The Most Beautiful Camping Spots in America

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camping in rockies

Gorgeous Getaways

Much of America has been paved over, Walmarted, and Burger Kinged beyond recognition — but not all of it. The most beautiful places to camp across America offer a glimpse of what the country used to look like before industrialization erased America's natural habitats en masse. Camping at any one of the following spots also offers a socially distanced way to get out of the house, away from the steady stream of bad news, and back to nature.  (Note: Some facilities may still be operating on limited basis due to the pandemic.)

Related: I Drove Cross-Country During the Pandemic — Here's What I Learned

Cheesequake State Park

Cheesequake State Park

New Jersey
Cheesequake State Park stands out not just for its peculiar yet awesome name, but for its location at the intersection of two different ecosystems. This dynamic exposes campers to a northeastern hardwood forest, a white cedar swamp, the New Jersey Pine Barrens, freshwater and saltwater marshes, and open fields, all in a relatively small and highly accessible place. Currently, the park's interpretive center building is closed to the public.

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Denali National Park

Denali ranks at or near the top of most best-of lists that profile America's national parks — and for good reason. The crown jewel of the park is Denali itself — formerly called Mount McKinley — which is the highest mountain peak in all of North America. That, however, is just the centerpiece of 6 million acres of pristine wilderness that's bisected by exactly one road. Camping options include spots with names like Savage River, Sanctuary River, Igloo Creek, and Wonder Lake. 

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Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

Millions of years of geological history are evident in the colorful, layered rock faces found throughout Grand Canyon National Park. Campers can enjoy over 277 miles of the mighty Colorado River, and the canyon is a full mile deep at some points and 18 miles wide. Aside from all the activities that come with water systems of that magnitude, there are also, of course, unrivaled views of the Grand Canyon. 

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Acadia National Park
Philippe Gratton/istockphoto

Acadia National Park

Known as the crown jewel of the North Atlantic Coast, Acadia National Park embodies the rugged and wild natural beauty of Maine and Northern New England. Situated on the highest rocky headlands in all of America's Atlantic Coast, the park draws 3.5 million visitors a year to its 45 miles of carriage roads, 158 miles of hiking trails, and 27 miles of historic motor roads. 

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North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

Boating, fishing, hiking, and camping — including backcountry camping — are all on the menu at North Cascades National Park, an alpine landscape located just three hours from Seattle. Thanks to the wet weather in the west and recurring fires in the east, the living things that have adapted to the environment create one of the most unique ecosystems in the American West and in the world. The park is anchored by mountain peaks and more than 300 glaciers. 

Joshua Tree National Park

Jumbo Rocks Campground

Located inside of Joshua Tree National Park, Jumbo Rocks Campground is centrally located, making it one of the best spots in one of America's best natural spaces. Like Cheesequake, Joshua Tree's magic comes from its location at the intersection of two unique and distinct ecosystems: the Mojave and Colorado deserts. The geological features there look almost alien, and the night skies are among the darkest in the world. 

White Mountains, New Hampshire
Richard Cavalleri/shutterstock

White Mountain National Forest

New Hampshire and Maine
Back on the Northeast Coast is White Mountain National Forest, which sprawls across two New England states that are known for wild natural beauty. Campers there set up their tents surrounded by alpine peaks covered in hardwood forests that stretch to the horizon. The park's lakes, streams, and rivers are among the clearest and most pristine in the country.

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Waiʻanapanapa State Park

Waiʻanapanapa State Park

Waiʻanapanapa State Park is a magical place where bright blue water washes over coal-black beaches made of volcanic sand. Tide pools there turn red throughout the year with the arrival of masses of tiny shrimp, but indigenous folklore says it's the blood of an ancient princess who was murdered in a nearby cave. Campers won't be alone — seabirds have colonized much of the park — but they can explore natural stone arches, freshwater caves, blowholes, and lava tubes. 

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Yosemite National Park
Mikhail Kolesnikov/shutterstock

Yosemite National Park

The National Park Service describes Yosemite as "a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra." A fitting description, indeed, for America's most famous and extraordinary protected national space. The world-famous granite cliffs known as Half Dome and El Capitan are located there, as is a forest of ancient sky-scraping sequoia trees and the Bridalveil Fall Trail. In terms of geological features and biodiversity, it's one of the most important places on Earth.

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Glacier National Park in Montana

Glacier National Park

More than 700 miles of trails line Glacier National Park, a remarkable wilderness set in the landscape of the wild and rugged Continental Divide. Both adventure and solitude await anyone who goes camping among its cold, clear lakes, virgin forests, soaring mountains, and alpine meadows.

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Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park is perched in the high desert 2,000 feet above a tight bend in the Colorado River. Situated on gargantuan vertical cliffs, campers there see the would disappear beneath them into massive canyons below that were carved out by eons of erosion. The plants and animals that scratch out a living in the harsh environment are some of the hardiest survivors on the planet. 

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Minnewaska State Park Preserve

Minnewaska State Park Preserve

New York
Like Dead Horse Point, Minnewaska State Park Preserve on the other side of the continent is a land of sheer cliffs that top off 2,000 feet above the world below—but it's a lush ecosystem that's teeming with life. Less than an hour and a half away from New York City, the preserve is a vast, rocky, and rugged expanse of dense hardwood forests, rushing waterfalls, crystalline sky lakes, streams, and valleys. 

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Kirk Creek Campground

Kirk Creek Campground

Every single site on Kirk Creek Campground is located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in what are some of the West's most postcard-perfect views. Located on the Big Sur coastline, the campground is the starting point for trails that cut through the Los Padres National Forest. It's close to the famed Sand Dollar Beach and the Vicente Flats Trailhead, which take visitors into the Ventana Wilderness.

