After a day spent wandering wooded paths, admiring breathtaking views, and dipping your toes into a crystal clear creek, you huddle around a campfire to look up at the glowing stars, crack a beer, and enjoy a some peace and quiet. Then you zip up into your tent for a few (mosquito-free) hours and wake to the faint hint of early morning sunlight and the sweet sound of birds chirping in the distance. This is what camping is all about.
In honor of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday, we rounded up the best places to camp in the country. You’ll learn the coolest features of each natural wonderland, how much it costs, and the best time of year to visit. So what are you waiting for? Find your park, then grab your tent, bear-proof cooler, and a few friends for a great escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
1. Acadia National Park, Maine
Why It’s Cool: Maine is known as the Pine Tree State for a reason: It’s covered in 17 million acres of forest. Plus it has 6,000 lakes and ponds and 32,000 miles of rivers and streams basically a camper’s paradise. Located on Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park is the ideal destination for nature lovers of all skill levels. Looking for a unique experience? Hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain (the highest point along the East Coast) during dawn and be the first person in the U.S. to see the sun rise that morning.
Where to Camp: The park has three campgrounds: Blackwoods (closer to the island’s town center, Bar Harbor), Seawall (a more rustic, less touristy environment), and Schoodic Woods (surrounded by water on the Schoodic Peninsula). While visitors can enjoy hiking throughout the entire park, camping is allowed only in these designated areas (backcountry enthusiasts, take note).
When It’s Open: Blackwoods campground is open year-round (permit required December to March). Seawall is open from late May through September. Schoodic is open from late May until Columbus Day.
Cost: Blackwoods costs $30 per site per night from May to October, $15 in April and November, and is free December to March. Seawall and Schoodic will set you back $22 for a walk-in site, plus $8 to $18 for drive-up tent, camper, and motor home sites. For more information, visit the park’s website.
2. White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for a more rustic experience in the Northeast, the White Mountains are your best bet. The hiking’s pretty rugged in this section of the Appalachians but totally worth it if you’re up for the challenge. The sights here are particularly stunning in the fall when the foliage turns shades of red, orange, and yellow.
Where to Camp: While the forest does have 24 drive-in campgrounds (with a combined 800 campsites wowza!), the eight walk-in state park campgrounds in the northern part of the state are where it’s at. Developed campsites require reservations. Backcountry tent camping is also allowed (except in noted no-camping areas). And there are log lean-tos scattered throughout the forest (a small fee may apply).When It’s Open: Forest accessible year-round. Visitor center hours vary.
Cost: Daily passes to the park are available for $3; seven-day passes for $5. Campsites vary from $18 to $24 per night, while backcountry tent camping is free. Parking at a trailhead may require a permit; check signage at your chosen lot. For more information, visit the park’s website.
3. Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont
Why It’s Cool: Vermont’s Long Trail is one of the Green Mountain National Forest’s biggest draws, so try finding a camping spot close by to hike a portion of it during your stay. Aside from being stunning, the 270-plus miler is the oldest long-distance trail in the U.S.! It follows the ridge of the Green Mountains through Vermont from the Massachusetts border to Canada.
Where to Camp: The forest offers five developed campgrounds. There are no electrical hookups or dump stations, so arrive prepared. Campground accessibility varies by season, and some require a reservation. Dispersed or backcountry camping is allowed anywhere in the park unless specifically posted.
When It’s Open: Year-round. Visitor center and campground accessibility vary by season, but at least one campground is always open.
Cost: This is the best part. There are no entrance fees, and most campsites are free too. The Green Mountain Club maintains about 70 campsites along the Long Trail, all with a water source and privy (which require a small fee in summer and fall). For more information, visit the park’s website.
4. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Why It’s Cool: D.C.-area readers, get packing: A stunning getaway is just 75 miles away. The park contains more than 500 miles of trails, some leading to magnificent viewpoints or waterfalls, and others through miles of quiet, peaceful wilderness. The eight-mile hike to Old Rag Mountain is the toughest route in the park (and also one of the most popular) but rewards hikers with spectacular views from its peak.
Where to Camp: The park’s four campgrounds are open in spring, summer, and fall. Reservations at any site are recommended, but some first-come-first-serve spots may be available. Backcountry camping requires a free permit.
When It’s Open: Year-round. Portions of road are closed during bad weather and at night during deer-hunting season (mid-November through early January). Visitor services are typically open only March to November.
Cost: Entrance fee is $20 per vehicle and valid for seven days. For more information, visit the park’s website.
5. Minnewaska State Park Preserve, New York
Why It’s Cool: Located just 94 miles north of New York City, the Minnewaska State Park Preserve is the perfect escape for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. The park sits on the dramatic Shawangunk Ridge, which rises more than 2,000 feet above sea level and is surrounded by rugged, rocky terrain. Featuring 35 miles of carriage roads and 50 miles of footpaths on which to bike, walk, hike, or simply enjoy, it’s home to natural rock formations, several waterfalls, three crystal clear lakes, densely wooded forests, sheer cliffs, and ledges opening onto breathtakingly beautiful views. Seriously, every inch of this place is ‘grammable. Plus you can try horseback riding or technical rock climbing (if you’re experienced). The activities are endless.
Where to Camp: Check out Samuel F. Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway for a minimalist (though high-quality) camping experience. The tent-only campground includes a pavilion and cooking area, bathhouse, restroom facilities, and trails. There are 24 drive-in spots (one vehicle per site) and 26 walk-in spots. All sites accommodate up to two tents (and four people) per pad, so reservations are a good idea.
When It’s Open: Camping is open mid-May through mid-November, weather permitting.
Cost: Nonmembers pay $38; Mohonk Preserve members pay $24. For more information, visit the park’s website.
6. Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Pennsylvania
Why It’s Cool: Located in south-central Pennsylvania, the scenic park sits at the northern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains in an area known as South Mountain (confusing, we know). The Appalachian Trail, perhaps the most famous foot trail in the world, runs through the forest, which is home to the trail’s halfway point. While only 2,000 people attempt to hike the entire 2,186-mile trail each year (about a quarter actually finish), between 2 and 3 million people hike or walk a portion of it. Whether you cover two miles or 20, it’s still cool to say you’ve done it! Have some time after the hike? Check out the Appalachian Trail Museum, located near the midpoint of the AT.
Where to Camp: The forest has a mix of 70 tent and trailer sites (mostly rustic) available from late March to mid-December. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance. Backpacking and overnight hikes are not permitted. Electric and water hookups are available for a fee at specific sites.
When It’s Open: Year-round. Campgrounds are open April to December.
Cost: No entrance fee. Backpacking and river camping range from $4 to $5 per night, while basic campsites start at $15 per night. For more information, visit the park’s website.
7. Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
Why It’s Cool: If you love beaches and camping, this is the spot for you. Assateague is a barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia that’s covered in sandy beaches, salt marshes, forests, and coastal bays. There’s even a community of wild horses (how exotic!). Enjoy relaxing on the 37 miles of beach or hiking by day, and then plant your tent near the crashing waves for a night under the stars.
Where to Camp: Camping is allowed only on the Maryland side of the island, but due to impact from winter storms, some of the campsite locations have changed for 2016. Check out the latest map here. From November 16 through March 14, the sites are first come, first served. Two campsites are also open for horse camping during this time for a fee of $50 per night. From March 15 through November 15, reservations are required (they can be made up to six months in advance) and cost $30 per night. Backcountry camping is allowed ($10, seven-day permit required), but it’s only accessible by backpacking or water.When It’s Open: Year-round. Visitor center and ranger station hours vary from season to season.
Cost: Vehicle entrance fee is $20 and is valid for seven days. Campsite fee is $30 per night depending on season and location. For more information, visit the park’s website.
8. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Why It’s Cool: It’s a tough climate to trek through, but the scenery is absolutely beautiful. Tall- and short-grass prairies lie between a variety of rock formations. And be on the lookout for fossils: The Badlands have one of the most complete fossil accumulations in North America, providing a glimpse into the area’s ancient ecosystems. The park is also ideal for stargazing and even hosts an astronomy festival in early August.
Where to Camp: There are two campgrounds in the park: Cedar Pass has some amenities (running water, electricity, etc.), whereas Sage Creek is primitive (bison often wander through!) and doesn’t have water on-site. Permits are not required for backcountry camping, but you do need to register before heading out.
When It’s Open: Park and campgrounds are open year-round.
Cost: There’s a $15 per vehicle entrance fee, which is valid for seven days. Annual and national passes also available. Campsites at Cedar Pass are $13 per night per site and $30 per night per site with electrical hookups. Sage Creek campsites are free. For more information, visit the park’s website.
