Joshua Tree National Park, CA
The Joshua Tree National Park may sit between the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in California but this park is one of the most frequented campsites in the country. Patrons of all ages visit the park from fall to spring to enjoy the unique rock formations during the day and the clear desert skies at night. The joshua trees that surround the park are both beautiful and historic: these desert trees bloom from February to April every year and can live for up to 500-1,000 years.
The park features nine campgrounds and numerous trails that you can enjoy. Among these trails is the 1.7-mile Skull Rock Trail. Hiking the trail will lead you to Skull Rock, a formation that looms over the park like, well, a giant skull. Other formations like Conan’s Corridor and New Sage Rock make Joshua Tree National Park a rock climber’s heaven.
If you’re not up for high-adrenaline activities, you can always sit back and enjoy the desert sunset on top of the rocks. There are also fire rings and evening ranger programs that you can enjoy with your kids. Perhaps the only downside to the park is that it doesn’t have any potable water, so if you wish to enjoy Joshua Tree National Park bring your own drinking water supply. It can also get pretty crowded, so plan your visit ahead.
Badlands National Park, SD
Because of the rugged terrain and extreme temperatures, both Native Americans and French fur trappers called this vast swath of South Dakota “bad lands.” The name stuck and now we have Badlands National Park, home to some of the country’s most breathtaking rock formations. The park is open all year round, except during extreme weather and has four campsites that are also open throughout the year.
You can enjoy hiking around the park— which is mostly an untamed prairie– and soak in the stunning views. If you’re lucky, you can even catch a glimpse of wildlife like bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and even bison. Just make sure not to feed them or get too close. What really sets Badlands apart from other campsites is its fossil beds. On 2010 one of the junior camp rangers discovered a million-year-old saber tooth fossil. The park now has a fossil prep lab which lets visitors enjoy the archeological features of the site.
Crater Lake National Park, OR
Seriously, Crater Lake National Park looks like it came straight out of a postcard. This breathtaking park is where you can find one of the clearest lakes in America, Crater Lake, which is fed purely by rain and snow. At 1,943 feet, it’s also the deepest lake in the country. The lake is technically a volcanic caldera or a part of the mountain that collapsed after Mt Mazama erupted more than 7000 years ago.
Activities around the park include trekking, hiking, and boating. The park also features two notable islands: Wizard Island, which is shaped like a wizard’s hat and the creepy Phantom Ship island, which disappears when the fog rolls off of the lake. The Old Man Of The Lake is a curious part of the park: it’s a hundreds-year-old hemlock tree stump that has been bobbing vertically on the lake since 1896. Why it’s been there or how it keeps floating upright remains a mystery to most.
Despite the forest fires that have recently ravaged a portion of the park, Crater Lake remains as one of the most beautiful campsites in America.
Na’pali Coast State Park, HI
The rugged terrain, tropical weather, and stunning views make Na’Pali Coast State Park one of the best parks in the country. Na’Pali means “high cliffs” in Hawaiian— the park is surrounded by cliffs that rise 4,000 feet above the ocean and needless to say, they’re a sight to behold.
The best way to discover the park is through hiking. The Kalalau trail is 11 miles long, goes through 5 valleys and takes one whole day to complete. It’s a rigorous hike and is definitely not for the faint of heart. It does end in the beautiful Kalalau beach, so make sure you obtain a permit to spend the night on the beach before setting out. If you’re not up for the long hike, you can opt to take a boat or kayak to enjoy the beautiful coastline.
Arches National Park, UT
Arches National Park in Utah looks like a backdrop for a Martian movie. The park features 2,000 natural sandstone arches. These rock formations were formed by water, wind and ice and have been standing for thousands of years. Notable structures include The Delicate Arch, The Three Gossips and The Organ. Climbing any named arch or natural bridge is strictly prohibited, but you can always bike around the park, camp at Devil’s Garden, hike around the trails and even go horseback riding. The park is also a site for petroglyphs, so if you’re an archeological junkie, this park is the one for you.
Yosemite National Park, CA
Yosemite National Park is probably one of the most popular campsites in the US, with 4 million visitors each year. The site was named as a World Heritage Site in 1984 and is home to granite cliffs, waterfalls, valleys, meadows, giant sequoia trees and glaciers. 95% of Yosemite is wilderness, so you can go camping, hiking and backpacking around this vast area. Rock climbers can also enjoy the sheer granite surfaces of the El Capitan. Other activities include biking, fishing and hanging out to see giant sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove.
Recently, a natural “firefall” from the park’s Horseshoe Falls made rounds on the internet. The phenomena happens when the sunset hits the falls and creates this beautiful, glowing effect. The firefall usually happens in February, and only when the conditions are just right. Other notable sights to see around Yosemite are Cathedral Range, Dana Meadows and the Sentinel Dome.
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Well, it’s the Grand Canyon— do you really need a reason to spend a night or two in a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
The Grand Canyon is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the planet. You can just stand there, take in the stunning landscape and be content. Or, you can do one or two activities to make your stay more memorable. These include organized tours to the Grand Canyon Village and historic sites like the Train Depot and Verkamp Visitor Center.
Most tourists hang out at the South Rim, which is more accessible. If you want to take on the road less traveled, you might want to try the North Rim and enjoy the stunning view, sans the crowd. Hiking through the Rim Trail can be challenging, even for the most seasoned hikers, but is well worth the effort if you really want to maximize your Grand Canyon experience. If you don’t mind standing 3,000 feet above the Colorado river, you can even hike to the Toroweap Overlook and enjoy the rushing view of the river below.
Olympic National Park, WA
With almost a million acres, the Olympic National Park is all diversity. Located on the Olympic Peninsula, the park boasts of three distinct ecosystems. This is perhaps the only park on the planet where you can find glaciers, beaches, and rainforests all in one location. Because of these distinct characteristics, Olympic National Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can go tidepooling and explore the unique marine life around the beaches. If you’re lucky, you can even go whale-watching during the migration season. Check out the unique rock formations and sea stacks or simply hang around the park’s famed Ruby beach. If you’re not feeling the beach, you can hike around Hoh Rainforest and check out the majestic, moss-covered trees. If winter is more of your thing, head up to Hurricane Ridge and have fun skiing and snowboarding. You’ll never run out of things to do when you’re in Olympic National Park.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI
What makes Sleeping Bear Dunes a unique campground is the 35-mile stretch of beach. And, as its name suggests, it’s got beautiful sand dunes that you can’t find anywhere else in the country. The area also has forest and inland lakes. Plus it has cultural programs that you can participate in. Lounge around the beach and enjoy the views of the bluffs and dunes that surround the area. You can also bike around Sleeping Bear Heritage trail or kayak down the Platte River.
Sleeping Bear has 4 campgrounds. Platte River Campground has showers and restrooms for your convenience. If you want to be more in touch with nature, you can camp at South Manitou island, where 3 campsites are available.
Camping is the best way to escape from the busy city life. Spending a day or two in the great outdoors can do you a lot of good. Aside from the fresh air and exercise, camping also reminds you of the beauty of nature and that there are bigger things beyond your office cubicle. You don’t have to spend a small fortune to unwind; all you need is a tent, a campfire and a knack for adventure and you’ll feel recharged in no time.
Any other beautiful campsites that weren’t on the list? Let us know about your favorite site in the comments below!