Close to London, but wonderfully embedded in the countryside, the New Forest is one of the UK’s glowing camping treasures.
A renowned national park famous for its wild ponies, beautiful trees, quaint villages and plenty of cycle trails, the New Forest in Hampshire feels like the perfect place to get a slice of relaxation and rejuvenation.
And if you are looking to get back to nature, then there’s probably no better way to do it than via a camping adventure.
With most of the New Forest accessible and with a huge range of activities that you can dabble in as much or as little as you like, camping in the New Forest really is the ideal way to explore this glorious part of England… especially on a budget.
So here I’m bringing you my complete guide to New Forest camping, including my top 7 campsites that you should definitely head to there, along with tips and tricks to planning your perfect adventure…
- Top 21 Things to Do in the New Forest
- 50 Bucket List Things to Do in the UK
- 10 Best New Forest Walks
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Why Go Camping in the New Forest?
“Why not?” is probably the better question to ask at this point, because the New Forest was kinda made for camping!
With tons of natural beauty – much of it protected – and an easy drive from London as well as many other places in the south of the UK, this is the perfect holiday getaway you don’t have to go too far for… or spend too much money on either!
Yes the ideal solution for those of us on a budget, camping is the cheapest way to experience the New Forest and also probably the best way to get amongst its woodland wonder too.
With nature doing her thing in full force down in this quaint and quiet part of the UK, there’s no question taking as much advantage of it as possible is the way to go!
And, on a practical note, being able to easily drive to and around the New Forest also means camping is easy here as you can simply transport all the gear you need with you from home!
Where to Camp in the New Forest?
At 566 square km big, it’s fair to say the New Forest is probably larger than you think.
A huge national park, there are actually many villages situated within the New Forest, along with attractions, accommodation options, pubs, parks and of course a lot of farms, trees, trails and horses to boot!
Indeed it takes around 45 minutes to drive from the north to the south of the park, and that’s on the main road that runs through the park – taking any of the smaller roads (which you definitely should) along with stopping to snap wildlife (or queue behind animals!) will mean most journeys take a lot longer.
This means it’s a good idea to choose wisely about where you want to camp in the New Forest because having a base, and tripping around from there, is likely to be the best approach.
And with campsites all over the park, there’s quite a lot of choice!
First up, you probably need to decide if you want to be near the coast or deep in the forest.
If it’s the coast you want, then the south of the New Forest is the area to head for.
Otherwise, if you’d like to be closer to major amenities, then camping nearer one of the main towns, such as Lyndhurst or Brockenhurst are probably good choices.
Alternatively, if you really want to be away from the action as much as possible, then the southeast and southwest corners of the park tend to be the quietest respectively.
The key things to look out for when choosing a quiet campsite in the New Forest are the distance from main roads or towns.
Types of New Forest Camping
The first thing to consider when planning your New Forest camping trip is what sort of camping you want to enjoy.
By this I mean you generally have the choice of the following options:
#1 Motorhome, Caravan or Campervan
#2 Use an Onsite Tent, Shepherds Hut, Cabin, Pod or Yurt
#3 Opt to Take Your Own Tent
#1 Motorhome, Caravan or Campervan
With the first option it’s likely you’ll be using your own motorhome or caravan, but of course the option of renting a campervan in the UK and driving it to the New Forest is totally possible.
The pros of this option include the freedom to drive and explore where you like, as well as the potential to move quickly between campsites across the park if you want to get the full experience too!
You’ll also save on pitching / packing up time, be assured of staying dry if it rains and have a greater level of luxury and home comfort.
The cons are the cost and the hassle of driving a large vehicle, which can be especially annoying on many of the smaller, twisting island lanes and limited parking facilities – especially for big vehicles.
#2 Bell Tents, Cabins, Huts or Yurts
Using an onsite bell tent, cabin, hut, pod or yurt is an option many campsites in the New Forest provide.
I’ll cover this more in the section on glamping later on in this article.
#3 Take Your Own Tent
Finally, you can opt to take your own tent and either use your own vehicle to get to the New Forest or a bicycle or public transport.
Using your own tent is certainly the cheapest way to camp here and having your own transport will give you a lot more options when it comes to where you can go and which campsites you can access.
