There are campsites that give you fond memories of easy, scenic weekend nights under the stars, and then there are campsites that you brag about at dinner parties. You know, the ones with dreamy views you have to work for, but the effort fully pays off – and gives you a conversation starter for a long time to come. We’ve rounded up the latter.
These epic camping spots are guaranteed to impress your friends and forever leave you spoiled. From Peru’s rainbow-colored mountain landscapes to a cliffside perch in Colorado to spending the night on the icy seventh continent, take your pick; they are all equally unbelievable, and worth the trek.
Camp in a volcano crater — Maui, Hawaii
Hiking in Haleakalā National Park is one thing, but getting to spend the night in the park is another. This park, known as one of the quietest places on earth, is named for the impressive Haleakalā volcano. It is packed with spectacular terrain as far as the eye can see.
Rather than just doing a day hike, plan ahead and reserve a cabin in the crater or camp in the backcountry. There are three historic cabins available to reserve up to 180 days in advance at recreation.gov. Getting to them, however, is the tricky part. To reach the cabins, you must hike a minimum of 3.7 miles to Hōlua, 5.5 miles to Kapalaoa or 9.3 miles to Palikū – all of which are treks with significant elevation change.
Take your pick based on your fitness level, and remember that because you will be hiking in complete wilderness, it’s important to be prepared. Weather is highly unpredictable. Temperatures range from 40 to 70 degrees during the day and 30 to 50 degrees once the sun goes down. When storms roll through, winds can kick up to 80 miles per hour. Above all, be sure to stay on the marked trail as the ecosystem is fragile.
Snooze among penguins — Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica
What’s it like to go camping on the 7th continent? Well, first of all: it’s cold. Second of all: it’s amazing. And it ranks as one of the world’s most remote campsites. Imagine being bundled up in a sub-zero sleeping bag that covers every part of your body except your nose. The only noise you can hear is the occasional whale feeding, avalanches cracking in the distance and a penguin waddling nearby (who happens to sound a lot like Chewbacca). It’s an otherworldly place to spend the night, but one that will certainly win you some bragging rights back home.
Through Quark Expeditions’ camping program, cruise-ship guests have the opportunity to spend the night on the ice. Just after dinner you board Zodiacs and make your way to the campsite. Your supplies: A bivvy bag (a heavy-duty sleeping bag), an extra change of clothes and a phone or camera. No food allowed so as not to disturb the delicate ecosystem. When you awake the next morning, don’t be surprised if you find a crowd of penguins staring back at you or a curious seal popping its head out of the frigid water.
Pro tip: Keep alert for “Antarctic thunder.” This kaboom, similar to the sound of fireworks, is the signal of an avalanche.
Live it up in a luxe cabin — Ausangate Mountains, Peru
There’s nothing quite like camping in the vast wilderness of Peru’s impressive Ausangate Mountain range. For avid hikers, it’s a dreamy mishmash of terrain, one that is full of snow-capped peaks, turquoise lakes and fields of roaming llamas and alpacas.
Sign up with Andean Lodges, an adventure outfitter based in Cusco, to conquer one of the highest treks in the country. You’ll be at 14,000 feet on day one of a two-day trek and, quite literally, following the same paths the Incas took thousands of years ago. It’s all thanks to an extensive system of ancient trails created by llama herders.
Gradually, you will ascend through a valley, home to some of the highest potato crops in the world. It’s one stunning valley after another, plus granite cliffs, tumbling streams and limestone forests. We’re talking millions of years of geologic history. The dramatic scenery was created by several tectonic forces and silver, copper and iron are scattered as far as the eye can see.
Come sunset, a steep march up a rocky hillside brings you to the best views yet. The jumble of snowy peaks to the left are known as Nevado del Inca. To the right, neon-green grass and moss-covered rocks dot the Ausangate mountainside. Straight ahead are the vivid hues of the Red Valley. The icing on the cake: a bright blue lagoon where llamas are grazing. At the end of the day, rest your weary legs at the remote eco lodge, a two-story abode run by Andean Lodges. For help booking a whole slew of adventures, Apumayo Expediciones and Austin Adventures have got you covered; they both customize trips so all you have to do is focus on having a blast.
Snooze on the side of a cliff — Estes Park, Colorado
Not everyone is game for scrambling up a mountainside and rappelling down to a nylon cot no bigger than two sleeping bags (called a portaledge) and spending the night 300 feet off the ground. But if you are, then Estes Park is the place to be.
For big-wall climbers who tackle multi-day routes across massive rock faces, snoozing on portaledges has been commonplace for years. It wasn’t until recently, however, that this style of camping was something average Joes could do. In July 2014, Kent Mountain Adventure was the first outfitter in the U.S. to let inexperienced climbers give cliff camping a go.
It's a pretty special experience because normally a climber would take five to 10 years to build up to the level of big wall adventures. Once you make it to the portaledge, breathe a sigh of relief. Oh, and don’t be surprised if a peregrine falcon soars by while teaching its babies to fly or a hummingbird hangs out at eye level. Take in views at sunset of the 14,259-foot Longs Peak, Jurassic Park (a series of gorgeous domes) and Mummy Range. And be sure to FaceTime your mom to tell her you’re OK.
Spend the night in a remote cabin — Breckenridge, Colorado
After about a 4-mile hike, skin or snowshoe reaching 11,445 feet in elevation, you’ll spot the impressive 2,090-square-foot Sisters Cabin, which is open for guests from November through April. It opened in winter of 2019 and is the first hut to be built on public lands in 22 years. More specifically, it’s located in Weber Gulch on the northern flank of Bald Mountain.
The spacious cabin sleeps up to 14 people and comes with just about everything you could need, including a wood-burning stove for heat, solar powered lights, indoor composting toilets, beds and pillows, wood-burning sauna and fully equipped kitchen. Must make reservations ahead of time; this place is popular.