Camp sites are getting expensive. Spend up to $50 a night and all you get are loud neighbors, a picnic bench, and a fire pit. Glamorous camping (aka glamping) might include cleaner bathroom facilities with flush toilets and hot showers, but the prices go up accordingly. Still, there are many campsites with cheap fees if you know where to look. Cheapism.com found beautiful and inexpensive sites across the country. And while you can always set up a tent in the wilderness and camp for free (check local laws first), the focus here is on tent camping at sites with toilets, potable water, and a maximum charge of $20 a night. Cheapism found private and public campgrounds by searching through the state and national parks websites, Recreation.gov, Yelp, FreeCampsites.net, TripAdvisor, and regionally-focused publications. We used these sources to gauge campgrounds' popularity and appeal by the number of positive reviews and mentions in "best of" camping lists.Prices at many campgrounds vary by season. The prices listed here pertain to the campsite before tax or fees; when stated as a range, they reflect seasonal changes. National and state parks usually impose additional entrance fees and may charge to reserve a site online; state parks may charge more for nonresidents. Annual passes for government-run parks can decrease the overall cost if you'll be camping several times during the year. There are also discounts available at most campsites for seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, AAA members, and members of camping-focused organizations.
Stay at the primitive camping spot in Gulf State Park and you can still enjoy the swimming pool, free pancake breakfasts, educational events, golf clinics, fishing on the pier, and the white-sands beach and swimming in the Gulf. This is a large park with many RV hookups, and laundry facilities, showers, a camp store, and toilets with running water open to campers.
About 100 miles north of Anchorage, Denali State Park is nearly half the size of Rhode Island and is towered over by Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. Keep a cautious eye out for grizzly and black bears, but there are gentler animals in the area as well: land otters, caribou, snowshoe hares, and more than 130 species of birds, to name a few. Campsites cost $15 for a vehicle or for a site, depending on the campground.
Mather Campground is a good option when visiting the Grand Canyon. There's a trail straight from the campground to the visitor center and the paved Rim Trail is only a mile away. Campsites start at $18 and offer access to fresh water and flush toilets.
Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton was Arkansas's first state park. Filled with beautiful hiking trails, waterfalls, and ponds, there are cabins and RV spots available, but the least expensive option is to camp for $20 a night. The park hosts free events and guided hikes, and is home to a restaurant, visitor center, pool, and picnic area.
With trees so large you can drive through them, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in northern California is a well-known camping destination. Make reservations early to guarantee a spot, but many of the campgrounds with basic facilities (no flush toilets) are available for $12 or $18 a night, with a first-come, first-served rule.
Named one of the most scenic campgrounds by AAA, Molas Lake Campground in Silverton also earned a spot on The Guardian's list of top 10 campsites in to the state. On TripAdvisor, reviewers say the terrain is breathtaking but the 10,000 elevation may be partially to blame. Be prepared for quickly changing weather and basic facilities -- no electricity and only a spout with potable water; a hot shower costs $5 for each person, per use.
West Thompson Lake Campground in northeastern Connecticut is an inexpensive campground with clean bathrooms, showers, and firewood for sale. You're not allowed to swim in the lake but there are plenty of areas open to hiking, fishing, ice fishing in winter, and kayaking or canoeing (if you bring your own boat) in summer. There's even an 18-hole disc golf course (sort of like golf with a Frisbee).
Trap Pond State Park, at the very southern edge of the state, is the least expensive state park in Delaware. Tent sites are $15 on the weekdays and $20 on the weekends during the winter, but rise to $20 every day during the rest of the year. There are well-maintained hiking and biking trails, spacious campsites, and many areas where you can fish and boat.
You'll need to take a ferry or private boat to get to Cayo Costa State Park off the southwestern coast of Florida, but that's part of the adventure and beauty of the place. With secluded camping near to the beach, reviewers at Yelp say it feels like you're on your own private island. Be forewarned: The bugs can be vicious, and the air can get uncomfortably hot during the summer.