In general, I’d really recommend having your own vehicle or bike when you explore the New Forest, as public transport here is limited, and it will make camping (and bringing everything you need) a lot easier!
When choosing your own tent, you can have a huge range of options from massive family models you can stand up in and that have multiple rooms, to tiny 1 man tents that pack down to almost nothing and are both light and easy to transport.
Choose your tent according to the number of people camping with you, how long you’re planning to camp, the level of luxury you need and how your planning to transport all your gear to the New Forest – by this I mean, will you have to carry everything in bike panniers, or can you sling it in the car?
In the case of bike panniers, I’d advise travelling with an ultra-light featherweight tent you can easily transport along with food and water etc, to give you the ultimate freedom of really getting amongst the beauty of this part of the UK.
That said, the cons to taking your own tent are, of course, the level of organisation required and the hassle of transporting everything and the potential you might get wet if there’s some heavy rain!
You’re also likely to pick one campsite and stay put if you have to pitch your own tent – the hassle of packing up can be a lot if you plan to move around!
Glamping in the New Forest
If packing everything up in the car, buying a tent and generally pitching and unpacking sounds like too much hassle, but you still want to try your hand at some New Forest camping, then you may consider glamping instead!
Glamping is essentially “glamourous camping” – a more boutique version of the old school outdoor accommodation option!
Normally recreating the experience in slightly more sturdy and permanent structures, such as yurts, huts, bell tents, cabins or pods (as I mentioned above), this is a great way to get a feel for the outdoors and nature without sacrificing too much comfort.
Glamping in the New Forest usually involves staying in campsites, where more permanent structures have been converted and built into unique dwellings, often with a rustic character.
Increasingly popular, levels of luxury and prices vary wildly when glamping in the New Forest and can encompass everything from staying in large canvas safari tents to fully self-contained huts with baths and kitchen facilities!
Glamping stays can be booked as you would a normal place to camp in the New Forest.
If you want more ideas, check out the YHA New Forest options here.
The real pro with glamping is that all you have to do is turn up and enjoy the facilities without having to worry about getting all the camping gear organised!
If it rains or the weather isn’t great, glamping can be a great option too as it is both affordable and offers some more permanent rain cover!
Many of the top camping spots I recommend below also have glamping options, so you can pick the best choices based on your budget.
The other type of camping I haven’t yet discussed is wild camping.
This is essentially when you just chuck your tent anywhere for the night without paying for a designated spot or site.
It pays to start off by noting that wild camping is not legal in the New Forest and many park rangers and farmers (whose land you may be sleeping on) might not take kindly to you trespassing on their land.
That said, if you are discreet, tidy, quiet and clean, it’s likely people may turn a blind eye or not notice!
Wild camping is not common in the New Forest, but it is practised so, if you do choose to take the risk, remember to pick your spot carefully and be very sensitive to animals, landowners and the countryside code.
Closing gates, if they are closed when you find them, picking up litter and keeping the noise to a minimal level are just some of the more obvious pointers!
Things to Consider When Planning Your Camping Trip
When making any decision about your camping experience in the New Forest, you need to consider budget and the type of holiday you’re after when it comes to choosing your location and style of camping.
I’ve already outlined some of the factors you might want to consider when choosing your campsite location, including closeness to shops, New Forest pubs and amenities, or walking trails and the coast.
And I’ve also already mentioned considering the style of camping you want to enjoy i.e. weather factors, how “back to nature” you want the experience to be and how much gear you are prepared to organise / bring with you.
Other factors to think about when planning a New Forest camping trip include whether you are travelling as a family, a group or a couple and how romantic you want the setting to be – how rural or how commercialised?
Do you want to be able to walk to the beach or do you want to drive there?
Are you happy to camp on grass with toilets far away, or do you want a swimming pool and activities close at hand?
And then, of course, there’s budget – a key component to choosing any holiday!
Powered or Unpowered Campsites?
And another key thing to consider for your camping trip, especially when it comes to either motorhome / caravan / campervan or tent camping, is whether you want a powered or unpowered campsite.
Certainly if you have a campervan, caravan or motorhome with you that has a fridge, lights and other items that need electricity, you’re likely to want to get a powered site.
