Sites to behold
Camping has stepped up a gear in recent years. While there have always been incredible spots to pitch a tent around the US, those beautiful yet basic campgrounds have been joined by yurts, cabins and safari tents that have more in common with luxury hotel rooms than canvas triangles. We’ve rounded up the most unique place to camp in every US state, whether that means a patch of dirt amid amazing scenery or the treehouse of dreams. Check each place for any changes to availability due to coronavirus.
Alabama: Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores
The pristine white beaches of Gulf Shores and neighboring Orange Beach are something of an open secret – those who discover them tend to return again and again. The long sandy stretch is lined with hotels but one of the best ways to experience the area’s natural beauty is to camp in Gulf State Park, with nearly 500 spaces for tents and RVs close to the beach and birdlife-rich Shelby Lake. There are also cabins and glamping sites. The campground is open but check the website for updates.
Alaska: Borealis Basecamp, Fairbanks
The igloos at Borealis Basecamp are cozy, cute and quirky enough to warrant a trip here even if they lay under normal skies. But the skies here aren’t normal. This is one of the best places to view the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights. The domed accommodation is equipped with kitchenettes, baths and gorgeous big beds, and lilac, green and pink swirling skies can be viewed through the clear, curved roofs. Discover more unexpected places to see the Northern Lights.
Arizona: Under Canvas Grand Canyon
Where better to rough it than in the midst of one of America’s most famous and fabulous national parks? Sleeping on the red earth with views of the Grand Canyon would be perfectly acceptable, in our opinion. But there’s no need to go so basic as glamping specialists Under Canvas offer a posh way to sleep (nearly) under the stars. The site is close to the park’s South Rim entrance, with luxury tents surrounded by fragrant pine and juniper forest.
Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park
This national park is, unusually, located in a city: Hot Springs, tucked amid the Ouachita Mountains. So staying at Gulpha Gorge Campground means you’re both in the heart of a national park, famous for its thermal waters, and within easy distance of amenities. Generous creekside pitches have picnic tables, fire rings and access to mountain, forest and river trails. Bathhouse Row, famous for its elegant 20th-century buildings, is home to a museum and thermal spas including Buckstaff Baths.
California: Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur
The line between glampsites and hotels can be blurry at times, but the seven treehouses at Post Ranch Inn are too unusual to be shoehorned into the latter category. This must be one of the most incredible ways to experience one of the most incredible stretches of coastline in the country, Big Sur. The plushly kitted-out wooden treehouses perch on stilts atop the cliffs, surrounded by lofty redwoods and pointing towards the Pacific. Skylights above the beds allow lazy stargazing.
Colorado: Echo Canyon Royal Gorge Cabins, Cañon City
The glamping options at this delightful spot in Colorado’s Echo Canyon are effectively luxury hotel rooms with canvas walls and instant access to the great, gorgeous outdoors. Each is filled with luxury textiles, huge, comfy beds and quirky decor like faux antler chandeliers. Decks have chairs and campfires, while well-maintained shower houses are just a short walk away and stocked with toiletries.
Connecticut: Lone Oak Campsites, East Canaan
This relaxed, family-favorite campsite is the type of place where it’s possible to have complete privacy or join in the fun. Sites are spread across 250 acres of woodland and each has a firepit and plenty of space for sitting under the sun or stars. There’s a pool, playgrounds, ball courts and access to hiking trails, and there are usually fun events and themed weekends. It’s currently open but check for updates and the latest schedule.
Delaware: Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes
The location is the main draw here. Cape Henlopen State Park, a coastal preserve on a former military base, has spits of sandy beaches where you can fish, swim or just sunbathe. There are picnic areas, a disc-golf course and a Second World War observation tower, from where you can admire the lovely landscape in all its glory. The campsites themselves are tucked among pine-clad dunes and close to hiking trails that skim the edge of the Atlantic.
Florida: Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key
This state park is close Key West in the Florida Keys but it feels like a different planet. The pale sandy beach is one of the biggest draws, along with the vast expanse of blue that stretches out from its edges. Check the website for updates as camping may currently be limited. Those who do manage to nab a spot, though, get to sleep amid some of Florida’s best scenery, from the forested trails to the old Bahia Honda State Bridge, a remnant of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad.
Georgia: Jekyll Island
Campers at this scenic site on Jekyll Island, one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, are just a short stroll away from driftwood-strewn beaches and Clam Creek’s marshland and picnic areas. The campground and most of its facilities are currently open (but check the dedicated COVID-19 page for updates). Pitches are tucked among elegant oak trees, whose branches wear Spanish moss like velvet capes, and there are decent bathhouses with hot showers and washrooms.
