From wind-lashed Exmoor and Dartmoor to the fossil-studded Jurassic Coast, Devon delivers the wild natural beauty of England’s southwest.
With two of England’s most superbly remote national parks and a smattering of other protected natural spaces (all framed between surf-washed coastlines), Devon is known for its outdoor adventure scene. Beachside barbecues, swims in the English Channel, hikes along jagged cliffs, fossil-hunting on the Jurassic Coast, and all kinds of other activities—from coasteering to kayaking—are among the county’s seaside joys. Inland, sprawling moors and woodlands mean wild camping, open skies, and isolated hikes, plus cycling and horse rides. While the county plays host to big caravan parks and holiday centres, local farms also run independent campsites that rule the roost. And each season unveils a different side to Devon, whether you visit during springtime blooms or autumn colours.
While the north coast is home to vast sandy beaches that seem to go on for miles, the southernmost stretch of Devon’s coastline takes in vibrant Plymouth, surfy Torquay, and riverside Dartmouth, along with the protected South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Just inland, much-loved Dartmoor sprawls over 368 square miles of heath-covered national-park wilderness, criss-crossed by walking paths, off-road cycling routes, and wandering cattle and wild ponies, as well as plenty of caravan parks and campsites that offer simple patches to pitch a tent or park your campervan away from the crowds. Whether you're hunting for a school holiday stay at a pop-up campsite, a snug glamping getaway, or a winter campervan break, there’s plenty of choice in South Devon among white-water kayaking, rock-climbing, and horse riding.
Windswept moors, quiet woodlands, forested valleys, sweeping coastal views and roaming horses make Exmoor one of the southwest’s most magical corners. This 267-square-mile space has been a protected national park since the 1950s, with hundreds of miles of walking, cycling, and horse-riding trails, and you can try everything from coasteering to kayaking to pony trekking. Also in north Devon are the county’s best surf beaches (especially around Croyde and Woolacombe), some delightful villages, and spectacular camping spots, whether you’re keen to stay on the sandy blonde coast or go wild camping on Exmoor.
Stretching east from Exmouth all the way to Old Harry Rocks in neighbouring Dorset, the 95-mile Jurassic Coast is a UNESCO-protected highlight of southern England, covering 185 million years of history. Devon’s section (the most ancient) is known for its plunging rust-coloured Triassic cliffs and is protected by the 103-square-mile East Devon AONB. Spend days swimming at blissful sandy beaches, unearthing ancient fossils, walking some of the long-distance South West Coast Path, heading out sea-kayaking, paddle-boarding or surfing, and exploring charming coastal towns and villages like Sidmouth, Seaton, and Beer (known for its white-chalk cliffs).
Head inland from Devon’s Jurassic Coast and you’ll reach lively Exeter, with its astonishing 12th- to 13th-century cathedral, intriguing Roman history and busy bar-and-restaurant scene. Much of the rippling countryside to the city's east is protected by the East Devon AONB and, on the Somerset border, the small-yet-biodiverse Blackdown Hills AONB. Both offer rewarding cycling, horse riding, water sports, stargazing and, of course, camping, as well as lovely walks among river valleys, wide-open ridges, and remote farms and villages (including the 40-mile East Devon Way).
While surfers crowd the most popular beaches in Devon, it’s families that really make the place their home each summer, cementing the county as one of the most popular family holiday locations in the UK. The good weather, vast amount of space, family-friendly restaurants and, of course, the camping all contribute to this status. Heaps of excellent family campsites can be found in Devon—both in the north and the south—with many campsites catering to families with family shower rooms, baby-changing facilities, paddling pools, and more. And during school summer holidays, North Devon is a hive of activity, where kids are quick to make friends and rabble around in playful groups throwing frizbees and regaling new buddies with stories from their days at the beach. Whether you’re a fan of coastal camping or fancy retreating inland to a hidden spot on a rural farm, there’s sure to be a family campsite to suit your needs.
Wild camping is not officially permitted in North Devon, as most of the land is privately owned or part of protected areas. In the United Kingdom, wild camping is generally only allowed in certain parts of Scotland and Dartmoor National Park. However, there are several designated campgrounds and caravan parks in North Devon, including those around Woolacombe, where you can enjoy the beautiful coastline and countryside. Always seek permission from the landowner if you wish to wild camp and follow the Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment.