And money left over for marshmallows

Depending on the level of amenities on offer — flush toilets, say, instead of stinky latrines; a hanky-sized puddle of chlorine that passes for a pool; proximity to numerous overpriced music festivals — some regional campgrounds have become distressingly expensive.

Inexpensive gateway to recreation:  The rugged Southern Appalachians provide plenty of options for back-country camping, like this spot near Hot Springs. Photo by Sachie Godwin

I'm sorry, but when the price of a tent spot creeps past $25, that's getting a little too close to the cost of a sleazy motel. After all, both experiences are likely to involve bugs.

Naturally, the rugged Southern Appalachians provide plenty of options for backcountry camping. If your party includes little ones or older parents, however, roughing it may grow dangerous (and I'm referring more to sky-high stress levels than bared-fanged bears). The following two campgrounds — both an amazing $10 or less, and both road-tested over the years by yours truly and her family — are fresh, pretty, well-maintained places where you can get your nature on and still have enough gas money left to make it home again.

Rocky Bluff Campground and Recreation Area

Although it's only three miles south of Hot Springs, Rocky Bluff can't boast that mountain oasis's raffish charm or thermal cures. Instead, this small, isolated campground's main attraction is the sound of silence — and this revelation may make me a target for those who'd prefer to keep this gem their own little secret.

A couple of trails loop around the area, and there's even a small cemetery plot on-site, where departed members of the Robert Brooks family presumably keep night watch over visitors. (Rocky Bluff is in Pisgah National Forest, and its earthly caretakers are federal employees.)

Wildlife is to be expected. Nearby Spring Creek supports beaver and fishable trout. Last time we went, we spotted a copperhead and a black snake before we'd even pitched the tent. But don't let that spook you. Take basic precautions and breathe in the peace.
3121 N.C. 209. Open May 1 to Oct. 31; $8 tent sites;

Ralph J. Andrews County Park

Here's the shot you'll want to post to your Facebook profile: a swinging white glider overlooking dazzling Lake Glenville, which pools around Ralph J. Andrews Park and Campground like a spilled tumbler of curaçao.

Don't get me wrong: On weekends, you'll find whole hives of kin buzzing under the picnic shelter at this 47-site Jackson County enclave, come together for family reunions. If you can, go during the week, when photo ops will abound.

Despite its popularity with locals, though, the campground remains curiously under the radar. "I've been trying to get a promo photo from them for years," laments an unidentified employee of the local chamber of commerce. So make the drive, already, and be there now. Reminiscent of some alpine-embellished, 1950s-era summer camp, it's really a ridiculously pretty place.
Pine Creek Road in Glenville. Open April 15 through Oct. 31; tent sites starting at $8 (for Jackson County residents); (828) 743-3923.

Melanie McGee Bianchi is a contributing editor at Carolina Home + Garden.
Lake Glenville pools around Ralph J. Andrews County Park like a spilled tumbler of curaçao.


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