Campsites on the Jurassic Coast

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Campsites on the Jurassic Coast

Stretching almost 100 miles from Exmouth in Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, the beaches, bluffs, headlands and hills that make up the Jurassic Coast evidence some 185 million years of history. If you're on the hunt for fossils, there's nowhere better in the UK, with the coastal erosion of the area constantly revealing new relics of the past. And while fossilised remains from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods lend the landscape its name, the area is also a boon for holiday makers of the 21st century. Whether it's hiking on the South West Coast Path, building sand castles on the beaches or eating fresh fish and chips on a local quay, there are few finer spots for a camping holiday.

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The best campsites on the Jurassic Coast

The Jurassic Coast of Dorset and Devon is a fantastic place for a camping holiday. Its beautiful and geologically-fascinating coastline is the best place for fossil hunting in the UK. As such it is a protected landscape and largely undeveloped. In other words; it’s unspoilt - a rare find on the south coast of England. This is great news for campers and glampers in two ways. Firstly its beaches are beautiful and, for the most part, backed by natural cliffs rather than rows of houses and hotels. And, secondly, the low-impact nature of camping and glamping means that sites are sometimes allowed where other accommodation is not. Some of the best campsites on the Jurassic Coast are those on the cliff tops - places when you are quite literally a stone’s throw from the beach. Camping will get you closer to the coast you’ve come to discover.

It’s thanks to this unique combination of attributes that camping in Dorset is justifiably oh-so popular. There are campsites to suit everyone here and more than a handful that tick the boxes for our type of Cool Camping; these, in our opinion, are the best campsites on the Jurassic Coast. From back-to-basics classic campsites and 28-day pop-ups to super-duper glamping sites, Dorset seems to have it all.

Camping on the Jurassic Coast

Dorset, like neighbouring Devon and Cornwall beyond it, is a classic camping destination. That’s not to say it hasn’t embraced glamping (more on that later) but it certainly does back-to-basics camping well. It’s been welcoming folk with tents for decades and there are plenty of classic campsites that get a big thumbs up from us. In fact the county is home to some of our all-time favourite spots to pitch a tent or park up in a campervan. With green countryside stretching all the way to the cliffs, it’s possible to wake up to sea views in one direction and countryside vistas in the other. In good weather, classic camping in spots like these is hard to beat.

It’s the more basic campsites that are likely to be allowed closer to the coast. Often there are seasonal or 28-day sites that pop-up in farmers’ fields for school holidays and the high season. These places may have more basic facilities and offer pitches that are off grid - but they’ll likely make up for it by location. Choose a campsite on a farm and you might well have the added attraction of being able to see the animals. Of course, not all of the campsites near the Jurassic Coast are back-to-basics. There are plenty of well-set up, slick operations that we love too. Places you can park up, hook up and kick back with fantastic facilities throughout the camping season.

Glamping on the Jurassic Coast

At the upper end of the camping scale, of course, is glamping. Ranging from simple pre-pitched tents to constructions worthy of a place on Grand Designs, the glamping business is booming on the Jurassic Coast. Classic, quirky and canvas, the bell tent is the classic starting place for glamping. Along with other pre-pitched tents, it puts just a little luxury in to a camping trip: the luxury of not having to pitch a tent! Though in reality almost all glamping sites furnish their tents o you can usually expect more than a blow-up mattress - and many include bedding, camping kit and more besides. Make sure you know what’s included before you set out. The same goes for the yurts, which are based on traditional Mongolian tents - and usually have a little more headroom than a bell tent and, perhaps, a solid floor. Tipis certainly look cool and are usually bigger still and then there are safari tents — which are often more like a house in miniature. They’ll usually have separate rooms and a verandah and, almost invariably, come fully furnished.

Another classic among glamping sites is the shepherd’s hut. These little cabins on wheels are popular for a reason: they provide cosy and comfy accommodation that does not look out of place in the countryside. Based on the shepherd’s living accommodation of yesteryear, they are movable, compact and have a romantic appeal all of their own. These days there are all sorts of glamping pods, and cabins including some pretty quirky options from converted vehicles to fantastic treehouses so there’s bound to be something to suit you.

