The camping season has begun in any state lucky enough to have a seasonable spring. It’s already pushing into the seventies in Yosemite Valley, so you know people are making weekend plans to hike and drink beer by a fire. Alas, in other parts of the country there’s still snow on the ground, and most people aren’t hardcore enough to camp in arctic conditions. They wait for the thaw.
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm, it’s time to make plans. And even if you have to wait another month, there is no reason to put off making reservations. Let your inner outdoorsperson become your outer one.
We gathered up ten campgrounds in state and national parks that require reservations. What makes all of these special is that they provide access to some of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring environments in the country. We’re talking drifting to sleep with the sound of ocean waves crashing nearby, wild horses grazing a few feet from your tent, and perfect swimming holes for beating the summer heat. Check them out below.
Tettegouche Camp in Tettegouche State Park (Silver Bay, Minnesota)
A 9,300-acre state park on the shore of Lake Superior, Tettegouche State Park is full of things to do. There are 23 miles of forested hiking trails, four roaring waterfalls along the Baptism River, six placid inland lakes, and two and a half miles of rough Great Lakes shoreline.
There’s tent camping available at the park, but we recommend Tettegouche Camp — a four cabin area that can only be accessed by foot or mountain bike. No vehicle access is available, so you have to carry in your gear. That either means a three-and-a-half-mile trek from the main park trailhead or a steeper 1.7-mile hike from the Lax Lake Road (this is also the only path on which mountain bikes are permitted).
Cabins come with the use of a canoe, canoe paddles, and life vests, so you can make the most of camping along the shore of Mic Mac Lake. You also get a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and firewood, so whipping up some grub shouldn’t be too hard. There aren’t bathrooms in the cabins, but there are shower and toilet facilities a short walk away. If you’re looking to meet other campers stop by the nearby lounge, open to all cabin guests and park users.
There are tables inside and out, as well as two fireplaces. It’s awesome to sit in the large screened-in porch and chat with fellow adventurers as you stare out at the lake.
Cost: $120-150 per night
Kalaloch Campground in Olympic National Park (Forks, Washington)
Olympic National Park is massive, measuring a whopping 922,650-acres of land, which includes four regions. Visitors have access to the Pacific coastline, the drier forests on the east side, the temperate rainforest on the west side, and the alpine areas. The park also includes three separate ecosystems: subalpine forest and wildflower meadow, temperate forest, and the Pacific coast. It’s hard to get to all of them in a short visit, but spending a fair amount of time camping in the park allows visitors to explore a wide range of environments.
Kalaloch Campground sits on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean on the west side of the park. It makes the perfect vantage point for watching the sun set into the ocean, so be sure put some time aside to view and photograph it. Seriously, watching that glowing orb descend into the Pacific is magical. Afterward, listen to the glorious sound of waves crashing throughout the night and evening. If you want to sleep soundly while camping, having nature’s white noise machine playing certainly helps.
During the day, hike to the famous Tree Root Cave — where erosion has stripped all the soil from the Tree of Life’s roots, yet the tree continues to thrive. There is no reason why this tree perched perilously above the beach should continue to stand upright without being deeply rooted in the ground, but it does just that. Also, don’t miss the tidepools near the campsite.
Campgrounds have campfire rings, grates, and picnic tables. At the restrooms, campers can access food lockers and drinking water. It is nine miles to a shower facility, so figure out how important daily showering it to you in advance.
Cost: $22 per night
Bridger Bay Campground in Antelope Island State Park (Syracuse, Utah)
The largest island in the Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island is 28,022-acres that are home to a staggering variety of wildlife, as well as 25-miles of backcountry trails. For people who like hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding, it’s a real treat. A 7.2-mile causeway connects the island to the city of Syracuse, and that provides access for campers and day travelers. There is a herd of 500 free-roaming bison, some antelope, bighorn sheep, coyotes, bald eagles, bobcats, badgers, and waterfowl. It’s a wildlife photographer’s dream.
There are a few different campgrounds in the park, but we recommend reserving a spot at Bridger Bay Campground, a primitive drive-in site. Each campsite is allowed to host a single vehicle and up to eight guests. Despite being designated a primitive campground, each site does have a fire pit, picnic table, shade structures, and room for two tents. However, you do have to walk to Bridger Bay Beach a mile away to use flush restrooms (there are vault toilets at the site) and showers or to get water. This is the campsite that is closest to the beach and day use area, so it’s a closer walk than from other camping areas in the park. Further, the proximity to the beach means taking a dip in the Great Salt Lake is easy peasy.
This campground is also home to the Lakeside Trailhead, which is an easy hike along the shoreline for 2.8 miles. It’s a great birdwatching trail and a nice one for seeing mule deer, bison, and rabbits, so be prepared wildlife.
