The Best Beach Camping

Eight beach campsites to start off your summer adventures
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When the weather heats up, humans head for the beach. Part of it’s practical—it’s cooler near the water, and sea breezes provide a rare respite—but some of it seems more hard-wired instinct; when summer begins, we hit the sand. Join the shoreward migration at one of these eight backcountry campsites.

Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay State Park, NV

Paddle the edge of Lake Tahoe to the pale sand beaches of Emerald Bay, where you can camp right beside the startlingly green water without the cacophony road traffic. You can reserve any of the twenty sites between May 15 and September 15; sites 1, 21, and 22 are right on the water with their own beaches, but all the sites have easy water access. Snag an overnight parking pass at D.L. Bliss State Park, then launch your kayak or canoe for the four-mile paddle to Emerald Bay and watch the crowds vanish. Permit reservations required; parking pass required for boat launch Contact Emerald Bay State Park

Lost Coast

King Range National Conservation Area, CA

Pitch your tent right on the Pacific on this stretch of remote California shoreline, one of the few undeveloped stretches of beach in the state. Weaving between the waves and the mountains, this 24.6-mile backpacking route runs through a bit of every kind of wilderness California has to offer, but the most scenic sites are right on the beach—and you can pitch your tent anywhere on the sand. Summer is the best season for more than just the beach camping; at mile 4.7 (from Mattole Beach), stop at Sea Lion Gulch to spot sea lion pups and baby seals. Permit required; self-register at the trailhead Contact Lost Coast Trail

Shi Shi Beach

Olympic National Park, WA

Camp in the shadow of sea stacks on the Olympic coast, where your morning camp coffee comes with ocean views and a makeshift table ringed with starfish and sea anemones. Shi Shi Beach is a short enough hike for a family trip, with a maximum round-trip distance of 9 miles, but the payoff is far out of proportion; wave-washed sea stacks topped by wind-gnarled pines, migrating whales just offshore, and miles of sand for wandering. Permit required; available in person at the Wilderness Information Center, with reservations available online Contact Olympic National Park

"_MS" by vastateparksstaff is licensed under CC BY 2.0

"_MS" by vastateparksstaff is licensed under CC BY 2.0

False Cape

False Cape State Park, VA

Get a front-seat view of wild bottlenose dolphins and a 19th-century shipwreck on this little-known oasis along the Virginia coast. The 22.5-mile lollipop loop starts in Back Bay’s wetlands before heading into live oak and loblolly pine forest, then emerges onto the cape’s broad beach. You can set up camp just above the high-tide line, right on the sand, with no tracks left on the dunes except yours and the beach’s resident foxes. Permit required; sites can be reserved Contact False Cape State Park

Blake Islands

Umbagog Lake State Park, NH

Get a whole island’s shoreline to yourself at one of these campsites in 10-mile-long Umbagog Lake. Loop around nearby Big Island on a 4.5-mile paddle to camp, exploring the rocky shoreline while bald eagles and loons swoop above. Once you’ve explored your fill, head east to the waterfront campsite on the Blake Islands, pitching your tent at the thin border between forest and waves. Permit required Contact Umbagog Lake State Park

Hunting Island

Hunting Island State Park, SC

Camp on this island’s North Beach partway through your loop of the entire isle. Driftwood is scattered like enormous pick-up sticks along the shoreline, sun-bleached logs that were once towering trees framing your view of the Atlantic, and in certain seasons you can spot sea turtles between the timber. Snag one of the primitive sites nestled among the sand dunes and settle in to the sound of the waves. Permit required Contact Hunting Island State Park

"Suns and Moons" by annakfitz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

"Suns and Moons" by annakfitz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Little Tybee Island

Little Tybee Island State Heritage Preserve, GA

Pick your personal beach on some of this barrier island’s 6,780-acres—the entire shoreline is open to backpackers. Access is relatively easy; just paddle one mile from larger Tybee Island, keeping an eye on the tide when picking your launch time. Ibises, ospreys, and herons frequent the salt marshes that dot the island, while dolphins play just offshore. The only water available is salt, though, so bring your own drinking water. Permit none Contact Little Tybee Island State Heritage Preserve

Crescent City Beach

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI

This backcountry site is part of a 14.2-mile loop around North Manitou Island, just over 6 miles offshore in Lake Michigan. Great as a first night of a leisurely three-day trip or the only overnight stop for a quick weekend, this waterfront site has more than just Great Lakes scenery—at night you’ll get one of the best views of the Milky Way anywhere. Make camp at one of several campsites just above the sand and settle in for the nightly show. Permit backcountry permit required Contact Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore