Did you know that you can camp at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds without even being in the military or as a military Veteran? In fact, COE campgrounds are open to anyone who loves to camp in a tent, RV, van or even with your car or motorcycle! The best part about camping at Corps parks is they are affordable, scenic and provide lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation!
While we were hard-charging our research in finding different campgrounds all across the U.S., we were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled upon a cool book, Camping with the Corps.
This helpful camping book lists over 940 Corps of Engineers campgrounds in 35 states. Best of all, not only are they cheap, they’re always located on the water!
Wait, did I say camping on the water? You betcha!
So, let’s load up the RV or grab your tent, and buckle up! We’re going to take you on a virtual road trip to learn all about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds! We’ll tell you how to find COE parks, how much they cost and what it takes to camp there!
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Camping with the Corps of Engineers
Cheap Camping on the Water!
Photo by Always On Liberty©
Who are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers & what they do?
Abbreviated as “USACE”, the Army Corps of Engineers is an agency within the U.S. Department of Defense. This agency is responsible for military and civil engineering projects all across the U.S.
Since even before the turn of the 19th century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers serve as masters of civil and military engineering with a long list of major key functions and responsibilities.
Because COE (abbreviated for Corps of Engineers) are essentially a division of the U.S. Army, they provide engineering, construction and infrastructure improvements on military installations worldwide in support of our national defense.
The Army Corps’ diverse workforce of 34,600 civilian and 650 military members (2023) meets the constant demands of technology, changing times and requirements as a vital part of America’s Army.
They are the leaders in support, development and engineering infrastructure, environmental restoration, water source management and aiding in disaster response and recovery.
The Army Corps plans, designs, constructs and maintains civil engineering projects of waterways including flood control systems, dams, levees and canals nationwide.
And, maintaining over 700 dams and waterways, COE plays a huge part in a network of port and waterway transportation, navigation and commerce.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers most notable projects:
- Hoover Dam
- The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Projects
- Mississippi River and Tributaries Project
- Mississippi River Lock and Dam System
- New Orleans Hurricane Protection System
- Everglades Restoration
- Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration
- St. Lawrence Seaway Project
- Savannah Harbor Expansion
The Corps also provides emergency response in flood control, repairing infrastructure and disaster recovery assistance when and where needed. COE also provides ongoing restoration and revitalization projects, such as bridges, roads, airports and buildings, worldwide as part of humanitarian efforts.
The Army Corps of Engineers are also facilitators of restoring, preserving and managing our natural resources, wetlands, habitats and ecosystems that are impacted by civil works projects.
But reason for writing this article, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides over 400 river and lake projects in the United States. Thus, offering amazing outdoor recreation opportunities on the water and on land!
Recreationally, COE campgrounds are a byproduct of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mission. The federal agency offers an amazing collection of outdoor recreational opportunities.
Since their primary focus in the United States during peace time is water environment management, COE creates and manages recreational facilities and campgrounds where citizens can relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Breaking it down nationwide, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is one of the nation’s leading federal providers of outdoor recreation. The USACE manages and stewards (2023):
- 2,850 USACE-operated recreation areas
- 41,188 miles of shoreline
- 7,825 miles of trails
- 94,565 campsites
- 3,735 boat ramps
- 400 lake & river projects in 43 states
- 12 million acres of public lands and waters at hundreds of water resources projects in the entire U.S.
From building the campsites, playgrounds, bathroom facilities, fishing areas, boat ramps, safe swimming areas and hiking trails, you can see why COE parks are amongst the best in America!
Do you have to be in the military to stay at Corp of Engineers campgrounds?
There is a misconception that because they’re called U.S. ARMY Corps of Engineers, that only military can stay at them.
Let me put that to rest in saying, NO. You do not have to be in the military to camp at COE parks! Unlike military famcamps, Anyone can camp at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds as well as enjoy their day use areas!
Even though they are federally owned and managed by a division of the U.S. Army, COE campgrounds are not “military” campgrounds.
How to find Corps of Engineers Campgrounds or COE Parks
Of course, we learn about wonderful places to camp simply by word of mouth. Whether it’s sitting around the picnic table or circling around the campfire, you can learn where exceptional campgrounds are that offer more than just camping!
But, since we’re talking about Corps of Engineers campgrounds, here’s some tried and true camping resources where you can get the skinny on Corps parks.
Corps Lakes Gateway
The Corps Lakes Gateway is where you can plan your camping trip to your favorite COE campground or find one on your route. It’s the gateway to outdoor recreation opportunities at Corps parks nationwide.