When you have your own tent you can choose, but an unpowered site will be cheaper and allow for a more off-grid experience!
If you need to charge your camera or phone while you are camping, then bringing a portable charger with you (see my packing list further down in this article), will definitely prove a cheaper and easier option than powered camping!
If you do go for a powered site, make sure you come armed with a mains hook up adaptor lead plug that will allow you to charge regular household devices from the 16A plug commonly found at British campsites to the 13A sockets need to charge your household items such as phones and cameras.
New Forest Services and Supplies
Despite being a National Park, the New Forest is pretty well-connected, with cites like Southampton and Portsmouth just a short drive away.
There are a number of good-sized towns in the New Forest too, with the larger ones of Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst and Lymington having many of the supplies you’ll need.
As such, services and supplies aren’t that limited here and you can easily fuel up your vehicle, buy basic hardware or visit the supermarket within a short drive… or even walk!
In general however, I’d still advise buying everything you’ll need for your trip in advance – it will just save time when you are here and allow you to enjoy your holiday more!
These are all factors to consider when picking your campsite and to help you on your way, is my list of the 7 best New Forest campsites…
Top 7 New Forest Campsites
#1 Tom’s Field
Set on the edge of a quiet village surrounded by wild ponies and cattle that roam freely, Tom’s Field is a wonderfully independent and family-run campsite.
Ideal for those seeking to get away from it all and enjoy the peace and quiet, especially because large groups aren’t allowed and the nearest pub is 15 minutes away, this is the perfect “back to nature” experience.
Hot showers and a toilet block complement drinking water taps and fire pits and free phone charging at reception.
There’s also bell tents here for those who want some glamping fun.
#2 Harry’s Meadow
Actually part of a small family of campsites in the New Forest, Harry’s Meadow is the sister campsite of Harry’s Field and The Old Airfield.
All offer slightly different experiences, from wild and open acres of peaceful nature through to more connected campsites with great facilities, so you’ve got the pick of the bunch here.
Ideal for those with tents or camper vans, there’s also some bell tent options at Harry’s for those who want to glamp.
#3 YHA New Forest
Traditionally a hostel, but now expanding into the camping market, the YHA New Forest offers something for everyone.
From dorm and private rooms through to camping pods, bell tents and BYO tent pitches, this is a great budget option for larger groups who may have people who want different things in the same party.
Located near the beautiful village of Burley, this is a great central location, and the property was beautifully renovated in 2017 in association with the National Trust.
#4 Hollands Wood Campsite
Set amongst 22 hectares of beautiful oak woodland, Hollands Wood Campsite in the New Forest is the perfect retreat.
With nearby cvcle and walking trails, this is a great spot for those who want to enjoy the active adventures of the New Forest.
This campsite is also well located – in a quiet area, but just a short driving distance from Brockenhurst.
With a bus stop just a couple of minute’s walk from the site too, this place is also possible to access if you are using public transport.
#5 Holmsley Campsite
With a bit of a quirky twist, this New Forest campsite occupies part of what used to be Holmsley Airfield in WWII – one of 12 New Forest wartime airfields and Advanced Landing Grounds.
Wonderfully open, the dotted collections of trees give options for those who want to camp in the secluded shade or more open scenery.
Located near the village of Burley, there’s good amenities at Holmsley Campsite including an onsite shop.
Pitches are suitable for tents, caravans and motorhomes.
#6 Red Shoot
A stalwart classic on the New Forest campsite scene, Red Shoot is family-run and has been operating for over 50 years.
A large site near Ringwood in the northwest of the New Forest, this campground offers a huge range of facilities and is therefore great for families.
With pitches for tents, campervans, motorhomes and caravans, choose from electric and are non-electric pitches at this award-winning place.
Dogs are welcome too and with a modern amenity block with underfloor heating, a laundry room, family and disabled bathrooms, plus a shop and bakery and children’s play area, this site has all the facilities you could need.
#7 Long Meadow
And finally, in the heart of the national park, Long Meadow is definitely one of the best campsites in the New Forest.
The town of Brockenhurst is just a few minutes drive away and the coast isn’t far either, making this perfect place to stay and enjoy the beach and the beauty of the forest.
There’s cycle and walking trails leading from the back gate and room for campervans, motorhomes, as well as tents and some glamping options too.
