If you can survive in the wilderness without a hot shower and a toilet, and aren’t horrified by the idea of sleeping where bears or large reptiles roam free, then you’re probably a practiced camper. But travelers who aren’t as comfortable with outdoor accommodations, take heart: camping doesn’t have to resemble your week of mosquito hell at fifth grade summer camp.
Many campgrounds have running water and public restrooms, or even cabins, lodges or yurts. In fact, you may be surprised by how little you miss your everyday conveniences while camping. After all, it’s easy to forget about luxuries like 500-thread-count sheets and refrigerators when you’re gazing at stars over the Grand Canyon, exploring a sea cave in Hawaii or spotting crocodiles in the Everglades.
Go camping and enjoy a variety of activities right outside your tent flap — like boating, fishing, biking, hiking, rock climbing and spotting wildlife. Find inner peace on a forest hike, tone your arms and abs while kayaking, or learn about the importance of protecting the environment as you observe endangered animals in their natural habitats. As an added bonus, campgrounds also offer great value for travelers looking to trim their vacation budgets.
Ready to hit the great outdoors? The following campsites offer lots of activities, they’re located in some of the most beautiful destinations in the country, and many have on-site facilities like cabins or bathrooms.
Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
If sleeping in a tent isn’t for you, hang your hat in a remote Arizona lodge set along the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Phantom Ranch can only be reached by mule, foot or raft, so don’t expect to see any cars or convenience stores during your stay (the ranch offers breakfast, lunch and dinner). Enjoy views of the Grand Canyon while hiking or riding mules through trails near the ranch. The least expensive option here is a stay in the single-sex dorms, which are outfitted with bunk beds and shared baths. Cabins are only available with the overnight mule trip, which includes a canyon mule tour, meals and cabin accommodations. Due to the popularity of this place, which is the only hotel located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, be sure to plan your trip early; you can book up to 13 months in advance.
Waianapanapa State Park, Maui
Picture black sand beaches, hiking trails, sea caves and an ancient Hawaiian temple and you’ll be imagining Waianapanapa State Park, a natural reserve located three hours east of Kahului Airport in Maui. We love this park because it shatters Hawaii’s image as an expensive vacation destination; stay in a state park cabin from $90 per night for up to four people, or bring your camping equipment and pay just $18 for a campsite for up to six people! Staying in cabins or tents is a rustic experience, but your views of Hawaii’s rugged beaches will be just as beautiful as those from a five-star hotel.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Summer is the wet season in the Everglades, which means humidity, high temperatures and rain. But we still suggest camping in this park, no matter what time of year it is. After all, you’ll have a more peaceful experience if you visit the Everglades in the summer, when crowds are sparse. But if you want more sun and fewer mosquitoes, plan a trip for the dry season. Camping is one of the best ways to get up close and personal with the remote Everglades, which are made up of cypress swamps, mangrove forests, uninhabited islands, marshlands and more. Everglades activities include boating, fishing, bird watching and wildlife spotting — look out for American crocodiles and panthers!
Denali National Park, Alaska
Located at the foot of snow-capped Mount McKinley, Denali National Park is a wildlife watcher’s paradise. The park is home to black bears, wolves, caribou, grizzly bears, wolverines, foxes, sheep, moose and a variety of birds. Cars are not allowed on Denali Park Road, but the park offers shuttle buses large enough to transport camping equipment. Denali has six campgrounds situated among six million acres of wild lands; fees vary by site. The largest is Riley Creek Campground, which is located just inside the park entrance and has the most amenities (including a nearby general store, laundry facilities and shower house).
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park is a World Heritage Site filled with sequoia forests, waterfalls, streams and cliffs. The park has mild temperatures year-round. Camp in the California wilderness and we guarantee you’ll see a diverse assortment of plants and animals; watch out for bears, who routinely raid campgrounds in search of food. There are 13 campgrounds in the park, many offering running water and restrooms. Keep in mind that you’ll need to make reservations well in advance to camp here, especially in the summer months.
Death Valley National Park, Nevada and California
Death Valley’s nine campgrounds allow adventurous campers to stay overnight in the valley’s arid and otherworldly terrain. Although motel accommodations are available near the park, we recommend saving your money — sleeping under the stars in this beautiful desert wilderness is an unforgettable experience. Enjoy hiking, roasting marshmallows in a fire pit, or searching for unusual plants and desert animals. Some campgrounds offer free access; others charge a nominal nightly fee.
Southern Vermont Campgrounds, Vermont
New England charm mixes with fresh air and emerald green mountains in Southern Vermont. Choose from over a dozen state and private campgrounds in this area (see for listings). The Battenkill River and the Connecticut River give campers plenty of opportunities to kayak, swim and fish, while mountain trails lead hikers to historic New England towns. You can even take mountain biking classes on Mount Snow. Not looking to rough it? Some private campgrounds in this area offer cushy amenities like linen service, Wi-Fi and private bathrooms.
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