9. Denali National Park, Alaska
Why It’s Cool: Six million acres of open land? Check. Unbelievable wildlife? Check. Trails to please even the most experienced of hikers? Check. It doesn’t get cooler than Denali literally. The central draw to the park (especially for mountaineers) is Denali itself, known as Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest peak. Still, the park offers hikes for pros and beginners alike: Most trails start near the visitor center and are considered easy to moderate in difficulty. A few trails start deeper in the park, beyond the first three miles of the access road. Be sure to do your research before embarking on any backcountry camping trip here this park is not for the inexperienced.
Where to Camp: The park has six established campgrounds with a combined 291 sites and also allows backcountry camping with a free permit. Riley Creek is the only campground reachable by car (and requires a minimum three-night stay to reduce traffic). The other two sites are reachable only by bus. One campground is also open year-round, and no fees are charged in winter.
When It’s Open: It depends on the weather. Parts of the park are open year-round, but generally, the park opens to private vehicles starting in mid-April. Summer bus service begins May 20 and operates through two weeks after Labor Day. Fall and winter may bring some road closures, but there’s still plenty to do in the park, from skiing to dog mushing.
Cost: There’s a $10 entrance fee per person, which is valid for seven days. Annual and national passes are also available and accepted. For more information, visit the park’s website.
10. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
Why It’s Cool: Glacier Bay National Park is mostly water: The bay itself serves as the passageway to the inner section of the park, which is (awesomely enough) a glacier. After spending the night under the stars, try cruising the bay on a tour, charter, or private boat. There are no marked trails in the park, so backpacking is pretty strenuous. Rafting one of the park’s two rivers is a great alternative that allows campers to easily tow supplies, but make sure you’re with someone who knows what they’re doing. Park rangers also lead a variety of tours and talks daily during the summer.
Where to Camp: The park has only one campground in Bartlett Cove, which has outhouses, a warming shelter, and safe food storage. Permits are free but required for campgrounds and backcountry May 1 to September 30.
When It’s Open: Year-round, but accessibility and services are very limited in winter. The visitor center is open late May to early September.
Cost: No entrance or camping fees for private visitors. Reservations are required for boating, camping, rafting, and other visitor services. For more information, visit the park’s website.
11. Yosemite National Park, California
Why It’s Cool: Nearly 95 percent of this breathtaking park is designated wilderness meaning no cars, no structures, no roads, and no electricity. After a night spent under the stars, hike up to Glacier Point, which overlooks the park’s famous Yosemite Valley, Half Dome (a rock structure revered among climbers), and the High Sierra peaks. The Four-Mile Trail route takes about three to four hours each way. Looking for even more of a challenge? The Panorama Trail is about twice as long.
Where to Camp: There are 13 popular campgrounds scattered throughout the park, and reservations are strongly recommended from April to September. But seven campgrounds operate on a first-come-first-serve basis year-round. Backcountry camping is also allowed but requires a free wilderness permit (which can be reserved ahead of time).
When It’s Open: Year-round. Campgrounds vary by season.
Cost: $30 per vehicle for a seven-day pass ($25 from November to March). Campsites range from $6 to $26 per night. For more information, visit the park’s website.
12. Joshua Tree National Park, California’
Why It’s Cool: We know, camping in the desert doesn’t sound like much fun (hello, sunburn!). But the nearly 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park is so much more. The park sits at the intersection of two very different ecosystems: To the east is the low-lying Colorado Desert; to the west lies the slightly higher, cooler, wetter Mojave Desert (home to the park’s namesake, the Joshua tree). The park also has 10 mountain peaks higher than 5,000 feet in elevation, making it a popular rock-climbing destination (just be sure you know what you’re doing first). It’ll quickly leave you breathless while hiking if you live at sea level.
Where to Camp: The park is home to nine established campgrounds. Some campsites require reservations October to May. The rest of the sites are first come, first served. Backcountry camping is allowed, but campers must register in advance at a designated backcountry registration board.
When It’s Open: Year-round. Visitor center and campground status vary by season.
Cost: The entrance fee is $20 per vehicle and is valid for seven days. Annual passes are available for $30, and national passes are accepted. Camping costs $15 per site per night without water, or $20 with potable water. For more information, visit the park’s website.
13. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California
Why They’re Cool: It’s impossible not to feel small (in a good way) standing next to giant sequoias. Like the sky-piercing trees that grow only in this part of the world, Sequoia’s scale is ancient and epic, and exploring this park (as well as Kings) is likely to expand your perspective on life. Waking up surrounded by scenery that’s both massive and majestic will make you feel like you’re in a world of make believe. You’ll enjoy day hiking through the forest and setting up camp in scenic solitude.
Where to Camp: There are 14 main campgrounds in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Most campgrounds are first come, first served, but you can make reservations up to six months in advance. If you’re looking for a more secluded area, most people car-camp, so pack your gear on your back and take one of the narrow paths to a private piece of grove. Or pitch your tent along the Kings River.When It’s Open: It’s accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, but July and August are the most popular months to visit.
Cost: You’ll pay $30 if you drive or $15 for an individual pass; both are valid one to seven days. For more information, visit the park’s website.
14. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, California
Why It’s Cool: Big Sur has been inspiring writers and artists for decades, so naturally, this coastal California hotspot had to make our list. Located along scenic Highway One approximately 140 miles south of San Francisco, the popular park sits along the western slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Once you get your campsite settled, you’re just a short drive or hike away from Pfeiffer Beach, a must-see alcove. Just note: Pfeiffer Beach is not a California State Park, so there’s a separate entrance fee.
Where to Camp: Pitch your tent along the Big Sur River, which winds its way through the state park, for the best views. There are more than 175 RV and tent sites situated on or near the river, including two group tent sites and a hike/bike site, both of which are free of RVs. Since this spot is so popular, sites fill up quickly. As a result, reservations are highly recommended and can be made up to seven months in advance.
When It’s Open: Big Sur is open year-round, but peak season is March to September.
Cost: The camping fee for a standard site is $35. A premium riverfront site will run you $50, plus a $7.50 reservation fee. For more information, visit the park’s website.
15. Olympic National Park, Washington
Why It’s Cool: You’ll encounter three different ecosystems in one park. Head to the Quinault Rain Forest (one of only three in the Western Hemisphere) to see the largest Sitka spruce tree in the world. There’s a 30-mile road that loops through the rain forest, but we think hiking is a better option. End your trip at Ruby Beach, where you can see mountains, glaciers, and rain forests right from the shore or at La Push, the northernmost beach in Washington, where you can view whales off the coast during migration season.
Where to Camp: The park has 16 National Park Service-operated campgrounds with a total of 910 sites. Backcountry camping is allowed, but a permit ($5) is required and sometimes reservations are needed. If you’re not a tent enthusiast, stay in one of the rustic lodges.
When It’s Open: The park is open year-round. Camping availability varies, but there are some primitive sites open year-round as well.
Cost: Entrance fee is $20 per vehicle, which is valid for seven days. Campground fees range from $15 to $22 per night depending on season and location. A wilderness camping permit ($5 per person per night) is required for backcountry camping. For more information, visit the park’s website.
16. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Why It’s Cool: Who wouldn’t want to hang out in a sleeping volcano? Take a morning dip in Crater Lake and relish the fact that at 1,943 feet you’re swimming in the U.S.’s deepest lake. Scientists say it’s also one of the cleanest and clearest bodies of water in America.
Where to Camp: Choose between Mazama and Lost Creek. Mazama is seven miles south of Rim Village and has a few electric hookups for RVs. Lost Creek is tent camping only but has many of the same amenities. Backcountry camping is also allowed, but campers must get a permit from the Park Headquarters, visitor center, or ranger station.
When It’s Open: Mazama is open June 3 to October 9, while Lost Creek ranges early July to mid-October. Backcountry camping has a shorter time frame due to snow, but you can typically visit mid-July through September.
Cost: Mazama is $22 per night for tent sites, $31 per night for RV sites ($35 for ones with the electric hookup). Lost Creek is $10 per night. For more information, visit the park’s website.
17. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
Why It’s Cool: The focus of the park is the 10,023-foot dormant volcano, the summit of which has incredible views of the landscape and is an ideal spot for stargazing. And don’t miss the K?pahulu District with its postcard-perfect scenery. Just check the weather first.
Where to Camp: You’ve got a few choices. K?pahulu has a drive-up campground; the Summit Area offers both drive-up and wilderness camping; and the Wilderness Area allows tent camping and cabin rentals(be sure to book in advance).
When It’s Open: Year-round, though parts of the park close during severe weather.
Cost: $20 per vehicle for a three-day pass or a $25 annual fee. Campsite space is first come, first served, and you can only stay a maximum of three nights per 30-day period. For more information, visit the park’s website.