The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site

The Dorset and East Devon Coast was declared a World Heritage Site in 2001; it’s this that has become known as the Jurassic Coast. It is the only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in England and covers the 95-mile stretch of coast from Orcombe Rocks near Exmouth in Devon to Old Harry rocks near Swanage in Dorset. The cliffs here are made up of rock that was formed during the 185-million-year Mesozoic Era, which includes the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. While other rock and fossilised remains are buried deep underground, on this stretch of coast they are laid bare for all to see and coastal erosion means that new fossils are regularly revealed and the coastline is ever changing. It has been studied by geologists for more than 300 years.

Fossil hunting while you’re camping on the Jurassic Coast

If you’re going camping on the Jurassic Coast with the aim of finding fossils, you might want to head for a campsite near one of the fossil-hunting hotspots. Kimmeridge Bay, Lyme Regis and Charmouth are good hunting grounds. Visitors are asked not to hammer in to rocks but only to pick up loose fossils. Common finds are ammonites and if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, how about joining an expert from the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre or the Lyme Regis Museum on an organised fossil-finding hunt? Both also have displays of fossils from the area and lots of information on finds from the past.

The best beaches on the Jurassic Coast

Sandy beaches, rockpooling bays, secret and not-so secret coves - the Jurassic Coast is home to the lot. Whatever it is that’s enticing you to this stunning stretch of coastline in Dorset and Devon, you’ll find a beach that meets your needs. We’ve already established that Kimmeridge Bay, Charmouth and Lyme Regis are the best spots for fossil hunting - but did you know Kimmeridge Bay is also a great place to rockpool and snorkel? It’s a special area of conservation and there’s even a snorkel trail to follow in the summer months. Charmouth also has charm beyond fossil hunting; its east and west beaches (separated by a footbridge over the River Char) are mainly shingle with sandy expanses at low tide. The gentle slope of the beach and easy accessibility from the beachside car park near the heritage centre mean it is a family-friendly place to splash about too. Nearby Lyme Regis beach is the place to head to if you want a few more facilities. There’s a small sandy beach sheltered by the town’s famous harbour arm, The Cobb, which is backed by cafes, ice cream kiosks and places to buy buckets and spades.

Perhaps the most photographed and instantly-recognisable beach on the Jurassic Coast, is Durdle Door. The background of countless selfies, Durdle Door is a limestone arch formed by erosion standing just off shore of a shingle beach backed by cliffs. You can descend to the beach for a closer view on a well-worn pathway and steep steps or head to nearby Lulworth Cove to join a boat trip around the coast to see it from the water. Boat trip or not, Lulworth Cove is another of the best beaches along this stretch of coast. A small-mouthed, almost circular cove, makes a natural harbour and there are often many boats moored up here. It’s pebbly beach is perfect to swim from. For sand, if you’re not near Lyme Regis, which is slap bang in the middle of the Jurassic coast, you might want to look to either ends of it. The well-known towns of Swanage, at the Dorset east end, and Exmouth, in Devon, have both been attracting holidaymakers since Victorian times.

Places to visit on the Jurassic Coast

The beaches, and the cliffs between them, are undisputed as the top places to visit on the Jurassic Coastline. If you split your holiday between just one of them and one of the cool campsites we’ve selected, you’d have a holiday that’s worth writing home about. Add them together and you’ve got 95 miles to explore - enough for a lifetime of camping holidays on the Jurassic Coast. You can go walking on the South West Coast Path or, for something more active, give coasteering or kayaking a go. But what if it rains? Well, we’d say chuck on an anorak and go to the beach anyway - you can fossil hunt whatever the weather! But if you do want a day off the beach, there are plenty of sites and attractions to visit. For Jurassic-themed attractions try the interactive Seaton Jurassic the already-mentioned Lyme Regis Museum or Charmouth Heritage Centre. If you were a fan of the TV series Broadchurch, or want to find out about more recent heritage of this coastline, check out the West Bay Discovery Centre - in the town where the programme was filmed.

You can also visit the lighthouse at Portland Bill or the nearby Abbotsbury Swannery. Away from the shoreline, there’s Corfe Castle and the steam trains of the Swanage Railway which puff past it. Further inland and also owned by the National Trust, but on an altogether different scale, is Thomas Hardy’s Cottage, the place where the writer was born amid the scenery that he immortalised in books like Far From the Madding Crowd and Under the Greenwood Tree. For something completely different, kids will love Monkey World while adults might like to sample the fine produce or even a cookery course at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage.

Popular places on the Jurassic Coast