Hawaii: Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park, Kauai
Kauai’s nickname is the Garden Isle for good reason: the parts of it that aren’t covered with lush rainforest are occupied by pinnacles, mountain ridges and canyons. The Nāpali Coast stands out even among this legendary beauty. It’s known for its pali, or cliffs, that loom over creamy beaches, and waterfalls that empty into narrow valleys right by the ocean. Campsites are basic (there are bathrooms and not much else) though the surroundings are anything but. You need a permit and non-residents currently need to provide proof of quarantine completion.
Idaho: Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve
America’s first designated International Dark Sky Reserve is, perhaps unexpectedly, in central Idaho. Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve covers 1,400 square miles (3,626sq km) around the Sawtooth Mountains from Stanley to Sun Valley, and the dense wilderness means the night sky is brightened by a sparkling blanket of stars. It’s also one of the best places in the US to see the Milky Way. The area has plenty of camping options, many around the Redfish Lake area.
Illinois: Starved Rock State Park
There’s just one campground at Starved Rock State Park, around 100 miles (161km) southwest of Chicago. It’s worth making an effort to nab one of the 129 spots, though, because this underrated park is a revelation. Hiking trails weave through a landscape of sandstone canyons, leading to tucked-away waterfalls or tracing the banks of the Illinois River, home to bald eagles. It’s lovely in summer but it’s even more spectacular in winter, when waterfalls freeze and the pale rock is dusted with snow.
Indiana: Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort, Santa Claus
There’s always a festive atmosphere at this campground. Perhaps it’s because of the name but also because it’s right next door to the Holiday World Theme Park and Splashin’ Safari Water Park. Both the campground and the theme park are open with social distancing measures in place and they perfectly complement each other for a fun break. There are options for tent or RV camping, or renting a cabin or luxury RV on the site.
Iowa: Luna Valley Farm, Decorah
It doesn’t take long to feel at home at this bucolic organic farm, which is roamed by sheep and cows and specializes in homemade pizza. It’s especially easy to settle in the off-grid glamping ‘tents’, built on platforms in an oak savannah valley, with king beds, luxurious textiles and private patios with firepits. The bathhouse, with a fancy shower that would be at home in a lavish hotel, is a few minutes’ walk away. The only hard thing, really, is leaving.
Kansas: Eisenhower State Park
Visitors can select their level of luxury when staying overnight at this state park. There are primitive backcountry campsites, ‘ride-in’ campsites for those arriving on horseback, several cabins and two yurts. The latter are fairly basic but have the most important stuff: beds, electricity, nearby showers and patios with BBQ grills. Plus, best of all, access to the beautiful Malvern Lake and tall grass prairie land roamed by white-tail deer and wild quail. These are America’s most beautiful lakes.
Kentucky: Cumberland Falls State Park
The best time to visit this unusual (and underrated) state park is under a full moon, when a moonbow or lunar rainbow often arches across the cascade of Cumberland Falls. It’s lovely to see on any night, though, and staying at Ridgeline Campground means extra time to explore the park’s other attractions, including fishing, rafting or canoeing on the Cumberland River and birdwatching on thickly wooded trails. Some sites have electricity and water, while there are hot showers and bathrooms available.
Louisiana: Grand Isle
This marshy, oak-dotted barrier island is something of a local secret: a favorite getaway for those who know there really are beaches in Louisiana. Grand Isle, a town and state park which juts into the Gulf of Mexico, is a popular spot for fishing, birdwatching or just breathing in the fragrant, salt-tinged air. There are several camping options but some of the best are right by the beach, giving easy – and early – access to hiking trails and gorgeous sunrises.
Maine: Beaver Dam Campground, Berwick
It’s the setting that makes a stay at this southern Maine campsite so special. There really isn’t a bad pitch in the campground. Many of the generous spaces – which have picnic tables and electric hook-ups, and are suitable for tents or RVs – are tucked between the trees in the woodland (particularly lovely in fall when the leaves turn gold and maroon). Others are dotted around the huge pond, so campers can wake up to views of the pine-trimmed water before exploring on foot or in a canoe.
Maryland: Assateague Island
Bright white sandy beaches and pastel blue water are enough to recommend a stay on this barrier island, which stretches into Virginia. But it’s the residents that make it so unusual and charming. The shrubby sand dunes and Atlantic Ocean beaches are home to around 150 wild ponies. Camping spots are on the Maryland side, with incredible ocean or bay views. There’s no electricity and sites are relatively basic, but this is wild seclusion at its best.
