National parks are epic bucket list camping dreams, and state parks are closer alternatives.
But did you know there’s another type of government camping option?
Army Corps of Engineers parks are the hidden gem of camping. They often have great natural attractions for a low price, many times without the scheduling hassle of popular state parks.
What is the US Army Corps of Engineers (or COE)?
The Corps of Engineers has been around since 1779.
The main purpose of this governmental group was to oversee public works including providing safe water, designing dams and hydroelectric plants, and controlling flood plains. Basically the COE is the nation’s environmental planning arm.
Luckily for our water supply, they control the land around many major bodies of water.
As they developed projects alongside lakes and reservoirs, campgrounds were added to allow the public to make use of the water in more ways than one. There are now over 4300 recreation areas and 450 lakes (most with campgrounds) in the U.S. and the COE is one of the leading providers of recreation to citizens.
Where are COE Located?
There are seven districts of the COE, and they have projects in 43 states. 90 percent of recreation areas are located within 50 miles of a major metropolitan center.
What To Expect at US Army Corps of Engineers Campgrounds?
Almost all COE campgrounds are on usable recreation water. So water activities top the list of things to do.
Fishing, boating, kayaking, or just hanging waterside are tops.
Many of the lakes have docks, boat launches, and beaches. Most have playgrounds.
Amenities are similar to state parks: many do not have full hook-ups but just have water and electric or dry camping options.
Some have dump stations. Most have toilets with showers, large sites, and paved or gravel parking/roads.
Great views and spacious natural sites are the draw to COE parks! Not just for overnights, you can make use of the amenities and the view for day use also!
Prices vary but generally camping runs from $12-$50 a night.
If you can get an America The Beautiful Senior Pass, you get 50% off. Day fees are often just $5 or $40 for an annual pass.
How to find Corps of Engineers Campgrounds
If you enjoy spacious, beautiful campsites with water views and amenities for a budget price, the Army Corps of Engineers parks and campgrounds are right up your alley.
While a little more challenging to find and figure out, the parks are generally extremely well kept and spacious, while also being closer to civilization, allowing for quick escapes to nature.
Make use of your public lands; try out an Army Corps of Engineers campground!
The 11 Best Army Corps of Engineers Campgrounds
While there are many great campgrounds to choose from, here are 11 notable ones:
- McKinney Campground – McKinney, Texas
- Lake Guntersville State Park – Guntersville, Alabama
- Eastbank Campground – Willamette Valley, Oregon
- West Thompson Lake – North Grosvenor Dale, Connecticut
- Piney Campground – Dover, Tennessee
- Jordan Lake State Recreation Area – Apex, North Carolina
- Clearwater Lake – Piedmont, Missouri
- Alum Creek Lake – Lewis Center, Ohio
- Cheatham Lake – Ashland City, Tennessee
- John Martin Reservoir – Hasty, Colorado
- Raystown Lake – Hesston, Pennsylvania
These campgrounds offer a range of amenities such as hiking trails, swimming areas, fishing opportunities, and scenic views. Keep in mind that availability and specific amenities may vary, so it’s always a good idea to check with the respective campground for up-to-date information and reservations.
Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA
To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).
You should give it a try!
As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.
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