If you thought all campsites were created equal -- just interchangeable forest clearings to pitch a tent and start a “Wagon Wheel” sing-along -- you clearly haven’t done your research. But don’t worry; we have! We combed the country’s national parks and queried some camping obsessives to come up with a list of the best campsites in America. Whether you like your camping laid-back or character-forming, we’ve got the down low on facilities, scenery, and difficulty level (don't worry, most of these are "easy"). All you have to do is supply the snacks, bug spray, and tent poles. Seriously, remember the tent poles this time.
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If you’ve ever ventured anywhere near Ithaca, t-shirts and bumper stickers bombard you with the concept that “Ithaca is Gorges.” But it is actually true: Taughannock Falls State Park perches campers right next to one such 400-foot limestone gorge. Taughannock Falls is 215 feet of swimming hole glory (that’s about 50 feet taller than Niagara Falls), and Cayuga Lake is a quick jaunt away, for more water fun and an on-site marina.
Estes Park, CO
Difficulty: Easy (with supervision)
Colorado and camping go together like… well, Colorado and anything outside. But the Centennial State kicks up a notch, and several hundred feet in some cases, with cliff camping. Kent Mountain Adventure Center makes our list because if sleeping while dangling over the edge of a cliff (insomniacs need not apply) is still a little hardcore for you, expert guidance or not, you can wuss out with a cliff-side lunch instead. Either way, you have to rappel down after, so it’s still a good story.
Near Corpus Christi, TX
Bird Island Basin Campground near Corpus Christi is equal parts Texas lake party, chill beach hangout, and gulf watersports epicenter. Located right on Padre Island National Seashore (70 effing miles of protected shoreline), this site offers tent and RV spots within walking distance to the world’s largest undeveloped stretch of barrier island -- see “70 miles” -- and plenty of windsurfing and watersports.
Near Santa Barbara, CA
Northern California takes most of the credit for camping (you’ll get your chance later in the list, NorCal!), but beach camping in Santa Barbara gives a big fat middle finger to all those times “beach day” ended way too early. Because “beach day” is way better in the plural, you can stay in the sun indefinitely with a right-on-the-sand camping spot, the convenience of picnic tables and fire rings, and surf fishing directly in the Pacific. Book early because these highly-sought-after sites are first come, first served.
Difficulty: On you
With a park as big and wild as the Everglades, the choice is really yours as far as how advanced you want your camping experience to be. You can opt for pre-setup campsites accessible near the Homestead entrance -- including the Lone Pine Key and Flamingo Campsites, which offer elevated sites because: swamp. Or you can pay the park service registration, grab some directions from a friendly park representative, and do some back-country camping. Either way, you’ll be a quick swamp trudge to canoeing, kayaking, air boating, and just general tropical gallivanting.
Smuggle this in your backpack
Go ahead and cozy up to that campfire to toast your s'mores, but the real heat will come from a few sips of American Honey Sting, lightly infused with a hint of ghost pepper for maximum warmth going down.
Bundle up. And not just because you’re camping in Alaska -- you’re camping a hailstone’s throw from a damn glacier. There are a ton of places to post up in Glacier Bay National Park, but the park service recommends doing so near Bartlett Cove where those aforementioned giant ice mountains are. Some of the more established campsites have warming huts, because… um, it’s cold? But bear in mind (get it?! Bear.) that you’ll have to complete a 30-minute orientation course before you can legally set up a tent in such unspoiled wilderness.
Long Island, NY
For the Northeast’s take on ocean camping, head almost all the way to Montauk. Cupsogue campsites are friendly to tents or RVs, and sit right on the beach, adjacent to impeccable swimming, fishing, and scuba diving spots (you know, the usual camping activities). But location is the real point-earner here, because you’re a ridiculously short drive to beach town bars and even closer to million dollar summer homes. Except you scored that same view for a two-figure camping fee, you savvy ocean dweller, you.
Near Las Vegas, NV
In the age of Breaking Bad, anything with Red Rocks gets immediate cred, but what sets camping in Red Rock Canyon apart is the expansive views just beyond your zip door. The facilities at the sanctioned campgrounds comprise everything from faucets and spigots to full-fledged bathrooms. And no matter where you lay your head, there’s plenty in the way of southwest geology, including near-infinite hiking paths and rock climbs at Rainbow Mountain or La Madre Mountain (either of which is convenient to most of the Red Rock campsites).
Don’t worry, this volcano camping takes place next to an inactive “plug dome volcano” (great name for an indie rock band). What these eight campsites lack in lava and danger, they more than make up for in ancient lava-formed hiking paths, massive forests, and complex rock formations. Plus there’s a lake just around the volcano. Added bonus: these campsites come standard with metal food boxes to protect from bears -- which, we discovered after all this research, is weirdly not standard at campsites. You know, where bears tend to hang out.
