15 Incredible American Campsites That Should Be on Your Bucket List
There's no better way to appreciate the awesome splendor of our national and state parks than by spending a night under the stars.
Arches National Park, Utah
Camping around Moab, Utah offers incredible scenery, ranging from mountains and canyons to rivers. Among the best campgrounds is Arches, where photo opportunities await, challenging trails are calling hikers’ names, and red stones create striking backdrops. Though there are a limited number of campsites, there’s plenty of opportunities to backpack your way through this park if the challenge entices you. Devils Garden Campground is located deep in the heart of the park, where you’ll have access to toilets and picnic tables, but that’s about it. Hike the 7.2-mile Devil’s Garden Loop Trail, or opt for the 3-mile hike to Delicate Arch, the most famous arch in the park. (Devils Garden Campground is closed through November 2017, but check out discovermoab.com for other options.) Here are some more national parks that are even more incredible on starry nights.
Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
There are far and few places known in Hawaii where you can pitch a tent, and one of them happens to be in a national park. In Volcanoes National Park, you can watch two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, on the “Big Island” of Hawaii light up the sky in the evening, their molten lava spilling out into the Pacific Ocean. And in the morning, check out the unique rock formations and intriguing flora. Nämakanipaio Campground is situated on an open grassy area at 4,000 feet of elevation featuring tall eucalyptus and ‘ōhi’a trees, where toilets and showers await. Kulanaokuaiki Campground is a new campground with two wheelchair accessible sites. Climb to the summit of Mauna Loa, the planet’s most massive single mountain. The round trip mileage is 13.1 miles. After a mile, you will reach a large, broken lava tube marked by two massive cairns, which is worth a quick stop and photo op. Here are some incredible active volcanoes you can actually visit.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree is known for its incredible camping spot, situated at the juncture of the Colorado and Mojave desert. Anyone who loves hiking, rock climbing, camping, or stargazing will love this place. Check out Arch Rock via the 0.5-mile natural trail where you can climb on a natural arch. Indian Cove Campground is a great option within the park, offering proximity to climbing routes, vibrant spring blooms, Mojave yuccas, shrubs, and desert tortoise sightings. You’ll have access to toilets here. Grab breakfast at the Crossroad Café in the town of Joshua Tree on your way in, and stop at the Joshua Tree Saloon for dinner on your way out.
Ludington State Park, Michigan
Offering more than 5,000 acres of sand dunes, ponds, marshlands, and shoreline vistas, this is the perfect summertime getaway for water lovers. The main campgrounds offer electricity, showers, and bathrooms, while there’s also an amphitheater in a wooded area with beach access for a little shindig to take place. Backpackers can find remote campsites if they’re looking for something a little more rugged. To get the best access to the park’s iconic lighthouse, stay at Pines Campground, where there’s access to toilets, showers, and a RV hookup. Check out the best RV park in every U.S. state.
Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
Beaming with expansive caves, dramatic waterfalls, and narrow gorges, this is a geological wonder in Ohio that’ll leave you gasping as you find photo op after photo op. The trails inside the park will lead you to the stone stairs leading to the high-up rock house that’ll put even the most daring on edge. Stay at Old Man’s Cave Campground where you can get access to the two-mile trail hugging the breathtaking gorge. Toilets, showers, and a RV hookup are all available.
Glacier National Park, Montana
With over 700 miles of hiking trails, the active camper will surely be awestruck by this park. High alpine lakes, jagged snow-capped peaks, jaw dropping waterfalls, incredible sunsets, and endless views await. Keep your eyes open for mountain goats, moose, lynx, and other native species. For the utmost solitude and stunning views, check out Two Medicine Lake. There are plenty of back country places for backpackers to nestle in for the night; Quartz Creek Campground situated on Quartz Lake, is a remote location for tent campers looking to enjoy a campfire and stargazing without the fuss. Toilets are available here. Here are some more of America’s absolute best hiking trails.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
An 800,00-acre park offering the diverse landscapes of the Chisos Mountains, Chihuahua Desert, and Rio Grande River, Big Bend is one of the most underrated, most remote and least visited parks in the lower 48. With altitude as high as 7,832 feet in the Chisos Mountains and as low as 1,800 feet in the Rio Grande river valley, 1,200 species of plants, 450 birds, 75 mammals, and 56 reptiles, artifacts that are 9,000 years old, and over 1,000 miles of international boundary shared with Mexico along the Rio Grande, it’s a must-see if you’re in the area. Rio Grande Village Campground is a 100-site campground located right next to the Rio Grande River, and set among a large grove of cottonwood trees. Flush toilets, picnic tables, grills, and running water await.
Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park, Colorado
The rocky mountains offer plenty opportunities to throw up a tent, but if you’re looking to camp alongside like-minded climbers and hikers looking for a challenge in the black canyon’s deep and inspiring depths, this is for you. You can whitewater raft, enjoy the various highly skilled rock climbing routes, or hike your heart out. The South Rim Campground will make you feel smack dab in the middle of the canyon. It offers lots of privacy, RV hookups, toilets, first-come first-served sites, and the Rim Rock Nature trail is right on the grounds. Here are some amazing natural wonders you’ve never heard of that are worth a visit.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite might be touristy, but for good reason. With 95 percent of the park completely natural, you won’t have to deal with cars, ATVS, and other various distractions you might come across at other campgrounds. If you truly want to feel like it’s just you and nature, this is the spot. The granite, glaciers, waterfalls measuring up to 2,500 feet, and High Sierra are unparalleled here. There’s 1,200 square miles to explore of nature that will make you feel small and humble in this great big world. With some of the campgrounds featuring 300-plus spaces, you have the opportunity to get all the amenities and social time you need, but Tamarack Flat Campground offers lots of trees and privacy, toilets, and the 16.8-mile long hike to the top of the El Capitan starts from this site. When you need a bit of a wilderness break, head to Big Trees Lodge Dining Room for a Victorian-era setting featuring a summertime veranda where every Saturday evening features an outdoor BBQ in the summer.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska
The majority of the Glacier Bay National Park is water, and people are encouraged to raft, while the center is a glacier that can be hiked. Trails are relatively unmarked, making the whole experience even more alluring to adventure seekers. Bartlett Cove Campground is only accessible by foot, so if you’re looking for an off-grid experience, this is for you. Fire pits, firewood, bear-proof food storage, toilets, and a warm shelter reside along the shores of Bartlett Cove. Need some dinner options? Get out your rod and catch dinner off the Bartlett Cove dock and cook it over the fire. Yeah, it’s that rustic. If rustic is not for you—but camping still is—check out America’s best glamping destinations.
Baxter State Park, Maine
In and of itself, Maine is a playground for nature lovers, and Baxter State Park is no exception. Mount Katahdin begs for you to climb its terrain, while 200,000-acres of backcountry offers wild adventure galore. South Branch Pond Campground is the prettiest of the sites in the park, offering 12 lean-tos, 21 tent sites, and an 8-person bunkhouse, and vault outhouses. Enjoy a spot on a large, clean pond surrounded by 3,000-foot mountains on all sides.
Apostle Islands National Seashore, Wisconsin
With 21 islands situated along the shores of the pristine Lake Superior, abundant hiking trails, water sports, towering lighthouses, thickly wooded forests, and sea caves, this is a must-visit gem. You can even hop on a water taxi or grab a kayak and explore the islands to your liking. Many of the islands have campsites, which feature vault toilets, fire pits, and picnic tables. Given the right conditions, you can even catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
If you want to feel like you’re in another world, this is the camping you’re looking for. Spired peaks are ridden with more than 300 glaciers, while 300 alpine lakes reside below. The weather is diverse, the ecosystems and wildlife are thriving, and the geology is to die for. Flick Creek Boat-in Campground on Lake Chelan is an outdoors person’s delight. The back country solo site is situated near Lakeshore Trail, so you can steal panoramic views of the Stehekin Valley while getting in some serious exercise. The site requires a permit, and beware: There are no toilets or showers. If you’d rather stay somewhere a little cozier, learn about the best hotels for nature lovers.
Cayo Costa State Park, Florida
Another car-less accessible camping experience, this island paradise features nine miles of beaches alongside the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. A swimmer’s, snorkeler’s, and scuba diver’s paradise, there are plenty of opportunities to hang with the manatees, porpoises, and sea turtles. Nature trails and bike rentals will give landlubbers plenty to enjoy, while tent camping by the beach offers a quiet and chill outdoorsy experience. Get to Cayo Costa Primitive Campground by boarding a boat at one of the five places that offer passenger service to the island: Punta Gorda, Pine Island, Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, or Captiva Island. Once docked, you need to travel a mile to the campground that features showers and toilets. You can surely do this part by foot, but you’ll likely be lugging lots of stuff, so catch the tram that will shuttle you between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Los Padres National Forest, Big Sur, California
One of the largest National Forests in California, Los Padres offers a variety of terrain, wildlife, 1,257 miles of trails with lots of backpacking opportunities, drastic geographical shifts from sea level streams to rivers to beaches, and nearly 9,000 feet in elevation on the Mount Pinos Ranger District. Fernwood Resort Campground in Big Sur features Coastal Redwoods on the bank of the Big Sur River. The campground is pristine, and offers quite a lot of amenities, like bathrooms with electric lights, showers, a laundry room, and even a convenient store up the hill. When you’re burnt out on hiking, and the campfire just isn’t doing it, head up to the Fernwood Tavern where local bands and touring acts are sure to get you grooving. Next, learn about some more amazing places you can sleep under the stars this summer.