Massachusetts: North of Highland Camping Area, Truro
The curled, bicep-like peninsula of Cape Cod is all about outdoor adventure, especially during the usually relentlessly sunny days of summer. This seasonal, family-run campground in Truro, surrounded by Cape Cod National Seashore, is one of the best places to enjoy the rugged beauty and proximity to the ocean. Sites are dotted around 60 areas of pine forest and by the beach, with so much space each one feels like a private slice of paradise. There are hot showers, bathrooms and a recreation hall.
Michigan: Isle Royale National Park
Lake Superior’s largest island stretches for 45 miles (72.4km) and every inch of it feels gloriously wild and secluded. Campers need a permit for basic backcountry spots, accessible only by foot or non-motorized boat – and it’s effectively a passport to a solo slice of paradise. Many spots have lake views, while all are surrounded by trails that follow the shoreline and dart down forest-lined paths. Most campgrounds reopened at the end of June but transport is limited due to COVID-19. Check the website for updates.
Minnesota: Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness
The journey is the adventure in this watery wilderness in Superior National Forest. There’s a mind-boggling 1,000 lakes, rivers and streams to canoe or kayak through and visitors can stay overnight in any of the 2,000-odd camping spots. There are scant facilities but that’s a small payoff for this level of heavenly seclusion. The water is the draw but there are hiking trails ashore too, for a break from paddling. Campsites are open but visitors need a permit to enter the area and camp.
Mississippi: Horn Island, Gulf Islands National Seashore
It might be a surprise that a state better known for blues, BBQ and its portion of the broad, brown river it’s named for has 62 miles (100km) of coastline. A coastline edged with sand like caster sugar, at that. It’s even less known that the so-called Secret Coast has some great camping options. There are lots of well-developed grounds with hook-ups but, if sea, seclusion and shell-scattered beaches are your thing, this boat-in wilderness site is the way to go. Many of the park’s campgrounds are currently closed but check for updates.
Missouri: Glamping St. Louis, St. Charles
The posh safari tents at this glampsite in St. Charles, close to St. Louis, appear to ‘float’ on the water. Each is built on a private dock at River Island Marina, a channel leading to the Mississippi, and is decked out with a comfy king-size bed, sofa bed and all the mod-cons, with a designated bathroom in a nearby lodge. The best bit is the deck, with fire ring, seating and plenty of space to watch the world – or more likely a heron or the odd rowing boat – go by.
Montana: Fish Creek, Glacier National Park
There’s a lot of competition to nab a camping spot in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Fish Creek (currently open for reservations only) is one of the largest and loveliest grounds, with spacious sites tucked among the pines. It’s fairly basic but there are toilets and drinking water – and campers can take a dip in Lake McDonald, which the most coveted pitches gaze directly at. Hiking trails meander from the campground, following forest and lakeside trails with views of the park’s perfect peaks.
Nebraska: Slattery Vintage Estates, Nehawka
Safari tents come with vineyard views at Slattery Vintage Estates, with generous decks for drinking in the views (perhaps while drinking a glass of Nebraska wine). The interiors are equally romantic. Each tent is filled with antiques and kitted out with enormous beds, dressers and electricity. The tasting room sells regional wines and beers to complete the (not really) camping experience.
Nevada: Valley of Fire State Park
Nevada’s Valley of Fire blazes with red Aztec sandstone arches, canyons and curves that pop vividly against the pale gray of the limestone mountains that surround them. The park covers 40,000 awesome acres and has two campgrounds with toilets and showers. Some spots have electric hook-ups while others are more basic, with just tables and grills. All, however, offer the chance to see the landscape cloaked with stars before the first rays of sun make the colors even more intense. This is the most beautiful state park in every state.
New Hampshire: Danforth Bay Camping and RV Resort, Freedom
It would be pretty tough to find a better place to pitch up, no matter what the season. Danforth Bay Camping and RV Resort sits prettily between the White Mountains – a lesser-known ski resort with year-round trails – to the north and the Lakes Region to the south. Tent and RV spots are tucked between the trees or on the lakeshore, while cute-as-a-button cabins offer a glamping option. The ground is currently open to New England residents and others who have quarantined for 14 days. Check the website for updates.
New Jersey: High Point State Park
The views from High Point Monument, which perches 1,803 feet (550m) above sea level, stretches spectacularly across three states. High Point State Park is part of the Appalachian Trail and the panorama takes in forested ridges, valleys and the bold blue of the Delaware River. Campers can nab one of 50-odd spots for incredible sunsets, hiking trails and seasonal swimming in the cool water of Lake Murcia, where there’s also a bathhouse.
