Camping in America – The Best Camping Spots Across the US
Camping in America – The Best Camping Spots Across the US
The Unites States is a vast and beautiful place, rich in breath-taking landscapes, ecological diversity, and a wealth of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. In this guide we take a deep dive into Camping in the US, looking at some of the most popular States to camp in, and the best camping spots you’ll find there. We’ll highlight some of the things you’ll want to consider before visiting, as well as sharing additional resources so you can decide which regions to explore and plan your trip with confidence. With such a breadth of choice, the locations we’ll cover are just a handful of the options available, comprising our top picks from across the Nation.
What we will cover:
- Preparation for your trip
- Wild Animal
- Emerganicy Supplies
- Other Essentials
- Camping in the Different Parts of the US
Let’s start off with the basics of any Camping trip, to make sure you get the best out of your experience, and feel fully prepared no matter what the wild throws at you, or where you roam!
Preparation for your Camping Trip
As with most things in life, preparation is key! Start out by thinking about the kind of trip you want to have. Are you wanting to feel fully immersed in nature, away from civilisation with not another human being in sight? Then dispersed camping might be your preference. Love the outdoors, but like your creature comforts too? A more established campground might be more your style.
Typically, camping options in the USA fall into a two different categories – Established campsites and Dispersed or Primitive camping locations.
Established campsites – these are usually managed campgrounds with designated spaces for Tents, and sometimes RVs. Some will have electrical hook-ups, and in general these locations are more likely to have more basic amenities than you’d find when backcountry camping. In some instances you can call ahead and reserve a site, while others will operate on a first come first served basis. Before you go, check to see if you need a pass, or if there are fees to pay. Recreation.gov is a great place to start your research.
Dispersed & Primitive Camping
Dispersed camping / Primitive camping / Backcountry Camping – this term is associated with camping in locations outside of designated campsites, such as in National Forests and Bureau of Land Management land. You’ll have more space, but no services. You’ll be without any electrical hookups and other handy amenities, so thoughtful forward planning is important to making sure you have everything you need for a comfortable, safe, and enjoyable trip.
This kind of experience is about as real as it gets. Primitive camping spots are designated camping areas that have very limited improvements, such as a fire ring and partially cleared tent sites. This type of camping tends to be far removed from civilisation and offers few or no amenities such as running water, electricity, picnic tables, or restrooms. You may need a permit wherever you decide to set up camp, so check local regulations whilst planning your adventure.
There’s nothing quite as wonderful as gathering around a campfire, prepping ‘Smores and telling stories. But before lighting a fire whilst camping in the United States, it’s crucial to make sure it is safe, and that you are permitted to do so. Rules vary state by state, based on the environment and conditions you’ll find there. In some regions you can set a fire in a designated fire pit, in others not at all, due to the risk of wildfires.
On average over the past decade, over 61,000 wildfires have occured annually in the US, with 7.4 million acres of land impacted each year, so its crucial to follow local guidance to avoid putting yourself, others, wildlife, and the environment in danger. If you can safely start a fire, ensure you keep it a good distance from surrounding debris and ensure it doesn’t get too large. Keep a container of water on hand to quickly extinguish a flame that gets out of control.
When camping, wild animals can be an issue unless you are well prepared and pack the proper equipment. Remember, you are exploring their home – and they have as much right (if not more!) to be there as you do. Check out local guidance before you set out to see what creatures you are likely to encounter and if you need to pack items like Bear Spray, and animal resistant food storage containers, or a good cooler, etc.
Before you head off into the wilderness, it’s always wise to make sure you’ve shared your rough route plan with someone who’s staying behind, in case something goes wrong. If no one knows where you are, no-one knows where to start looking for you should you fail to check in at the end of your trip. Take a solar powered battery pack to charge up your phone and/or GPS in case they run out of charge, and an up to date map, as well as a compass as a back up if all else fails.
