The White Mountain National Forest is renowned for its clear mountain lakes, alpine peaks, and hardwood forests. It’s the perfect national forest for camping in New Hampshire.
Read on to learn more about White Mountain National Forest camping!
White Mountain National Forest
The White Mountain National Forest is a nearly 800,000-acre area of land encompassing the White Mountains, which are part of the Appalachian Mountain range. Native tribes named the mountains as such because their peaks appeared to glow white, thanks to the sun reflecting off the granite in the mountains.
White Mountain National Forest offers 22 campgrounds, as well as camping cabins and cottages that are managed by the White Mountain National Forest. Backcountry camping is allowed in the park, as long as campers obey national forest rules.
The best time to camp in the White Mountain National Forest, as you might expect, is mid-spring to early fall. Winter sports enthusiasts will have no shortage of activities in the snowy months, but camping in the White Mountain National Forest during winter is a feat best attempted by experienced outdoors people, as the conditions can be harsh and unfriendly to the casual camper.
In fact, Mt. Washington, one of the forest’s well-known landmarks, is one of the most dangerous places to hike, climb, or ski in the world, due to harsh conditions there.
Best Campgrounds in the White Mountain National Forest
The Dolly Copp Campground in the White Mountain National Forest is one of the most popular–and the largest–in the area, and its gathering spaces are perfect for both small families and larger get-togethers. Dolly Copp has all the amenities–showers (coin-operated), potable water, flushing toilets–and is located at the head of several trails that provide scenic day hikes.
The Peabody River and Culhane Brook pass through the campground, offering campers a chance to cool their heels or cast their fly rods without going far from your campsite.
Looking for a more rustic, secluded camping trip? Check out the Wild River Campground. As previous campers will tell you, there’s nothing to do at this hidden gem except enjoy nature. But wait–they won’t tell you that, because no one wants the secret of Wild River to spread!
Hike, swim, fish, and stargaze at this picturesque site, but beware of bears!
Hancock Campground is another popular place for White Mountain National Forest camping. Open year round (with limited services in the winter months, but consistent plowing), Hancock provides an idyllic place to fish, picnic, swim, hike, and bike.
It’s also near the Lincoln Woods Trailhead, where you can find a picturesque, 160-foot suspension bridge. The campground is pet-friendly and close–but not too close–to town.
Osceola Vista Campground is also located on the western side of the White Mountain National Forest and is popular among outdoor enthusiasts.
In addition to sitting at the gateway of over 80 miles of hiking trails, the campground is also known for its canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, and horseback riding opportunities. There are even a few places to golf nearby.
In the eastern region of the National Forest, you’ll find Jigger Johnson Campground–another good option for families or those traveling with campers of varying abilities. This campground hugs the Kancamagus Highway and offers creature comforts, like coin-op showers and running water.
Plus, rangers hold informational talks in a nearby barn where you and your family can learn all about the White Mountain National Forest.
The Covered Bridge Campground on the eastern side of the forest is another site worth checking out. It sits about 6 miles from the town of Conway, where you can find dining and shopping options if the sculpted rocks and bubbling streams in the campground start to bore you.
Covered Bridge Campground is home to several swimming holes and some of the best fishing in the White Mountain National Forest.
Activities in the White Mountain National Forest
Hiking, fishing, swimming (though the water can be cold!), canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing, rock climbing, birdwatching, stargazing . . . you name it and, as long as it includes soaking in some of the most beautiful scenery in New England, you’ll find it on your White Mountain National Forest camping trip.
Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves
One must-see attraction on the west side of the White Mountain National Forest is the Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves, where visitors can follow a wooden boardwalk trail to tour the gorge, or explore other natural trails and gardens.
Lakes and rivers
From tubing and kayaking to swimming and fishing, no White Mountain National Forest camping trip would be complete without a lake or river experience! The forest is full of waterways that offer some of the best angling and fly fishing in the country, scenic lake-loop trails, swimming holes, and gentle-flowing rivers for a lazy float.
Get a free permit at one of the White Mountain National Forest ranger stations and go look for gold! Most gold panning in the forest takes place in the western part of the forest, serviced by the Pemigewasset Ranger District.
Planning for your White Mountain National Forest Camping Trip
Start planning your White National National Forest camping trip with a visit to the official US Forest Service website. Here, you’ll find everything you need to know about making a reservation, finding the perfect campground, and forest rules.
Reservations at all campgrounds that accept them can only be made via the recreation.gov website or by calling a national park reservation line. They must be made no later than 7 days in advance; otherwise, campsite availability is first come, first served.
Thinking of bringing your dog? White Mountain National Forest campgrounds do allow dogs, but they must be kept on a leash. Well-behaved dogs under voice command can be off- leash outside most campgrounds, though.
See our basic family camping checklist for an overview of what to bring on a family camping trip. Among other things, be sure to have a stocked first aid kit, regardless of what kind of camping you’re planning. For White Mountain National Forest camping, it’s a good idea to bring some rain gear, even if you’re planning to camp in the summer. Overnight rains aren’t uncommon in the area.
Cooking is allowed in White Mountain National Forest campgrounds; however, make sure to follow the basic rules of cooking and eating in a camp smack dab in the center of bear country! Take a look at our camping food list for ideas on what to pack and meals to cook.
Consult the Forest Service’s safety tips to get a general idea of how to stay safe while on your White Mountain National Forest camping trip.
The White Mountain National Forest is rife with wildlife! Moose are often seen along the Kancamagus Highway and in the northern part of the forest. Black bears, bobcats, deer, coyote, foxes, fishers, mink, pine martens, raccoons, porcupines, and beavers are commonly seen throughout the forest.
What’s more, at any given time of year, you can observe one (or more!) of the 184 species of birds that call the White Mountain National Forest home.
In addition to standard water safety concerns, like having proper flotation devices on or near your body and boating only when sober, water hazards in the White Mountain National Forest include slippery rocks, cold water, and sudden fluctuations in depth and water flow speed due to rapid snowmelt and runoff. Enjoy the beautiful water features in the area, but be careful, and heed posted warnings when you see them.
White Mountains Wonderland
Wherever you end up on your White Mountain National Forest camping adventure, you’re sure to return home refreshed and re-grounded. Summer in the forest is rife with opportunities to put away the electronics and enjoy nature’s playground.
For the seasoned and adventurous, winters offer epic snowsport opportunities as well as a few open campgrounds! The White Mountain National Forest definitely tops our list of beautiful places to camp in the northeast. Learn more about camping in our nation’s parks in our other national park camping guides!
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Ronda Lindsay is a professional writer and editor who has worked in government communications for nearly two decades.
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, she fostered her love of nature and the outdoors by exploring the Pacific Northwest’s many natural playgrounds before moving to the Washington, DC, area to see what the eastern side of the country had to offer. She’s also spent plenty of time camping, hiking, and floating around central Texas, where she now lives.
With a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in professional writing, Ronda loves to learn and write about the latest trends in outdoor adventuring and share that information with Beyond the Tent readers.