The United States Army COE provides some of the most stunning campsites in the country. Corp of Engineers campgrounds can offer gorgeous views and campgrounds right on the water for a fraction of the price of commercial campsites. Army COE campgrounds can offer the same amazing camping experience as a private site but at realistic and affordable prices. So many campers have no idea that COE campgrounds even exist, so we’re here to tell you all about this fantastic option. It’s ideal for camping on a budget!
There are 450 Corp of Engineers Campgrounds across the United States. The majority are located along lakes and rivers, although there are a few land-based sites. A total of 383 major lakes and reservoirs offer COE facilities. While you might not think an army-managed campsite is an appealing option, there are actually several large benefits to staying here. Read on to find out exactly what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is, and how they can offer you a magical camping experience.
What is the US Army Corp of Engineers?
The United States Corps of Engineers, or USACE, began way back in 1775, with a single chief engineer and two assistants. Now, the role of the COE is incredibly wide-reaching, with the main role of the organization to plan, design, and build the nation’s public waterworks. This includes constructing locks, creating flood control measures, and building hydro-electric power systems. However, the US Corp of Engineers is probably best known for building dams, of which they maintain around 700 across the country.
These dams and the lakes and reservoirs they create offer some of the best lakeside camping opportunities. There are recreational activities combined with high-quality campsites at all COE campgrounds. The Army Corps is actually the number one federal provider of recreational activities, all while researching and developing technologies to help protect the environment. Because of their unique position in maintaining so many bodies of water and natural areas, the COE is the perfect organization to offer the ideal camping experience.
Everything You Need to Know about Corp of Engineers Camping
Because the main role of the ACE is to maintain waterways, the majority of their campsites are located on the water. A handful of inland sites are on offer, but some of the very best lakeside camping can be found at COE sites. An excess of 4300 recreation areas is managed by the Corps of Engineers across 43 states, including 450 lakeside campgrounds. Since they’re located by reservoirs and rivers, COE campgrounds are perfect for activities like fishing, kayaking, swimming, and boating.
COE Camping: Reservations
Army Corps of Engineers campsites are popular, and there’s no mystery as to why. These campsites are always clean, tidy, and very well maintained, and offered at very fair prices! For these reasons, spots can fill up fast at USACE campgrounds. Not all campgrounds offer reservations, but they’re strongly recommended if available. More popular campgrounds will fill quickly, especially on weekends and holidays, so you could miss out if you arrive without a reservation.
You can make reservations on recreation.gov, as they are released on a rolling 6-12 month basis. Plenty of resources including campground maps and descriptions are available so you can pick out and reserve a specific site. Not all campgrounds offer this feature, so getting to choose the perfect camping spot for you is a huge benefit for COE campgrounds. The most popular spots, such as waterfront campsites, will book up fast.
COE Campgrounds: Fees
One of the biggest reasons ACE campgrounds are so popular is their fair and affordable rates. All sites are reasonably priced, especially considering the pristine condition you can expect to find them in. The average Corp of Engineers campsite costs around $22-$35 per night but can range from 18 to 56 dollars. RV sites with full hookups and sewer access will usually cost more, as will group campsites.
There are even some primitive camping sites offered by the COE for free! You won’t find many amenities of course, but there may be tent pads, picnic tables, lantern hooks, fire rings, and even pit toilets provided. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds do a fantastic job of making camping more accessible to everyone.
COE Campgrounds: Activities
Aside from stunning views and bargain prices, the Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds have even more fun to offer. With most sites located around lakes and rivers, water sports are very popular. Fishing from COE sites is excellent as docks and piers are often provided where the banks are too steep. In certain areas, it is possible to camp on the water’s edge and fish directly from your campsite.
The majority of ACE campgrounds are also equipped with boat ramps, making them ideal for kayaking and canoeing. Boating and swimming are popular daytime activities around the water. If you’d prefer to head out for a hike, there are more than 7800 miles of trails within COE recreation areas. Some of these are also open to bikes and may have opportunities for equestrian campers.
