Camping is one of the most American activities you can do. While it might not have been invented in the colonies, the wide prairie ranges, open spaces, incredible wildlife, and diverse climates have made many parts of the U.S. international hotspots for people who get their thrills from spending time off the grid, communing with nature. In selecting our favorite places to pitch a tent in America, we had a huge list from which to choose. A lot of beautiful places landed on the cutting room floor, but we worked hard to track down the best campsites for everyone.
From the RV camper who takes their $100,000 home with them to the survivalist who puts a tiny hiking backpack on and disappears for a month, we sought out spots for everyone. We found urban campgrounds where pizza delivery is a phone call away, and trails far from civilization, where no one can hear you scream. Coastal sites, desert oases, mountainous climbs, and dusty valleys are all represented. If you like pitching a tent, hanging a hammock, or unwinding on a bedroll, one of the 21 best places to camp in the U.S. will suit you.
Pro: Wide terrain variance in a relatively small area
Con: Pet rules are restrictive
Please Everyone: If you have a family with a lot of different tastes, or if you want to switch up your experience from day to day, then Ludington will easily keep you entertained. You have swimming in Lakes Michigan and Hamlin, beach walks, kayak rentals, jet skiing, sand dunes, marshlands, and forests made for nature hikes. The campgrounds offer both year-round and seasonal accommodations.
Price: $8.40 a day
Pro: Several adjacent and nearby campgrounds
Con: Limited number of campsites
Stone Garden: Photo opportunities and challenging trails abound in the twisted Arches National Park where daunting red stones litter the ground with their weather-beaten buttresses reaching high into the sky. Camping is somewhat limited, though you can backpack around, so long as you prove you know what you’re doing. It’ss easy to get lost, so anyone who fancies a challenge along with some striking sights to behold is welcome.
Price: $10 per vehicle
Pro: Numerous light hiking or strolling trails
Con: It’s Hawaii, so campsites are expensive and space is limited
Liquid Fire: Hawaii is not known as a camping region due to the resort nature of much of the islands. However, there are a few spots to pitch a tent, and the Volcanoes National Park is one of the most stunning. In the evening you can look out where active volcanoes light up the sky, and during the day you can explore the strange rock formations and unusual flora that have managed to live near the caldera of a lava-spitting monster.
Price: $8 – $15 per vehicle
Pro: Huge choice of campgrounds and camping sites
Con: Very dangerous for solo missions
Ecological Marvel: The evergreen state has innumerable places for any outdoor enthusiast, but Olympic has more than just exceptional trees and hiking. It bears three completely different ecosystems, including a rainforest. Hike the hills or watch whales migrate when the season is right. Camp in any of the provided grounds, or spend $5 on a backcountry camping permit and put up your suspended tree tent in any of the massive forestland.
Price: $7 – $20
Pro: Wide differentiation in types of desert landscape
Con: Remember: It is still a desert, so take lots of water
The Sand Wastes: Sitting right at the juncture of the Colorado and Mojave desert, Joshua Tree is one of the few really arid places where camping is a delight. There’s more than 10 mountain peaks in the area if you like to hike, but if going vertical is more your style, strap on your rock climbing shoes and get ready for some serious scaling. This is a handy winter location since off-season rates apply and it never gets unbearably cold.
Price: $10 – $20
Pro: Lots of locals will give you some strange tours if you ask around
Con: Pack bug spray or be eaten alive
Reptile Village: We don’t want to send you to a tourist trap, but within the 2,400 square miles, there’s plenty to do that isn’t in the brochure. Grab yourself a fishing kayak and a recurve bow, then head out for some of the most amazing game fishing you can imagine. Rent a canoe and find your own fun on the waterways, or pack along your favorite mountain bike to test the remarkably challenging trails.
Price: $5 – $10
Pro: Plenty of space to spread out and avoid crowds
Con: Very limited things to see in the area
Still Waters: Unless you like corn, there really isn’t much to see in Nebraska, but for watersport enjoyment without the coastal crowds, and some of the most laid back fishing you can imagine, this is idyllic. White sand beaches, boating, water skiing, and casting opportunities flourish around Lake McConaughy. It truly is a slice of paradise done Americana style. Dune buggy riders and those who enjoy desert adventures can hop over to the Nebraska Sandhills for a very different experience.
Price: $5 per day
Pro: Plenty of hunting and fishing opportunities
Con: Area can be dangerous during hunting seasons
Tree Hugger Retreat: When woodlands, botany, and hiking get your motor running, this is the place to find sun dappled glades full of some of the most astounding trees in the world. Due to the high arboreal content, amateur ornithologists will find all manner of nesting birds in the area who fill the woods with song. You’ll find less in the way of exciting activities and much more in the way of centering yourself in Zen calm.
Pro: 700 miles of hiking trails
Con: Serious wildlife threat to the unwary and unprepared
On the Road: Parks and camping areas aren’t ordinarily known for how exciting their roadways are, but Glacier has the Going-to-the-Sun Road which is 50 miles of winding highway wending its way through the festival of nature for those who want a little hairpin mountain joyriding. Naturally, that isn’t all that the park has to offer for campers. More than a thousand standard camping spots and untold number of backcountry places nestled among the receded glaciers will entice any mountaineer armed with an ice axe.