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Zion National Park, Utah
Asif Islam/shutterstock

Zion National Park

A Mars-like landscape of enormous red, pink, and cream sandstone cliffs are the defining characteristics of Zion National Park. There are campgrounds spread throughout the park, which is home to some of the most unique plants, animals, and geological formations in the country—much of what you'll see there you simply can't see anywhere else.

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Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park

With a landscape carved by time out of red Aztec sandstone and tan and gray limestone, Valley of Fire State Park spans 40,000 acres. The landscape is ancient and rugged, but the accommodations are modern. Campsites are found throughout the park that are equipped with grills, water, and shaded tables. 

Shenandoah National Park waterfall

Shenandoah National Park

One of the best animal-watching, hiking, and camping spots in the Mid-Atlantic region, Shenandoah National Park is just 75 miles from Washington, D.C., but it feels like it's a million miles from the frantic bustle of the capital city. It covers more than 200,000 acres that deer, black bears, snakes, salamanders, and a huge array of birds call home. It's known for its beautiful waterfalls and wildflower fields. 

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Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

If you plan to camp at Dry Tortugas National Park, plan ahead — camping space is limited. The reason for the limited space, however, is what makes the place so special. Virtually all of the park's 100 square miles are covered with water. Only seven little islands break the aquatic landscape's surface, which is teeming with marine animals, coral reefs, and birds. The main feature is Fort Jefferson, a massive and historic fort that dates to the 1800s.  

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Assateague State Park
Zack Frank/shutterstock

Assateague Island

Camping on a barrier island is not for everyone, but those who plan ahead for the often-harsh conditions on Assateague Island will enjoy an experience that's not available in many other places. That could mean exploring coastal bays, maritime forests, salt marshes, and the island's beaches, but the real magic comes in the form of herds of wild horses that roam on the island. 

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Gros Ventre Wilderness

Gros Ventre Wilderness

Part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the Gros Ventre Wilderness is the beating heart of the park's biodiversity — it serves as the critical habitat for species of all sorts and the headwater junction of several rivers. It's laced with miles of trails for hiking and horseback, and is known for its unique geological features.  

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

Located in Southwest Texas near the Mexico border, Big Bend National Park is known for its ancient river canyons, mountains, and vast expanse of desert. Hundreds of bird species live in the park's mountains, Big Bend boasts the country's most diverse population of cactus, and the night skies are perfect for panoramic stargazing. 

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Redwood parks dot the coast of Northern California, and the last of them you'll encounter is Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, where 7% of the world's remaining old-growth redwoods are located. The park is densely forested with the ancient and majestic giants and is also home to the longest major free-flowing river in California. 

Bartlett Cove

Bartlett Cove Campground

Bartlett Cove is the main campground in Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Located in a shoreline rainforest within the park, the scenery is some of the most beautiful in America. The rainforest is just one ecosystem within the park's 3.3 million acres, which also includes fjords, coastlines, mountains, and glaciers. 

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Cove Lake Recreation Area, Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, Arkansas
Nargiz K./Yelp

Ozark-St. Francis National Forests

More than 200 camping and picnic sites are open to the public in Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, where 400 miles of trails zigzag through the wilderness. There are thousands of acres of streams and lakes, five wilderness areas, nine swimming beaches, and no fewer than six National Scenic Byways with soaring views of the surrounding landscaping. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
National Parks Service

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

On the shores of Lake Superior lies Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a preserve with a unique ecosystem that is driven by the lake itself. It's got 100 miles of hiking and walking trails and diverse natural scenic features like dunes, wetlands, deep forests, waterfalls, cliffs, and caves.

Sparks Lake

Sparks Lake

Sparks Lake is home to one of the country's most unique ecosystems. The park includes 370 acres of lake wetland that is surrounded by a roughly equal number of acres of stream wetlands, marsh, or meadows. The result is a bird watcher's or wildlife photographer's paradise. In the background are the Bachelor Butte, Broken Top, and South Sister mountain peaks, all of which soar above 9,000 feet.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park

As the name implies, this park is home to the tallest dunes in North America. They're accessible 24 hours a day, and when the moon is full, the dunes are bright enough to traverse at night. The park is not, however, just some sandy desert. Its diverse habitats include tundra, alpine lakes, aspen and conifer forests, wetlands, and grasslands.

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Salmon River
Melissa Kopka/istockphoto

Salmon River Campground

There are 30 campsites scattered across Salmon River Campground in Sawtooth National Forest. Thanks to quick access to natural hot springs and the beautiful scenery of sagebrush and lodgepole pines, it's the choicest campground in the park. Sawtooth National Forest itself is anchored by a 217,000-acre tract of rugged and wild terrain called Sawtooth Wilderness, where campers can enjoy tall peaks, hundreds of alpine lakes, river headwaters, and dense forests.

Death Valley National Park in California
Doug Lemke/shutterstock

Death Valley National Park

California and Nevada
Although the name isn't exactly warm, fuzzy, or inviting, Death Valley is actually bursting with life. The occasional rainstorm brings vast fields of wildflowers to the lowest, hottest, and driest national park in America, and wildlife — including even some tiny fish — call the parched alien wilderness home. That said, the below-sea-level, perpetually drought-stricken basin is, according to the U.S. Park Service, "a land of extremes." Temperatures routinely top 100 degrees at midnight, even as snow-peaked mountains are visible in the distance.

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badlands big horn sheep

Badlands National Park

South Dakota
Badlands National Park is home to some of the most magnificent animals in America — and it always was long before America was even a concept. It serves as one of the most significant fossil beds in the world and there's evidence that rhinos and ancient horses once lived there. Today, campers are likely to encounter bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and bison.