Top 20 USA Camping Destinations for Your First Trip
Okay, you’ve finally made the decision that you want a new adventure and a camping trip is what you seek. You are ready to experience the excitement of sleeping in a tent, cooking marshmallows over a campfire, and gazing up to a beautiful night sky. Perhaps you are feeling a little stressed and not sure where to go? Did you know that certain campgrounds provide amenities and options that will make your first camping experience easier?
Before getting to the top destinations for beginner campers, let us share some information about camping regulations at the different campgrounds. If you are brand new to camping you may want to check out our Beginners Guide to their First Camping Trip to get started.
Camping at State Parks
State parks often get overlooked when planning a camping trip as their appeal is not as epic as the legendary National Parks. Do consider that state parks are often closer to your home and provide easier access for a quick trip. Many state parks have bathrooms with running water and areas to access potable water, which is a great amenity for a first-time camper. It is common for the campsites to be equipped with designated fire rings and picnic tables as well. Entrance fees and campsite reservation systems vary depending on the location, though fees are usually nominal, and you may even find that there are no fees at all. Their locations, affordability, access to amenities make state parks one of the best campgrounds for beginner campers.
Camping at National Parks
Due to their popularity, national parks are common destinations for beginner campers. Planning a camping trip to national parks can be a bit trickier due to their location and proximity. Not everyone lives near a national park. Due to the remoteness of these areas, most national park campsites do not have electricity and running water. It is common for national parks to have an entrance fee and additional campsite fees. Reservations are necessary for the more popular national parks due to the limit of sites and the number of visitors, though many operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. National parks are a good choice for beginner campers, just be sure to check your destination's policies when planning your trip.
Camping at Privately Owned Campgrounds
Privately owned campgrounds offer a wide range of diversity, from the small and simple to the large and elaborate. Tent and RV sites are a blend of basic to full hook up, with many campgrounds equipped with full bathrooms including showers. At the larger campgrounds, you may even find clubhouses, restaurants, and laundry facilities available. Campground staff and hosts are around to offer assistance, and, commonly, there will be organized activities for visitors. The campgrounds can be family operated for generations or franchised such as KOA and Jellystone. Campsite fees vary and reservations can be made online for most privately-owned campgrounds. Camping at a privately owned campground is a nice choice for your first camping trip due to the convenience and access to amenities.
Now that we have outlined the different options when choosing your first camping trip, let us provide our top 20 destinations. We’ve broken them down regionally to keep things organized. Your park of choice not on the list? Feel free to find your own park.
West and Pacific northwest
1. Fallen Leaf Campground, California
This 206 site campground is situated on the north shore of Fallen Leaf Lake, a quieter, mellower lake compared to Lake Tahoe which is only a few miles away. Yurts, cabins, RV sites, and tent sites are available from mid-May through mid-October. The campsites are nestled among native pine and aspen forests and are only a short walk to the crystal-clear waters of the lake. Recreational opportunities include hiking, boating, fishing, and swimming. Amenities include restrooms with flush toilets and coin-operated showers, campfire rings, grills, picnic tables, and a general store. A camp host is on-site, and firewood and supplies can be purchased from the camp store. A public phone is also available.
2. Yosemite National Park, California
If you're camping for the first time, then why not visit one of America's finest natural treasures. 95% of this park is designated wilderness, meaning no cars, no structures, no electricity, but luckily there are 13 campgrounds scattered throughout the park providing rustic comfort for beginner campers. It’s highly recommended to reserve your site beforehand, though 7 of the campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Our top picks are Tuolumne Meadows Campground (304 sites), Lower Pines Campground (60 sites), and Wawona Campground (93 sites).
3. Beverly Beach State Park, Oregon
With 128 tent sites, this creekside camp is one of Oregon’s largest. The campsites are scattered in coastal forests within a stone’s throw from the water’s edge where tide pools are teeming with sea life. The park is located between Newport and Depoe Bay, making it an ideal base for whale watching. Amenities include restrooms with flush toilets, showers, and picnic areas. Firewood can be purchased at the Welcome Center and there is also a playground for kids. This campsite is open year-round.
