other camping opportunities between Fayetteville and Beckley, plus other trail systems, so explore and enjoy.
3. Alexander Springs – Paisley Woods Trail, Florida
Biking: Ocala National Forest, at over 400,000 acres, is the southernmost national forest in the country. Home to wilderness areas and several world-class freshwater springs, it has much to explore. The Paisley Woods Trail is composed of two 11-mile loops through rolling hills and tall pine trees. The sand can be soft in places, so fat tire bikes will work well here.
Camping: Highly-rated Alexander Springs Campground is located at the northern end of the Paisley Woods Trail. Set under live oaks and palmettos, it is right across the road from the trail that connects to Paisley Woods. The spring is the main draw for its spectacularly clear water, swimming, paddling, and wildlife.
4. Ross Prairie – Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, Florida
Biking: The central portion of the 110-mile Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway has a perfect array of biking paths, trails, and campgrounds, not to mention the Florida Trail. TrailLink best describes the paved route. For the non-paved/off-road sections, refer to your favorite mountain bike app for the area. The Santos-Vortex area has a concentration of the most challenging mountain bike trails in this section of the Greenway.
Camping: Three terrific campgrounds with consistent 4-5 star ratings have you covered for using this trail system. Each campground is considered a trailhead access point. At the west end is Ross Prairie,
Sangri-La is midway, and Santos is at the eastern end. Both Ross Prairie and Santos have electric hookups, while Sharngi-La is dry camping and allows horses.
5. Pine Log State Forest – Crooked Creek Bike Trail, Florida
Biking: Pine Log State Forest is located midway between Apalachicola and Pensacola. There are two separate bike trails in this section of the forest. At the campground, the Fay & Dutch (Tieman) Bike Trail is just over 5 miles long and offers a nice loop through tall pines. The second trail is one mile south of the campground on the east side of Highway 79, called the Crooked Creek Trail. A short loop and a long loop are totaling 9 miles. This trail has some obstacles and can have standing water after a good rain, so check conditions ahead of time.
Camping: Sand Pond State Forest Campground is a smaller, 20-site campground overlooking a great lake for paddling. The campground gets consistent 4-star ratings from reviewers, particularly if you can get one of the sites overlooking the water. Partial hookups and water are available.
6. Munson Hills & St Marks Historic RR Trail, Florida
Biking: Apalachicola National Forest has a wonderful set of mountain bike trails at Munson Hills. Even though it’s located on the outskirts of busy Tallahassee, the woods feel quite remote. While riding here in early 2020, a Florida panther flew by while I was biking on the Twilight trail’s western side. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or “him.”
With over 8 miles of roller coaster clay hills, the northern Munson loop connects to the southern Twilight loop for a shorter or longer ride. Access points are the St. Marks Trailhead to the north and the J Lewis Hall Park to the south.
In addition to the Munson Hills trails, the Tallahassee-St Marks Historic Railroad State Trail parallels Woodville Highway 363. It extends 16 miles south to St. Marks along the old railroad line that once connected the two cities. Now a state park, the trail is fully developed, with several rest stops with both flush and vault toilets and water. An additional paved trail option is the as-yet-unnamed multi-use trail that intersects the St. Marks Trail near Scenic Coastal Highway 98. It winds for miles along Hwy 98 to Crawfordville Highway 319 and is in the process of being extended.
Camping: Considering this is Florida, it is surprising to find a relative lack of campgrounds south of Tallahassee. There are no camping options along the highway 363 corridor. Though this set of trails is not immediately accessible from a campground, if you are willing to drive, there are many options for both public camping and private campgrounds in the surrounding area, particularly as you get closer to the coast.
One viable option is dry camping in the parking lot at the Riverside Cafe in St. Marks. This is at the southern terminus of the Tallahassee-St Marks Historic Railroad State Trail. Isoseeker liked it so much, his review said, “During our first trip to Florida, this was one of the most memorable places we stayed.” A bit more rustic and just 2.5 miles east of the Trail on Hwy 98 is Newport Park Campground, a Wakulla County property.
7. Chickasboque County Park, Alabama
Situated on the far north side of Mobile, Chickasboque Park is a bit out of the way despite its proximity to Interstate 65. It is a nice sized county park consistently rated at 4 stars, has a range of camping options, and is reasonably priced. The best part, though, is the 17 miles of single track, mostly rated as intermediate. Be prepared as the trails on the east side of the interstate can be challenging at times.
8. Bethel Bicycle Trailhead – DeSoto National Forest, Mississippi
Riding the Bethel Bicycle Trails is like being back in the sandy pine forests of Florida. With 20 miles of singletrack, which can be ridden in either direction, the terrain varies from scrub to pine to sand to hills with creek crossings. While there isn’t anything too technical, the flow can be a nice workout and is great for any skill level. Dry camping is free and allowed for up to 7 days. The trailhead parking lot is fairly level and composed of grass, sand, and pine needles, with the only amenity being a vault toilet. There is room enough for several rigs, but mostly, it is just local cars and trucks that come in to enjoy the trails.
9. Swayback Bridge, Alabama
Biking: Just 30 minutes north of Montgomery is one of my favorite mountain biking parks, Swayback Bridge. For the most part, the trails are moderate in difficulty, with the length being the primary factor in how strenuous a workout you get. They are well marked and with many intersections allowing multiple ways to mix up the ride.
Camping: Right across the street from the trailhead parking lot is the small privately-owned Swayback Campground. There are a limited number of sites with hookups, but you may be able to score a dry camping spot. Be sure to call ahead to confirm.
There are two other unique camping options fairly nearby: an Alabama State Park at Fort Toulouse – Jackson Park Campground and for a real treat, camp and feed the goats at the Town of Spectre on privately owned Jackson Lake Island.
10. Monte Santo SP, Alabama
To round out my top-ten picks, the Monte Sano State Park puts a bit more mountain into your mountain biking. Be sure to obtain a map from the office as well as the latest updates on trail conditions. The beginner/intermediate trails worth checking out are the 4.5 miles Family Bike Trail, the 7 mile Plateau Loop trail, and the more challenging 10 mile Monte Sano Ride trail. The campground at Monte Sano is usually busy because it is popular with families, but the views are stunning. It is nicely maintained with lots to explore, including a planetarium.