Always take enough food and water to sustain you for the duration of the trip. We can’t stress this enough – do not be caught short without enough water to hydrate you after a long day of hiking, as your health and strength can begin to suffer quickly without it. Similarly, you should always take a First Aid Kit – small ailments can escalate out on the trail and before you know it your well planned trip could be curtailed.
Clothing – as they always say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing! Pack for the elements – take waterproofs, layers, a hat (sun, or woolly depending on season), and spares in case you miss your step and end up soaked to your knees in mud! Take a torch too – you might rate your night-vision in day to day life but the pitch black of the backcountry is a different beast entirely.
Tent, sleeping bag, mattress, pots & pans, torch, flask, charging station, spare clothes, cooking stove, lighter, strong box, toothbrush & paste, ecological dishwashing liquid, soap & shampoo, rubbish bag, camping chairs, camping table, hat....
Camping in the Northeast of America
There are hundreds of areas of outstanding natural beauty in the northeast, with scenic hiking trails, fantastic State Parks and unspoilt National Forests – and these are often best appreciated by setting up camp for the night. Summer is the ideal time for camping in the Northeastern States - the weather and temperature can be a little unpredictable during the rest of the year, and the winter can be very bitter. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular states to Camp in the region.
The State of New York has a huge array of opportunities for camping, with an abundance of State parks, campgrounds, hiking trails, fishing locations, swimming spots, tent sites, RV sites and more. Some top locations in The Empire State that are worth considering include:
Enjoy some of the highest peaks in NY State, with thousands of miles of hiking trails and canoe routes to explore.
Lakes, streams, wildlife, trails and rolling countryside – the perfect combination for any camping trip.
The largest park in the East, on par with Yellowstone National Park.
Admire some of the best sunsets in the world whilst overlooking one of the Great Lakes and lush valleys.
With plenty of state parks and well trodden routes, you’ll never be short of things to do here. Set up base camp and hike out on one of the many marked trails, or for the intrepid amongst you, take a lightweight UNA Tree Tent and carry your shelter in your pack!
With fantastic campgrounds and local amenities, you’ll find some well established recreation sites with everything you need for a comfortable stay - picnic tables, hook-ups, RV camping spots, and cabins can all be found along the sandy beaches.
Thousand Islands Region
A water lovers paradise - discover one of the many wonderful waterside parks, with private campgrounds and plenty of outdoor recreation activities, such as golf, and mountain biking.
Lucious green forests and winding rivers, perfect for canoe trips and waterside camping for a great Outdoors experience.
Let’s be honest – who’s bucket list doesn’t include a trip to the mighty Niagara Falls - an unforgettable sight, surrounded by rivers, lakes and private campgrounds for yurt or cabin camping, fishing, and hiking.
Winding forests and rolling hills, with plenty of family friendly activities to do such as horseback riding, wagon rides, biking and fishing.
The capital city of New York State. There are six nature-based campgrounds located within City of Albany coastal Reserves. Five of these camping areas are currently fee free with the exception of Cape Riche. The Empire Pass is your key to all-season enjoyment - instead of paying the vehicle use fee, just show this pass and you’re on your way.
Pennsylvania is home to the famous Appalachian trails, Pocono Mountains, and Great Lakes regions of the United States, covering 45,000 square miles in the heart of the mid-atlantic.
As well as plenty of established campsites, Pennsylvania offers lots of primitive camping or wild camping locations too, and if you plan on staying just one night a camping permit isn’t needed.
There are 124 state parks in Pennsylvania, with over 300,000 acres of natural beauty to explore. High season is during summer whilst the weather is at its best, so it’s up to you whether you’re willing to risk inclement weather in exchange for guaranteed space, peace and quiet on the campgrounds. As always, pack in preparation for various weathers, and keep an eye on forecasts closer to your leaving date so you know what to expect.
For a deeper look at camping options around Pennsylvania, check out our Ultimate Guide.
Massachusetts is the most populous state in the New England region, with plenty of camping opportunities, whether they are in the assorted campgrounds and resorts or along hiking trails and in state parks. Camping season starts in mid-April and lasts through to mid-October.
