The 10 Best U.S. Campgrounds That Need to Be on Your Bucket List
Does the thought of sleeping outside in a tent make you want to run to the nearest hotel (or glamping destination)? If so, you may not be aware of locations like these. Across the U.S., there are truly magnificent campgrounds that overlook the ocean, are nestled within red rocks, and even let you be one with wild horses. We spoke with travel experts to put together a list of the 10 best campgrounds in the U.S. that you must add to your vacation bucket list. Keep reading to learn about these unique outdoor destinations, and don't be surprised if you find yourself converting to the camper lifestyle.
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Savage River Campground in Denali National Park, Alaska
Alaska's Denali National Park is not for the faint of heart. "[It] encompasses six million acres of tundra, forest, and alpine ecosystems," explains Debora Bridges, a publicist who runs Bridges Media Group and represents the park. The main draw is Mount Denali (also called Mount McKinley), which is the highest mountain peak in North America. The park is also known for its wildlife, which includes grizzly bears, moose, caribou, hawks, and eagles.
Riley Creek is the most common campground at Denali, but for something slightly more secluded, Jennie Flaming, founder of travel website Ordinary Adventures, recommends the Savage River Campground. "It's in the part of the park you can drive to, but it's not huge like Riley Creek. It's much [homier] and is in a beautiful location along the river," she explains. According to the National Park Service (NPS), this campground "sits in a spruce forest" and offers views of Mount Denali on clear days.
In addition, it's adjacent to the Savage River Loop Trail, where you can spot a lot of wildlife. The campground is only open between May and September, and Flaming notes that early September is an especially beautiful time here with the fall colors in view.
Colonial Creek North Campground in North Cascades National Park, Washington
One of the biggest draws of Washington's North Cascades National Park is the glacial-fed Diablo Lake, a gorgeous turquoise-colored body of water that sits below the North Cascade mountains. And the "remote, yet bustling" Colonial Creek North Campground allows you to set up right at the lake, with 41 campsites "in old growth forest," according to the NPS.
Laura Witt, the founder of camping and hiking blog Amateur Adventure Journal, suggests reserving a spot "just steps from the shoreline." She also notes that "the trailhead for Thunder Knob Trail is located at the entrance to the campground, so camping here means you don't have to find parking to access this easy trail." There is a South Campground across the street, which has "walk-in, tent-only sites" but it's closer to the main highway and therefore busier.
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Kirk Creek Campground in Big Sur, California
Generally speaking, Big Sur is the stretch of California's Central Coast that's bordered by the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The area is known for its beachside cliffs, an abundance of redwoods (it's part of Los Padres National Forest), hiking trails, and the fact that it's located along the famous Pacific Coast Highway—all of which make the locale an extremely popular camping spot.
Jenny Ly, the founder of travel website Go Wanderly, is partial to the Kirk Creek Campground, which is "perched on an exposed bluff 100 feet above the Pacific Ocean," she notes. Larry Snider, VP of operations of Casago Vacation Rentals, agrees, citing the sunrises over the Pacific as a draw. He also explains that the campground has "picturesque coves and an abundance of trails that lead to redwoods, waterfalls, and streams."
In terms of location, Snider points out that Kirk Creek is just five miles from Sand Dollar Beach, "which offers the longest stretch of sandy beach along the Big Sur coast." And Ly adds that it's only 30 minutes from the surf town of Big Sur.
White Tank Campground in Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree National Park is about two-and-a-half hours west of Los Angeles, at the point where "two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado [meet]," according to the NPS. Adam Marland, a travel photographer and writer for We Dream of Travel, explains that this setting is best known for its massive rock formations and the "strange gnarled trees" for which it's named.
The park has several campsites, but Marland says "the first-come-first-serve White Tank Campground reigns supreme." It doesn't offer much in terms of amenities (just restrooms and picnic tables), but it's "one of the best places in the park for stargazing and perhaps the quietest campground available," he says.
White Tank is also located adjacent to Arch Rock, a roughly 30-foot-wide arch-shaped rock that Marland notes is one of the best places to get an amazing sunrise photo.
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North Rim Campground in Grand Canyon National Park
Visiting the Grand Canyon is a pretty common bucket-list item, but did you know there are only three designated campgrounds within the National Park? The South Rim is the most popular and offers two separate campgrounds—the 327-site Mather Campground and the 49-site Desert View Campground—according to the NPS. But for "national park lovers who prefer their nature walks without the crowds and concrete," Marland recommends the North Rim.
The North Rim Campground has 87 sites and is open from May 15 to October 15, as NPS states. Marland notes that it's at an elevation of 8,200 feet, about 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim. "As a result, visitors can expect more moderate summer temperatures that are perfect for camping and hiking." The site also has "abundant wildlife, multiple hiking trails, and is within walking distance of spectacular views of the Grand Canyon," he says. Showers, grills, toilets, and firewood are available.
