“Camping” is defined differently depending on your travel style. The good news is you can always find an experience to fit your sense of adventure, whether you’re headed out on a front country camping trip (parking beside your campground), backcountry expedition (hiking some distance to a more remote spot), or a rustic lodge where you can tuck into a proper bed instead of a tent and sleeping bag. The United States National Park service offers some of the most spectacular camping locations. Of the country’s 59 total parks, here’s a rundown of the best national park camping destinations.
For Coastal Lovers: Acadia National Park
The coastal landscape of Acadia National Park in Maine — right next to the quaint town of Bar Harbor — provides a unique place to camp that’s unlike any other. The 47,000-acre park is a stunning blend of craggy granite peaks, glass-still lakes, and rocky Atlantic beaches, all surrounding Cadillac Mountain. There are three main campgrounds in Acadia. Blackwoods Campground is open year-round, weather-permitting; Seawall Campground is open from late May through most of September; and Schoodic Woods Campground from the end of May through Columbus Day. In high season, reservations are strongly recommended at all three as last-minute spots are virtually impossible to secure.
For Alpine Lake Lovers: Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado is no doubt one of the most beautiful and dramatic places in the country. Rocky Mountain National Park (about two hours outside of Denver) is like a microcosm of the state’s entire landscape. Within the borders of the 415-square-mile park, visitors will find 300 miles of hiking trails, 450 miles of streams, and 150 subalpine and alpine lakes. To be sure, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities for nature lovers. The park is home to five campgrounds. Reservations are highly recommended at every one, particularly in high season (July and August) when they often fill by early afternoon. June and September are slightly less crowded, particularly during the week. For die-hard campers and those looking to dodge the crowds entirely, Moraine Park Campground is open during the winter (in a limited capacity)
For Desert Lovers: Zion National Park
The high plateau meets the desert at Utah’s Zion National Park, a unique blend of deep slot canyons, picturesque rivers, craggy sandstone cliffs, and slickrock peaks. Even amid its more than 4 million annual visitors, however, it’s easy to find a place all to yourself if you know where to look. There are three campgrounds within the park: South, Watchman, and Lava Point. Reservations are strongly recommended at all three, particularly between March and November when all spots are typically full.
For Wildlife Lovers: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
With an immense biodiversity of flora and fauna, it’s no surprise more people visit Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park (about three hours from Nasvhille and two hours from Chattanooga) every year than any other in the United States — 11 million, to be exact. If you want the convenience of running water and flush toilets, the park maintains developed campgrounds at 10 locations: Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Look Rock, and Smokemont. For those looking to rough it in the backcountry, a permit and reservations are required.
For Dramatic Landscape Lovers: Grand Canyon National Park
For pure scenic grandeur, it doesn’t get any bigger (literally) than the iconic Grand Canyon National Park. There are three campgrounds here operated by the National Parks Service. Two of them offer advanced reservations: Mather Campground on the South Rim and the North Rim Campground. The south rim is easier to get to and as a result, more popular. The north rim offers a more secluded experience, which is a big reason why we ranked it among the top off-grid U.S. destinations. The third campground, the Desert View Campground, is offered on a first come, first served basis only.
For Waterfall and Tranquility Lovers: Yosemite National Park
Tranquility is easy to find at almost every U.S. National Nark, but Yosemite National Park has it like no other. For campers, planning ahead is the name of the game. There are 13 campgrounds here, but they fill up fast. Seven are on a reservation system and the others on a first come, first served basis. Of course, you can “camp” in luxury here, too, by booking a night at The Ahwahnee or the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and Wawona.
If you’d rather rough it, here are the most remote National Parks in the U.S.
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