In the summer, my goal is to soak up as much fresh air and sunshine as my body can hold. I find that the more time I spend in nature and in tune with the rhythms and cycles of the natural world, the easier it becomes to stay mindful and remain present from moment to moment. Science agrees: proven benefits of more outdoor time include a happier mind, healthier body, and better concentration among other things. And what better way embrace nature than to sleep under the stars? The possibilities are endless and how you do it is up to you. From coastal forests to rocky deserts, here are my favorite National Park camping sites for your next cross-country road trip or long-weekend getaway.
Camping plus beach – what’s not to love? This little barrier island off the coast of Maryland Virginia is ever in flux with strong storms continuously reshaping its shoreline. Covered in sand, salt marshes, forests and coastal bays there there are over 37 miles of beach to explore. Hike by day and sleep on the sand to the sound of the crashing waves under the twinkling stars at night. You can also get a permit for over sand vehicle use.
The rocky climate can present a challenge to hikers but the rugged beauty of the unique scenery is totally worth it. Tall and short grass prairies dot the otherworldly terrain of striking rock formations. Home to one of the largest fossil accumulations in North America, each hike provides a historic glimpse into the ancient ecosystems that came before. If you’re into astronomy or stargazing, this is the place for you as it’s touted to have some of the clearest skies in the country. There are two campgrounds in the park – Cedar Pass with basic amenities like water and electricity and Sage Creek which is more primitive. Permits aren’t required for backcountry camping but you will have to register before heading out.
Close to 95% of this park is designated wilderness which means no cars, no roads, and no electricity. Best known for its waterfalls, there are 1,200 miles of rolling meadows, deep valleys and ancient sequoias to explore. Hike up Glacier Point for panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra Peaks. With hiking options for beginner up to more advanced backpackers, the 13 campgrounds dotted throughout the park are the perfect home base no matter your skills set. Backcountry camping is permitted with a free permit that can be reserved ahead of time.
Desert camping may seem like a turnoff but something about the meeting of high and low deserts creates a unique, almost ethereal atmosphere. Joshua Tree is comprised of around 8000,000 acres between the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. There are 10 mountain peaks scattered throughout the park, drawing tons of rock climbers each year. Even if that’s not your speed, the one-of-a-kind scenery and energy of this area make it a must visit. There are 9 campgrounds throughout the park, and backcountry camping is allowed with preregistration.
The contrast between massive sandstone cliffs and brilliantly blue skies sets a striking backdrop for camping in Zion. You can hike the woods or the Kolob Canyons with shorter and longer trails depending on how hard you want to go. If you’re down for a trek check out Kolob Arch, one of the largest natural arches in the world. There are three campgrounds that fill up pretty quickly during the summer but overnight backpacking trips are permitted with a wilderness permit . If you plan on doing that, make sure to check out this Zion wilderness guide.
Located on Mount Desert Island in Maine, this sprawling slice of New England coastline features breathtaking views over acres and acres of forests, lakes, rivers and streams. The park is home to Mount Cadillac – the highest point on the East Coast – and if you can make it to the top for sunrise you’ll be the first one on the East Coast to see it. There are three designated campgrounds within the park and camping is restricted only to these spots.
Glacier National Park has over 700 acres of stunning forests, glaciers, meadows and mountains, with breathtaking views around almost every corner. Going-To-The-Sun Road winds through the park’s mountains, perfect for a scenic car-camping trip. If on foot is more your speed, head to Logan Pass or Many Glacier for trails circling crystal clear alpine lakes. There are 13 developed campgrounds with 1,009 established backcountry sites that operate on a first come first serve basis. Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit in designated campgrounds.
The Rio Grande River flows through Big Bend, making it the perfect destination for an aquatic adventure. If you’re into rafting, canoeing or kayaking this park is a must-visit. If by land is more your speed, there are also trails winding through miles of desert, mountain and river terrain. Devil’s Den is a popular 5.7 mile trip into massive limestone slot canyons. Santa Elena is another beautiful trail, a shorter 1.7 mile round trip with views all up and down the canyon. The remote location allows the stars to pierce brightly through the night sky for a breathtaking view even in the dark. There are three developed campgrounds with primitive roadside sites for backcountry camping throughout.
My camping essentials:
A good book
Something to write in
A deck of cards
Broken-in hiking boots
Plus the basics (tent, sleeping bag, etc)
Make sure to read up on what you need for the specific site you’re visiting as climate and terrain will vary.