Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.
Since the start of the pandemic, more Americans have been sleeping under the stars than ever before. Much of that uptick comes from new campers: a 2020 report from Kampgrounds of America (KOA) found that 25 percent of campers last year had taken their first camping trip, and most said they plan to continue camping into 2021. All of which is to say: this summer is going to be a busy one at campgrounds.
With many sites booked out months in advance, now is the time to start planning your getaway. “Many state parks open for reservations four to six months in advance, while most national parks open six months in advance,” says Ashleigh Rudolph, founder and lead trip planner of Pine Road Travel Co., an outfitter that plans custom RV and van trips. “Have these dates on your calendar, as the more popular campgrounds can sell out in seconds. For the campgrounds that don’t sell out the minute they go on sale, you’ll still want to grab the best site within the campground, and the only way to do that is to book early.”
Here are some prime places Rudolph recommends near worthy attractions that, as of press time, still have availability during peak warm-weather months.
Snow Canyon State Park, Utah
Campgrounds inside southern Utah’s Zion National Park fill up quickly, but an hour away, you can still snag a prime site at Snow Canyon State Park, a 7,400-acre outdoor playground located within Red Cliffs Desert Reserve (from $30; reserve here). “We love this campground for its gorgeous scenery and unique location,” says Rudolph. “Surrounded by red Navajo sandstone, you’ll feel totally secluded, but you are close enough to St. George to run into town to stock up on groceries. It’s about 50 miles from Zion but without all the crowds.”
Montaña de Oro State Park, California
“It’s hard to find a secluded spot on the California coast, but somehow this state park has gone relatively unnoticed,” says Rudolph. “With beautiful sandy beaches and rugged cliffs, plus plenty of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, this state park is located only about 15 miles west of San Luis Obispo.” You’ll find primitive hike-in sites or drive-up campsites, which open up for bookings six months in advance, with new sites that go online at 8 A.M. daily (from $25; reserve here).
Lavern M. Johnson Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park and the town of Estes Park are just 30 minutes away from Lavern M. Johnson Park, but you might be so content here, near downtown Lyons, Colorado, that you won’t want to leave. This town-owned campground is situated on the scenic North Saint Vrain Creek and in the shade of towering sandstone cliffs. Tube down the rapids, mountain-bike the trails around Lyons, or fly-fish from camp. These sites—which include tent or RV spots—can be reserved up to 12 months in advance, and there are still sites open for summer (from $30; reserve here).
Toketee Lake, Oregon
Score one of the riverfront sites at Toketee Lake Campground and you’ll have the North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River steps from your tent and Crater Lake National Park less than 45 minutes away. The legendary North Umpqua Trail, which stretches for 69 miles across Oregon, passes right through camp. You can hike or mountain-bike four miles up the trail to reach the Umpqua Hot Springs (be sure to check its opening status before you go). Toketee Lake makes for a great paddleboard or post-hike swimming spot. Sites are available six months out (from $10; reserve here).
Sheridan Lake, South Dakota
Black Hills National Forest, in the western part of the state, is known for its heaps of recreational opportunities, like hiking, climbing, and paddling, plus must-see landmarks like Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Custer State Park. Rudolph recommends posting up at the centrally located Sheridan Lake Campground for easy access and fewer crowds (from $26; reserve here). “We especially love the beautiful trees that fill this campground and the trails that start nearby,” she says. Options include the 11-mile Flume Trail, a designated National Recreation Trail.
Acadia East, Maine
You’ll have to haul your gear into your site at Acadia East, a privately run campground about 45 minutes outside Acadia National Park that has only five rustic, backcountry-style tent sites (read: no RVs or close-to-the-car camping here). But it’s worth the trek for the true wilderness feel and solitude (from $34; reserve here). If that’s not your style, try for a spot at the Schoodic Woods Campground (from $30), located within the national park, where sites can be reserved up to two months in advance; the campground opens May 26, which means bookings for summer start March 26, and they’ll fill up fast.
Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas
“This state park sits on the shores of Lake Catherine, providing campers with year-round boat rentals and a swimming area for hot summer days,” says Rudolph. “The campground is heavily wooded, and many sites have a nice view of the lake. There are tons of hiking trails, and a favorite here is a hike to a waterfall nearby.” Hot Springs National Park is 20 minutes away, and the state park has everything from cabins to primitive tent sites to RV plug-ins—you can even rent camping gear (from $13; reserve here).