10 of the most scenic campgrounds in the United States
Whether you’re a cold-weather camper, a summer backpacking fanatic, or a cross-country road tripper, finding the perfect campground can be a challenge, especially when it comes to maximizing your scenery and minimizing the crowds.
While it’s easiest to visit the campgrounds that are already well-traveled, a little willingness to go off the beaten path goes a long way in the outdoors, and it can often pay dividends in the form of untouched views and quiet spots from which to take in the wilderness.
For the scenery-hungry campers with a knack for finding spots outside of the country’s most popular places, here are a handful of the most scenic campgrounds in the country. While a few of our favorite spots are located within popular national parks, most of the campgrounds below offer some form of solitude from the main drag (read: Yosemite Valley) while still being ridiculously scenic, and a handful are open year-round (winter camping, anyone?).
Add them to your outdoor bucket list, or pass them off to a friend in desperate need of some R&R from some of the best vantage points in the outdoors.
Bartlett Cove, Alaska
Set in the iconic Glacier Bay National Park, Bartlett Cove is a beach-camper’s dream. With spectacular views of the crystal blue glacial water and the promised seclusion of a hike-in camping destination, this remote campground consistently impresses on all fronts.
The campground itself is free, and offers visitors the chance to kayak the chilly waters of Glacier Bay as well as hike in the thick forest that covers the shoreline. It’s Alaska at its finest, and certainly its most scenic. Visit Bartlett Cove in the summertime to secure the longest days and the best views, without the threat of icy cold temperatures of accumulating snow and ice.
Silver Bell Campground, Colorado
Located outside of Aspen, Colorado, Silver Bell Campground is among the country’s finest when it comes to scenery and accessibility. With just 14 sites, the campground remains relatively quiet year-round, but still manages to provide guests with once-in-a-lifetime views of aspen groves, Maroon Creek, and the ever-spectacular Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
Eager wildlife watchers can catch bighorn sheep, pika, and other alpine critters with the backdrop of the 14,000 foot Elk Mountains to boot. Visit Silver Bell in the late-summer season, or even the early fall, and watch as the aspens turn to gold around your campsite. It’ll be your profile pic for life!
Bolan Mountain Fire Lookout, Oregon
Fire lookouts are notoriously scenic, often standing thousands of feet above the surrounding territory and providing unparalleled access to scarce-traveled land. Bolan Mountain may just be the Pacific Northwest’s most scenic campsite, as the structure rises nearly 40-feet into the sky, and features a full 360 degree view of the Siskiyou Mountains. After the original structure was replaced in 1953, full-paneled glass windows were built into the 14x14 lookout tower, expanding both visibility and camper appeal.
Available for rent during the snow-free season, this simple and remote fire lookout offers guests the chance to live among epic scenery 24/7, whether it’s the views of Bolan Lake, Mount Shasta all the way to the south, or the panorama of stars that make an appearance each night. Reserve Bolan Mountain six-months ahead of time to be sure you get the weekend you want, and be sure to visit in mid-July, when the temps are modest and the threat of rain is at its lowest.
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Haleakala backcountry, Hawaii
If you’ve ever done the famous Haleakala sunrise tour, then you know what’s in store for backpackers willing to go a little bit further to catch those stunning views. If not, Mark Twain may have summed up the sight of a rosy tropical dawn rising over this stunning volcanic crater best when he said it was “the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed.”
Contrary to what most visitors might think, you aren't limited to day hiking, either. The Haleakala backcountry also offers prime camping, with utterly unique views of sliding sand, jutting rock cliffs, and rich vegetation. Grab a permit from the visitor center and set off on your island adventure to the hike-in sites and wilderness cabins. Visit this area in the late spring or early fall to avoid the highest temperatures and most of the rainy season.
North Rim Campground, Arizona
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include at least one campground in the vicinity of one of the most fantastic natural spectacles of all-time. For decades, visitors to the Grand Canyon have stood in awe before the stretching landscape of red rock, coursing river, and high desert flora and fauna. The North Rim Campground allows visitors to sleep on the plateau of land separating Roaring Springs Canyon and Transept Canyon, bordered by the famous North Rim Transept Trail.
Guests lucky enough to snag a spot at this long-coveted campground will be treated to unearthly sunrises as light streams into the canyon in the early mornings, as well as world-class stargazing. Sites at the North Rim campground usually book up fast, but the campground itself is open from the middle of May into late October. Visit during the fall if you’re hoping to beat the summer temps (and the bulk of the crowds).
