Move over baseball, camping may be America’s actual national pastime. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of US households have at least one person who camps, according to the 2019 KOA North American Camping Report.
Camp spots can be found all over America, from the Great Smoky Mountains, the most popular camping destination in the US with 400,000 overnight visitors per year, to the backcountry of public lands.
The first thing on most people’s mind when searching for places to go camping is the scenery. Other factors worth taking into consideration are the location, amenities, and cost of the campground. Camping at an established campsite in a national or state park typically costs $10-50 per night. Alternatively, there are millions of acres of national forest and public lands where you can camp for free in the USA. However, you’ll have to stay well away from established campgrounds and you won’t have access to toilets or running water.
Ask 10 people what are the best campsites in the US and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. In a country so vast and beautiful, there really is an endless choice of places to camp. Below you’ll find our list of the top 10 best places to go camping in the USA. The list comprises camp spots from all around the country that offer the right mix of scenery, accessibility, and solitude.
Note: Some campgrounds are closed or restricted due to Covid-19. Before visiting, always check the official website of the national park, state park, or national forest for latest updates.
Acadia National Park is situated on about half of Mount Desert Island and numerous smaller islands off the Maine coast. Despite its remote location, it is the seventh-most visited national park in the United States. With tens of thousands of acres of mountainous pine forest, endless lakes and rivers, and spectacular coastline, Acadia is our #1 choice for best places to go camping in the US.
Three campgrounds are accessible to automobiles: Blackwoods and Seawall on Mount Desert Islands, and Schoodic Woods on the Schoodic Peninsula. A fourth campground, Duck Harbor on the remote Isle au Haut, is accessible only by mailboat.
The Great Smoky Mountains, also known as the Smokies, are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, covering a large portion of the Smokies, had 12.5 million visitors in 2019, making it the most visited national park in America. The Smokies are known for the natural fog that hangs over the range, as well as for having the densest black bear population east of the Mississippi.
Camping is permitted at any of the 10 designated campgrounds throughout the park. One of the best campgrounds in the park (and indeed one of the best campgrounds in the US) is Balsam Mountain Campground, located at an elevation of 5,310’ on the North Carolina side of the border. This place is perfect for viewing wildlife during spring and fall, including elk. Great Smoky is also one of the best RV parks in the US, with camper vans up to 30’ length permitted.
The Grand Canyon is the most famous natural landmark in the United States and one of the world’s great natural wonders. Grand Canyon National Park encompasses the South Rim, which gets most visitors, and the North Rim. Both sides offer breathtaking views and trails down to the Colorado River below. It is the second-most visited national park in the US, with 6 million visitors in 2019, and would surely be number one if not for its remote location.
Most visitors to the Grand Canyon stay in one of the six lodges inside the national park or in one of the towns bordering the national park. However, there are three campgrounds in the park, the most accessible of which is the Mather Campground at Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim, which has 327 campsites. Note that both Mather and the more-remote North Rim Campground book up well in advance, so it’s best to plan ahead.
Arches National Park is the second national park located on the Colorado River to make this list, but it is nothing at all like the Grand Canyon. Located high up on the Colorado Plateau, this park is best known for its spectacular desert mountain views, 2,000+ natural sandstone arches, and a variety of other unique geological formations.
Devils Garden Campground is the only campground located within Arches National Park. You’ll need to reserve a campsite to get a spot during peak season, although it’s first-come, first-served for anyone willing to brave the cold winter months. The campground is located among slickrock outcroppings 18 miles from the park entrance.
California is so blessed with natural beauty that we could have made a separate list of campsites for that state alone. Alas, this list concerns the best places to camp in the US, and our selection from California is Redwood National and State Parks. These are a cluster of national and state parks situated on the northern California coast and comprising vast forests, grassland, and beaches. These parks protect 45% of all the remaining coastal redwood (also known as sequoias) in the world.
There are two ways to spend the night at the parks: stay at an official campground (with a reservation) or hike to a backcountry campsite (free permit required). There are four developed campgrounds in the parks, all managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreations. These grounds are easy to access and provide RV and tent campsites with basic amenities.
The White Mountain National Forest is a federally managed forest in the White Mountains, a subrange of the northern Appalachians. The forest is popular for skiing in winter and hiking in summer. It contains numerous gorges, ravines, and caves, which can be seen on moderate hikes of a few hours or challenging hikes of several days.
The Whites, as the mountain range is also called, are known for a system of alpine huts set up by the Appalachian Mountain Club for hikers on the Appalachian Trail. The park has dozens of dispersed camping areas, making it one of the best places in the United States for setting up a tent free of charge in the backcountry.
Kohler-Andrae State Park is one of the most-underrated camp spots in the USA and a great place to set up a tent on the Great Lakes. Despite being located a few miles south of the city of Sheboygan and 50 miles north of Milwaukee, this area promises wilderness and solitude. The two parks (which are managed as one unit) contain over two miles of beaches and sand dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan, with woods and wetlands nearby.
The park has a 137-unit family campground, as well as group campground and accessible cabin for people with disabilities. Canvas and pole tepees are available for rent in summer. The campground is open all year, with firewood for sale at the park office.
Located just 60 miles east of Portland, Mount Hood National Forest encompasses more than one million acres of forested mountains, lakes and streams. The forest includes Mount Hood, a potentially active volcano. Mt Hood can be seen from various trails, including the Burnt Lake Trail, which runs around Burnt Lake and Zigzag Mountain on the western side of Mt Hood itself.
There are plenty of camp spots in the forest, from dozens of developed campgrounds to dispersed campsites in the backcountry. Campgrounds are available by reservation or on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you’re looking for a pure hiking experience for your next camping trip, then look no farther than Glacier National Park. Located on the Canadian border, Glacier’s 700 miles of trails cross through mountainous forest, meadows, and lakes. Being in Montana, it is about as far away as civilization as you can get while still being in the contiguous United States.
There are 13 campgrounds dotted throughout the park comprising more than one thousand campsites in total. This makes Glacier more accessible to campers than many other national parks. Note that between July 1 and Labor Day, camping in Glacier National Park is limited to 14 days (either in a single period or combined separate periods).
Vermont is the Green Mountain State, and the Green Mountain National Forest is conveniently located in the southwest of the state, 130 miles from Boston and 170 miles from New York City. The forest offers the best of New England, and is perfect for viewing foliage as well as a variety of wildlife such as black bears, moose, beavers, and white-tailed deer.
Green Mountain National Forest has seven established campgrounds and recreation areas where you can set up camp for the night. Being a national forest, it’s also possible to go camping for free – so long as you stay the required distance away from designated campgrounds and waterways.