The Best Waterfront Property Is Your Tent
Nothing more than a zipper and some mesh separate you from the dreamy, maritime air if you set up camp on these seven beaches
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What’s just as awesome as falling asleep to the acoustics of gently crashing waves? Slowly waking up to that same surround sound. But also: easily catching sunrise (perhaps from your kayak), basking in buttery sunsets (possibly from your surfboard), or just not having to wear shoes and socks for days on end. Before creating your dream crash pad on the sand, check out these seven must-do coastal campsites.
Best For: Kayaking and Snorkeling
Catalina Island, California
Price: $22 per night per person, plus one-time $20 locker rental
Parson’s Landing, just 22 miles off the Los Angeles coast, is a beach loved by hikers doing the 37-mile Trans-Catalina Trail and kayakers and snorkelers who come to bask in the Caribbean-clear water. The kayak-in or hike-in campground sells out quickly, so you’ll need to make reservations. You’re also required to purchase at least one locker per site ($20), which includes a bundle of firewood and 2.5 gallons of water. More gear can be rented in nearby Two Harbors and delivered to the campground.
Best For: Beach Exploring
Shi Shi Beach
Olympic National Park, Washington
Price: $5 per night per person, plus $10 Makah Recreation Pass
The scent of driftwood campfire permeates the air at this jaw-dropping campsite at the foot of northern Washington’s cliffy coastline. Reachable only by a two-mile hike through the temperate rainforest, the entire site looks out onto a string of sea stacks, including Point of Arches, a national natural landmark about a 45-minute hike south. Consulting a tide chart is a must, especially if you plan to explore the rugged coast’s tide pools, grottoes, and caves.
Best For: Photography
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Big Sur, California
Price: $30 per night per person
Imagine falling asleep to the sound of rustling giant redwoods, swaying cypress trees, and crashing waves. Then picture waking up to one of the most dramatic parts of the craggy Big Sur coastline. That’s just the kind of fantastic reality that keeps the two hike-in-only campsites at this state park almost constantly booked. Also driving home the dream: hiking to the 80-foot-tall McWay Falls (which pours directly into the Pacific), beachcombing the purple-sand shore and granite cliffs, whale watching, and scuba diving in the park’s 1,680-acre underwater preserve.
Best For: Snorkeling and Diving
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Price: $3 per night per person
Plan now for the excellent winter beach camping on this remote 11-acre island 70 miles west of Key West. The 10 sandy sites fill up quickly, and while the national park won’t refuse you a space if you just show up (it’s a big empty island—there’s room), the only access to the site is by ferry, which takes no more than 10 campers per day. Seaplanes go on day tours but refuse passengers with camping equipment. The stargazing is entrancing, but since 99 percent of this park consists of the Florida Keys reef system (just 1 percent of the park is on land), snorkeling and diving are the real reasons to voyage this far into the Gulf of Mexico.
Best For: Backcountry Kayaking
North Manitou Island
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Price: $5 per person per night
Native American ruins thousands of years old and abandoned industrial-age structures dot this paddler’s and backcountry camper’s paradise 12 miles off the coast of Leland, Michigan. Once you obtain a permit, you can bunk up and put in anywhere along the 20 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, though there is a designated eight-site camping village with facilities. The island is accessible by private boat or an infrequent ferry service that will transport your canoe or kayak. Once you’ve had your fill of the water, try the 20 miles of hiking trails.
Best For: Surfing and Fishing
Yakutat Beach Campground
If coming to Yakutat, you’re already searching for extremes—namely, surfing this area’s legendary 25-foot, subzero swells or fishing for 10-to-22-pound wild steelhead in the Situk River. You can up the ante by sleeping at one of the three nonreservable campsites on the coast, where the closest source of clean fresh water is a four-mile walk to town. Feeling a little less burly? Rustic cabins are for rent not far away. With no roads going this far into Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, you have to ferry or fly in.
Best For: Escaping Cellular Service
Kalalau Beach Campground
Price: Hawaii residents, $15 per person per night; nonresidents, $20 per person per night. Includes permit.
The joy of camping at Kalalau Beach is falling asleep knowing you’re at the turnaround point for the epic (and pretty dangerous) 22-mile round-trip namesake trail. These Napali Coast sites are spread out just behind the sand, some on old stone-walled agricultural terraces where locals once grew crops. A waterfall at the western end of the beach provides fresh drinking water (you should bring a filter) and a cool spot to mellow out before hiking back. Experienced ocean swimmers can swim to several sea caves, sea arches, and even the elusive Honopu Beach—a swim-in, swim-out-only cove.
Plus: 3 Tips for Keeping Mosquitos at Bay
1. Embrace the breeze. Mosquitoes hate wind (so does your tent), but you should set up camp where there is some moderate airflow.
2. Keep the fire burning. The smoke deters mosquitos (but make sure fires are allowed at your campsite).
3. Wear neutral-colored clothing. Mosquitos are attracted to bright, vibrant colors.