From the central streams, plains and gentle hills, to the Coastal bays, and mountains in the West – there is something for everyone here. Mount Greylock and the Taconic mountains are always a firm favourite, as are the 1500 miles of coastline (there’s a reason it’s known as the Bay State!).
For the wildlife lovers, there are opportunities to observe Black Bear, Bobcats, Coyotes and Moose (albeit from a safe distance, please), and for the tree lovers out there, there are few places better to experience Fall-leaf colours in all their vibrancy.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to Camping in Massachusetts for a more detailed look at camping opportunities in this State.
Camping in the South West of America
The Southwest is a fascinating place where camping enthusiasts from around the world will be tempted by unique deserts and glorious hot springs. It can be a challenging region of winds, significant day-night temperature variations, and wildlife such as snakes and alligators. Check out this round up from our friends at The Dyrt of the top 10 places to explore in the region. For now, we’ll focus on the vast and impressive State of Texas.
The Lone Star State, home of big food and big dreams. But it’s also a great place for camping! With tons of choice of campgrounds, there’s no limit to the possibilities in this southern state - from the many State Parks to free camping deep in the wilderness. There are 84 state parks to choose from, which span over 640,000 acres of wild spaces. As a starting point, some highlights worth researching further are Colorado Bend, Davis Mountain, Guadalupe River, Caddo Lake, Caprock Canyon and Inks Lake.
There are some vast areas of water that have great campgrounds to be found here too, with Lake Travis, Inks Lake and Lake Somerville being some of the more popular choices. The Texas Hill country is favourable for backcountry camping, with a wide choice of dispersed campgrounds – a great place to practice primitive camping and bushcraft skills.
Note: Texas recently passed legislation making it illegal and punishable by a fine of up to $500 to camp in public spaces without permission, so as always its crucial to ensure that the area you plan to camp is exempt, and check if permission is obtainable. http://www.jgradyrandlepc.com/local-governmental-entities/texas-bans-camping-public-places/.
Camping in the West of America
The West Coast is an ideal spot for road trippers wanting to explore Nature’s most magnificent offerings – from wild, rugged coastlines, to arid deserts and seemingly infinite, sprawling forests. It is a very dramatic landscape and there is plenty for campers to do in the region. Our top spots on the West Coast include:
The Beaver State is teaming with beautiful vistas, and there are so many locations to visit - from the Oregon Coast across to the National Forests and pristine Lakes. Before you start, the Oregon.gov website is a great place to begin your research, with lots of helpful info about National Forests where you should be able to set up your Tree Tent, so long as you follow guidance. https://www.oregon.gov/odf/recreation/pages/camp.aspx.
The Cascade Lakes are a point of particular interest, with world class scenery that will inspire even the most seasoned of travellers. Mount Hood and the surrounding forests are unrivalled in their grandeur, where you will be greeted with a carpet of evergreens that hit the horizon in all directions. Smith Rock boasts some of the best climbing around, with trails to suit every level of hiker from beginner to advanced. Crater Lake, Deschutes National Forest, Willamette… the list goes on – Oregon really is a mecca for the true Outdoors enthusiast. Start your journey here https://www.recreation.gov/discover/camping/Oregon/state
Utah has such an incredible variety of environments to explore – in the northern parts of the state you’ll find Lakes and Forests, and in the South, arid red rock canyons. There are 5 national parks home to free camping sites, dispersed camping and establish campgrounds, so there’s plenty of choice. From the otherworldly scenery of Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, to the high Uintas Forest and the great Salt Lake itself, Utah is truly spellbinding. Capitol Reed national park, Snow Canyon state park, Goblin Valley, Bear Lake, and the Wasatch Mountains are all well worth a look (take our word for it, we lived out there for a while!), or maybe you fancy watching the herds of Bison that dwell on Antelope Island.
As with other States discussed in this guide, areas of Utah are home to many wild animals – including Rattlesnakes, Cougars and Bears. As ever, check before you head to your chosen area on the types of animals that reside there and always follow advice.