Located on another secluded island, Cumberland Island National Seashore offers camping permits for just $2 to $4 a person. Facilities are minimal, but there are a few bikes for rent and tours provided by the park service. Reviews at TripAdvisor generally give an "excellent" rating, but there are some complaints about the litter, bugs, and reservation system. Keep an eye out for tortoises, manatees, and sea turtles.
Hawaii boasts many beautiful spots but camping isn't its strong suit, and many of the local campgrounds are dangerous or dirty. However, there are two drive-up campgrounds worth exploring in Haleakala National Park on Maui -- Hosmer Grove and Kipahulu. Neither requires nor accepts reservations and camping is free once you pay the $10 park entrance free. There are pit toilets and grills available at both. There is also potable water at Hosmer Grove, but note that the temperature can drop to freezing at night due to the site's 7,000-foot elevation.
It's hard to believe that you're in Idaho when you arrive at the Bruneau Dunes State Park in the state's southwest. According to the Idaho Parks and Recreation Department, it is home to the tallest single-structure sand dune in North America, but there are also small lakes and marshland in the surrounding terrain. Slide down the dunes on a sled and don't miss the chance to gaze at the stars at the observatory ($3 a person).
A small campground with only 14 sites, the Trail of Tears State Forest in the southern tip of Illinois is rustic but well kept. There are vault toilets and fire pits available to campers, as well as a playground and flushing toilets not too far away. The Mississippi River and train run close by, so expect noise from the passing barges and trains. One camper who posted at TripAdvisor enjoyed her experience and recommends stopping at the visitor center to learn about the area's history.
Brown County State Park is Indiana's largest park and bears a resemblance to the Great Smoky Mountains. At Yelp reviewers say the fall colors aren't to be missed and the hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking are big draws when it's warm. There is also a lodge with dining and an indoor waterslide within the park, which is in the south-central part of the state.
Iowa's state parks offer camping sites starting at just $6 a night, but you pay a little more during the busy season or if you want to be close to hot showers. Located on the eastern edge of the state, Maquoketa Caves is one of the most popular parks for children and adults alike. Past visitors recommend bringing a flashlight and set of old clothes for exploring the caves.
Weston Bend State Park in the state's northwest contains an inexpensive campground that still offers hot showers, laundry, and flushable toilets. Campers like how remote the campground feels, according to posts at Yelp, although it's only a half-hour drive from Kansas City.
A perfect spot for rock climbers, Land of the Arches campground in Campton charges just $5 a night and includes Wi-Fi, hot showers, and an indoor camping area in case it rains or the temperature drops. Reviewers at Yelp say the owners are very friendly, and there are many lovely climbing and hiking spots to explore.
The deluxe cabins at Fountainebleau State Park closed when Hurricane Isaac swept through in 2012, but there are still many camping sites (and standard lodges) available. Walk through the moss-draped trees, enjoy nearby Lake Ponchartrain, or sprawl on the sandy beach.
Blackwoods Campground inside Acadia National Park is well maintained, and there are a general store and coin-operated showers nearby. The campground is close to Bar Harbor, a big plus according to reviewers, but the one negative is how close the campsites are to each other.
Oak Ridge Campground in the Prince William Forest is a quick and easy getaway for those living in the Washington, D.C. area. It's less crowded than some other nearby parks and there are many trails to explore. Previous hikers recommend the campground but advise checking for ticks after hiking.
Limited service campgrounds in Massachusetts state parks often have vault toilets, but there's potable water and the nightly fee is only $14 if you're a resident, $16 if you're not. Beartown State Park is one to explore. It is a small 12-site campground with several trails, and you get to chat with Appalachian Trail hikers who are passing through.
Platte River Campground in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the pinkie of the Michigan "mitten," fills up quickly, so book in advance. It's a short walk from the campground to Lake Michigan, the Platte River, and terrific views of the dunes. Prices increase with an online reservation and decrease if you choose a walk-in site.
