Horace Greeley once wrote, “Go West, young man” — and he could not have been more right. The West is a land of palatial beauty, and it’s virtually unparalleled in its grandeur. What better way to experience its stunning vistas than while roughing it in the great outdoors?
Granted, finding the best campsite is a lot more involved than just showing up at the nearest KOA off the freeway. You’ve got to do your homework. So we’ve chosen the best campsites in the expansive West, and there’s not a mediocre one in the lot. From breathtaking mountains to bountiful lakes, there’s something here for everyone, and you’ll no doubt depart from any of them refreshed and properly acquainted with nature’s best.
Oh Say Can You Sea
Salt Point State Park
Number of Campsites: 110
Season: May – December
The Draw: Along the Sonoma Coast, Salt Point State Park boasts scenic, short hiking trails at Bluff Trail and Stump Beach Trail, Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve and, of all things, abalone diving (just not in the protected reserve). Though the two available campgrounds aren’t rich with amenities, the scenery alone rewards.
Don’t Miss: You’ll need time to check out the Kruse Rhododendron Reserve with its 317 acres and five miles of gorgeous hiking trails.
Saddlebag Lake Campground
Location: Yosemite National Park, 2.5 hours southeast of Sacramento
Number of Campsites: 20
Season: early September, right after Memorial Day
Fee: $19 per night
The Draw: If it’s the sights of Yosemite you crave, but not the teeming hordes of tourists, then go to Saddlebag Lake. Located in the western portion of the iconic national park, it is a small campground with the expected scenic views. Just above the Tioga Pass, you’ll find numerous glacial lakes and plenty of wildlife. And if that’s not enough reason to pitch your tent for days, the abundant fishing opportunities should have you eating well during that time.
Don’t Miss: The wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and the small but mighty pika.
Water, Fish and Quiet Seclusion
Location: Approximately 28 miles east of Port Orford, OR, 1.5 hours from the coast
Number of Campsites: 4
Season: Year round
The Draw: The fact that there are only four campsites at Laird Lake makes it attractive, far removed from the outdoorsy hordes you’d see elsewhere. Spread along the beautiful Elk River, the isolated campground provides the kind of privacy and quiet that every camper deserves to experience. The serenity is well worth the trip, as is the fishing. The lake is very regularly stocked with Rainbow Trout by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Don’t Miss: The breathtaking view of the lake can’t be missed, but it’s easily the best aspect of this nearly perfect waterfront campground.
Been There, Dune That
Piñon Flats Campground
Location: Great Sand Dunes National Park in the San Luis Valley, just west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
Number of Campsites: unlimited
Season: April – October
The Draw: If the idea of camping out at sand dunes makes you sleepy, think again, Sandman. Piñon Flats at Great Sand Dunes National Park offers up access to the biggest sand dunes in the United States. They rise hundreds of feet and offer a fantastic, leg-burning climb. There are 30 square miles of dunes, and the backdrop are the captivating 14,000-foot Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Though there are no official campsites, you can pitch your tent nearly anywhere your heart desires.
Don’t Miss: Watching the stars rocket across the jet-black sky. It gets dark on the dunes.
Dry Lake Campground
Location: Near Steamboat Springs, 3 hours 20 minutes northwest of Denver
Number of Campsites: 8
Season: summer – early fall
The Draw: For peace and quiet in the great outdoors, it doesn’t get much better than this small campground just eight miles from Steamboat Springs. It is surrounded by peaks and aspens as far as the eye can see, and though it’s not far from civilization, it feels worlds apart.
Don’t Miss: During the warmer months, sleep outside to get the full star effect.
Picturesque at the Panhandle
Green Bay Campground
Location: Approximately 1 hour northeast of Spokane, WA
Number of Campsites: 11
Season: May – October
The Draw: At 43 miles long (and with 111 miles of shoreline), Lake Pend Oreille is the biggest lake in Idaho, and the deepest at 1,158 feet. Green Bay Campground, on the lake, holds 11 fantastic and very simple campsites — it isn’t ideal for trailers and RVs, so die-hard tent campers are in heaven here. There’s plenty to do, including hiking, fishing and swimming. And when you’re just resting back at camp, getting an eyeful of some of Idaho’s best views will rest your heart rate in an instant.
Don’t Miss: Peaceful boating from one of the numerous launch points along the massive lake.
Golden Arches, Indeed
Location: The northern area of Arches National Park
Number of Campsites: 51
The Draw: If you want to be smack in the middle of stunning sandstone arches, then Devil’s Garden is your playground. Arches National Park is a developed campground where you’re surrounded not just by massive arches, but desert wildflowers, Juniper trees and Pinyon pines as well, all at 5,200 feet.
