Whether you’re a cold-weather camper, a summer backpacking fanatic or a cross-country road tripper, finding the perfect campground can be a challenge, especially when it comes to maximizing your scenery and minimizing the crowds.
While it’s easiest to stay in campgrounds that are already well visited, willingness to go off the beaten path goes a long way in the outdoors, and it can often pay dividends in the form of untouched views and quiet spots to take in the wilderness.
Here are the most scenic campgrounds in the USA. While a few of our favorite spots are located in popular national parks, most of the campgrounds offer some form of solitude from the main drag while still being ridiculously scenic, and a handful are open year-round.
Best for crystal blue water: Bartlett Cove Campground, Alaska
Set in Alaska’s iconic Glacier Bay National Park, Bartlett Cove Campground is a beach camper’s dream. With spectacular views of the crystal blue glacial water and the promised seclusion of a hike-in camping destination, this remote campground consistently imppresses on all fronts. The campground itself is free and offers visitors the chance to kayak the chilly waters of Glacier Bay as well as hike in the thick forest that covers the shoreline. Bartlett Cove is Alaska at its finest, and certainly its most scenic. Visit Bartlett Cove in summer for the longest days and the best views without the threat of icy cold temperatures of accumulating snow and ice.
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Best for aspen groves and subalpine forests: Silver Bell Campground, Colorado
Located outside of Aspen, Colorado, Silver Bell Campground is among the country’s finest for scenery and accessibility. With just 14 sites, the campground remains relatively quiet year-round, but it still manages to provide guests with once-in-a-lifetime views of aspen groves, Maroon Creek and the ever-spectacular Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Eager wildlife watchers can spot bighorn sheep, pika and other alpine critters with the 14,000ft Elk Mountains as a backdrop. Visit Silver Bell in late summer or early fall and watch as the aspens turn to gold around your campsite.
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Best for volcanic crater hikes: Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
If you’ve ever done the famous Haleakalā sunrise tour, then you know what’s in store for backpackers willing to go a little bit further to catch those stunning views. If not, Mark Twain may have summed up the sight of a rosy tropical dawn rising over this stunning volcanic crater best when he said it was “the sublimest spectacle I ever witness.” Contrary to what most visitors might think, you aren’t limited to day hiking. The Haleakalā National Park backcountry also offers prime wilderness tent camping, with utterly unique views of sliding sand, jutting rock cliffs and rich vegetation. Grab a permit from the visitor center and set off on your island adventure to the hike-in sites and wilderness cabins. Visit Haleakalā National Park in the late spring or early fall to avoid the highest temperatures and most of the rainy season.
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Best for wild horses: Assateague Island, Maryland
One of the world’s most unique camping environments, Assateague Island in Maryland is a designated National Seashore, meaning that this little slice of east coast heaven is as pristine as it gets for scenic camping. The position and relatively scarce tree cover on the island provide epic views across miles of ocean, and the walk-up or drive-up beachfront sites ensure that your view is never a matter of competition. The island is not only home to ever-shifting sands (as a barrier island, it is constantly moving as a result of strong waves and winds), but also a herd of wild horses, which attract sightseers from across the country. Assateague Island is open year-round, but it is best experienced in late summer and fall when temperatures are still warm enough to explore during the day but cool enough to be pleasant for the evening and waterline sunsets.
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Best for ocean serenity: San Juan Islands, Washington
If you’re looking for the ideal balance between solitude and scenery, the San Juan Islands in Washington may just be your new favorite place. Jutting out of the chilly Pacific Ocean between Canada and Seattle, these islands are accessed by boat or float plane, which means that their scenic beauty and unique outdoor offerings are not as overrun as most of the Pacific Northwest’s iconic outdoor destinations. Between soaring bald eagles, resident orca pods and miles of virtually untouched shoreline, camping on the San Juan Islands is a wilderness lover’s dream. Whether you choose to camp in Friday Harbor, the most popular and accessible part of the San Juan Islands or you opt to make the backcountry kayak trek to Jones Island, the 188-acre Marine State Park that is part of the San Juans, you’ ll be greeted with beautiful landscapes at every turn. While the best time to visit the San Juans is during the summer, April and October are usually slightly less crowded but still offer the chance to view migrating orca pods and enjoy the island’s best hikes in dry weather.
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Best for relaxing beach time: Caladesi Island, Florida
Among the most underrated camping spots in the country, the iconic yet rarely visited Caladesi Island State Park is a bonafide wonderland for campers seeking the perfect combination of epic views, relaxing beach time and winding hiking trails. Located on Florida’s west coast, Caladesi Island is a boat-only destination, making it an easy choice for folks hoping to escape the majority of the coastal crowds. As one of the only untouched regions on the Gulf Coast, Caladesi Island is an incredible opportunity to spend time in a well-maintained protected area with meandering, beach-front trails, wildlife watching, and premium space to kayak and swim. The crystal clear ocean and abundant natural flora and fauna make Caladesi Island a top choice for scenery-driven campers. Land camping is not allowed, but the marina has water and electricity hookups for boat overnight stays. Visit Caladesi Island in April or May before the southern summer heat kicks in and well before peak hurricane season.
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Best for waterfalls: Tuolumne Meadows Campground, California
While busier than some of the other campgrounds on this list, Tuolumne Meadows manages to capture the best of Yosemite National Park’s soaring granite walls and cascading waterfalls without the pressing crowds of Yosemite Valley. Enjoy trails that transport you to epic views, or visit Tenaya Lake for the perfect summer picnic and the chance to swim, canoe or relax on the beach. At 8600ft, the Tuolumne Meadows Campground provides sweeping views of the trademark Sierra Nevada subalpine meadows, including gorgeous summertime wildflowers that sprout along the banks of the Tuolumne River beneath towering granite domes for which Yosemite is so well known.
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Best for mountain peaks: Mount Pisgah, North Carolina
When it comes to Mount Pisgah, it’s not just the campground that inspires awe in its visitors, but the road to get there too. Dubbed “America’s favorite drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway escorts visitors through some of the Southeast USA’s finest terrain – sky-high blue spruce, lofty mountain peaks and bright wildflowers – before reaching Mount Pisgah Campground. Although it’s not a remote campground, Mount Pisgah offers guests the chance to stay in close proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park without overnighting directly in the crowded park campgrounds. In addition, Mount Pisgah Campground provides premium access to dozens of trails featuring some of the region’s most beautiful wilderness. At just under 5000ft in elevation, Mount Pisgah offers cooler temperatures throughout the hot summer months and an all-encompassing view of surrounding Appalachian territory. Visit in early summer to savor the late spring alpine blooms and beat the heaviest crowds heading to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
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Best for mesmerizing rocks: Grand Canyon North Rim Campground, Arizona
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include at least one campground in the vicinity of one of the world’s most fantastic natural spectacles. For decades, visitors to Grand Canyon National Park have stood in awe before the stretching landscape of red rock, coursing river, and high desert flora and fauna. The North Rim Campground allows visitors to sleep on the plateau of land separating Roaring Springs Canyon and Transept Canyon, bordered by the famous North Rim Transept Trail. Travelers lucky enough to snag a spot at this coveted campground will be treated to unearthly sunrises as light streams into the canyon in the early mornings, as well as world-class stargazing. Sites at the North Rim Campground book up fast, and the North Rim is open only from mid-May to mid-October. Visit during the fall if you’re hoping to beat the high summer temperatures and the bulk of the crowds.
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