No matter how you slice it, sleeping outside is awesome. Hell, with our basic needs met—trails to explore, a campfire to ogle at, some cold Pale Ales, and good friends to share it all with—we'll sleep just about anywhere. But there’s no arguing with the fact that some campsites are a cut above the rest. To help you decide where to pitch your tent this summer, we picked some of our faves from across the country.
Best “Castaway” Experience: Cayo Costa State Park, Florida
Perched on the warm Gulf of Mexico south of Tampa, this state park can be reached only by ferry or private boat. But it’s worth the effort, as the island is dominated by lush tropical foliage and has nine miles of untouched, sugar-white beaches. Grab a site on the west side of the island (some have hammock posts) and you’ll be steps away from the sand and warm-water paddling.
Best Wild Horse Viewing: Oceanside Campground, Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
You’d think the beach would be the draw of camping on this barrier island just off the coast of Maryland. And while the beach is spectacular, it’s the island’s wild horses that you’ll remember the most. Grab a drive-in or walk-in spot in the Oceanside Campground, tucked into the grassy dunes just feet away from the Atlantic, and spend your days surfing, swimming, and watching the feral horses that have been roaming the island since the 17th century.
Best Lean-to Camping: Duck Harbor Campground, Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia’s most remote campground, Duck Harbor, boasts a handful of campsites on Isle au Haut, just off the coast of Maine. Each site comes complete with a three-sided, lean-to-style shelter (so no tent necessary) and has immediate access to the island’s extensive trail system, which explores the park’s pine forest and rocky shoreline and some of the most stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife on the Eastern Seaboard.
Best Uncrowded Camping in America’s Busiest Park: Balsam Mountain Campground, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Avoid the crowds and head straight for this campground in a remote corner of the park near Cherokee, North Carolina. The campground has 42 sites on top of a ridge that sits at 5,300 feet above sea level. Rugged trails leave from the ridge and hit high-elevation balds, and massive elk are known to wander along the ridgeline.
Best Paddle-in Camping: Devils Fork State Park, South Carolina
This state park offers drive-in sites that sit on the edge of Lake Jocassee, a 7,565-acre lake at the base of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the wall of mountains that separates South Carolina from North Carolina. Grab a boat and paddle to the waterfalls that tumble off the cliffs into the lake, or head to one of the 13 paddle-in-only sites on the shore of the lake below Musterground Mountain.
Best Lake Superior Camping: Twelvemile Beach Campground, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Pictured Rocks, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is named for the tall, colorful cliffs that line Lake Superior, and Twelvemile Beach Campground will put you in the thick of the action, with 36 sites perched on a sandy plateau on the edge of the lake. Take the steps down to the shore for a sandy beach and paddling galore, or hike a piece of the North Country Trail, a 4,600-mile trail that passes through the campground.
Best Midwest City Escape: Kohler-Andrae State Park, Wisconsin
Just a three-hour drive north of Chicago, Kohler-Andrae State Park has it all: miles of hiking and biking trails, access to pristine Lake Michigan shoreline, and tons of camping. The park’s family campground accommodates both vehicle and tent camping. Want to show up with just a sleeping bag? Rent the park’s tepee for a unique and pared-down night under the stars.
Best Personal Canyon Camping: Jumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, California
The name says it all: Jumbo Rocks. And you get to pitch your tent right in the midst of the tan high-desert monzogranite behemoths. There are more than 100 sites to choose from, some of which are in miniature canyons almost completely surrounded by the outcroppings. And you won’t have to deal with many RVs, because there’s no water (bring your own) or dump stations.
Best Redwood Camping: Mill Creek Campground, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California
The crowds might flock to Redwoods National Park proper, but those in the know pitch a tent in this state park campground 20 miles to the north, which has sites tucked into a dense forest of ferns, towering old-growth redwoods, and boulder-size stumps. And you have Northern California’s rugged coast right out your tent flap.
Best Volcano-View Camping: Burnt Lake, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
You’ll need to hike about three miles to reach Burnt Lake, deep in Mount Hood National Forest, but along the way you’ll climb past waterfalls and end at a lakeside campsite that has a magnificent view of Mount Hood, which often reflects in the placid water. Spend the night, then take a side hike to summit Zigzag Mountain, which has high-elevation meadows and more views of the snowcapped volcano.
Best Olympic Coast Camping: Kalaloch Campground, Olympic National Park, Washington
The lush rainforest in the interior of Olympic National Park is fascinating, but it’s hard to resist the draw of the rugged coastline, full of pebble beaches, rocky bluffs, and wild surf. Kalaloch Campground puts you within walking distance of the action, with almost 200 drive-in sites, some of which have big views of the Pacific Ocean, and all of which offer fast access to the beach via short trails that descend directly from the campground.
Most Picturesque Camping: Silver Bell Campground, Maroon Bells, White River National Forest, Colorado
It doesn’t get more iconic than the twin, craggy peaks that rise from the heart of the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness, framing the placid Maroon Lake, just outside Aspen. This is postcard stuff. There are three campsites in the area, but Silver Bell Campground will put you on the banks of Maroon Creek. Visit in the spring and you’ll have wildflowers galore. Come in the fall and the aspens will be turning gold. Summer means high-country hikes.
Best “Private” Campsite in a National Park: McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
Lake McDonald is Glacier’s largest lake, at 10 miles long and almost 500 feet deep, but it houses one of the smallest “campgrounds” in the park. There are two backcountry sites, each big enough for just two tents, perched on a peninsula just a few feet from the water. You can reach them on foot or by paddling across the lake, and you’ll have a rocky beach and impeccable views of the surrounding peaks all to yourself.
Best Western Movie Camping: View Campground, Monument Valley, Arizona
Monument Valley is a collection of massive sandstone buttes on Navajo Nation land, straddling the Arizona-Utah state line. The scenery is iconic Southwest, and the View Campground has tent sites perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking some of the valley’s most recognizable monuments, including West and East Mitten Buttes.
Best Colorado River Camping: Upper Big Bend Campground, Moab, Utah
Leave work early, because it’s first come, first served at the eight sites that make up this small campground on the edge of the Colorado River, just a few miles from Moab. Score a spot and you’ll have direct access to the Big Bend Bouldering Area, incredible views of the canyon walls that flank the river, and quick access to world-class mountain biking.
Best Camping on the Other Side of the Grand: Crazy Jug Point, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona
Crazy Jug’s name is almost as intriguing as its location: on the edge of the Grand Canyon. But it’s on the North Rim, and managed by Kaibab National Forest, so it doesn’t see massive crowds like the park proper. From your campsite you’ll be able to see the Colorado River and the Powell Plateau. And the camping is free.
June is National Camping Month, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., wants you to celebrate with car camping, a backcountry overnight, or just by pitching a tent in your backyard. However you decide to enjoy it, make sure you stock up with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale—the Official Beer of Camping— for the adventure.