You’ve planned a stellar camping trip—packed all the essentials, booked the site, brought your closest pals. Then you show up and it turns out you’re sleeping in a small, crowded outdoor city, with neighbors literally a few feet and a couple nylon walls away. That’s no way to sleep beneath the stars. It’s time to find campsites that let you stretch out and enjoy the quiet wilderness all on your own.
Lone Pine, California
There’s no official campground in California’s Alabama Hills, a desert landscape set among massive granite boulders at the base of 14,494-foot Mount Whitney. But it’s all BLM land with ample and dispersed camping. The sites are free, but there are no amenities, and you’ll need to pack out what you pack in. The area boasts bouldering and rock climbing, or you can set up base camp for a Whitney summit push. Don’t miss the giant homemade cinnamon rolls at the Alabama Hills Café and Bakery in Lone Pine.
Skip the crowded campsites around Moab, Utah, and head to nearby Canyon Rims Recreation Area instead. This massive BLM-maintained land, which covers more than 100,000 acres between Moab and Monticello, has three designated campgrounds that require a fee, plus heaps of primitive spots to set up for an overnight or multiday stay. You’ll overlook the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and watch epic sunsets from your camp chair. The roads can get rough, so four-wheel-drive wouldn’t hurt.
Long Lake, New York
Lake Lila, in the Whitney Wilderness Area of New York’s Adirondack Park, is known to locals as a true escape. To get there, you’ll wind your way up five miles of back roads from the town of Long Lake before carrying all your gear one-third of a mile to the waterfront. No motorboats are allowed, but you can paddle to first-come, first-served primitive beach or island camping in the middle of the lake. You’ll fish for bass, lake trout, and the occasional salmon, and you can access a great three-mile hiking trail to Mount Frederica from the western side of the lake.
Quillayute Needles National Wildlife Refuge
La Push, Washington
Thanks to three stellar beaches, La Push, on the west coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, has become a destination for surfers who don’t mind cold water. Beach camping is allowed on each, but you’ll need to score a wilderness permit from a ranger station. Reaching the water requires a short hike from your car—just far enough that it keeps the crowds away. Walk down the beach until you find a quiet spot to pitch your tent right in the sand. Just don’t forget to grab a tide chart at the ranger station.
Sawtooth National Forest
There’s excellent dispersed camping all around the sleepy adventure town of Stanley, Idaho, in the Sawtooth National Forest. Try heading east of town, along Highway 75, and you’ll find plenty of stunning spots to park your van for the night along the shores of the Salmon River. (All are first-come, first-served, and some require a small fee.) Surrounded by the jagged Sawtooth Mountains, you’ll spend your days soaking in hot springs, fly-fishing for steelhead, or hiking in the White Clouds Wilderness.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
If you want to camp in Grand Canyon National Park this summer, you should have made your reservation months ago. The best sites get booked up way in advance. But get this: There’s free dispersed camping in Arizona’s Kaibab National Forest, just outside the park’s south entrance, near the renowned South Kaibab Trailhead. You’ll be lucky if you get a fire pit—there’s no infrastructure—but there are also no crowds.
Duck Harbor Campground
Isle au Haut, Maine
You can’t drive to Duck Harbor Campground, on Isle au Haut, a tiny, inhabited island within Acadia National Park. (Year-round population is around 40, with several hundred more in summer.) The only way to get there is the ferry from Stonington, which stops at the Duck Harbor Boat Landing, right next to the campground. Camping is allowed during summer months in five rustic lean-to shelters, which are booked by reservation only and come with composting toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. Eighteen miles of hiking trails crisscross the island.