As wondrous as hotels can be, there's often nothing better than sleeping under the stars amidst the beauty of nature. From the rugged mountains to the vast desert, the most scenic places to camp in the United States span a variety of natural landscapes that inspire awe. When you head beyond your local campground to one of these picturesque locations, you can set your sleeping bag up against a backdrop of waterfalls, canyons, and other sights so incredible that you'll never see camping the same way again.
Taking in the spectacular views of Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho is like stepping into a postcard. Tall, dense thickets of trees frame steep gray peaks, all reflected in the glittering waters below. Sawtooth is the ideal camping destination for boating and swimming, with hundreds of alpine lakes nestled between its peaks. Alternatively, you'll find a hike across one of the lakeside trails equally invigorating. Sawtooth is home to dozens of campgrounds with a range of amenities split between four districts around the forest, making it easy to find your personal paradise here.
The islands of Hawaii may not be the first places that come to mind when you think about camping, but Haleakala National Park makes for an unmissable trip. Situated around a dormant volcano, this park is dotted with campgrounds with delightful views. Let the ocean waves be your lullaby at the Kīpahulu campground, which overlooks the cliffs, or sleep among the clouds at the Hosmer Grove campground on Haleakala National Park's summit. Wherever you pitch up your tent, the view of the sunset fading behind the red and orange hues of volcanic rock will be unforgettable.
As the deepest lake in the United States, Crater Lake is one of the country's true marvels. Crater Lake National Park in Oregon only has two developed campgrounds, and they're only open to the public during the summer months, but if you catch the rare opportunity to stay there, you certainly won't regret it. While the camping areas are situated in the national park's forestry, centering your trip around the lake itself is a must. A boat tour is the best way to explore the dramatic blues of the caldera; just check Crater Lake National Park's dedicated webcams first to ensure your view won't be obscured by clouds.
When lakes just aren't satisfying your cravings for wide-open water, head to the eastern shore of Maryland for a camping trip beside the ocean. Assateague Island National Seashore is a national park that spans miles of beach with blurry lights of passing ships illuminating every night. The need to make reservations months in advance is only a testament to how desirable this scenic camping destination is. A walk along the seafront with the sights and sounds of waterfowl around you is the best way to start or end any day here.
No matter what time of year you visit Badlands National Park, you'll find yourself in awe of its unique and striking landscape. The South Dakota park is filled with canyons, steep cliffs, and the fossilized remnants of dinosaurs long gone. Experience the serenity of this geological wonder by pitching a tent at one of the two campgrounds, where sweeping views of the incredible rock line abound. With plenty of trails of varying difficulties, Badlands National Park is a wonderful destination for families.
With its rugged coasts, dramatic cliffs, and views of sandy coastline, Acadia National Park in Maine has it all. The campgrounds here provide a comfortable base from which to explore all manner of trails. For the most comfortable experience, take advantage of the carriage roads with a horseback ride through the mountains and valleys. For those who prefer to stay a little closer to the ground, tidepooling with Acadia National Park's colorful marine life is an unmissable activity. If you're down for an adventure, two of the beaches are also geared up for a cool swim.
The vivid Mojave landscape of Joshua Tree National Park in California has few rivals in the world of scenic camping. Towering boulders and rock formations are interspersed with the eponymous Joshua trees, bringing this landscape a green hue rarely seen in the desert. A ground-level hike is the best way to enjoy these incredible panoramic views, making Joshua Tree National Park an ideal destination for less mobile families. The air gets chilly here when the mercury drops, but the invigorating sights will bring a sense of warmth to your tent.
Deep in the Rocky Mountains sits a valley brimming with green. Like an oasis in the middle of nowhere, Gunnison National Forest is Colorado's premier camping destination for those who seek solitude. With over a million acres of natural wonder, it's easy to find your own corner of tranquility here. Once you're done walking the trails, spend a day drifting along the quiet mountain lakes. Conversely, those who prefer a walk on the wilder side will also find miles of swift rapids to explore.
The Grand Canyon isn't one of the world's most beloved sights for nothing. Even if you've paid a visit to this impressive landform before, camping in Grand Canyon National Park will be a completely new experience. Campgrounds on the South Rim of the Arizona park are by far the most popular, but the most unique experience lies in the wilderness of the North Rim. Snowfall keeps the season short, but when the North Rim is open, you can enjoy dramatic and unforgettable views from thousands of feet up. For those who don't feel ready to brave the steep trails, head on a scenic drive to Point Imperial and Cape Royal.
For a snow-capped winter camping experience, you can't beat Minnewaska State Park Reserve in New York. Throughout the colder months, the hiking trails here are blanketed in sparkling white. While the trails aren't particularly difficult to navigate during the summer, ice crampons are a must for exploring the snowy tundra. The steep climb to the vast Minnewaska Lake is certainly worth the effort, but a short hike to Awosting Falls can be just as beautiful. When the weather is just like, you can even traverse the scenery on cross-country skis.
Any great visit to Alaska is all about the scenery, and what better way to enjoy it than camping in the natural world of Denali National Park? The park rangers here are said to be some of the best, so don't hesitate to soak up their knowledge and enthusiasm for the local area. All six of the major campgrounds are situated by water, but the grassland can be one of the best areas to explore. From grizzly bears to caribou to golden eagles, you can spend days watching the Alaskan wildlife without getting bored.
Utah is already home to some of the best national parks in the world, and Arches National Park is no exception. A camping trip here will be unlike anything you've ever experienced, in part thanks to the incredible red rock formations that almost appear hand-sculpted. Each of the arches this park is named for is unique in its own way, and each one is equally Instagrammable. Brighten your feed with photos in front of the popular Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch, but don't miss lesser-visited formations like Devils Garden, which is home to the park's only campground.
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park's highlight has to be its waterfalls. With two waterfalls within a short hiking distance, Loft Mountain Campground is the perfect base for exploring all the natural wonders this park has to offer. However, the rocky hiking trails aren't suitable for everyone. When traveling with children, seniors, or less mobile visitors, savor the breathtaking vistas on the Skyline Drive instead.
While often overlooked, the vast and vivid green countryside of Ozark National Forest in Arkansas makes for a truly beautiful camping trip. Even when you're trekking steep hills for the best views, it's impossible to shake the sensation of true peace. The lush verdant forest is also home to lakes and waterfalls, breaking up the greenery with splashes of blue. While some have complained that too many of Ozark National Forest's gems are well-hidden, that only makes exploring all the more exciting.
While most campers head to their tents past nightfall, the true beauty of Carlsbad Caverns National Park can only be appreciated at night. When the moon reaches its peak, rangers take visitors on tours of the New Mexico starscape. There, you'll learn all about the area's astronomy, the nocturnal wildlife that calls Carlsbad Caverns home, and even the local folklore. This is a destination best for experienced campers, making it all the more unique.