Nothing is as memorable as camping in the breathtaking wilderness of America’s national parks, where lifelong memories of sitting around the campfire, roasting marshmallows, and gazing at the gazillion stars above are forged. The memories are so strong, in fact, that even just the smell of burning wood will transport you back to the campsite where you last spent the night. Whether you are in a tent, a hammock, or sleeping out in the wilderness, camping in the national parks helps reconnect you with a way of life mostly forgotten in the daily hustle and bustle.
There are 59 national parks for you to find that one-of-a-kind bedroom under the stars. Here are the five best for incredible camping. Many of the parks require reservations, so be sure to check before you pack up the car and head out.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
It should come as no surprise that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the North Carolina and Tennessee border, is a fantastic place to camp. It’s the most-visited national park in America, and generations of Americans have learned to camp within the confines of this gorgeous East Coast gem. Camping here gets you in the middle of some of the oldest mountains in the world, while allowing you to explore nearly 100 species of native trees that call the Smokies home. The park has incredible hiking around every corner, world-class backpacking, and many historic and scenic wonders.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 10 well-developed campgrounds, perfect for families and those new to camping. They make the perfect basecamp if you want to explore the nearly 900 miles of trails in the Smokies, including sections of the Appalachian Trail. A stay at the Elkmont Campground near Gatlinburg gets you close to waterfalls, awesome hikes, and frequent bear sightings. For more seclusion, be sure to check out the Cosby Campground, and hike up to the Mount Cammerer Fire Tower. The panoramic view will forever be etched in your mind, allowing you to return to this perfect moment each time you blink.
Olympic National Park
You could spend a lifetime camping in Washington’s Olympic National Park and not see it all. Considered to be three parks in one, the Pacific Northwest’s crown jewel has a wide variety of options for campers. Only here are you forced to choose among camping along a glacier-fed river in the rainforest, up on a windswept ridge with full panoramic views, or along the Pacific Coast next to or high above crashing waves. It’s hard to choose a favorite!
If you are looking for solitude and awesomeness (outside of the breathtaking backcountry campsites) then check out the Graves Creek Campground in the Quinault Rainforest, or the always-gorgeous Deer Park Campground on Blue Mountain. If you want to watch the sunset from your tent, grab a campsite along the bluffs at Kalaloch Beach and fall in love with Olympic. There are no bad campgrounds here, only endless opportunities to reconnect with nature, your family, or yourself.
Glacier National Park
It’s said that if you haven’t camped in Glacier National Park, you haven’t camped at all. Once you spend a night, or seven, in this amazing national park, you’ll agree. Glacier is where nature lovers go to relax, and where campers flock to explore and take in the splendor of the Rocky Mountains. It’s full of wildlife, and gives you immediate access to the stunning beauty of Montana. Glacier is where you need to go to answer the call of the wild.
Out on the “Backbone of America,” you get to experience a little bit of everything from wildlife and glaciers to lakes, waterfalls and mountain peaks. You should also take the time to drive the park and enjoy the famous Going-to-the-sun Road. Camping at Glacier gets you into raw wilderness at any campground. However, your best bets for camping, wildlife watching, and access to incredible hikes are at the Many Glacier, Two Medicine, or Bowman Lake areas. This park is great for all, as numerous campgrounds have enough amenities to make nearly everyone happy.
Capitol Reef National Park
There is a romance in the Utah wilderness that is hard to replicate, and nearly impossible to fully comprehend, unless you are there in person. Located in the heart of Red Rock Country, Capitol Reef National Park is one of the least-visited parks in Utah, making it an ideal camping destination. The park has access to miles of canyons, natural bridges, cliffs, and domes waiting to be explored. The park’s main draws are the domes at Capitol Reef along the 100-mile Waterpocket Fold, and the amazingly iconic Entrada Sandstone temples of Cathedral Valley. Their beauty is unique and the stargazing is unparalleled.
The best way to camp here is to stay at one of the two primitive campsites, with your best bet being the Cathedral Valley Campground. For those wanting water and other basic amenities, there is one developed campground in the park. Fruita Campground has 71 sites in a desert oasis, surrounded by orchards of peach, cherry, and apple trees. Feel free to pick and eat their fruit while soaking in the western beauty of Utah.
Acadia National Park
As the steady sounds of waves relax you into a deep slumber after a day of exploring, it’s easy to fall in love with every aspect of this coastal national park. Acadia National Park has three easily accessible campgrounds and one remote island campground, giving you the perfect chance to have an amazing night along the coast of Maine. Best for watching sunrises and exploring miles of trails and tide pools, Acadia is an outdoor adventurer’s dream location. Balancing beauty, wilderness, and accessibility, Acadia is perfect for family vacations, romantic getaways, and an escape from the doldrums of city life.
Stunning adventures can be had at both the Blackwoods and Seawall Campgrounds; but for true isolation and solitude, the Duck Harbor Campground is ideal. Located on a rugged island, camping here gives you access to the best trails and lets you sleep above the crashing seas and rocky shores that make Acadia world-famous.