America truly is a country of diverse and wondrous landscapes. From rocky, almost inaccessible mountain peaks, to lava-crusted fields and far-reaching meadows, the American wilderness offers something for pretty much every taste. Creating a top-style list of great campsites in the United States is difficult, so I’m not going to even try that. Tastes are different and the country is so vast that it would probably have to be a 100-item list!
Instead, I’ll just draw your attention to 12 great campsites in the United States that are well-worth checking out. Some of them I’ve visited (and plan to visit again since they are breathtaking): others are on my bucket list. The sites I mention here are scattered all over the states and are all protected National or State Parks – if you decide to visit keep that in mind; you’re going to have to follow the rules (hopefully, you always do when camping) and maybe pay an admission/entrance fee, which is peanuts for most of the places listed.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Hawaii! Where better to go to explore active volcanoes than here? Volcanoes National Park is located on the Hawaii Island (the Big Island) and, at its heart, you will find Mauna Loa and Kilauea, two volcanoes which have been rumbling and spitting up lava for years without any indication of stopping. The landscape is constantly changing thanks to consistent lava flow so if you’re going exploring you better watch your step. Still, the view of steam vents and gurgling craters is a breath-taker.
Since Hawaii are a popular resort destination it stands to reason that camping sites are pretty limited and expensive. There are two drive-in campsites in the park and several state-operated sites outside it. Think ahead and reserve your spot if you’re planning on visiting this spectacular natural wonder.
Glacier National Park, Montana
A camping destination as versatile and beautiful as Glacier National Park is difficult to find. It has everything a camper craves – vast forests, lush green meadows, and towering mountain peaks! With over 700 miles of forest and hiking trails to explore, this national park pretty much guarantees that you won’t get bored easily. Logan Pass and Many Glacier trail are exhilarating on foot but when exploring Going to the Sun Road, a winding mountain stretch 50 miles long, you’re going to be glad you’re in a car.
Camping here is pretty easy – there are thousands of camping spots in the forests and, for most, you don’t even have to bother with a reservation. You can even go and explore the woods all on your own if you have a permit. However, do so with caution – Glacier National Park is wilderness personified and running into some serious trouble (read: wolfs and bears) is commonplace.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
If you’re more of a doer than a watcher, Badlands National Park will be right up your alley. This park provides plenty of opportunities for adventurous types – hiking, climbing, and even artifact hunting. There are more fossils here than anywhere else in the States combined and it’s not difficult to come across remnants of creatures that have roamed this site thousands (and even millions) of years ago. Clear, open skies will also appeal to astronomers and stargazers and park officials organize an astronomy festival every year.
Backcountry camping is allowed at Badlands National Park and a permit is not required – however, you do have to register with the park authorities. Do this after some serious consideration: there are plenty of poisonous creatures roaming these plains and an occasional bison or two will also make an appearance more often than not.
Denali National Park, Alaska
Home to the highest peak of North America, Mount McKinley, Denali National Park boasts beautiful nature and unparalleled wildlife. Adventurous hikers and power campers will immediately see the allure of this park – 6 million acres of pristine nature, dozens of hiking trails, and a great number of climbing opportunities. You don’t have to be an uber-experienced climber to do some lightweight activities here but it does help if you know what you’re doing.
There are 6 great camping sites at the Denali National Park but only one can be reached by car – to visit others you will have to take a bus. Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit but be careful. This park isn’t for the inexperienced and dangers are lurking all around: treacherous paths and dangerous beasts abound!
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Located in the Cascade Mountains of south Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is a natural gem of North America. Campers and other visitors can take a dip in the lake that’s the namesake of the park, Crater Lake, which was formed by a collapsed volcano millions of years ago. It’s the deepest lake in the United State and also the one with clearest and cleanest water if the scientists are to be believed. Wizard Island stands proudly on one side of the lake and offers a great view of Mount Scott, a small parasitic cone of the once active Mount Mazama volcano.
There are two organized camps at Crater Lake National Park but backcountry camping is allowed, provided you register and get a permit from the park authorities. Keep in mind that this area is not for the timid; large predators include black bears and mountain lions so make sure you don’t get lost and try to explore the wild with a group of people, rather than alone.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Maine is truly a campers paradise. With over 6,000 lakes and 32,000 miles of streams, brooks, and rivers, it’s the go-to place if you’re looking to get your feet wet or do some fishing. Add 17 million acres of pine forest on top of that and you get a green paradise itching for exploration. There’s a ton of things you can do at Acadia National Park – exploring the woods, fishing, boating, swimming, or collecting pine cones- the choice is entirely up to you. While you’re there don’t forget to try Maine lobster since it’s delicious!
If you’re looking for a challenge, try climbing up the Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the East Coast. The views are spectacular and you’re guaranteed to be the first one to witness the sun rising over the US. Acadia National Park has several campsites and is generally regarded as a safe place to camp. Keep in mind, however, that Maine weather is pretty fickle; it goes from sunny and calm to windy (and pain in the ass) in a blink of an eye. If you’re heading out there make sure to pack for that.