Cost: $20 for the first night and $17 for each additional night
May Queen Campground at Turquoise Lake as part of the San Isabel National Forest (Leadville, Colorado)
Five short miles west of Leadville, Turquoise Lake is one of the state’s fave high-altitude recreation destinations. It was dammed in the 19th century and named for the rare mineral deposits found nearby. Nowadays, it provides 1,800-acres of recreation year-round. Because it is perched at an elevation of about 9.900 feet, it is perfect for summer enjoyment, when the heat at lower elevations is oppressive. Plus, the mountain breezes are ideal for powering people who choose to sail and windsurf.
There are a few campgrounds at Turquoise Lake, but the May Queen site is the only one on the west side of the lake, where it is accessible by the Colorado Trail or by making your way through the Holy Cross and Mount Massive Wilderness areas. If you’re looking for good hiking, consider nearby Mount Massive Wilderness Area, a 30,540-acre stretch that includes Colorado’s second highest peak, Mount Massive at 14,421 feet.
We like this campground because most of the tent sites are placed away from the road in the coniferous forest. The walk-in sites specifically are amazing at providing privacy. There are water and vault toilets, as well as campfire rings and picnic tables. But don’t hold your breath for a shower or electric hookups.
People come to this area to sail, boat, canoe, and fish. But hiking also rewards adventurers with access to the remnants of old mines and a variety of flora and fauna. Think porcupines, chipmunks, and beavers.
Cost: $24 per night
Butte Lake Campground at Lassen Volcanic National Park (Mineral, CA)
If you haven’t made camping reservations yet and you worry about the swiftly approaching summer season, you can give yourself a little more wiggle room by looking for sites at a higher elevation — which they typically don’t allow guests until the snow has melted (and it takes a while that far up). And if catering to your inner procrastinator isn’t enough, surely the draw of setting up camp next to a volcano must have some cache, even if it is an inactive plug dome volcano. To make up for the lack of scalding lava, Lassen Volcanic National Park has miles of hiking paths, immense forests, craggy rock formations, and multiple campsites.
The Manzanita Lake campsite has the most amenities, so it is the most popular with older campers and parents with kids. We prefer Butte Lake Campground. It’s more remote, but still has enough of the things you need to keep this from being a primitive, backcountry experience (though those are fun, too).
You can count on potable water and vault toilets, but more cushy amenities mean walking to Old Station/Hat Creek. There are also metal food lockers, which is hella helpful in bear country and should probably be a standard inclusion at campsites.
What these sites lack in facilities, they make up for in cool nearby activities like hiking, backpacking, swimming, and night sky viewing. For sure, hike up Cinder Cone, take a swim in Bathtub Lake, and make your way along Butte Lake’s lava rock shores.
Cost: $22 per night
Richland Creek Campground at Ozark National Forest (Witts Springs, Arkansas)
Encompassing 1.2-million acres of land in Northern and Central Arkansas, the Ozark National Forest has five wilderness areas, multiple wildlife management areas, and several major trails, including the 165-mile-long Ozark Highlands Trail. We’re crazy fond of the park’s hundreds of waterfalls, natural springs, and wild caves. You can access most of the springs and waterfalls, but many of the caves are gated and locked to protect endangered species of plants and animals. However, you can explore the Sandstone Castles maze of tunnels and grottos in the Richland Creek Recreation Area.
It isn’t just the access to the caves that makes Richland Creek Recreation Area so awesome for camping. If you set up shop at Richland Creek Campground, you’ll be at one of the mere 11 designated campsites. And though it’s totally without amenities, it’s also remote, which is what you want when you aren’t looking to be kept up all night by fellow campers. Many of the sites are close to a creek and the rest are located a long a ledge overlooking it.
There are vault toilets, picnic tables, water, and fire pits, but you’re going to have to pass on traditional showering. Next to the campground is a quintessential swimming hole with some large boulders upstream. It’s perfect for cooling off during summer. Though there are no officially developed trails in the nearby wilderness area, there are old logging roads and several “user created” trails. This is a great home base for adventuring. Be sure to make time to visit some of the waterfalls in the area. Hamilton Falls, Richland Falls, and the Twin Falls of Richland all make for killer photos.
Cost: $20 per night
Old Man’s Cave Campground at Hocking Hills State Park (Logan, Ohio)
Hocking Hills State Park often appears in lists of the top parks to visit. That’s not a huge surprise because the park has towering cliffs, deep gorges, rushing waterfalls, and abundant foliage, including wildflowers. It’s relatively easy to traverse and offers a lot of visual excitement for sightseers and photography enthusiasts without being as crowded as parks like Yellowstone. Millions of years ago, a shallow sea covered Ohio. Over time, it receded and that led to erosion in the area. The varying compositions of sandstone left behind are a big draw for visitors to this park, especially the caves in the area.