4. Ludington State Park, Michigan
This 5,300-acre park is located between 2 lakes and has everything from sand dunes and shorelines to marshlands and forest. Three campgrounds offer 355 campsites complete with showers and bathrooms. There are also 10 hike-in only campsites if you are looking for a backcountry experience. The park is open year-round but camping is only permitted from mid-May to late November. Campsites fill quickly so we recommend calling early in the season for a reservation. Recreational activities include hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. The Ludington Canoe Trail, a unique loop through marshy coves and ponds, is a must-do when visiting this park.
5. Peninsula State Park, Wisconsin
Perhaps Wisconsin’s most popular camping destination, this park has 5 campgrounds offering a total of 468 campsites. Each campground has different amenities available to campers, though each you will find showers and flush toilets at each location. Weborg Point Campground is the smallest with only 12 sites, while Tension Bay campground is the largest with 188 sites. Firewood is available during the summer seasons, if visiting outside of that time, local businesses outside the park have firewood for sale. The 8-miles of shoreline allows for plenty of activities including boating, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and swimming. Inland there are hiking and biking trails for all levels.
6. Pulltite Campground, Missouri
This year-round campground has 55 standard tent sites providing fire rings, picnic tables, and grills. Flush toilets and shower facilities are available from April 15 through October 15, and about half the tent sites are by reservation only. There is a general store that sells cold drinks, ice, wood, propane, charcoal, first aid, and swim toys. Situated on the banks of the Current River, within the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, visitors will find excellent recreational opportunities for canoeing, tubing, swimming, and fishing. Several miles of hiking and horseback riding trails crisscross the region as well.
7. Sugarloaf 2 Campground, New Hampshire
These 32 camping sites are a great choice for anyone seeking a more rustic, secluded environment. There are four vault toilet facilities and two hand-pump water spigots. Bear-resistant refuse containers are also provided. Each campsite is equipped with a picnic table and a metal fire ring. The campground offers incredible views of the nearby White Mountains and access to hiking and biking trails. Camping is only permitted from mid-May to mid-October.
8. Seawall Campground, Maine
One of the best camping destinations in Maine is Acadia National Park, and Seawall Campground is one of the least trafficked campgrounds in the park, making it an ideal place to pitch your tent. Camping is permitted from mid-May to mid-October, reservations are required, and National Park fees will be applied. Flush toilets, running water, and a dump station are provided, as are picnic tables and fire rings. Roads are paved. A picnic area is located on the shore across from the campground entrance. Did we mention that from the campsite you will be able to walk to the beach?!
9. Dean Pond Recreation Area, Massachusetts
Located on the western portion of Brimfield State Park, this rolling, heavily forested property has over 20 miles of roads and trails and is used primarily for hiking, walking, horseback riding, and fishing. Camping is pretty laid back in this quiet, little park though this area does receive a lot of day visitors who come to relax and picnic on the sandy shoreline. Restrooms and picnic areas are available.
10. Adirondack Gateway Campgrounds, New York
Nestled in the heart of New York, this campground and RV resort provides great amenities combined with endless outdoor activities. Tent sites offer water and electrical hookups, plus internet services for those who can’t fully disconnect. Each site has a picnic table with a fire ring. Onsite at the resort are convenience stores, a swimming pool, and a fully stocked fishing pond. Swimming and boating on the lake will keep you plenty busy, but you can also head to the Hudson River for water rafting or go horseback riding in the nearby mountains.
11. Big Meadows, Virginia
Centrally located in Shenandoah National Park, this seasonal campground is closed during the winter months. There are 51 tent-only sites, with no electrical hookups. A camp store and firewood for purchase are onsite along with potable water, restrooms, and coin-operated shower facilities. National Park fees do apply for camping and entrance fees. Trails from the campsite lead to waterfalls deep in the forest and scenic overlooks perfect for unique plant and wildlife viewing. Oh, don't forget about the incredible fall foliage of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
12. Leonard Harrison State Park, Pennsylvania
This 585-acre park is located on the east rim of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. The park is open year-round but the campgrounds are seasonal. It’s best to check with the park’s office for official camping availability and to make reservations. Modern facilities including restrooms, potable water, and a visitor center are available. There are plenty of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The 62-mile Pine Creek Trail can be accessed from this campsite.