Assateague Islands, Maryland
One of the world’s most unique camping environments, Maryland’s Assateague Islands are a designated National Seashore, meaning that this little slice of east coast heaven is as pristine as it gets for scenic camping. The position and relatively scarce tree-cover on the islands provide epic views across miles of ocean, and the walk-up or drive-up beachfront sites ensure that your view is never a matter of competition.
The islands are not only home to ever-shifting sands (as barrier islands, they are constantly moving as a result of strong waves and winds), but also a bountiful band of wild horses, which attract sightseers from across the country. The Assateague Islands are open year-round, but are best experienced in the late summer and into the fall, when temperatures are still warm enough to explore during the day, but cool enough to be pleasant for the evening, waterline sunsets.
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Tuolumne Meadows Campground, California
While slightly more populated than some of the other campgrounds on this list, Tuolumne Meadows manages to capture the best of Yosemite National Park’s soaring granite walls and cascading waterfalls without the pressing crowds of Yosemite Valley. Enjoy local trails that transport you to epic views, or visit Tenaya Lake after for the perfect summer picnic and the chance to swim, canoe, or relax on its comfortable beaches.
At 8600ft, this campground provides sweeping views of the trademark Sierra Nevada subalpine meadows, including, in the summertime, gorgeous wildflowers that sprout along the banks of the Tuolumne River beneath towering granite domes for which Yosemite is so well known. Visit Tuolumne Meadows in the late summer, when the rivers are full and the waterfalls flowing, and the wildflowers are in full bloom.
San Juan Islands, Washington
If you’re looking for the ideal balance between solitude and scenery, the San Juan Islands may just be your new favorite place. Jutting out of the chilly Pacific between Canada and Seattle, these islands are exclusively accessible by boat or float plane, which means that their scenic beauty and unique outdoor offerings are not quite as overrun as most of the Pacific Northwest’s iconic outdoor destinations.
Between soaring bald eagles, resident orca pods, and miles of virtually untouched shoreline, the San Juan Islands are a wilderness lover’s dream, and certainly one of the most scenic places to camp in the Pacific Northwest.
Whether you choose to camp in Friday Harbor, the most popular (and accessible) part of the San Juan Islands, or you opt to make the backcountry kayak trek to Jones Island, the 188 acre Marine State Park that is part of the San Juans, you’ll be greeted with enough scenery to last a lifetime.
While the best time to visit the San Juans is during the summer, April and October are often slightly less-crowded, but still offer the chance to view migrating Orca pods and enjoy the island’s best hikes in dry weather.
Mount Pisgah, North Carolina
When it comes to Mount Pisgah, it’s not just the campground that inspires awe in its visitors, but the road in, too. Dubbed "America’s favorite drive," the Blue Ridge Parkway escorts visitors through some of the southeast’s finest terrain – sky-high blue spruce, varying mountain peaks, and bright wildflowers – before reaching Mount Pisgah Campground.
Although not a remote campground, per se, Mount Pisgah offers guests the chance to stay in close proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park without staying directly in the crowded park campgrounds. In addition, the campground provides premium access to dozens of trails featuring some of the region’s most beautiful wilderness.
At just under 5000ft in elevation, Mount Pisgah itself offers cooler temperatures throughout the hot summer months and an all-encompassing view of surrounding Appalachian territory. Visit here in the early summer to beat the heaviest GSMNP crowds and still savor the late spring alpine blooms.
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Caladesi Island, Florida
Among the most underrated campgrounds in the country, the iconic, yet rarely-visited Caladesi Island State Park is a bonafide wonderland for camper’s seeking the perfect combination of epic views, relaxing beach time, and winding hiking trails. Located on the northwest side of the Floridian peninsula, Caladesi Island is a boat-only destination, making it an easy choice for folks hoping to escape the majority of the coastal crowds.
As one of the only untouched regions on the Gulf Coast, the island is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend time in a well-maintained, protected area featuring meandering, beach-front trails, wildlife watching, and premium kayaking and swimming opportunities. The crystal clear ocean and abundant natural flora and fauna make Caladesi Island a top choice for scenery-driven campers. Visit the Caladesi Islands in April or May, before the southern summer heat kicks in, and well before peak hurricane season.