A crackling fire. Sticky bug spray. A backpack full of essentials.
Hiking boots, sleeping bags, flora, and fauna — oh my!
These are a few (of many) exciting things you can experience when camping.
So, what are the best campgrounds the U.S. has to offer? What would John Muir do?
Keep reading to find out where you need to pitch your tent and immerse yourself in the wilderness — fantastic trip to follow!
What Should You Look for in the Best Campgrounds?
Before telling you where to stay for your perfect getaway, let’s cover a few things that make for an epic campground.
This way, you’ll know exactly how to compare and contrast the following options and figure out what’s best for you and your crew!
What qualities should you look for in a fabulous site?
- A decent amount of privacy
- Proximity to exciting hikes, trails, fishing, hiking — any activities you plan to enjoy
- Clean, well-managed, and stocked-up facilities
- Amenities as you see fit, such as grills, outlet hookups, covered pavilions, rental facilities, internet, laundry rooms, etc.
- Accessibility — not only to the surrounding area but to the campground itself
- A navigable space (think: great campground maps)
Now, much of this depends on the style of camping you wish to do.
Are you going in the summer or winter? Are you roughing it, or are you more of a “glamper”? Do you plan to shower at the site or are you going sans-bathing for a few days?
(No judgement here.)
You’ll need to ask yourself before you begin planning what type of camping you’d like to do. Camping in the snow can be amazing, but you’ll need the necessary equipment. You’ll also need to find a campground that’s open during those cold months.
Likewise, check out the campground’s map before booking a stay.
How much space is between one site and the next? Does each site offer enough space to allow for privacy, or will you hear your neighbors chatting all night?
Also, how close is your site to what you’d like to do? Or do you plan on staying at the site? If so, you’ll want to make sure that campground has trail access nearby.
Once you’ve determined your camping style, check out these fantastic sites for inspiration.
1. Acadia National Park in Maine
There are at least a half a dozen campgrounds for you to choose from in the beautiful Acadia National Park.
These campgrounds fill up quick, and understandably so. For that reason, be sure to book your stay well in advance to beat the crowds.
You can pitch your tent for as little as $22 or pull up your camper for a mere $30. When surrounded by the priceless beauty that is this National Park, you’ll realize it’s more than worth every dollar.
This park spans a vast 49,052 acres and sees an astounding 3.5 million visitors a year.
Because of its location, it’s one of the first places in the U.S. to see the sunrise. If you plan to stay here, make sure to rise early and sit by one of its many lakes to take in the cotton candy skies.
If you enjoy hiking, take one of the many trails to Cadillac Mountain’s 1,530-foot summit, where you can enjoy scenic views of the park and its surrounding islands.
2. Havasupai Campground in Arizona
This reservation-only campground is worth the little bit of legwork you’ll have to do to get on the list.
Well, maybe a lot of legwork. Once you reach the Hualapai Hilltop, you’ve got about 10 miles of hiking to do before you reach the campground.
That alone should tell you how precious and unique this land in the Havasupai Indian Reservation is.
Havasupai means “people of the blue-green waters” — and that’s exactly what you’ll see when you reach your destination. Gorgeous, massive waterfalls surround the area, providing awe-inspiring views for all campers.
In addition to the water, you’ll notice sprawling canyons and red rocks.
Take note that this park is on sacred land — it’s home to the Havasupai Tribe, who manage and administer it. If you decide to stay here, it goes without saying that you should be respectful.
Likewise, you should do the same with all campgrounds on this list. “Leave No Trace” is a common mantra among nature-loving campers!
3. Badlands National Park in South Dakota
This incredibly scenic National Park offers astounding views of canyons, jagged rock formations, and the wildlife that calls it all “home.”
The park covers 244,000 acres of some of the nation’s most abundant fossil beds. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot bison, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, and more. Even if you don’t see these mammals, there’s no denying the beauty of the expansive canyons all around you.
The park provides two campgrounds that are open year-round: Cedar Pass Campground and Sage Creek Campground.
And if you’re backpacking, you can stay overnight in any part of the park that is at least one half-mile from any trail.
4. Maroon Bells in Colorado
This stunning landscape has two massive peaks — Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak — located within the Elk Mountains.
They’re right near Maroon Lake, a body of water that further reflects their size and beauty.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the mountains receive their maroon color from the weathering of hematite. Additionally, the lake was formed by Ice-Age glaciers. It’s safe to say you’ll feel years and years of history and depth in this storied land.
Autumn is a popular, unrestricted time to visit the Maroon Bells.
This space offers a handful of hiking trails — Crater Lake, Maroon Creek, Maroon Lake — nearby to its campgrounds. At 8,460 feet, you’ll find Silver Bell Campground, a private ground that holds only fourteen tent sites.
If you’re into fishing, Maroon Creek offers terrific trout fishing right in your campground’s backyard.
5. Olympic National Park in Washington
This massive National Park spans almost a million acres of diverse land!
