7 Parks That Will Reconnect You with the Magic of Camping

Katherine RivardPursuits
Tent surrounded by snow-covered mountains in North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park

Camping in national parks opens up the opportunity to enjoy a sustained retreat in nature. Instead of packing up and going home after your hike, swim, or adventure, you can opt to rest in the outdoors and enjoy a camp meal with friends and family. Even a brief respite from the world does one’s soul good. The chance to go camping, spending a night or several under the stars, and forgetting your daily responsibilities for just a while, is magic. Here are just a few national parks to inspire you to bring the tent the next time you set out to #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque. 

An Arid Beauty

Nighttime view of tent in Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park

Kat Carney / Share the Experience Photo Contest

The California desert — rocky and beautiful — draws crowds each year for rock climbing, wildflower viewing, and yes, camping. To experience it for yourself, with a better chance of finding a good camping spot, visit Joshua Tree National Park in the off-season (June-September). Some areas are first-come, first-served, like Jumbo Rocks and Indian Cove, while others, like Belle and Indian Cove, require a reservation. The facilities provided vary at each site and cost between $15-20 per night. No matter where you decide to spend the night, you’re sure to appreciate the park’s incredible night skies.

A Park That Sleeps

Sun setting on Jacob Riis Beach at Gateway National Recreation Area

Jacob Riis Beach at Gateway National Recreation Area

David Shankbone / Wikimedia

New York City is known as the city that never sleeps, but you can sleep soundly in a nearby park like Gateway National Recreation Area. Far from the traffic, tourists, and lights, and tired from a day of exploring any of the park’s three units, you’ll doze off quickly once you pitch your tent. Each unit has different rules and accommodations, and plenty of activities for visitors, from fishing to archery. Best of all? Reserving a spot is as easy as going online.

Sleeping Beside the Sandstone Formations

Tents scattered around a flat area with tall orange cliffs and the moon in the distance - Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

NPS Photo / Chris Wonderly

Anyone who has visited Utah’s Canyonlands National Park can tell you that one day in the park is simply not enough. Horseback ride, boat, stargaze, or enjoy the area’s unique landscapes, from the colorful sandstone Needles at the southeast corner of the park, to the incredible views from Island in the Sky, located at the center of the park. Given that there are no lodging or dining facilities within the park, the best way to make the most of your trip is by staying overnight. Camp at one of two campgrounds or try backcountry camping, if you’re feeling adventurous!

Grilling and Gear Up in New Mexico

The Headland Trail follows the natural surface of the sandstone bluff, dotted with trees, at El Morro National Monument.

The Headland Trail at El Morro National Monument

NPS Photo

Pack some provisions and get ready to picnic and camp at El Morro National Monument in New Mexico. The park’s nine-site campground even includes picnic tables and ground grills providing most of what you need for an outdoor feast with family or friends. Once you’ve fueled up, take a post-meal constitutional along one of the park’s trails. Just remember that the park sits at about 7,500 feet of elevation, making the treks more difficult than what you may be used to.

Curl Up, Nestled in North Cascades

Boats and float plane dock along the banks of Lake Chelan in Stehekin, North Cascades National Park

Lake Chelan in North Cascades National Park

NPS Photo / Deby Dixon

The camping options at North Cascades National Park vary from car camping to wilderness camping to bicycle camping! Even boaters can find ways to camp at three of the park’s lakes. One of the unique opportunities at the park is a camping experience at Stehekin, the stunning passageway nestled away at the headwaters of exquisite Lake Chelan. Time stands still here amidst the mountains and the lake, but backcountry permits are required for camping, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Overnight in Arkansas

Horseback riders enjoy their annual spring ride in the Ponca wilderness of Buffalo National River

Horseback riders enjoy their annual spring ride in the Ponca wilderness of Buffalo National River

NPS Photo / Terra Fondriest

Slathered in sunscreen, floating down Buffalo National River as you take in Arkansas’s pretty natural views, time slips away. Then night falls and the stars come out! Forget packing up and driving home. Settle down in one of the park’s numerous campgrounds for the evening. Visiting to enjoy a horseback ride? There’s even the Erbie Horse Camp, reserved for those with horses on a first-come, first-served basis.

Come for the Habitats, Stay for the Stars

Sunset at Big Cypress National Preserve
NPS Photo

The freshwater flows out to the salty sea in Big Cypress National Preserve, slowly passing through the hardwood hammocks, the pinelands, through the prairies, into the cypress swamps, and then through the estuaries before it reaches ocean. Each of the five habitats have their own plants and animals, uniquely beautiful and intriguing. For best results, visit the park over a few days, camping to stay within the park. You’ll be thankful you spent the night after taking advantage of one of the park’s astronomy programs, which include telescope viewing and constellation tours.

Sometimes one day just isn’t enough time to fully unwind and experience a park. Whether camping from your boat or in the backcountry, look into what option works best for you at the parks you hope to visit. Then plan accordingly and enjoy a multi-day escape to some of the most incredible places in the United States.

Gimme Shelter Travel Guide
What's your heart's desire – a luxurious weekend in a remote island inn or a secluded campsite far from civilization? Discover great campgrounds, lodges, bed-and-breakfasts and more— all within the national parks.

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