New Mexico: White Sands National Monument
There are no glampsites or even campsites in this ethereal portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, where dunes as pale as snow roll over 176,000 acres. The only option is to hike across the bright-white sand and camp among the dunes. It’s usually all about backcountry camping here so there are no facilities, but one of the country’s most unusual landscapes – and star-spangled night skies – make up for it. Permits have been unavailable due to coronavirus restrictions so check for updates.
New York: Eastwind, Windham
This Catskills hotel describes sleeping in its Scandi-chic Lushna cabins as “almost camping”, though really the only thing they have in common with ordinary tents is their instant access to the great outdoors. The wooden triangles have queen beds, luxury linens and bathrooms that would look at home in a fancy hotel. They’re cozy enough to enjoy year-round, whether the landscape is vibrant green or dusted with snow. And there’s always the sauna hut if it’s chilly.
North Carolina: Carolina Beach State Park
Sleeping close to carnivorous plants may or may not be considered a plus. We reckon it’s pretty cool that Venus flytraps grow wild in the bogs around Carolina Beach State Park, close to Wilmington. They can be seen from boardwalks that lead through the forest and along pale sandy beaches, and usually there are guided hikes (although these have been suspended due to COVID-19). Only a few campsites have hook-ups but there are bathrooms, hot showers and drinking water, and each spot has a picnic table and fire ring.
North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Camping under canvas in this national park means being right in the heart of the North Dakota Badlands, surrounded by painted mountains, star-filled skies and a rugged landscape roamed by bison, elk and prairie dogs. It’s also home to the Maltese Cross Cabin where Roosevelt lived before becoming president. Sleeping there has never been an option, unfortunately, but backcountry camping is usually allowed with a permit. Check for updates on designated campgrounds.
Ohio: Hocking Hills State Park, Logan
This park in southeastern Ohio is something of a revelation. There’s beauty around pretty much every corner, from Old Man’s Cave – reached via winding hiking trails – to Upper Falls waterfall, which pours into a turquoise pool. The sprawling campground has a mix of primitive sites and spots with electric hook-ups. The latter can be booked even in winter, when the waterfalls freeze and caves are framed with icicles. There are cabins too, for those looking for a cozier stay.
Oklahoma: Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Sulphur
In the foothills of the Arbuckle Mountains, this lesser-known area pretty much ticks all the boxes for a soul-soothing outdoor getaway. Trails wind through thick forest before opening up to bluffs with views of fields grazed by resident buffalo. Better still, there’s water everywhere, with boating and fishing in Lake of the Arbuckles and swimming in spring-fed pools formed in travertine terraces. Most campgrounds, some of which have showers, bathrooms and electric hook-ups, are open – check for updates.
Oregon: Alvord Desert
It’s always free to camp in this unique ‘desert’, which is actually a former lakebed. The water evaporated over time to reveal ghostly pale, cracked beds. Campers can pitch or park up on the shrubby edges for the most extensive views, and spend days wandering past hissing mud pots and boiling blue pools, or simply soaking in the gloriously vast and empty surroundings. Take a look at the most stunning places to relax in your RV this summer.
Pennsylvania: Moraine State Park
Boldly, brilliantly blue Lake Arthur is the star of this state park, which is half an hour from Pittsburgh but feels worlds away. Eagles and peregrine falcons soar the skies as people mess about in boats, follow forest trails or swim from lakeshore beaches. Only group camping is allowed, though there are cabins for rent in the park and campgrounds close enough to fully enjoy the gorgeous surroundings. Lake Arthur Family Campground, right on the edge of the park, is one of the best.
Rhode Island: Melville Ponds Campground, Portsmouth
This serene campground is on Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay, so sites are never far from the water. Trails edge along ocean bluffs and lead to beaches including Sandy Point, a crescent of Champagne-hued sand. Pitch up or pull an RV into a spot among trees or by Melville Ponds. There are extensive facilities on site but choose a tucked-away spot and it feels gloriously peaceful too.
South Carolina: Devils Fork State Park
Enormous reservoir Lake Jocassee is the shimmering, sapphire jewel in the crown of Devils Fork State Park, and you can camp right by its shores. The gin-clear water flows into the lake from mountain springs and waterfalls within the park, many with their own, chilly yet charming swimming spots. Reserve a spot at one of the two campgrounds, which have showers and bathrooms, and wake to views of the water and its backdrop of steep, slate-gray gorges and mountains.