Arches National Park, Utah
Geology buffs should definitely add Arches National Park to their bucket list. Located north of Moab, this park is home to over 2,000 sandstone arches, twisting and turning in all directions and towering over the landscape. Delicate Arch, Double Arch, and the Fiery Surface are among the sites you shouldn’t miss while there.
Prepare to do a lot of hiking while at the Arches – there isn’t much else to do here anyway. Also, bring your camera. The towering red monoliths are a sight to behold and you’ll be able to snap some pretty awesome pictures, especially if you’re laying in wait during sunset. Campers are allowed to explore the park (and even climb the features, with some limitations) but you should know what you’re doing since it’s pretty easy to get lost. Also, camping spots are pretty limited (50 so you should definitely book in advance) and there are no facilities except the visitors center and the bathrooms.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
One of the most popular national parks in the United States, Grand Canyon National Park offers visitors the opportunity to explore one of the country’s landmarks. Visiting the sprawling Grand Canyon means glimpsing millions of years of geological history firsthand; witnessing the immense (albeit rather slow) power of nature. Hiking, whitewater rafting, and general jaw-dropping are among the favorite pastimes of Grand Canyon visitors. Whether you’re exploring the South (more popular) or North (actually in Utah) Rim, the views alone are a good enough reason to come and check out this beauty!
Grand Canyon National Park has three fully developed campsites and plenty of room for visitors but making a reservation is still recommended. You can also set off and explore the park on your own as backcountry camping is allowed with a permit. Keep in mind that Grand Canyon can be daunting, especially if you’re going to be roughing it so better come prepared.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Did you know that Everglades National Park is one of the largest in the United States? Still, it doesn’t get nearly as much love as it deserves. It is a tropical paradise that’s home to numerous endangered animals, one of which is the elusive Florida panther. Visitors can enjoy fishing, trekking, canoeing, or mountain biking – if they believe they are a match to gnarled and often treacherous Everglades biking trails.
There are 2 great campsites at Everglades and although backcountry camping is permitted, it’s not recommended to beginners. Most sites are inaccessible by conventional means (cars or bikes) and you can most certainly count on encountering some gator action along the way. Also, make sure you pack a bug spray otherwise you’ll be a tasty snack for millions of mosquitoes buzzing around.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited in the country, and for a good reason. Located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, nearly 95 % of the park is pure and unparalleled wilderness. There are no man-made structures, no electricity, and no cars for miles around. One of the park’s highlights is Glacier Point, an overlook that rewards patient and persistent climbers with stunning views of Yosemite Valley and High Sierra peaks.
There are a lot of beginner-friendly trails at Yosemite National Park but more adventurous hikers are welcome to try to tackle the Four Mile Trail and the Panorama Trail. There are plenty of campsites scattered through the Yosemite National Park but due to park’s popularity and high volume of visitors, it’s always a smart idea to reserve a spot in advance. A word on safety – if you decide to visit Yosemite take extra care to tell people where you’re going. Help, if needed, can be difficult to get in remote areas of the park.
Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
Glacier Bay National Park has been protected (in one form or another) for close to 100 years. Most of the park is water but its defining features are glaciers that visitors can climb and explore. Grand Pacific has been rapidly retreating from the bay for hundreds of years now but most other glaciers are either moving away very slowly or staying put. The bay itself is pretty small and trails are unmarked so be careful when you go exploring. Rafting in one of the park’s two rivers is an option but again, make sure you know what you’re doing – the water is freezing!
There’s only one organized campground at the park and camping is free of charge for private visitors. It’s open throughout the year but park services are limited at best and almost non-existent during winter. If you wish to explore the glaciers you’d be wise to reserve one of the tours led by park rangers, just to be on the safe side. Glacier Bay National Park is not for the uninitiated and can be a pretty rough experience for all but the most experienced campers.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
To explore some of the majestic peaks of the Rocky Mountains, head over to Grand Teton National Park. This pristine piece of land will dazzle nature-lovers – you can spend a week here just admiring the views. Adventurous types need not worry: there are literally thousands of mountain trails to explore and hiking and climbing are one of the favorite pastimes of park’s visitors. National Elk Refuge is right in the middle of the park and, in addition to elk, there are dozens of rare and endangered species to see here.
There are 6 well-equipped campsites at Grand Teton and the park is open all year round. Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit but don’t stray too far from the beaten path – although there’s a lot of wildlife to admire here some encounters can be pretty dangerous so keep your eyes open.
Like what you see? These 12 gorgeous campsites in the United States are definitely worth a visit but they are by no means everything the US has to offer to experienced campers. This list could easily feature 100 entries but that would make it even more difficult to decide where to go first! If you visited one of these campsites make sure to drop a comment and share some tips – they would be more than welcome!