Pro: Tons of structured activities geared toward children
Con: Only go if you have kids
Family Business: There’s 79 of the Jellystone family-friendly campgrounds in the country, and if you’re looking to take your kids on a nice, structured camping trip where there’s plenty of entertainment and very little of the horrid “outdoors” then they’re not a bad place to go. We found the one in Hagerstown to be more enjoyable for everyone with lots of activities and a general theme park sense of fun that will keep the little ones amused and entertained without boring or annoying the adults.
Pro: Riddled with free activities
Con: Limited opportunity to explore on your own
Old and New: If you want a little history to go along with your hiking and trail riding, you’ll find that there’s a nice mixture of modern and archaic on these islands. Several Civil-War sites offer tours that will pique your curiosity and provide you with background on the area. Then, jump onto a stand up paddleboard to take a tour of the surrounding surf. Natural tide pools and other wonders dot the landscape punctuated by lighthouses and other man-made curiosities.
Pro: 244,000 total acres
Con: Plenty of venomous varmints
Dig Site: Camping is just the tip of the proverbial ice berg in the Badlands. Painted rocks litter the landscape with plenty of climbing opportunities as well as just more scenic vistas per square mile than anywhere else. Hosted events in the park help bring out its glory, and artifact hunters can find all manner of fossils and leftovers from early humankind.
Price: $7 – $15
Pro: Made to order for rock climbers
Con: Not easily accessible
Onward and Upward: Anywhere along the front range of the rocky mountains you’ll be able to throw up a tent and live contented, but if you want a place that is extremely climber friendly and wants visitors to be challenged more than relaxed, this is the spot for you. It’s a long drive up a winding dirt path, but once up there you’ll see nothing but kindred spirits who can suggest great fishing holes and rocks to hop.
Price: $7 – $15
Pro: Up close and personal wildlife
Con: You can spend a lifetime exploring
Wide Open: For those who just long for the space to do as they please, there’s the 6 million acres of the Adirondacks. Spend time camping out on your own personal island, walk among the trees, visit with locals in one of the small towns that lay about the area, boat, sail, canoe, climb, hike, and revel in nature’s bounty. If it isn’t here, you don’t need it.
Pro: Modern camping options
Con: Located close to urban areas
City Drinkers: Just a little ways from the Dallas Airport is a spot where you can camp if you so desire, but you can also rent a lovely cabin complete with WiFi for that home-away-from-home experience. Right on the shores of Grapevine lake, there’s plenty to do on the water and plenty of wineries and festivals to help take the edge off your trip.
Price: Varies on accommodations
Pro: Accessible year round
Con: Can get overrun with tourists during the busy season
Desert Hideaway: Located in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, this lake sits 6,300 feet above sea level and allows visitors to enjoy one of the largest desert bodies of water in the world. Bald Eagles and Blue Heron are likely to soar overhead as you are able to land some impressive lake trout and other biters. Hike, climb, stroll, or while away the hours basking in the sun.
Price: $5 per site
Pro: Untamed wilderness
Con: Can be difficult to get help if problems arise
Old Standby: Outside of Yellowstone, there’s probably few places quite as visited and therefore as touristy as Yosemite, but the problem is that it is nearly unparalleled. 95% of the park is completely natural, meaning you won’t be bothered by cars, ATVs, or other distractions. It’s just you and nature.
Price: $30 per vehicle
Pro: Calm, relaxed atmosphere
Con: Few points of interest beyond the hot springs
Lay Back: Camping doesn’t need to be a lot of work, stress, and strain. Head to the Hot Springs of Arkansas when you’re looking for a natural spa treatment done out in the glory of nature. Soak yourself carefree in the natural sprints of the Ouachita Mountains. You can take tours or go on a few walkabouts, but we aren’t sure why you would.
Price: $10 per night
Pro: True survival adventure
Con: Inherently dangerous for the inexperienced
Into the Wild: Central to the park is, as you would expect, a glacier that can be hiked. The majority of the rest of the park is water where rafting is highly encouraged, so long as you know what you’re doing. Trails are generally unmarked, which means you should only head out if you’re looking for a challenge or wish to end it all the hard way.
Pro: Pitch a tent right off the beach
Con: Dodgy Puerto Rican laws
Paradise: Are we cheating a bit by saying Puerto Rico is part of the U.S.? Sure. But it’s a territory, so it counts. This stunning white sand beach is the place to go if you prefer your camping with a surfboard and some sandals. You’ll be coping with some of the dicey issues that come from being outside the United States, but you’ll never have more fun camping than lying on the beach.
Pro: Fresh Maine lobster cooked in your camp
Con: Weather changes are sudden and drastic
All Comers: Every camper of any skill level will find something to love in Acadia. Head out into the waves for swimming in the chop, boating, fishing, or snapping up Maine lobster. Tackle Cadillac Mountain if you’re looking for a vertical ascent. Go deep into the woods in any direction. For whatever you want out of your camping experience, Acadia provides.
Price: $12 – $25
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