Medium levels of crunchiness here.
Finding a place to camp can be tricky. You don’t want to stay too close to civilization and wind up wedged between RVs in some depressing patch of dirt on the side of a highway. But you also don’t want to disappear into the woods and subsist on beetles and Clif bars looking like Leo in The Revenant if he were somehow also wearing zip-off pants.
That’s why we rounded up nine campsites that hit the sweet spot: they’re accessible by car (or ferry or helicopter) and at most a short hike. But they’re still right in the thick of it—next to the hikes, climbs, swims, and soaks that make the great outdoors worth it in the first place.
The Best Beach Campsite, East Coast Edition
Sea Camp, on Georgia’s Cumberland Island, is just on the other side of a row of massive dunes from what’s likely the best-preserved beach on the Eastern seaboard. It’s the sort of place you’re more likely to see a pack of wild horses than any other vacationers. That’s because the almost-totally undeveloped island has no direct link to the mainland—the only way to get there is via boat. Lucky for you, the Cumberland Queen II leaves twice daily from St. Mary’s and docks a few hundred yards from the campsite.
The Best Beach Campsite, West Coast Edition
There are many great places to camp in Big Sur, three hours or so down the coast on Highway 1 from San Francisco, but Andrew Molera State Park’s Trail Camp is the spot that let you pitch your tent closest to the Pacific. The campsites are set in a wide grassy meadow (read: a nice soft sleeping surface) and they’re just a short walk from the parking area. From there, the beach is just a short walk away—it features a nice surf break when conditions are right, and there are miles of trails along the park’s seaside bluffs if you would rather stay dry. Overindulged at the campfire whiskey pass-around? If you’d rather not mess with cooking the next morning, the huevos con chorizo down the road at Deetjen’s should do the trick.
Andrew Molera State Park Trail Camp, CA is first-come, first-serve, and is guaranteed to be full by Friday afternoon on peak weekends, so plan to arrive early or during the off-season. (Also, as of early May 2017, it’s currently closed because of flooding. It should be back open any day now.)
The Most Luxurious Campsite on the Continent
Dunton Hot Springs Colorado’s most luxurious hot springs resort got into the “glamping” game a few years ago. And sure, that’s a somewhat cringe-y term. But look: at the Dunton River Camp, the tents are more than six hundred square feet big and equipped with king-sized beds, WiFi, and bathrooms with a six-foot soaking tub. The West Fork of the Dolores River, which is full of brown and rainbow trout, runs straight through camp for fly-fishing. Each “tent” comes with a pair of mountain bikes for exploring the property’s network of trails. This is is the rare operation that’s glamorous enough that the portmanteau just makes sense.
You can make reservations on the Dunton River Camp website.
The Best Campsite for Both Slackers And Overachievers
From the mossy riverside Sol Duc campground in Washington’s Olympic National Park, you’ve got options: if you’re trying to impress someone, the High Divide Loop hike is a full-day classic through mossy rainforest, past alpine lakes and waterfalls. For something a little more relaxed, the Sol Duc Hot Springs resort is right next door, where the mineral pools naturally steaming hot. (There’s even a bar.) The campsite itself is not small: there are more than eighty tent sites, along with some RV hookups. But heavy Pacific Northwest vegetation means each site is pretty private. The tent sites are car-accessible and first-come, first-serve, and they aren’t as hard to snag as some of the spots on this list.
The Best Campsite to Flex on Your Followers
Most Grand Canyon campsites are high-density shit-shows choked with RVs. The Havasu Falls Campground, on Havasupai Indian land bordering the National Park, is secluded and right by the Instagram-gold turquoise Havasu Falls. The catch? The campsite is ten miles from the nearest parking area. There are a couple of ways to play this: it’s totally possible to just walk in with a backpack—admirable but difficult. Hiring a horse and guide from the Indian reservation makes things considerably easier, but not much faster. The quickest way down? The reservation also offers helicopter shuttles. Whichever method you use, you’ll need to get in touch with the reservation to coordinate booking and logistics, and plan on reserving months in advance.
Highest Views-to-Effort Ratio
Silver Bar, Silver Bell, and Silver Queen [Ed Note: no Silver Springs?] are a string of car-accessible campgrounds on the side of a road just outside Aspen. This isn’t remarkable in itself, but that road happens to be the way up to Maroon Lake and what’s probably the most iconic view in the Rockies. From there you can go as deep as you want: take a short hike into alpine meadows covered in wildflowers, push all day over an alpine pass to Crested Butte, attempt the infamously difficult and dangerous climb up the 14,000 foot Maroon Bells, or just book it back into downtown Aspen for good restaurants and potent, legal weed.
We recommend making a reservation, which are available six months in advance.
Escape New York
The American Alpine Club operates this campground in the Shawangunk Mountains. (Call them the Gunks if you want to sound cool.) Not everyone knows that ninety miles north of New York is one of the country’s greatest climbing areas—you don’t need to go to Yosemite or Joshua Tree to live out your Cliffhanger fantasies. With a guide, even a rookie can get like all-time great Lynn Hill on High Exposure, which is considered one of the greatest easy climbing routes in the world.
Get Close to an American Icon
The granite domes of Yosemite Valley, in its namesake national park, are an awe-inspiring American icon. They also tend to be mobbed with gawkers and tour busses as soon as the snow melts. Tuolumne Meadows campground, accessed from the other side of the park, is where you want to go for a more relaxed weekend of hiking and fly-fishing in Yosemite. Overachievers who need to see the valley should tackle the 13 mile round-trip trail from Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest for the best view in the park.
Half of the campsites are reservable, others are strictly first come, first serve.
Commune with the Desert
The best campsites don’t take reservations, and they don’t have names, either. They’re just spots down a dirt on public land that a buddy tipped you off to. They also tend to be closely-kept secrets, so that buddy probably sent you GPS coordinates in exchange for a bottle of tequila and a vow of silence. But here’s a freebie: twenty minutes into the desert outside the adobe-hippie settlement of Taos, New Mexico, there’s a fire ring and a flat spot for a tent where the sagebrush grows so thick you can smell it. It’s also right on the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge, a six-hundred foot drop, so you’re going to want to be careful when you get up to pee in the middle of the night. No ranger is going to be able to help you find this place, but just punch 36.545405, -105.706881 into your phone’s GPS and you’ll be on your way.
Watch Next: Brad Pitt Takes an Epic Road Trip Through America’s National Parks
MORE STORIES LIKE THIS ONE