A great spot for families, guest can benefit from large pitches, free wifi, laundry facilities, as well as hairdryers when they stay here!
Tips for New Forest Camping
- Don’t pitch your tent on a slope or near animals, especially if you want to have a good night’s sleep!
- Do be prepared for inclement weather, even if it’s not forecast, pack as if it might rain!
- Remember to stay hydrated by drinking enough water, especially if you’re cycling or hiking.
- It goes without saying that sunscreen and a hat or cap that can protect you from the sun are crucial during the summer months too.
- If you need to use the toilet in the wild, you should do so at least 30 meters from water sources, such as rivers and lakes and bury it well.
- Don’t climb fences or trespass onto private property.
- Always pick up any litter and carry bags you can use for trash.
- Most campsites offer hot water, but bringing some wet wipes in case you can’t handle a cold shower is probably a good idea!
Your New Forest Camping Checklist
- Ground Sheet
- Camping Mat
- Camping Pillow
- Sleeping Bag
- Camping Chairs
- Camping Table
- Camping Stove
- Pans / Plates / Cutlery / Cups
- Flask / Coffee Maker
- Water Bottle
- Food Supplies
- Washing Up Liquid / Bowl / Sponges
- Hiking Footwear
- Slip-on Footwear such as Crocs or Birkenstocks
- Activewear Clothes
- Waterproof Jacket / Trousers
- Cap for Sun Protection
- Head Torch
- Warm Clothes inc warm hat and socks
- Clothes to Sleep In
- Toiletries / First Aid
- Wet Wipes / Tissues
- Sunscreen & Insect Repellent
- Camera & Spare Batteries
- Portable Charger
Top New Forest Travel Tips
When to Visit the New Forest?
There’s no question the best time to go camping in the New Forest is between the months of June and September when the weather is at its direst, sunniest and warmest.
Not only does this make for a more pleasant camping experience, but the better weather at this time of year will also allow you to enjoy more of the park’s beautiful landscapes too – whether that’s walking, cycling, hitting up the coast or just staring out your tent door!
I visited the New Forest in mid-April and experienced idyllic weather that saw me hiking and cycling under brilliant blue skies every day, but this isn’t a given!
Don’t forget that, this being England, it can rain at any time of the year, even in the height of summer, so it pays to come prepared!
Within the summer months, do remember that the school holidays and sunny weekends will be by far the busiest months, so if you want to get the cheapest prices or the thinnest crowds, it’s probably best to avoid these times!
How to Get to the New Forest?
Situated in the south of England, in the county of Hampshire, the New Forest is very near the coast and the port cities of Southampton, Bournemouth and Portsmouth.
Driving is the best way to get to the New Forest and if you don’t have a car, you may consider renting one.
As always, I recommend Discover Cars as they offer some great deals and are very reputable.
Learn more in these top 12 tips I wrote about hiring a car in the UK on a budget.
Alternatively, if you’d rather use public transport, you can easily access the New Forest by rail.
Trains leave from London Waterloo and head to 8 train stations within the area.
These stations are:
- Beaulieu Road
- Hinton Admiral
- New Milton
My top tip is to use Trainline to find the best deal on rail tickets across the UK as they use split-fare technology to get you the best deals.
How to Get Around?
Once in the New Forest, there is a pretty good bus service.
More information including timetables and fares can be found here.
In the summer months, additional New Forest bus tour routes also run.
If you don’t want to catch public transport, then cycling is an ideal way to get around the New Forest, with many great designated trails, as well as calm and quiet country roads to enjoy.
Finally, given the fact you may be bringing a lot of camping gear with you, you may opt to drive a car around instead.
There are many roads through the forest, making it easy to explore large sections of it over a fairly quick amount of time.
How Long to Spend There?
From a weekend to a week, both shorter and longer trips to the New Forest are well worth it.
Just remember not to overpack your itinerary and to try and cover the whole of the New Forest in a couple of days!
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And there you have it, my complete guide to camping in the wonderful New Forest, along with my list of the top 7 campsites there.
Have you visited this wonderful part of southern England?
Have any tips or recommendations to share?
Please drop them into the comments box below and help spread the news among some fellow travellers…