Flandrau State Park in south central Minnesota has three campgrounds, and the rustic sites (vault toilets and no showers) are within budget year round. The Cottonwood River flows through the park, and there's a sand-bottom swimming pool that's open during the summer. The cabins, dining hall, and restrooms were once a German prisoner-of-war camp during WWII. The park is close to the town of New Ulm, which is a plus or a minus, depending on which reviewer you read.
One reviewer at considers Tishomingo State Park, in the Appalachian foothills, the best park in the state. Basic campsites are inexpensive, and even those with electricity and water hookups are less than $20 a night. In addition to exploring the many trails, streams, and waterfalls, you can try your hand at disc golf (discs are available to rent).
Table Rock State Park is the "best park in the upstate" according to one perennial visitor who posted at TripAdvisor. There's a lake for swimming, many hiking and mountain biking paths, boats for rent, and even a 2-hour scuba course within the park.
Near the west entrance to Yellowstone, Rainbow Point Campground is first-come, first-served with basic facilities and overall strong reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor. The owners run several campgrounds in the area and all receive commendations from visitors, but Rainbow Point seems to be the favorite. It's quiet, the sites are large, and it's right on Hebgen Lake.
A former Army fort, Fort Robinson State Park has inexpensive tent-only campsites (limited availability, so book early) although it may be a better destination for history buffs than wilderness lovers. The fort's history dates back to 1873, and it's well known as the site where Crazy Horse, the Oglala Lakota warrior, was killed.
One of Nevada's first state parks, Cathedral George boasts a figurative maze of canyons, goblins, and towers that are quite a sight. According to the Las Vegas Review, the best time to visit is at night when there's a new moon. On TripAdvisor visitors agree that it's an entrancing spot that appeals to individuals, couples, and families. Flush toilets and showers are available year round.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: $20/NIGHT
White Mountain National Forest is home to many campgrounds, including Basin Campground. Straddling New Hampshire and Maine and located next to Basin Pond, there are basic campsites and plenty of nature to explore. Fish or canoe in the pond, and hike, mountain bike, or enjoy one of the many attractions and activities in the greater White Mountains area.
NEW JERSEY: $20/NIGHT
Worthington State Forest's campground is base camp for many scenic hikes and fishing holes. Head up Mount Tammany and you'll be able to see the Delaware Water Gap that separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania.
NEW MEXICO: $7/NIGHT
Aguirre Spring Campground offers several picturesque hikes to campers -- many past visitors recommend the 4.5-mile Pine Tree Trail loop. Due to the elevation, the campground isn't as hot during the summer as surrounding areas. Campers note the well-kept bathrooms and showers and warn in Yelp reviews that the gates close at 7 p.m. (5 p.m. from October through April), so arrive before then.
NEW YORK: $20/NIGHT
Woodland Valley Campground is located next to the cold Woodland Creek and provides hot showers and flush toilets for campers. Close to hiking trails and the Village of Phoenicia, smack in the middle of Catskill Park, some campers like this spot so much they've been returning here for almost 40 years, according to comments posted at TripAdvisor.
NORTH CAROLINA: $13-$20/NIGHT
Hanging Rock State Park receives top marks from most visitors who left reviews at TripAdvisor. Hike through the park and stumble on stunning landscapes and waterfalls, or swim, boat, and fish in the nearby lake. During the off season (December through mid-March) in this north central part of the state, campsite rates drop and the washhouses close.
NORTH DAKOTA: $12-$17/NIGHT
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park near the center of the state offers inexpensive camping and a history lesson. The grounds house a recreated American Indian Village and the rebuilt Custer House, from which Custer departed before the "last stand." Onsite actors take you back in time to entertain and inform.
Burr Oak State Park in southern Ohio boasts lovely hiking trails and an "immaculate" beach on the Burr Oak Reservoir, according to one camper. There's plenty to do here, but Burr Oak is close enough to the more well-known Hocking Hills State Park for a day trip. Camping in Hocking Hills is double the price.
