Epic stops in your RV
There are few better ways to explore America’s open roads, scenic byways and vast national parks than in an RV. Unless, that is, other people turn up with the same idea. Thankfully, the USA is a pretty vast country and one with enough epic views and tucked-away places to go around. Follow the irresistible call of the road with these incredible places to spend a night under the stars or just pull over, kick back and gawp at the scenery for a while. Be sure to check state travel advisories before you set out.
Assateague Island, Maryland
The Maryland portion of this barrier island (which also stretches into Virginia) has several (reservation only) RV camping spots right by its pale, biscuit dunes. The landscape of rolling sand hills, shrubs and endless Atlantic Ocean views would be enough of a draw. But add in around 150 wild ponies, which can frequently be seen grazing on dune grass or snoozing in the sand, and it’s pretty much perfection.
Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway, Finger Lakes, New York
This scenic byway loops around skinny Cayuga Lake, in New York’s Finger Lakes region, over a distance of just 87 miles (140km). But it’s packed with wineries, charming villages, art studios and heart-stopping views over the water. There are also countless spots to park up, pull out a camping chair and soak up the gorgeousness. It’s particularly lovely at sunrise and sunset, though any time of day will do.
The View, Monument Valley, Arizona
The View Campground, reopened on 1 August, is perfectly placed for watching the sunset as it paints Monument Valley’s famous sandstone buttes with rich, glowing shades of red and apricot. There are no hook-ups, but being surrounded by Utah’s red desert sands or hunkering down under a duvet of stars tends to put little matters like that into perspective.
Wahweap Marina, Lake Powell, Arizona
Straddling the border between Utah and Arizona, Lake Powell is a freshwater reservoir backed by canyons and colorful striped rock formations. For that sweet spot between location and convenience, Wahweap Marina’s RV site is tough to beat. There are electric hook-up sites, showers and shops, plus restaurants within walking distance. But there’s no compromising on the eye-popping views.
Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose, Texas
Dinosaurs once trampled through the land that makes up this state park in Glen Rose, close to Fort Worth, and their preserved footprints can still be peered at on the bed of the Paluxy River. Guests may park by the water to go hunting for tracks, or watch for birds like wild turkeys (the famed golden-cheeked warblers only stick around through summer). Gloriously peaceful RV sites are set in woodland clearings, bright for fall, and a short walk from the river.
Gulf Islands National Seashore, Mississippi and Florida
This skinny spit of white sand, dissected by a road, straddles Mississippi and Florida, and each state has a campground with RV sites surrounded by sand, scrub oaks and the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There are also day-use parking areas, from where it’s possible to pad down to the water’s edge for a picnic. Imposing former military facility Fort Pickens looms on the Florida side of the park, in Pensacola Bay.
Redfish Lake, Sawtooth National Forest, Idaho
Staying overnight on the shore of Redfish Lake, in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest, is pretty much as good as it gets. The RV sites here are steps from the water, which stretches out from a smooth pebble beach. It’s perfect for paddling, swimming and kayaking, with the peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains peeping behind thick pine forest, which is still bright green in the fall.
Smoky Bear Campground, Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
The generous RV sites at Smoky Bear Campground in Tennessee are tucked in their own nooks and shaded by trees. So, even though it’s a relatively big site, guests can carve out their own serene slice of heaven. The spots have fire pits and picnic tables, while there’s also a pool and hot tub on-site (subject to social distancing measures). The clincher, though, is that the campground is right by the northeast entrance to the Great Smokies, where waterfalls, forested mountain ridges and black bears await.
Piñon Flats, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Colorado is synonymous with mountains, whether they be buried beneath a thick blanket of snow or carpeted by orange foliage in fall. But mountains made out of sand? Great Sand Dunes National Park has the largest dunes in the US, with some rolling to 700 feet (213m). Piñon Flats Campground is right on the edge of this ethereal landscape, which stretches over 30 miles (48km). Most of the 88 sites have clear views over the dunes to the more familiar (and solid) mountains behind.