The Mountain States
18. Gunnison National Forest, Colorado
Why It’s Cool: Gunnison National Forest has 3,000 miles of trails, 1.6 million acres of public land, plenty of places to fish, and some of the best views of the Rocky Mountains. Don’t leave without checking out Black Canyon. It’s an incredibly steep, beautiful gorge that has a killer view of the Painted Wall, Colorado’s highest cliff.
Where to Camp: There 30 campsites with a variety of landscapes: open meadows, evergreen forests, mountains, and lakes. If you want to get off the grid, Gunnison also allows dispersed camping.
When It’s Open: Campgrounds vary by season and location. Dispersed camping can be done year-round.
Cost: Prices also vary per campground but typically run around $18 per day; dispersed camping is free. For more information, visit the park’s website.
19. Zion National Park, Utah
Why It’s Cool: With massive sandstone cliffs, brilliant blue skies, and a plethora of plants and animals, this almost otherworldly park is a national treasure. After spending a night in the woods, hike the Kolob Canyons in the northwest corner of the park. The five- and 14-mile trails make perfect four- or eight-hour trips. The longer trail takes you to Kolob Arch, one of the largest (and most remote) natural arches in the world. If you’re traveling in the summer and score a permit ($5), explore The Subway, a unique tunnel structure sculpted by a creek.
Where to Camp: The park has three established campgrounds, which are full every night during summer. Wilderness permits are required for all overnight backpacking trips and can be reserved up to three months in advance. Before you go, read through the Zion wilderness guide.
When It’s Open: Year-round. Some services and facilities may reduce hours or close at some point during the year.
Cost: $30 per vehicle for a recreational seven-day pass. Wilderness permits are $10 to $20 depending on the size of the group. Campsite fees range from free to $15 per person. For more information, visit the park’s website.
20. Glacier National Park, Montana
Why It’s Cool: With more than 700 miles of trails through forests, meadows, and mountains, this park is a dream come true for hikers. You may have heard of Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile stretch that winds through the mountains, but that’s only fun if you’re in a car. To experience the majestic beauty on foot, head to Logan Pass and Many Glacier. There are several trails, many of which offer spectacular views of alpine lakes.
Where to Camp: There are 13 developed campgrounds with a whopping 1,009 established sites. Most operate on a first-come-first-serve basis, except for three that require reservations. Backcountry camping is also allowed, but a permit is required and you may camp only in designated campgrounds.When It’s Open: Year-round. Visitor facilities are open late May to early September.
Cost: Summer entrance fees are $25 per car for seven days ($15 in winter). Annual and national passes are also available. Campsites vary from $10 to $23 per night during the summer season. For more information, visit the park’s website.
21. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Why It’s Cool: Located just north of Jackson Hole, Grand Teton is home to a number of impressive Rocky Mountain peaks, majestic lakes, and incredible wildlife. Nestled in the valley is the National Elk Refuge, where, depending on the time of year, you can get up close and personal to hundreds of elk and other endangered and rare animals. There are a ton of hiking trails ranging from easy to very strenuous, so get excited to choose your own adventure.
Where to Camp: Stay at one of the six campgrounds in the park (Signal Mountain earns enthusiastic reviews). All backcountry camping requires a free permit and is available to walk-ins on a first-come-first-serve basis. (You may also be able to register online depending on the time of year, but it will cost you $25.)
When It’s Open: Year-round. Visitor center hours vary by season, but at least one visitor center is always open.
Cost: Fees vary every year, but expect around $30 per vehicle, valid for seven days. All entrance fees cover both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. In the winter, there is a winter day-use fee of $5. Some national passes are also accepted. Campground fees are $22 per night per site. For more information, visit the park’s website.
22. Arches National Park, Utah
Where to Camp: The park has one developed campground: The Devils Garden, which has 50 campsites. (Ed’s note: It will be closed March 1, 2017, to October 31, 2017, for construction.) But there are also campgrounds located outside the park in the Moab area. Since the park is relatively small, there’s little land for backpacking. To do so, you need a free permit, and you should know what you’re doing (be able to read a topographic map, identify safety hazards, etc.).
When It’s Open: Year-round. Visitor center is open daily except Christmas; hours change by season.
Cost: A pass to the campground is $25 per vehicle per night. Annual passes also available. For more information, visit the park’s website.
Source from here.