The Park is home to a variety of ecosystems, like temperate rain forests, glacier-capped mountains, and 70 miles of sprawling, wild coastline. It also contains thousands of years of human history and wilderness that is vast and precious.
Except for Kalaloch and Sol Duc group campgrounds, every other site is first-come-first-serve. With that many acres to spare, the odds are good that you’ll find a perfect location.
Tent sites don’t go higher than $22 a night. All campgrounds offer a handful of sites to choose from, so if you don’t find one on your first attempt, just move on to the next.
6. Glacier National Park in Montana
Glacier National Park is a hiker’s paradise.
It provides over 700 miles of hiking trails for anyone who wants a little (or a lot) of adventure — and solitude to boot.
If you’re not much of a hiker, Going-to-the-Sun Road is a notable 50-mile drive that takes about two hours to complete both ways. It leads you to Logan’s Pass, a 6,646-foot summit.
Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and of course, sprawling mountain landscapes speckled with spectacular lakes.
The park offers 13 drive-in campgrounds surrounded by a variety of camp stores and cafés for your convenience.
Likewise, they provide multiple lodging facilities — but there’s something to be said about pitching a tent in this great space.
7. Buffalo National River in Arkansas
Do you have the desire to see America’s first National River?
At Buffalo National River, you can.
Congress established Buffalo National River in 1972. It spans 135 miles long and is one of the last remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states. Surrounding the river are the Ozark mountains, which offer gorgeous scenery as you kayak down the river.
Campgrounds here range from primitive to accommodated, and there’s no lack of them to choose from.
If you’re a water-lover, this is the place to be. Plan to float through both quiet pools and running rapids.
8. Crater Lake National Park in Oregon
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America — and arguably the most beautiful.
It’s 1,943 feet deep, fed only by snow and rainwater. Because of this, scientists consider it to be the cleanest and brightest body of water in the world.
And it’s right here in the United States.
Expansive mountain cliffs surround the lake itself. What makes this park even cooler is that it rests in the belly of a dormant volcano? After its initial collapse, later explosions formed a series of volcanic features that appear as rocky islands throughout the lake.
But the lake is only 10% of the park, meaning you’ve got an expansive 90% left to explore.
This territory is home to mountain lions, black bears, elk, and fifteen species of conifers (to name a few).
When it comes to camping, you’ve got two options.
Mazama Campground accepts both tents and RVs with a reservation, while Lost Creek Campground is first-come-first-serve for tents only. Mazama has 214 sites ($22 for tents, $31 for RVs) and Lost Creek has sixteen $5 sites — a real steal.
9. Zion National Park in Utah
Chances are you’ve heard of this National Park, and that’s for good reason.
Zion is Utah’s first-ever National Park and a place where early pioneers and settlers explored. Notable pink and red sandstone cliffs that reach for the skies surround the Park. Its canyons are home to exotic plant and animal life.
Zion National Park offers campers a choice of three stunning campgrounds.
In Zion Canyon, you’ll find South and Watchman Campgrounds. One hour from Zion Canyon, you’ll find the Lava Point Campground.
These campgrounds fill up quickly, usually by mid-morning, so you’ll need to arrive in the early hours to get a spot. The park is most famous from mid-March to late November.
Prepare to be warm, too. Temperatures frequently exceed 95 degrees and rarely dip below 65 degrees. If you want to cool off a bit, consider coming closer to late November instead.
10. Point Campground in Idaho
For only $20 a night, you can stay at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountain Range in the exquisite Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
You’ll camp at the foot of 6,500-foot high mountains right next to Redfish Lake or Fishhook Creek. This private, quiet campground offers eight walk-to sites and eight sites for tents and RVs. Most of these sites are in direct view of the beautiful surrounding lakes.
You can do anything from boating and hiking to fishing for salmon and trout. Canoe around Little Redfish Lake or go swimming at their designated beach.
Bring warm-weather clothes, as temperatures typically stay cool, with an average high of 78 degrees in the summer and lows in the 40s.
11. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in California
This park gets its name from Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a pioneer woman from Big Sur country.
The park features a turquoise 80-foot waterfall that drops into the ocean right near Overlook Trail, which offers a perfect view. It also has 300-foot redwood trees that are as old as 2,500 years!
For $30 a night, you can stay at one of their two gorgeous campgrounds. You must park your car at the entrance kiosk and then hike your way to your site, as the park doesn’t allow vehicle access.
Sites at this park usually fill up at least six months in advance, so do your homework and get to planning early.
Go Into the Woods
As if you weren’t already excited, this list of the best campgrounds is sure to get your heart pumping!
From towering mountains to emerald lakes — from awe-inspiring hikes to unique wildlife — no matter which destination you choose, you’re sure to have a fantastic time being a part of nature.
Hopefully, this list of sites helped you narrow down the many, many options. But if you have any more questions, please feel free to contact me for expert advice and insight!