Camping may not be your “thing.” It’s not for a lot of people. They prefer hotels with heated swimming pools, nice restaurants, and the comforts of indoor resting places during vacations. If you do enjoy camping, however, here are 15 of the most amazing campgrounds you will find anywhere in the world – all right here in the U.S.
And for those of you not into camping? You owe it to yourself to find a hotel close by and take some of the greatest day trips you will ever have. From wildlife, to amazing rock formations, to spring, summer and fall foliage, to panning for gold, these national “treasures” of ours, that we call state and national parks, offer some extraordinary experiences.
1. Watchman Campground – Zion National Park, Utah
Image by Al_HikesAZ via Flickr Creative Commons
Sunrise and sunset are probably the most phenomenal sights at Watchman Campground. There is just something about the way the sunlight hits these magnificent sandstone cliffs that campers never tire of seeing. Add to that the gorgeous walking trail that takes you to the Virgin River which meanders through the canyon and provides cool relief from the heat in the height of the summer months. And in every direction, there are still those cliffs.
As a campground, for tent camping only, there are lots of amenities for the novices who not want to completely rough it, and the park is open year-round! Take a look at the typical campground site at Zion South!
2. Assateague Island, Maryland
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If beach camping is your thing, you cannot beat Assateague Island off the costs of Maryland and Virginia. This 34-mile long island boasts beach camping and all of the other regular activities that accompany a vacation in this environment. A truly unique feature of the island are the legendary wild horses that roam freely about and don’t seem to mind the human guests, even those that choose to get married there! They have been on the island for at least 200 years, although their origin is uncertain. Today, they are managed by auctioning off male colts every summer.
There is no place in the world that has more beautiful sunrises and sunsets than Assateague, and for those who camp on the beach, this is your view every morning.
3. Lake McDonald, West Glacier, Montana
Image by Kent Kanouse via Flickr Creative Commons
The Glacier National Park in Montana truly could be one of the major wonders of the world. Lake McDonald specifically demonstrates the awesome power of ancient glaciers as they carved valleys through mountain ranges. In most instances, these valleys then became lakes, also called basins. Lake McDonald is 10 miles long and offers a very private 25-site campground at one end – Sprague Campground. In late spring and through the summer, it is highly popular, and it may be difficult to get a site, particularly on weekends.
One of the highlights of any camping trip to this Park will be the 50-mile drive on the “gong-to-the-sun” road, a ride that will take visitors alongside mountains and through the wild interior of the Park. During the drive, you will cross the Continental Divide. It’s quite chilly at night so be certain that you have brought plenty of warm camping gear.
4. Carvers Gap, Round Bald, North Carolina
Image by Joe Giordano via Flickr Creative Commons
If you have never walked any of the famous Appalachian Trail, a marked trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine, then you have missed an amazing part of the scenery of the Eastern United States. The Trail was carved out and marked, starting in 1925, by a conservancy group that wanted to provide an amazing journey for anyone so moved, through the crests of this mountain range. In North Carolina, campers can park their cars and hike a short ½ mile trek to Carvers Gap which provides a huge panoramic view of a part of this magnificent mountain range. Several other campsites are located a bit further up the trail, and all of them offer the same views. This is not a campground with any amenities, so bring all that you will need!
5. Albion Basin, Utah
Image by carfull… via Flickr Creative Commons
Another glacial valley carved out and now a panoramic wonderland. The great feature is hiking up to Lake Cecret and getting the amazing view. And if you travel during the spring and summer, the wildflowers are extraordinary. As there are no organized campings available in area make sure you have packed all your overnight camping gear and sufficient supplies for the trip. Also, it’s worth remembering a few basic survival tips and tricks like always carrying water purifying tablets with you and using them correctly. Knowing how to quickly make a fire in moist environment and cook food fast will come essential as well. You will need pretty sturdy boots for this trek, but the view from the top is more than worth it!
6. Joshua Tree National Park – White Tank Campground, Joshua Tree, California
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The Joshua Tree is a member of the Yucca plant family, and is most prevalent in the Mojave Desert. It was given its name by Mormons crossing the Mojave Desert in the mid-1800’s, because they thought it reminded them of a passage from the Bible in which Joshua raised his arms up to the sky. Congress named and designated this area in California as a national park, and it has a number of campgrounds. White Tank Campground is smaller than most and is far less crowded, probably because there is no running water. But the highlight? You will be camping right next to the Arch Rock – an amazing geological formation that spans about 30 feet. Of course, there are other unusual rock formations throughout the Park, but this is the most famous.
7. Gros Ventre Wilderness – Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Image by lord the air smells good today via Flickr Creative Commons
Choose your spot – a regular campsite or a backcountry setting that you pick. Whichever you choose, however, the Bros Ventre Wilderness camping areas of the Grand Teton National Park is far less crowded and touristy than any other. And you are in for some amazing sights, whether they are of the Grand Tetons or the Gros Ventre Range. Wildlife (bear, moose elk, and a huge population of marmots) and fishing are huge draws to the area, but nothing can equal the absolutely breathtaking views.