Porcupine Campground, Chugach National Forest, Alaska
Beluga whales are sometimes spotted near the coast from this wooded campground, which is set atop a bluff overlooking the Turnagain Arm in Alaska’s Chugach National Forest. There’s direct access to two trails that wind past streams and curvy-horned Dall sheep to the summit. One of the best things to do, though, is find a place to perch and just gaze at the water.
Pilot Mountain, Pinnacle, North Carolina
The pine-capped crest of this mountain peeps above a thick cloak of forested slopes and can be viewed from much of North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley. The vistas are even better from up here. Visitors can park below the summit to stare down across the vine-striped valley to the Sauratown Mountains and Hanging Rock. It’s best to go when Pilot Mountain State Park opens, in time for the lilac and pink sunrise. It’s definitely worth getting up early for. Now find the top sunrise spot in every state.
Ridgeline Campground, Cumberland Falls State Park, Kentucky
Full moon nights are extra-special at this Kentucky state park. When skies are clear, a moonbow (lunar rainbow) emerges from the base of Cumberland Falls, the largest waterfall in the state. And it’s pretty glorious on other nights (and days) too. The 125-foot (38m), broad cascade empties into a gorge scattered with boulders and there are opportunities for rafting, canoeing or just bobbing about in the water. Ridgeline is open with some restrictions. Take a look at photos of more strange weather phenomenon here.
Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key, Florida
Sites fill fast at this idyllic state park in the Florida Keys, and some campgrounds have been closed (the website has up-to-date information). With ghostly pale beaches, spindly palm trees and an endless expanse of blue, it’s paradise. Those who don’t nab an overnight spot should still plan to spend a few hours here, if day access is open. There are usually plenty of places to park right by the sand and enjoy views of old Bahia Honda State Bridge, a remnant of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad.
Ozark Campground, Buffalo National River, Arkansas
It takes a three-mile (5km) bumpy gravel road to reach Ozark Campground, but those who make the effort won’t regret it. The 31 sites are right by the edge of Arkansas’ Buffalo National River which winds, crashes and pools for 135 miles (217km) through the Ozark Mountains. The campground is fairly basic, but there are toilets, picnic tables and fire rings. The location more than makes up for it, though, with direct water access plus caverns and a pale turquoise swimming hole just a few strokes away.
East Rim, Cloudland Canyon State Park, Georgia
Georgia’s Cloudland Canyon State Park has several campgrounds, but road-trippers looking for wide open spaces and proximity to vistas of the forest-clad canyon should motor on to the East Rim. Facilities are on the basic side, with just one shower block, but that hardly matters. The campground is also close to trails winding deep into the canyon, passing waterfalls and caves. Access to the park may be temporarily limited on some days – check the website for alerts.
Mammoth Campground, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
From the bubbling, turquoise-rimmed Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful geyser to lakes, forests and plateaus roamed by black bears, bison and wolves, there’s enough to see and do in Yellowstone for several road trips. Mammoth Campground is the only site that’s typically open year-round: its 85 spots (tent and RV) are a few miles from the North Entrance and surrounded by sage and juniper bushes and lofty Douglas fir trees.
Shawme-Crowell State Forest, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Sites are spread over 700 acres of pine and oak forest at this serene preserve on Cape Cod, the ruggedly beautiful peninsula that curls like a flexed arm off the coast of Massachusetts. Even though it tends to be popular, it’s usually pretty easy to find a pocket of peace and quiet. There are around 15 miles (24km) of hiking and horseback riding trails leading through forest to sandy shores, and campers typically get free access to nearby Scusset Beach. Now read on to discover America’s best fall destinations to avoid the leaf peepers.
Jekyll Island, Glynn County, Georgia
Take the Southern charm of Savannah, strip away the crowds and transport it to the seashore, and the result will be something close to Jekyll Island, one of Georgia’s Golden Isles. The campground has RV-friendly spots between elegant oaks, whose branches trail velvety strands of Spanish moss. It links up to woodland trails and is just a short stroll from soft honey beaches strewn with driftwood.
Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
It’s only a two-hour drive from Chicago to Starved Rock State Park but it instantly feels like a different world – sandstone canyons, bald eagles soaring over the Illinois River and waterfalls that freeze mid-flow in winter. There’s just one campground and it fills fast on summer weekends, but during fall it’s typically easier to get a spot. Love this? These are America’s most unspoiled places.
K’esugi Ken Campground, Denali State Park, Alaska
It can be difficult to drift off to sleep at this perfectly positioned site within Alaska’s Denali State Park. Not because it’s noisy or crowded – the 32 RV sites are spaced well apart and, most evenings, the only sounds will be rustling leaves and birdsong. But it’s just so hard not to keep peeking at the peak. Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America, is impeccably framed by spruce firs and pines – and simply gorgeous in every light.
Circle Creek Overlook, City of Rocks, Idaho
Idaho’s City of Rocks is like no other city we’ve seen. There are no skyscrapers or busy streets. Instead, the landscape is strewn with granite monoliths and pinyon pines, the air is fragrant with sagebrush and most of the residents have wings. This is a bird-watcher’s paradise with more than 170 species from burrowing owls to mountain bluebirds. The overlook is reached via a narrow, twisty road, with soul-soaring views across the national reserve waiting at the top. There are two campgrounds within the park.
Smoky Mountain Campground, Castle Rocks State Park, Idaho
This campground in Castle Rocks State Park is just outside the entrance to City of Rocks and is ideal for those who want to stay longer than a few hours. There are 31 RV sites with electric hook-ups, water, picnic tables and a dump station, but those are mere details. It’s the setting, with spots surrounded by pine-studded meadows and backed by those ethereal mountains, that makes this a truly epic place to park up for the night. Check out jaw-dropping photos of America from above here.
Arch Rock, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Nevada’s Valley of Fire wasn’t named lightly. This is 40,000 acres of blazing, swirling red and orange sandstone, with peaks, arches, stacks and slot canyons popping against a backdrop of pale gray limestone mountains. Arch Rock Campground, named for one of the park’s most famous structures, is right at the heart of it. Overnight campers can start the day watching the first rays of sun illuminate the rock and end it under a carpet of stars. Now read 99 things we love about America.
Otter Creek, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a top-notch driving destination, with stretches and curves of tree-lined roads, and one incredible scenic overlook after another. Otter Creek, looped by waterside and forest trails, is one of the best places to stay overnight here. There are two dozen RV sites scattered among the trees or right by the creek, so campers are soothed to sleep each night by the trickle of water and the gentle rustle of leaves. It’s currently closed due to COVID-19 but keep an eye on the park’s website for reopening updates.
Isla Blanca Park, South Padre Island, Texas
Water is pretty much always in view on South Padre Island, a barrier island off the southern coast of Texas and lapped by the Gulf of Mexico. And it can’t be possible to get much closer to it than at Isla Blanca Park. It’s on the southern tip of the island with views of water either side. Those staying here can enjoy walks on the beach, swaying palm trees and vivid sunsets. Reservations for this park have been temporarily suspended – check the Cameron County website for changes and updates.
Apostle Islands Area Campground, Lake Superior, Wisconsin
The most coveted sites at this laid-back RV resort gaze across the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a wild scattering of islets, coves and tree-topped cliffs on the edge of Lake Superior in Wisconsin. Others are in wooded clearings, so tucked away they could be in the middle of nowhere. Cruises and kayak tours around the islands and sea caves depart from a beach just a mile away, and are currently operating subject to change.
Bayshore, Chesapeake Bay, Maryland
Overnight parking spots nose right up to the shore’s edge in this serene campground in Chesapeake Bay. The water itself is boldly, brilliantly blue by day and shimmers in rose and lilac tones at dusk, making it ideal for a few days’ break from driving. Guests can spend days fishing from the shore, spotting colorful beach glass on the sand or scouring the sky for bald eagles.
Before you hit the road, check out our essential road trip tips for 2020
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