You can find campgrounds by state. Once you get to the campground you wish to visit, it will list recreation activities and other info to make the most of your outdoor experience.
Also, there’s also a COE free PDF booklet that lists Corps parks in each state and what’s recreation opportunities at each.
Like the U.S. National Parks, the Army Corps of Engineers park reservation system is managed through Recreation.gov. Search for federal campgrounds and recreational facilities by name and location.
Recreation.gov is the federal government’s centralized travel planning platform and reservation system for 14 federal agencies; including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
It offers the tools and information to find and explore COE campgrounds and other outdoor and cultural destinations all across the U.S. You can also reserve your campsites right from their website or their app (Apple or Android)
RV Trip Wizard
RV Life’s RV Trip Wizard is a great trip planning tool for RVers and campers. It helps you search for campgrounds and points of interests as well as keeps track of your camping reservations at COE campgrounds.
Their app also helps to get you to your camping destinations by utilizing RV-friendly routes specific to your RV and travel preferences. The app filters make it super easy to find Corps Parks as well as nearby points of interest.
Learn more by signing up for the FREE 7-Day Trial.
AllStays Camp & RV
Another great resource in finding COE parks is through AllStays Camp & RV.
This is another trip planning resource that can help you find certain points of interest by filtering places and services, like tents, RV resorts, parking lots, fuel, rest areas, repairs, tunnels, and even inclines, with or without Wifi connection.
Also, you can check each Corps of Engineers campground amenities; including open season, rate range, sites, hookup types, amps, big rigs access, tents or no tents, etc.
AllStays also has an Apple app (sorry Android users!) that does require a subscription but is well worth it despite the small price.
The Dyrt is subscription website and mobile app to find campgrounds throughout the United States. The content on The Dyrt is crowd-sourced as campers post photos, videos and campground reviews.
Subscription users can find campgrounds, including COE parks, via interactive map as well as clickable states, popular cities and Corps parks. Each campground or RV park will list important features such as WiFi signal strength, ADA access, if it’s big rig friendly and tons more.
How much does it cost to camp at COE campgrounds?
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Campgrounds can cost anywhere from about $20 upwards to $40 or $50 per night depending on location.
But, if you have a National Park America the Beautiful Senior Pass, Golden Age or Access Pass, you get a 50% discount off of your camping fees and free admission for day use.
Unfortunately, other America the Beautiful passes do not get discounts on camping.
✰✰ RELATED ✰✰ Which National Park Pass Should You Get?
What do Corps of Engineers campgrounds offer besides camping?
The USACE provides tons of outdoor recreation for all ages and abilities. COE Campgrounds aren’t just a place to park your RV or tent camp.
You can do most anything under the sun at a Army Corps of Engineers Recreational Facilities! Day-use passes (non-camping) usually start at about $5 per day.
- Hiking & Backpacking Trails
- Mountain Biking
- Wildlife Viewing & Birdwatching
- Hunting & Fishing
- Motorboating & Waterskiing
- Kayaking, Canoeing & Paddleboarding
- Whitewater Rafting
- Picnic Areas & Playgrounds
- Educational Programs
- Group Events
- +More depending on location
What are COE Day Use Fees?
Based on what’s available at each park, day use fees may vary individually based on what activities are available at the park. Typical day use fees range about $5-10 per day.
As discussed above, the National Park America the Beautiful Annual or Lifetime Senior Pass, Golden Age Pass or Access Pass grants free entrance for day use at any COE park facilities, at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation sites.
America the Beautiful Senior Pass or Access Pass holders also receive 50% off camping when they reserve their campsite (it will require your pass #).
For Active Duty Military members, we encourage you to get your free America the Beautiful Military pass for free entry into any COE park. However, there is no discount on camping fees.
That said, if you are preparing for or returning after deployment, you may find the COE offering a free campsite based on availability if you call a particular Corps Park.
With all passes, the pass owner with photo ID needs to be present when entering a park. Travel companions in the same vehicle can be admitted as long as one of the passholders is present with valid identification.
Also, there are a few designated free days when day use fees at Army Corps parks aren’t collected (does not apply to camping).
Be aware, there may be a small charge for some amenities and added programs at some COE parks.
Now, If you’re camping overnight at a Corps Park, you do not have to pay day use fees as your campsite fee includes the privilege of recreating there as well.
As you see, Corps of Engineers campgrounds are an incredible opportunity to camp and enjoy outdoor recreation at it’s best!
We do highly recommend checking their website or contact the specific location to verify availability, activities, amenities, permit requirements and fees.
More good reads!
✰ National Park Rules – Things You Should Never Do! (Also applies to Corps of Engineers Parks)