Don’t Miss: Easy access to Landscape Arch, the world’s longest natural arch at 290 feet in length.
When the Music Fades
Black Rock Desert Recreation Area
Location: Northwestern Nevada, 3.5 hours north of Reno
Number of Campsites: nearly unlimited free dispersed camping
The Draw: If the Burning Man Festival is way too crowded for you, then wait until the partying throngs leave Black Rock Desert, and you’ll have the expanse of jagged lava beds practically all to yourself. There’s biking and off-road trials and near-endless hiking over the park’s 300,000+ acres.
Don’t Miss: In the Emigrant Trails area, you can find wagon wheel ruts from the Oregon Trail that date back to the 1800s.
Majesty Without the Crowds
Location: Grand Canyon National Park
Number of Campsites: unspecified
Season: May – October
The Draw: If quiet grandeur is your thing, then head to Powell Plateau on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Only 5 percent of the Canyon’s 4.3 million annual visitors makes it to the North Rim, so you’ll be sure to find an ideal place to camp along one of the rim-side sites on the Powell Plateau. There are untrammeled views of the Bedrock and Galloway Canyons, and all you have to do to get there is hike a few miles from the Swamp Point trailhead, climb about 900 feet and then walk another two miles. It’s worth it.
Don’t Miss: Hiking the 8.5-square-mile plateau that’s heavily forested in Ponderosa Pine leads to some seriously breathtaking rim views.
On the Rocks, Please
Sahale Glacier Camp
Location: North Cascades National Park
Number of Campsites: unspecified
The Draw: If camping at the top of the world is your idea of heaven, then Sahale Glacier Camp, at 7,686 feet, is your campground of choice. Take the nearly six-mile, 4,100 foot hike, and you’ll be rewarded along the way with mountain goat and marmot sightings, and a breathtaking view of snowcapped peaks.
Don’t Miss: The sound of cracking glacier ice.
Salt Creek Recreation Area
Location: Port Angeles
Number of Campsites: 92
The Draw: It’s all about the stupefyingly gorgeous views over the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island and Crescent Bay — as well as a multitude of surreal rocky bluffs and stunning forests as far as the eye can see. There’s also ample hiking throughout the 196-acre county park.
Don’t Miss: The tide pools where marine life shows up regularly, including otters, starfish and octopi.
Quiet in the Cowboy State
Curtis Canyon Campground
Location: Bridger-Teton National Forest, northeast of Jackson, WY
Season: May – September
The Draw: It’s the best of both worlds, with easy access to town and spartan camping that’s nowhere near the crowds. Curtis Canyon Campground also happens to sit on top of a 6,600-foot butte that lays between the National Elk Refuge, where massive herds of elk can been seen, and the Gros Ventre Wilderness where there are no buildings, roads or motor vehicles of any kind. Out here you can fish and hike to your heart’s content without worry about being disturbed by anything shy of a hooting owl.
Don’t Miss: The never-tiresome view of the jagged Grand Teton mountain range.
Bring the Waders
Jemez Falls Campground
Location: Santa Fe National Forest, East of La Cueva
Number of Campsites: 52
Season: May – October
The Draw: Not only do you get to camp in a gorgeous ponderosa pine forest at nearly 8,000 feet — you also get to go hog wild in a fly fisherman’s dream come true: the Jemez River. The 120-foot-tall Jemez Falls, the tallest in the Jemez Mountains, are also worthwhile.
Don’t Miss: The spectacular wall of red rock formations by the Walatowa Visitor Center in the Pueblo of Jemez.
Mt. McKinley in Your Sights
Wonder Lake Campground
Location: Denali National Park
Number of Campsites: 28
Season: June – September
The Draw: Wonder Lake’s 26-site campground is the closest one to Mt. McKinley and provides marvelous views of the nation’s tallest peak. Despite the fact that the mountain is 26 miles away, the sight of it (along with its reflection off stunning Wonder Lake) makes for the memory of a lifetime. Occupants of trailers, tents and RVs should be mindful of the area’s bad mosquito season, largely during the summer.
Don’t Miss: Roaming moose and grizzlies are regulars throughout the park. A dangerous sight, but a sight nonetheless.
Ditch the Luau and Pig Roast
Holua and Paliku Wilderness Campsites
Location: Haleakala National Park
The Draw: Camping with one of the most unique views in the world: a 10,023-foot dormant volcano. The two sites are accessible only by long trail hikes, but the cool, lush surrounding area makes it worth your while. Enjoy captivating sunsets at the Haleakala Crater, as well as unique tree life like Vermillion Cinder Cone and red ferns.
Don’t Miss: Impressive hikes at Halemauu Trailhead and Keoneheehee trail offer up climbs to over 8,000 feet, where you can view the Crater and the coastline.