Two Medicine Campground in Glacier National Park, Montana
Set in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Glacier National Park is described by the NPS as "a showcase of melting glaciers, alpine meadows, carved valleys, and spectacular lakes." A popular attraction is Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile scenic road that allows drivers to observe wildlife (like mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and even grizzly bears) and stop at various outlook points. But for a quieter camping experience away from this main thoroughfare, try Two Medicine Campground, says Sarah Vaughan, co-founder of the travel blog Two Outliers.
"While the peace and quiet is amazing, what makes Two Medicine Campground so special is its location along the shores of Pray Lake, at the northeastern tip of Two Medicine Lake," says Vaughan. "Many of the campsites are located only a few steps away from the lakeshore, where campers can spend the afternoon swimming, fishing, or simply relaxing along the rocky beach," she explains. You'll also get wonderful views of Rising Wolf Mountain.
According to the NPS, Two Medicine is a first-come, first-served campground with 100 sites. It's open from June 1 through October 31. This is a camping experience you may want to add to the top of your bucket list, as Glacier National Park is considered a victim of climate change, with warming temperatures melting its namesake glaciers.
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North Campground in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Do you know what a hoodoo is? As explained in an NPS video, it is "a big tall rock spire that has eroded away from softer rock around it." They say these formations can be "sometimes chaotic, sometimes architectural." Hoodoos are found on every continent, but Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park has the highest concentration on Earth. Now can you imagine spending the night among these geological wonders?
Travel Blogger Hanna Ashcroft of Moderately Adventurous says the North Campground is her favorite spot. It's just a couple-minute walk from the rim of Bryce Canyon, which means "you can watch the sunset over the canyon before walking back and roasting marshmallows or wake up just a few minutes before the sunrise and still be able to watch it light up the Hoodoos," she describes. Ashcroft also notes that the proximity to the rim gives you easy access to all the hiking trails.
Boca Chita Key in Biscayne National Park, Florida
Biscayne National Park is a stone's throw from Miami, but this incredible seaside locale feels worlds away from the bustling city. The NPS says Biscayne is "a rare combination of aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs."
Because it's in South Florida, you can visit all year round, but both campgrounds—Elliott Key and Boca Chita Key—are only reachable via boat. The latter has "an incredible view of the ocean and a nice grassy camping area with picnic tables and grills," according to Marc Bromhall, founder of Surf's Up Magazine. "Of all the oceanside campsites I go to every year (including Hawaii), this place is one of the most special," he says.
Brittany Mendez, CMO of FloridaPanhandle, calls Boca Chita Key "a water lover's oasis," complete with snorkeling and chances to learn about the coral reefs. The Key is marked by a 65-foot-tall ornamental lighthouse. If park employees are present, you may get lucky with a chance to go up to the observation deck, the NPS notes. From here, you'll have "a fantastic view of islands, bay, ocean and Miami skyline," they say.
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Assateague Island National Seashore, Virginia and Maryland
We know you've been waiting for those horses! On the border of Virginia and Maryland, Assateague Island National Seashore "sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sinepuxent Bay [and] is known for its wild ponies that freely roam the island," says travel consultant Katrina Warren of Alexandria Consulting. "There are a couple of herds that visitors will see along the beach," she notes. But as the NPS explains, since the horses are, in fact, feral and have learned to adapt to harsh environments, it's dangerous to both the horses and humans to feed or try to pet them.
Camping is only available on the Maryland side of the park. Warren says standard tent and RV facilities are available, and those who have their own horses can bring them to camp. Because of the island's marshy and gusty environment, the NPS recommends bringing "insect repellent, screen tents for shade and insect protection, and long tent stakes to anchor tents in the sand and wind."
Schoodic Woods Campground in Acadia National Park, Maine
On the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park "is known for its dramatic scenery," which includes "towering mountains, rocky shores, and picturesque forests," as Matt James, founder of the travel blog Visitingly, describes. He notes that there are four campgrounds within Acadia National Park, but says Schoodic Woods Campground offers a truly unique experience. "This campground is only accessible by foot, bike, or boat, making it the perfect place to get away from it all," he says.
The campground is located on the Schoodic Peninsula, the only part of the park on the mainland. The NPS explains that in this secluded area, "huge granite ledges turn Atlantic Ocean waves into lofty geysers and dark-colored basaltic dikes intrude between slabs of pink granite."
The campsite was only opened in 2015 after an anonymous buyer purchased the 3,200-acre tract of land to prevent it from being developed into a large resort. Today, it is open from May 25 through October 9, and reservations are required. The NPS does note that Schoodic Woods Campground is an hour-and-15-minute drive from Bar Harbor, the main area of Acadia National Park.