San-Lee Park makes website's list of state's, nation's best campgrounds

May. 08, 2013 @ 09:41 PM

Many of the locations named on's "Best U.S. Campgrounds" list would be no surprise to most Americans — among them Yosemite Valley, Calif., Asheville, N.C. and Pig Pine Key, Fla.

But the site ranked number 29 of 100, Sanford's San-Lee Park, even caught San-Lee's Ranger Steve Godfrey off guard.    

"I said, 'oh, my gosh,'" Godfrey recalled of learning about the listing "I've been here 28 years, and that was a pleasant surprise. ... That just makes everything worthwhile."

Besides making the national list, San-Lee placed seventh on the site's list of the best North Carolina camping spots. See the full list for North Carolina at and the U.S. at

The Georgia-based website, an information source for campers, bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts, features its rankings each spring, said founder Jeff Barber. They are ongoing, he added, and based on information collected over several years.

Factors contributing to the list, Barber explained, include member rankings of campgrounds on a five-point scale, as well as "wish lists" that site users can create of places they would like to visit and a "my campgrounds" list where campers can keep track of places they've stayed.  

San-Lee's appearance on both the state and national lists, according to Barber, "says a couple of things."

"Obviously, it's a great place to camp," Barber said, "It's also accessible."

Figuring prominently in the rankings are activities at the sites, Barber said, adding, "There need to be good trails — something that gets people in the park and wanting to spend the night there."

At San-Lee, "There are a lot of things folks can do without spending money," said Lee County Parks and Recreation Director John Payne. The park, located at 572 Pumping Station Road in Sanford, offers visitors 12 miles of mountain-biking trails, five miles of hiking trails and two lakes stocked with fish. Many have even mistakenly thought San-Lee was a state park, Payne said.

"It's unique," he said. "There are a lot of unique features about it." Despite its being squarely situated in Central Carolina, Payne added, "You get to San-Lee Park, and you think you are in the mountains."

Specifically for campers, Godfrey said, "There are only 10 sites, but they're big sites." Those staying at the park have access to amenities like hot showers, a nature center, a playground and picnic facilities.

In addition, the ranger said, he and his staff of mostly high school students take pride in ensuring the park is both clean and secure.

"We keep it well looked after, and people with families sure do appreciate it" Godfrey said. "We try to treat you just as if you're coming to our house, and we try to make you feel welcome. If you feel at home and feel safe, you'll come back again."

Western Harnett student Clay Vaughan, 17, has been visiting and helping out at San Lee since he was 4 — and he's still impressed by the park.

"This place is just phenomenal; we're so small, but there is so much to see in this 193-acre park," Vaughan said. "I've always enjoyed coming out here."

For those planning an overnight visit, Godfrey recommends they call him a day in advance and let him know they're coming. Campers can reach the ranger at the park at (919) 776-6221 or on his cell phone at (919) 776-9138. To learn more about San- Lee, see