Old Man’s Cave Campground is more traditional than some of the other entries on this list. This is no primitive site. Each space has a paved pad, and there are heated showers, flush toilets, a laundry room, a camp store, a volleyball court, and swimming pools. This means you have to put up with more people and a lot of families, but the park is so dope that it offsets a lot of that. Plus, the quiet hours help.
Previously, nearby Whispering Cave was closed to park visitors, but now you can check out the second largest cave in the area with a 105-foot high waterfall cascading to the ground below. It’s a great hike with a big payoff. You can also visit the namesake caves near the campgrounds as well as the neighboring gorge that features a two-mile trail.
Cost: $28 per night, $24 per night hike-in
Cayo Costa Campground at Cayo Costa State Park (Lee County, Florida)
This is one of those parks that makes you feel like you have insider knowledge. It’s legit amazing, and yet very few people seem to be aware that it exists. We probably shouldn’t be sharing Cayo Costa State Park and potentially increasing the number of visitors, but it’s so cool we can’t stop raving. It is an island paradise with nine miles of beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, so it’s perfect for scuba diving, snorkeling, and swimming with sea turtles, porpoises, and manatees. You also have take a ferry to the park, so be sure not to pack more than you can comfortably carry.
There are 30 primitive campsites at Cayo Costa. All of them offer a picnic table, a ground grill, and access to potable water. None of the sites have electricity, but they are all walking distance to cold showers and flush toilets. It’s about a mile from the docks to the campsite, so people who aren’t prepared to schlep their stuff that far are encouraged to arrive between 10 am and 4 pm, when tram service is available.
The beach is a short walk from the campground, and people who aren’t prepared for water sports can enjoy walking along the beach and shelling. It’s fine by the park if you to venture out at low tide and pick up a multitude of shells. Keep in mind that turtle season runs from May to October and no lights, tents, or chairs can be on the beach after dark because they can disturb female turtles looking to nest. Further, hands off any nests that have been found and marked. How cool is it to be so close to all this turtle magic, though?
Cost: $22 per night
Oceanside Walk-In Campground at Assateague Island National Seashore (Berlin, Maryland)
A barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, Assateague Island National Seashore has a ton of sandy beaches, salt marshes, forests, and coastal bays. But the biggest selling point is the community of wild horses that provide all kinds of awesome photo opps. Days can be spent on one of the many hiking trails or traversing and enjoying the 37 miles of beach. We suggest traveling over one of the bicycle-pedestrian bridges and following a paved path through four miles of island environments.
You can only camp on the Maryland side of the island, and the park service is quick to point out that a barrier island habitat can be harsh for people who fail to plan ahead. In the summer, campers are less plagued by chill winds, but will need to remember sunscreen for sure.
The Oceanside Walk-In campground is good because it means no recreational vehicles or trailers. Each site has a picnic table, chemical toilets, cold water showers, drinking water, and a fire ring. It’s a short walk to the beach and the major trails go right past the campground, making the bulk of the park super easy to access. There are a few backcountry sites as well, if you are genuinely interested in roughing it away from other people.
Cost: $30-50 per night
D.H. Day Campground at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Maple City, Michigan)
We wanted to say that the name clearly tells you there are dunes at this national lakeshore, but if we go by the name, that also means there are sleeping bears and we are slightly troubled by that. However, the fact remains that are some super high dunes that provide a great view across Lake Michigan. They sit atop the already staggering headlands, and the overlooks at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are about 400 feet above the lake. There are also miles of sandy beach, clear inland lakes, verdant forests, and an island lighthouse. This park is a bit of a treat smack dab in Middle America.
There are actually a lot of campgrounds at Sleeping Bear Dunes, including some on islands. We suggest visiting the rustic D.H. Day Campground in the northern part of the lakeshore on the lower peninsula of the state. This is one of the most popular camping sites in northern Michigan thanks to the easy access to Lake Michigan Beach, as well as the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, the Dune Climb, the museums in the historic village of Glen Haven and the restaurants and shops of beautiful downtown Glen Arbor.
Don’t see these amenities and assume this is a fancy-ass campground. It’s really not. It’s all vault toilets round this site, and if you want a hot shower, you have to make your way to the Platte River Campground 17 miles south. Honestly, we think the primitive aspects of the site are a fair trade-off to sleeping right next to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, which offers easy access to over 20 miles of hiking, biking, and fun.
Cost: $20 per night