Now onto the real volcanoes. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park houses two chill-worthy campgrounds: Kulanaokuaiki and Námakanipaio, both of which come with all the fire pit trimmings. No matter where you camp in the park, you’ll be close to some killer hiking, like this itinerary in Ka’aha, where one can find archaeological sites, hot springs, straight up untouched beach access, and ancient caves. Note: those caves are legitimately ancient, and local tribes protect many of them for spiritual reasons -- deeming them un-enterable. So check with the locals before venturing forth.
St. John, US Virgin Islands
For those who like their tropical camping with a little more luxury and less volcanic activity, Cinnamon Bay Campground is pretty much the white sand resort version of tent hangs. Located in St. John (technically the US!), this spot lets you pitch your own tent on the beach, or hunker down in one of their pre-pitched tents, which come complete with bunks, grills, and cooking equipment on the 10x14 elevated beach planks. When you tire of open-fire cooking, zip over to the T’ree Lizards open-air terrace -- which makes this the only campsite on our list with a full-service restaurant. Oh, and the campsite as a whole also has watersports and other resort-y things.
Maple Tree Campground in Maryland sates any level of outdoor fun seeking with secluded, fire pit-adorned tent sites along with tree cottages (which range from primitive to “Woah, this thing has a wood stove!”). What sets Maple Tree apart, however, is its Hobbit House, which comes decked out with queen beds, handmade furniture, outdoor porch areas, and walls painted with charming woodland scenes. Is the latter really camping? Maybe not, but no one would accuse you of not being woodsy if you were living in a hobbit hole, so we say go for it.
Difficulty: Not So Easy
Upstate New York has a ton of perfectly passable campsites, all things considered. But we dug deep with some seasoned campers to uncover the Panther Mountain Giant Ledge trail in the Catskills. This almost-seven-mile hike will take you through trails, lookout points, and up to the summit of Panther Mountain (an elevation of 3,725ft). There are periodic pre-set campsites along the way at several of the “giant ledges,” which pretty much amount to forest clearings with killer views. And because you can only get here via a multi-mile hike, this is how you get the comforts of a campsite without rando camp neighbors coming by your site to ask you for a drink.
Ozark National Forest, AR
Difficulty: Not so easy
Turns out, sleeping in a cave doesn’t have to mean you’re on some Halloween dare, or turning into a vampire (hopefully). You could just be at the Sandstone Castles camping area in the Ozark National Forest, and a damn discerning camper. This maze of tunnels and grottos cuts its way through sandstone bluffs in the large Richland Creek Wilderness area. And when you pitch a tent in this crazy underground, you’ll be setting up shop where outlaws and Civil War deserters used to hang -- though they probably didn’t have tasty camp cocktails and mad s’mores game, like you. Before you set out, though, reference a guide like this one, because these little enclaves are tough to find.
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Difficulty: Not so easy
Obvious camping choice: anywhere in and around the Grand Canyon. Not-so-obvious choice: hiking the 2.5 miles from the main North Rim trail head to the not-oft-tented Powell Plateau, where you’ll wake up to spectacular views of the canyon without, well, anyone camping anywhere near you. The accommodations are pretty much non-existent as it’s essentially a table rock area covered with ponderosa forest, roughly a mile above the Colorado River. But man, those views. Be sure you know your route first, as it can be a little complicated. Also make sure you bring plenty of water -- it’s hot up there. Oh, also those views (did we mention that?).
Bold Coast, ME
Difficulty: Not so easy
Campsites in Acadia National Park proper were really close to claiming a spot on the list. Then we stumbled on the Fairy Head camp areas along the Bold Coast -- a two-hour drive past the popular Acadia camp spots. Points in favor of this being one of the best camp spots in the whole country? Cobblestone hiking paths, Atlantic-jutting, camp-able rock ledges, direct access to beach chilling, and few-to-no other people. Pro-tip: camp in late summer for less bug harassment and killer, in-season Maine blueberries from nearby farms.
Difficulty: Not so easy
Nothing says Indiana Jones quite like sleeping on a dune… except maybe sleeping on a dune after stealing a goblet from ill-meaning tomb raiders because it belongs in a museum! But even if you don’t excavate any desert artifacts, camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park is probably the coolest, most-versatile rec we have here, because you can go from pitching your tent on a 700-foot-tall dune (scoring views of, like, all the other dunes) to traipsing along forested, alpine trails, then chilling in a massive spread of grasslands. The “great outdoors” feels just a little greater when you can see for miles.