The Sequoyah State Park in northeastern Oklahoma is the state's largest state park, and offers 150 first-come, first-served tent sites at cheap rates. The nearby lodge provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner for $7 to $11. The park features many hiking trails and fishing holes, as well as golf courses and tennis courts. At TripAdvisor, nearly all the guests had something nice to say.
A relatively new campground, the L.L. Stub Stewart Memorial State Park near Portland is open year round and boasts many trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The walk-to sites are always cheap and during the "discovery" season (October through April) the drive-up sites cost $17 ($21 during prime season).
At the Pine Grove Furnace State Park in the state's south there are six short hiking trails and two lakes where you can fish or kayak. The Appalachian Trail's halfway point is in the eastern part of the park and tradition holds that hikers attempt to eat a half-gallon of ice cream at the Pine Grove General Store.
RHODE ISLAND: $14/NIGHT
There aren't many inexpensive campgrounds in Rhode Island, but one of the most frequently visited is located in Burlingame State Park in the southern portion of the state. The site is designed for tent-only camping. Although reviews at Yelp are mixed, it's one of the best cheap options.
SOUTH CAROLINA: $18.50/NIGHT
Hunting Island was once used by sailors and pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard. Today there are hot showers and plenty of campsites but only 10 are designated solely for tents. Reserve early or you'll be stuck paying more for a tent/RV spot.
SOUTH DAKOTA: $20/NIGHT
The campground at the Badlands National Park is simple, but the area looks otherworldly. Campers call the scenery "mind-blowing" and the consensus is that even though the campsite isn't the best, you shouldn't miss a visit to the area.
Cades Cove is one of 10 campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the surrounding valley is the most popular destination within the park. At TripAdvisor more than 1,350 people gave the area an excellent rating. The campground offers mostly nonelectric sites and there aren't any showers, but there are flush toilets.
Big Bend National Park is one of the most popular destinations in Texas due to its diverse landscape. There are three developed campgrounds -- the Rio Grande Village and Chiso Basin even have flush toilets -- and seven primitive campsites with slightly lower fees. All are popular, so choose the one that best suits your taste.
Frugal campers are in luck, even in the popular Zion National Park, where the South and Watchman campgrounds cost just $16 for tent-only sites. The Lava Point Campground is free, but there are only six spots and it's about a 90-minute drive from Zion's South Entrance.
Quechee Gorge State Park in Vermont's southeast offers solitude, few bugs, solar-powered restrooms, and (pun intended) gorgeous views. Camping sites are large, the campground is dog-friendly, and the bathrooms and showers are clean. Visitors who posted at Yelp say the main hike can be a bit tough but is worth it.
Big Meadows Campground in the Shenandoah National Park is well maintained and equipped with showers and flush toilets but still "out there." There are several nearby waterfalls that you can hike to, and many people report seeing black bears during their visit.
Open year round, Kalaloch Campground in Olympic National Park accepts reservations from June through September and is first-come, first-served the rest of the time. If you're lucky you can grab a spot with an ocean view, but even if you don't get one of the primo sites, note that the entire campground is near the beach. There are flush toilets and showers and several campers say it's their overall favorite camping spot.
WEST VIRGINIA: $20/NIGHT
Blackwater Falls State Park features four waterfalls as well as a river and several outlook points. Visitors enjoy how you can just "get away" to this spot, near where Maryland dips like a V into the state. The park is open year round, but the campground is only open from the end of April through November.
One of the largest state parks in Wisconsin, Peninsula State Park in the far northeast has something for everyone: hiking, boating, swimming, golfing, fishing, skiing, and sledding. There's even a drive-in movie theater nearby. You can't go wrong with any of the five campgrounds in the park and more than 550 reviewers at TripAdvisor give the park a very good or excellent rating.
Yellowstone National Park is known worldwide and you'll need to book or arrive early to secure one of the inexpensive campsites here. Your best bet is to head for either Mammoth or Lewis Lake campgrounds; both have 85 first-come, first-served campsites.