Luxury camping in South Downs National Park

Country hikes, coastal views, and cultural sites are all on the itinerary in the South Downs.

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Popular camping styles for South Downs National Park

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Luxury camping in South Downs National Park guide

Overview

A green belt of farmlands, chalk hills, and ancient yew forests make up the South Downs National Park, which links some of the south of England’s most interesting destinations. Explore on foot, by bike, or on horseback along more than 2,000 miles of trails, or enjoy kayaking along the Cuckmere River. Up for a challenge? Hike the epic 101-mile South Downs Way national trail or try paragliding from the hilltops. Other must-sees include Arundel Castle and the white-chalk sea cliffs at Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters. After a day of discovery, pitch your tent at a backcountry campsite and turn your gaze upwards—this Dark Sky Reserve is stargazing heaven. Otherwise, camp along the South Downs Way, escape the city for a day or two, or settle in for a weeklong family camping trip in the South Downs. The park’s location only an hour from London and within easy reach of much of the south coast are added advantages that make weekend escapes a real possibility.

Exploring the South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is especially famous, stretching from Winchester to the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs at Eastbourne. By national trail standards, the route is relatively achievable at 100 miles in length. For average walkers, it’s the work of eight to nine days, while cyclists typically accomplish the feat in two or three days. Campsites line the entire route, meaning you can easily camp along the way. But, of course, you don’t need to take on the multi-day challenge of the entire South Downs Way to enjoy this waymarked trail. Even if you’re planning just a short walk or picnic, joining a section of the South Downs Way makes for easy planning. The route, signposted with the national trail’s acorn icon, goes through the heart of the park and along the ridgeline. Thanks to the elevation, it’s usually dry when other parts are boggy.

Romantic Retreats in the South Downs National Park

If you’re looking for a place to get away from it all—including the kids—the South Downs National Park is a top pick. A camping holiday here can make for a great romantic getaway—think countryside views, candlelight, campfires, and stargazing. Pitch your tent or choose a glamping pad that’s just right for two, and you can spend long days walking and exploring before nights by the fire. A two-person tent, cosy campervan, or traditional shepherd’s hut is a pared-down outpost away from the distractions of modern life. The Hipcamp collection features campsites out on their own for privacy and seclusion and adults-only campsites too. If it’s a quiet pitch you’re after, try booking your pitch for midweek and outside the school holidays.

Top Things to Do in the South Downs

  • If you’re looking for things to do when you’re on a camping holiday in the South Downs National Park, get out and enjoy the countryside. Grab an OS Map and plan a walk, run, or cycle along the South Downs Way, across the park’s open access land, or to the nearest picnic spot for a well-deserved spot of lunch. Black Down, the highest point on the Downs, and Ditchling Beacon, near Brighton, are popular places to set out from.
  • In terms of towns and villages to visit, there’s a wealth of choice from historic Winchester at the Hampshire end of the park to vibrant Brighton and Hove a few miles outside the park boundaries. Charming Petersfield, Midhurst, Arundel, and Lewes are all market towns within the park, each worth visiting for their independent shops and historic buildings like Arundel Castle and Lewes Castle. Lewes also has a cool lido, Pells Pool, which has been open to the public for more than 150 years.
  • The area is rich with manor houses and stately homes, many open to the public. The Goodwood Estate, known for its horse racing and motor racing events, is perhaps the best known, but there’s also Petworth House and Parham House.
  • The South Downs is increasingly known for its vineyards, tasting rooms, and wines.
  • Family-friendly animal parks can be found at either end of the South Downs: Marwell Zoo near Winchester in the west and Drusilla’s in the east. To see native flora and fauna, head for the Queen Elizabeth, Goodwood, or Seven Sisters country parks.
  • In the South Downs, you’re never too far from the south coast resorts—Brighton, Bognor Regis, and Eastbourne all offer plenty of family fun with buckets and spades, amusements, ice creams, and fun fair rides.

Notable campgrounds

  • Best for family campers: Fox Wood Campsite has family-focused tent camping with woodland walks and country pubs right on its doorstep.
  • Best for glamping fun in the forest: Blackberry Wood has tent and caravan pitches with fire pits, and glamping options that include a treehouse, gypsy caravan, and converted helicopter.

Tips for snagging a campsite

  1. South Downs campsites can book up quickly, especially in July and August, so advance reservations are always advised. Plan three to six months in advance for popular sites.  
  2. Some backcountry camping grounds along the South Downs Way have as little as six pitches, so bookings are essential. 
  3. Be sure to check seasonal opening and closing dates, which vary by campsite. Many campsites also operate high and low season rates, so budget campers might prefer an out-of-season stay.

When to go

Hiking and camping season in the South Downs runs from mid-March through early October. Many campsites close out of season, although heated glampsites and caravan parks provide some options for winter campers, and trails remain accessible year-round. Expect popular routes to get busy in July and August—make an early start to get a jump on the crowds.

Know before you go

  • South Downs National Park is set along England’s south coast, running from Winchester in Hampshire to Eastbourne in Sussex. Brighton, Portsmouth, and Chichester are the main access points, all within a 30-minute drive. Trains from London Waterloo and Victoria take between 1 and 1.5 hours to reach the park.
  • Buses link the villages and attractions within the park, and an unlimited 1-day Discovery Ticket is available. 
  • All land within the national park is privately owned, and wild camping is not permitted anywhere in the park.
  • Ticks are common on the heath, especially during the warmer months, so it’s a good idea to wear a long-sleeved shirt and trousers when hiking.
  • The South Downs have many wheelchair-accessible trails and attractions, and all park buses are accessible.

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