8. Wildwood State Park, Long Island, New York
Image by sandy richard via Flickr Creative Commons
Nothing about New York City is relaxed, laid back, or filled with nature, unless, of course, you decide to get away from the madness and escape to a retreat on Long Island known as Wildwood State Park. There, stressed and burnt out city dwellers will find a beautiful wooded camp ground with sites dotted among the rich foliage. And, if the weather is right, there is beachcombing and swimming on some of the most beautiful natural beaches to be found.
In fact, that is one of the big draws of Wildwood – the beaches remain natural, sitting below bluffs above which sport small pine forests. There are waterfalls dotted about, about 600 acres of pristine forests, and great views of Long Island Sound from the tops of those bluffs which are accessible by a 3.8 mile hike or drive that loops around the Park.
9. Polihale State Park, Kauai, Hawaii
Image by Andy Beal via Flickr Creative Commons
Beautiful white sand beaches is one of the most incredible features of this hugely popular camping mecca, along with an almost no-rainfall year, extraordinary sunsets, and the famous Na Pali Cliffs. Kauai has been nicknamed the garden island because of the tropical rainforest that inhabits most of the island. For those campers interested in rainforest wildlife, it is in abundance on this island. Because the campsites feature bathrooms, showers, and BBQ grills, campers can enjoy an extended stay in this little piece of paradise.
10. Death Valley National Park, California
Image by Dave Toussaint via Flickr Creative Commons
The Eastern California Mojave Desert does not really “feel” like a desert. Here you have rolling hills, surrounding amazing sand dunes, with campsites dotted about. If you are looking for great sand dune fun, desert wildlife for photography, and amazing sunsets, then these campgrounds are perfect for you. Even if you don’t run around the dunes and play in the sand, they are a phenomenon worth photographing.
11. Treehouse Point, Washington, “Winter Camping”
Image by Tony Guyton via Flickr Creative Commons
30 minutes from Seattle; the sight of all of your childhood dreams come true. Against the backdrop of the Raging River, you can stay in your very own treehouse. Not the “roughing it” of campgrounds, but still an experience to have. This is a romantic and certainly a bit magical place – a place to get married and a place to pan for gold, if you so choose, to fish, or just explore the secluded forests along the River. The “campground” is open year-round for any “snow bunnies.”
12. Nugent Mountain Camp Site – Big Bend National Park, Texas
Image by Steve Dunleavy via Flickr Creative Commons
If you want a really primitive camping experience, and the solitude that comes with it, then you will need to travel to Nugent Mountain Campsite. Either car camp or bring a tent, but make sure that you are outside when the stars come out – it is one of the most amazing star-gazing places in the country. Other features are, of course, the scenery, the rivers, and the wildlife. You will also find some really unusual rock formations!
13. Whitewater State Park, Minnesota
Image by darosenbauer via Flickr Creative Commons
This campground is definitely for the nature lover in the spring and fall, first for the flowers and second for the fall foliage. Most of the park is quite high, on bluffs overlooking the Whitewater River. Campers will find great hiking trails, great trout fishing, and good mushroom hunting, especially for Morels.
14. Timber Creek Campgrounds – Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Image by Wally Gobetz via Flickr Creative Commons
This absolutely breath-taking park has 98 campsites that are set along the Colorado River. The highlights of any camping trip will be hiking to the Big Meadow and to the Granite Falls – there are waterfalls throughout the Park, but the Granite Falls is a 50-foot fall that is almost shocking to see. Among the animal life are elk, moose, black bear and fox who are easily seen along the shorelines. Because this park is nestled so far away from city lights, if you can plan your trip at the time of a new moon, you will have a spectacular view of the Milky Way. Late spring, summer and early fall are the best times to camp, and even then, nights can get chilly, so be prepared.
15. Mogollon Rim, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Image by Coconino National Forest via Flickr Creative Commons
This is one of the best kept secrets in Arizona! The Mogollon Rim is located in Eastern Arizona and is a part of the Colorado Plateau. In some spot the rim provides a 2000-foot high overlook on the Coconino National Forest. The forest itself is thousands of acres, and is an amazing sight in the fall. The Rim is a great place for hiking and exploring during the daytime, but the bigger draw are the sunsets and the star gazing at night. There are loads of campsites on the Rim, so campers generally don’t have difficulty finding one.
It is so easy to forget about the wonders that the U.S. has to offer. We seem to be so anxious to explore foreign lands, to soak up the countryside of France or the vineyards of Italy. We take Rhine River cruises and marvel at the beautiful bluffs along that River. We travel to mountain ranges, to deserts, and to beaches all over the world. If, on the other hand, we would begin to experience all that our own parks have to offer, we could spend the rest of our lives exploring them and still not run out of places to go and things to see!
Featured photo credit: John Fowler via flickr.com