South Dakota: Black Elk Wilderness, Black Hills National Forest
Those camping among the 1.2 million acres of designated wilderness may find themselves with company beyond fellow campers. In fact, meeting a bearded mountain goat is far more likely than bumping into another human being in this vast expanse of pure, unadulterated outdoors. Hundreds of miles of trails link up pine forests, mountains, canyons, lakes and grasslands. There are no designated campgrounds (though the forest has several), so this is the place for primitive camping in forest clearings.
Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Sprawling across the border into North Carolina, this national park is famous for lush landscapes of forest-capped mountains, slopes and meadows blooming with wildflowers, and hiking trails following creeks and rivers and leading to waterfalls. In short, there’s quite a lot to see – and camping is undoubtedly the best way to soak it all up. Some campgrounds are closed but those open currently include Elkmont, whose sites are scattered around the forest and close to fishing and swimming spots.
Texas: Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose
Surely few other camping spots can boast dinosaur footprints among their local attractions. Visitors can even place their feet where the dinosaurs once roamed (or trampled) on the bed of the Paluxy River, or at least peer at their preserved footprints. Aside from dino-tracking, this is a lovely spot for watching birds from wild turkeys and golden-cheeked warblers, or just hanging out at camp, with sites that range from primitive to premium. Discover America’s stunning natural wonders here.
Utah: Under Canvas Zion, Zion National Park
Proof that camping can often be more luxurious than hotels, this site – well, glampsite, really – on the western edge of Zion National Park is the kind of place that makes guests want to do a little dance when they enter. Inside each tent is beautifully-crafted furniture, wooden floorboards, toilets and hot showers. But it’s outside that really stuns: the canvas parts for viewing incredible sunsets or just staring out across at the red cliffs and mesas. Read our full guide to southern Utah here.
Vermont: Grand Isle State Park
You’d expect the Green Mountain State to have plenty of lovely camping options but somehow this dreamy park manages to exceed such high expectations. Its campground has spacious sites suitable for RVs or tent camping, while there are also a few dozen ‘lean-to’ shelters – three-sided structures that face enormous Lake Champlain, the gloriously blue highlight of the park. The campground is open (with quarantine restrictions for visitors from some destinations). Find out the best place to stay in your RV in every state.
Virginia: Shenandoah National Park
It’s hard to know where to look in Shenandoah National Park. Every inch reveals a vista that’s somehow more inspiring than the next. Forest carpets the valley in every imaginable shade of green, with granite peaks peeking through the trees. Hidden from sight (but accessible via hiking routes) are waterfalls, gorges and wildlife including black bears. It’s part of the Blue Ridge Mountains and includes a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Camp at any of five grounds or pitch in a backcountry spot.
Washington: Hoh Campground, Olympic National Park
It’s tricky to go wrong when picking a camping spot in Olympic National Park. There are grounds close to hot springs and next to lakes, high-perched pitches with mountain views and clear night skies, and secluded backcountry spots that can only be accessed on foot. Even among all this beauty, though, little compares to sleeping under the velvety, mossy tendrils that hang from the centuries-old trees at Hoh Campground, in the midst of rainforest.
West Virginia: Briar Point Campground at Stonewall Resort, Roanoke
It’s the idyllic lakeside location that sets this campground apart from the rest. Briar Point is part of Stonewall Resort, which has a golf course, spa and an indoor/outdoor pool. Campers can also rent kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards to explore Jackson Lake. For those lucky enough to have their own boat, moor up right by the camp to potter about on the water at leisure.
Wisconsin: Harrington Beach State Park
It’s hard to stop staring at the water in this state park. For a start, it seems to be everywhere, from Lake Michigan – so vast it could be the ocean – to man-made Quarry Lake, a former stone quarry whose glassy surface reflects the tree-lined shores. There’s also Puckett’s Pond, a popular fishing spot for tour and smallmouth bass. Some camping sites have electric hook-ups and all have fire rings and picnic tables.
Wyoming: Madison Campground, Yellowstone National Park
A handful of campgrounds in Yellowstone are open (check for updates) and Madison is among the best due to its central location – an important factor when surrounded by so much awe-inspiring nature. The basic, tent-only spots are close to Madison River and wildflower meadows grazed by bison, while park attractions including Old Faithful geyser and the boiling turquoise waters of Grand Prismatic Spring are reachable via car or a long hike. Take a look at amazing images of the world’s most colorful natural wonders.
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