California Trails

The 15 Best National Park Campsites in America

At these creekside, shorefront, and mountaintop spots, the views are so gorgeous that you may never want to go to sleep.

A good campsite is so much more than a place to sleep. It’s a capstone to your day of hiking, a scenic spot where you can sit down, relax, and end a great day on the trail with a great night, watching the sun go down and the stars begin to sparkle. Pitch your tent at one of these top-notch national park sites—like Lower Rae Lake at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, pictured up top—to see what we mean.

Sahale Glacier Camp, North Cascades National Park, Washington

Sahale Glacier Camp

You’re not on top of the world when you reach this rock-protected site at 7,600 feet, but you’ll think you are. Blame the views, which are crowded with mountains the way the night sky is crowded with stars. Read more

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Hidden Valley

Can’t-miss plan for sussing out a stellar campsite: Go beyond the edges of where campers usually stay; evaluate sites on their merits, not on convenience; the higher you go, the better the views (usually); but don’t waste so much energy that you sleep through a good sunrise. Read more

Ford Point, Channel Islands National Park, California

Views of the sea from Channel Islands. Photo by: Mike Boehmer

The problem with great beaches is they’re usually mobbed. But not in the Channel Islands, where a two-hour sea crossing keeps the crowds away. At Ford Point, two rocky peninsulas frame the horseshoe-shaped beach, while an offshore reef creates a swell that attracts surfers. Read more

Cracker Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

Cracker Lake

It’s hard to say what you’ll notice first when you reach Glacier’s Cracker Lake—the aqua-blue water or the imposing, gray cliffs that angle thousands of feet upward to the point of 10,003-foot Mt. Siyeh. Read more

Redwood Canyon, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California

None

A dispersed camping policy means you can sleep anywhere you like in the heart of this canyon, where the sequoias reach the heavens. But for a campsite with five-star amenities, combine the Sugar Bowl and Hart Tree Trails for a 9.5-mile loop through the park’s largest grove of 300-foot-tall sequoias. Read more

Hance Beach, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

hance beach

We like to think of the Grand Canyon as a work in progress, subject to the whims and strength of the Colorado River. But there’s one area where it seems like the river saw its work was perfect and declared it done, and that’s Hance Beach. Read more

Sheep Pen Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

great smoky mountains national park

While the origin of the Southern Appalachians’ high-elevation balds is a mystery, one thing’s for sure: Divine intervention could scarcely have made better campsites. Read more

Cottonwood Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Montana

yellowstone bison

If you consider yourself a lord of the flies, there’s something you should know about Yellowstone. In addition to rainbow, brown, and brook trout, the park’s rivers and lakes teem with the largest inland population of cutthroats in the world. Read more

Salt Creek Canyon Site 3, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

salt creek canyon

The Salt Creek Trail is like a showroom of arches, cliff dwellings, ruins, and rock art. Add year-round water, and you’ve got some of the finest desert backpacking in the land. Read more

Hart Lake, Olympic National Park, Washington

hart lake

A good night starts with a good plan. And the best plans are often made on the fly. That’s how you end up planning to camp at Marmot Lake, but see Hart Lake— smaller, more private, and nestled higher on the mountain—on the map and think, I wonder. Read more

Indian Bar, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Indian bar

The 93-mile Wonderland Trail is so full of peaks, pines, and mountain streams that it can seem to pass in a wonderful blur. But you’re certain to remember Indian Bar. Read more

Snow Creek Camp, Yosemite National Park, California

Snow Creek Camp

Scan your brain for the most iconic feature in all of the national park system and Half Dome inevitably comes to mind. To trek up the side of the granite beast is a life-list experience unto itself, but you can’t truly appreciate the 8,839-foot-tall chunk of stone unless you see it, free of crowds, in all hours. Read more

Deer Haven, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Deer Haven

Badlands is home to the largest mixed grass prairie in the U.S., making it an open-air zoo for classic North American game like bighorn sheep and bison. The trailless Sage Creek Loop leads from one rangeland vista to the next, but wait until Deer Haven to set up your tent. Read more

Bear Glacier Lake, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Bear Glacier Lake

Up in the north, the vistas are so plentiful you’ll almost never find a line to see them. Up there, hikers can’t outpace nature long enough to establish more than a small handful of trails. That’s where you find beauty unrestricted by size or imagination and unmarred by those who have come before. Read more