Many of the Army Corps campgrounds have playgrounds and picnic areas, so they’re great for a family vacation. More exciting activities are on offer depending on your destination, but you could try golf, snorkeling, rafting, or more at an ACE campground!
COE Campgrounds: Amenities
The amenities on offer at Corps of Engineers campgrounds might seem a little simple, but they’re just as good as any private or franchise campground. As federally owned recreation areas, you can expect a similar standard as state parks. Basic restroom and shower facilities will be provided, and while they may not be luxury standards, you can rely on a clean and functional bathroom. Dump stations are also contained within the area.
RV campsites will all be well-maintained, level, and with plenty of space. Some sites will have water and electricity, some just electric, and some full hook up. If you need a fully-equipped campsite, we recommend making your reservation early. Most camping spots throughout any COE recreation area will come equipped with the basics such as a fire ring, picnic table, and grill.
How to Find Army Corps of Engineers Campgrounds Map
So if you’ve decided to visit one of the hundreds of excellent COE campgrounds, you’ll need to know where to find one. You can use the Corps Lakes website to find the closest COE areas to you. After you’ve found a few options, you need to head over to Recreation.gov to make a reservation. Here you can find out more details and pick out the perfect destination for your trip!
All federal land in America is listed on the website www.recreation.gov where you can find the details of every Corps of Engineers site across the country. Check out a few different locations and you can find out about the natural features and recreational opportunities on offer. Most campgrounds on Recreation.gov also have high-quality photographs and campground maps so you can make your selection carefully.
The Best Lakeside Corp of Engineers Campgrounds
Now you know how fantastic the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds really are, we’re going to share a few of our favorites. All ACE campgrounds across the United States are worth a visit, but these select few offer some of the very best lakeside camping in the country. Here are 5 of the very best options on offer if you want to enjoy some quality waterside views:
1. Maumelle Campground: Little Rock, Arkansas
Maumelle Campground is located along the scenic Arkansas River, where the Murray Lock and Dam are run by the USACE. This river project includes 17 locks, dams, and reservoirs which make up the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. As well as running the waterways, the Army Corps of Engineers maintains excellent camping facilities for visitors to the area.
The facilities at Maumelle include 128 generous campsites complete with electric hookups, as well as picnic shelters for rainy days. A dock is available for boat launches, and a nearby playground will keep the kids entertained. Hot showers are also on-site for anyone needing refreshment after a sweaty day out on the water. We think you’ll need it, as there are a lot of activities on offer at this Corp of Engineers campground.
A small hiking trail passes through the recreation area, so visitors can check out the wildlife. Plenty of opportunities await for anglers at Little Rock with crappie, bream, and several species of bass to be caught in the pools. Nearby, Pinnacle Mountain State Park offers more challenging hikes, so this COE campground is a great base to set off from. For excellent fishing opportunities and scenic hikes nearby, this lakeside campground is definitely worth a visit.
2. McKinney Campground: Allatoona Lake, Georgia
Nearly 7 million people visit this lakeside campground every year; it’s one of the most popular Army Corps destinations. Allatoona Lake sits surrounded by rolling hills offering scenic views as well as lots of fun water activities. The entire body of water belongs to the Corps of Engineers, and they manage the surrounding campground and recreation areas.
McKinney Campground is another first-class destination for anglers. This lake is stocked annually with a range of game fish, and fishing jetties are dotted at numerous locations around the shoreline. If you’d like to do some boating, a dock is provided at the campground as well. With 270 miles of beautiful shoreline and a different activity to do from every angle, Allatoona Lake is some of the best COE camping in the US.
More than 100 spacious campsites are on offer, including water-front spots which are perfect for anglers. Amenities include well-kept showers and toilets, potable water, picnic areas, and fire rings. Those wanting to explore the land rather than the water can check out Red Top Mountain state park nearby, while still enjoying sunset views over the lake from your campsite.
3. Seven Points Campground: Hermitage, Tennessee
Another of our top picks from the USACE’s campgrounds is Seven Points on J Percy Priest Lake. This Army Corps facility is just 15 minutes away from the city of Nashville. The dam at this lake was completed by the Corps of Engineers in 1968, after which the recreation area was born. It has a mild climate and a long season, meaning the activities on offer are rich and varied. As well as hiking, boating, and fishing, visitors to Seven Points Campground can enjoy horseback riding, canoeing, and more!
The campground is surrounded by acres of greenery and woodland, bordering on one of Tennessee’s most stunning lakes. With 59 shaded campsites, this campground has a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. A boat ramp and swimming beach are provided right next to the campground to ensure you take full advantage of J Percy Priest Lake. Fishing opportunities are vast and plentiful with such advanced prey as Cherokee and white bass, while younger anglers can target trout and bluegill.
Seven Points has a play area to help keep younger children entertained, as well as large picnic areas perfect for throwing events or parties. We recommend making your reservation early if you decide to visit this COE campground. While all of the camping spots are spacious and tidy, the lakefront sites book up fast and are particularly breathtaking. As one of the most beautiful waterside views available to campers, we highly recommend visiting this USACE destination.
4. Potters Creek Park: Canyon Lake, Texas
With a huge selection of sites for both tent campers and RVers, Potters Creek offers superior recreation opportunities all year round. This Army Corps of Engineers facility is located on the northern shore of Canyon Lake, feeding on Guadalupe River. Potters Creek Park is surrounded by natural vistas on all sides, ideal for your next camping getaway. All campsites in Potters Creek have electric and water hookups, picnic tables, and fire rings. Amenities are provided including flush toilets, showers, and two dump stations.
Campers can choose from more private wooded sites further from the lake, or open waterfront camping spots with a view directly out over the water. As well as perfect overnight spots and gorgeous views all around, visitors to this campground have some fantastic outdoor recreation opportunities. Aside from activities on the lake and river, hiking, biking, and horseback riding are all on offer.
Like every Corps of Engineers recreation area, Potters Creek Park is great for boating, swimming, and fishing. The COE finished building the Canyon Lake Dam in 1964, and it has since offered much enjoyment from its deep blue water. Both the lake and Guadalupe river are stocked with bass, catfish, and trout for anglers. There are plenty of excellent fishing spots both beautiful and bountiful.
5. Cochiti Lake Campground: Pena Blanca, NM
Just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico is the Cochiti Lake Recreation Area. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the lake and surrounding wilderness, which includes two recreation areas. Cochiti Lake is actually located on the west side of the water and is open all year round, whereas the eastern recreation area is open seasonally. A boat launch is located on each side for all your boating needs. Campsites are reservable on a 6-month rolling basis and book up fast, so make sure to get yours to see one of the largest earth-fill dams in the world!
Cochiti Lake is nestled in the foothills of the Jemez Mountains, surrounded by grasslands and forest. Wildlife viewing in the Cochiti Lake recreation area is fantastic, with sightings of osprey, deer, coyote, otters, and beavers to name a few. If you want to hit the water, windsurfing and sailing are both popular on the lake, and a swimming beach is also provided. Anglers will enjoy this productive fishing spot offering such prey as sunfish and pike.
RV and tent sites are available with varying access to hookups, and all camping spots promise a breathtaking view. This COE campground is a particularly good choice for RV camping because they have paved drive-in sites right next to the water! There isn’t as much shelter available for tent campers, so keep this in mind in less mild weather. However, we can’t recommend a better USACE spot for an RV trip.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers parks are some of the very best recreational areas our nation has to offer. They’re different from the vast woodlands of national forests or the grand vistas of national parks; COE parks are functional and often connected to vital waterways. When you visit a Corps of Engineers campground, you’re learning about and supporting an organization that is instrumental to the smooth running of our country.
The dams built by the Army Corps create beautiful lakes and reservoirs, which can then be turned into rich recreation areas. Boating, fishing, swimming, and more, there are many water-related activities you can enjoy. Campers visiting these parks are privileged to stunning natural areas and quality amenities, all for bargain prices. There’s no reason to pay for private campgrounds when you can support our federal government and help to preserve the natural waterways of the country.
Bonus tip: Check out this video to learn more about the Army Corps of Engineers!