Camping in the Southeast of America
With their coastal location, many of the Southeast states on this list enjoy excellent beaches as well as mountainous landscapes. Even the swamps are beautiful!
Florida is home to countless camping spots and is an extremely popular place to travel. With 175 State Parks, including 11 National Parks you’ll have no difficulty in finding something to do and somewhere to go. In fact the hardest job will be whittling down your options… Ginnie Spring, Ocala National Forest, Turtle Beach, Hillsborough River, St Augustine, Key West, Everglades, Forgotten coast, and Manatee Springs are a handful to read up on first. When taking at a look at campsites, bear in mind that you may have to reserve your pitch so book ahead to avoid disappointment. Here is a link to Florida state park rules so you can brush up on them before you head out - https://www.floridastateparks.org/plan-your-visit/florida-state-park-rules.
The Old North State is abundant with state parks, bodies of water, gorgeous landscapes and national seashore. There are many well trodden hiking trails, as well as dense backcountry to lose oneself in (figuratively, of course – please do take a map). Home to the Appalachian Trail, this 2,180+ mile long public footpath is a firm favourite for intrepid campers the world over. The Blue Ridge Mountains offer unspoilt vistas of rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes, or if it’s salt marshes and the sound of ocean waves that invigorate your senses, head for Cape Lookout. The National Parks website has details about all of these locations and many more, so if North Carolina is one of your chosen destinations, that’s the best place to start.
Camping in the Midwest of America
The Midwest is a popular camping region for its rugged landscape and varied weather—it can be sub-zero in the winter and extremely hot in the summer. There are plenty of water-centric locations in the region, making it ideal for camping during dry, hot months, especially with a multi-purpose tent like Tentsile’s water friendly Universe 5-Person Three-Element tent https://www.tentsile.com/collections/family-tents/products/universe-5-person-three-element-tent.
From lakes to forests, dunes to parks, Lake Michigan has many amazing campgrounds to experience. Sandy Shores, known for its pristine sandy beaches is one not to miss. There are many grass sites to pitch on, and local stores nearby. You can rent cabins on the private beaches here if you prefer too. Weko Beach Campground is on the southeast side of Lake Michigan. It’s an hour’s drive away from most stores and hotels, so it’s quite isolated. Families can enjoy Captain Mikes Fun Park nearby, which offers many activities and facilities for youngsters and adults alike. St. Ignace Campground is at the Straits of Mackinac, the crossroads between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Lodging options and tent sites offer amazing views of the lake and the surrounding hills. Porcupine Mountains is an area for the more hardened camping enthusiasts, and for those bold enough to brave the infamous Summit Peak, there is an incredible view of the countryside and forest waiting for you. There are a few campgrounds dotted around here such as Pomeroy Lake, Balsam, Maple, Perch, Pine Mink, Wolf and Racoon.
Captain John Langland Park is in Onekama, near Pierport and Bear Lake – a well-organized village, with beautiful beaches. This area is suitable for campers of all experience levels, as there are few stores and resorts in the close vicinity in case you forgot to pack something vital (we’ve all been there).
There are many traditional campsites throughout the state of Ohio, however one factor that sets this State apart if that it’s one of the few that allow wild camping without a permit (limited to one night per location). The perfect time to practice primitive camping and brush up on those bushcraft skills. For those wanting to camp in areas with a few more comforts, or keen to meet other campers, there’s lots of choice: Cherry Springs, Racoon Creek, Colton Point, Great Seal state park, East Fork, Tar Hollow, Cuyahoga Valley, Alum Creek, East Harbour, Shawnee and Ohio State Parks are all options to check out.
Getting the most out of your American camping trip
So there you have it – our whirlwind round up of some of the top locations in the USA to go camping. It goes without saying that this is not a finite list, and there are SO many options open to you across this incredible landscape. Wherever you roam, please always remember to do so safely, and treat the Outdoors with respect. Leave No Trace, and above all – appreciate the majesty of our natural world with the lightest footprint you can. Oh – and take a Tree Tent along with you too – you won’t regret it!