The South and Southwest
13. Everglades National Park, Florida
The largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, this park provides important habitat for numerous rare and endangered species, while also offering year-round camping possibilities. The park’s two drive-in campgrounds, Flamingo and Long Pine Key are equipped with flush toilets, showers, and potable water. Long Pine Key tends to be the quieter of the two. Backcountry camping sites are available but require a permit. Beach camping sites are the most primitive with no toilets but offer incredible sunset views.
14. Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
With 5 miles of beautiful beaches and 102 camping sites with electricity and water, this South Carolina gem is a little slice of paradise. The campground also has hot showers and restroom facilities. The onsite nature center houses live reptiles and exhibits displaying the park’s natural resources. Also, daily tours are led by park staff to provide more information. From the fishing pier, one can usually spot dolphins and view birdlife. There are several hiking and biking trails throughout the park and fishing opportunities for those seeking some recreational activities.
15. Cloudland Canyon State Park, Georgia
Home to thousand-foot deep canyons, sandstone cliffs, wild caves, waterfalls, cascading creeks, dense woodland, and abundant wildlife, this year-round park offers ample outdoor recreation. There are 72 tent, trailer, and RV sites complete with electric and water hookups, 30 tent-only sites, and 13 backcountry camping sites for those looking for a more secluded camping area. Recreational activities include hiking, biking, caving, horseback riding, fishing, and disc golfing.
16. South Llano River State Park, TX
This small campground offers a range of sites with full electricity to primitive backcountry sites located more than a mile from the trailhead. The main sites have restrooms and showers, potable water, picnic tables, and fire rings. The main attraction at this park is to swim, float, paddle, and fish the South Llano River. However, there are over 20 miles of hiking and biking trails ranging from easy to challenging. But, the best of all is stargazing as this park is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park.
The Mountain States
17. Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Colorado
Located just 20 miles from Denver, this camping destination provides modern comforts and big mountain appeal. The 100+ camping sites are equipped with flush toilets, showers, laundry services, picnic tables, and fire rings. The Aspen Meadows Campground is tent-only and is closed for the winter season. Surrounding the campgrounds are 12,000 acres of forest, rocky peaks, and miles of trails for hiking and biking. For those who want a more primitive and somewhat unique camping experience, there are four backcountry shelters and 20 backcountry tent sites.
18. Watchman Campground, Utah
A convenient option for visitors of Zion National Park, these 69 tent-only sites are just minutes away from the main visitor center and the Zion Shuttle System which will provide access to many of the park’s legendary trails. Basic amenities like toilets, drinking water, and picnic areas are available for campers.
19. Lizard Creek Campground, WY
With 60 sites sitting near the edge of Jackson Lake, this campground provides exceptional views of the jagged Tetons. Perfectly located to provide access to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, you will not be disappointed with the recreational activities and wildlife viewing in this region. Campsites are first-come, first-served, and do fill up fast, so you should plan to arrive early. Camping is permitted during the summer only.
20. Mueller State Park, Colorado
Located in a picturesque forest of mixed spruce, fir, pine, and aspen trees with panoramic views of the Continental Divide, these 134 campsites come with a picnic table and fire ring, most with water and electric hookups as well. There is firewood for sale, coin-operated showers, and modern restrooms. Visitors can enjoy year-round recreational opportunities including hiking, biking, fishing, and nature studies. Winter activities include sledding, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. Mueller State Park is a popular area to watch wildlife, including elk, black bear, hawks, and mule deer.
We hope this list has helped you decide on where to go camping. Take advantage of your next vacation by packing up your camping gear and hitting the road for an incredible adventure. A camping trip is, after all, a great way to create unforgettable memories.
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