How To Enjoy The Best Late Summer Camping Escapes
Planning a last-minute, end-of-season camping trip? Follow our tips to prepare for a late getaway
A cool evening in front of the campfire, watching the sun set. A crisp, sunny morning, with a steaming mug of coffee and a bacon butty. Just because the peak summer months have passed, there’s no need to pack the tent away. Camping late in the season – end of summer, autumn or even early winter – can provide some wonderful memories.
In an ideal world, we’d always recommend planning your big family camping trips months in advance. Although everyone loves the idea of chucking the tent into the car boot after work on a Friday afternoon and heading off to a lovely site by the coast for a spontaneous week of camping, it’s usually not quite as simple as that, especially if you’ve got kids. Fitting getaways around judo classes, football matches and music lessons is the first problem, then you have to find a site that suits all your needs. Leave it too late and you might find all the best pitches have gone.
However planning ahead isn’t always possible. Sometimes life gets in the way and there are lots of very good reasons why you might have to wait until the end of summer to book a trip, with only a few days’ notice. You might just enjoy living on the edge!
Obviously if older kids are involved you’ll be restricted to school holidays and weekends and that makes late season breaks more tricky. But if you don’t have school-age children, then the world’s your oyster. And there are actually lots of benefits to going camping late in the year.
For a start, it means quieter sites and less expensive pitches. You’re more likely to be able to get onto the most popular campsites and if you prefer there to be fewer children around then a break during school term-time is perfect. Look out too for any last-minute deals that might be on offer.
Most campsites that take tents remain open until after the autumn half-term holidays in October and some stay open all year round. You should be able to get onto most without pre-booking, but sometimes it’s worth checking, especially if good weather is forecast.
The downside is that sometimes sites don’t have all their facilities available outside the peak season – so make sure you check in advance if you want to take advantage of swimming pools and entertainment.
Another major factor is the climate. In Britain, there’s no particularly “good” time for weather, but obviously the height of summer is likely to give you the most sunshine. However, September can often be surprisingly warm and sunny, especially in the south of England, and even into October you can get lucky and catch some late season sunshine. But if you do it right you’ll be able to carry on camping no matter the weather. Get a pitch with electric hook-up, take an electric heater and pack warm sleeping bags and clothing. See our checklist for everything you need to take on a late season trip.
WHERE TO GO
While beaches and seaside fun might be the obvious choice for a summer camping trip, choosing a destination for an late season getaway is slightly different.
With more chance of bad weather, it’s wise to pick somewhere with plenty of “rainy day” options. City breaks are a good choice as there’s usually lots to do all year round. Likewise, areas with loads of historical sites, museums and galleries to visit are good.
A late season trip is a good opportunity to discover somewhere completely new, or perhaps an old favourite with a twist. You could even split a week or two between sites.
It sounds obvious, but narrowing down to one region or area makes it a lot easier to search for a site. For a weekend trip you’ll probably prefer somewhere a bit closer to home than if you’re planning a fortnight away. As a rule of thumb, we use the hour-per-night ratio to decide how far to travel: every hour of travelling requires a night’s stay e.g. if the site is two hours away we’d need to stay for two nights, while a five hour drive would mean a five night stay.
If the weather forecast doesn’t look great, pick somewhere within easy reach of home so you can pack up early if it gets too much too bear!
FINDING A SITE
First of all, make a checklist of what you are looking for in a site before starting your search (see below). Online search engines like our own Campsite Finder let you filter your search to match your needs.
A personal recommendation is invaluable when it comes to choosing a site, ask around. Social media can be a great source when you’re looking for recommendations.
Take a look at other sites in the area when you’re on a trip, for future reference, and make a note of the interesting ones. Sometimes the best site is the one nearest to the place or event you want to visit, not necessarily the one with the best facilities.
LATE SEASON FAMILY SITE CHECKLIST
- Is there a place to play? A good kid-friendly site doesn’t need to have a formal playground but make sure it has lots of space to play ball games and ride bikes, or natural play areas like woods or rocks.
- What are the rainy day options like? Is there an indoor games room on the site, or a local cinema or museum?
- An indoor swimming pool or leisure centre can come in handy especially when the weather’s not great. Check opening hours in advance as they can be limited late in the season.
- Enjoy sitting round the campfire? Many sites don’t allow them so check in advance if that’s your thing.
- A well-stocked campsite shop is important, especially if you’re not in. a town or village.
- On-site entertainment isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time but it can be fun. Check if it’s still available at the time you’re going.
- Who will you be sharing a site with? Some sites have a families/couples only policy and a quiet time from around 11pm. This reduces the chances of being stuck beside rowdy fellow campers.
- A family-friendly pub on-site or nearby, with a real fire and good menu, might come in handy, especially on chilly evenings.
- If you are camping with a baby or toddler, you might want to add a family bathroom or even disabled facilities that double-up as a baby-change area, to your checklist
- If you’re planning on bringing the family pet, make sure the site allows dogs
LATE SEASON GEAR
As well as your usual camping gear, for late season camping when the weather is a bit cooler and evenings darker make sure you add these to your kit:
- Electric hook-up unit
- Electric heater
- Three-season sleeping bags
- Large fleece for placing under beds
- Lighting (lanterns, torch/headlamp)
- Card/tabletop games
- Wireless speakers
- Remember that the nights are starting to close in so don’t leave it too late to set off or you’ll be putting your tent up in the dark.
- Temperatures are falling, especially at night, so pack your three-season sleeping bags, hot water bottles, bed socks and even hats to help keep you and your family cosy.
- Get layered. Start off with a fleece on top of a long sleeved shirt with a t-shirt underneath and you can gradually peel off the layers when it gets warmer.
- A decent-sized windbreak will block chill winds from howling through the tent.
- A tent carpet offers real protection from the cold ground, and you can get tent specific carpets or simply lay a blanket or fleece out on the floor.
- Try to get a site with electric hook-ups so you can have unlimited electric heating and lighting.
- Now could be the time to try out a spot of glamping in fully-equipped tipis, yurts, or pods.
DIARY DATES 2019
4 September End of England/Wales school summer holidays*
5 – 20 October Scottish schools October week holiday*
12 Oct – 3 Nov England/Wales schools autumn half-term*
* Specific dates vary depending on area