Categories: CampingDestinations

The Best Camping Near National Parks and Away From the Crowds

Most national park camping is either extremely competitive first-come, first-served campsites, or sites that get entirely booked up months in advance. If you’re more of a spontaneous camper or just want a place to escape the park crowds, we’ve got your next getaway covered. Below is a compilation of some of our favorite uncrowded campsites within 1.5 hours of our beloved national parks.

Your national park camping guide

  1. The Northeast
  2. The South
  3. The Midwest
  4. The West
  5. Alaska
  6. Hawaii

National park camping in the Northeast

Photo by Hipcamp Engineer Myles Tan at Camps of the Pioneers

Acadia National Park, Maine

This dramatic juxtaposition of mountains and oceans is sure to make your jaw drop. Rugged sea cliffs, historic towns, and majestic islands are all watched over by Cadillac Mountain and its commanding ranges.

Camp of the Pioneers is a 6-acre slice of heaven in Downeast Maine, under 30 minutes from Acadia. In addition to a rich history with Wabanaki artifacts and evidence of the shipbuilding industry, the property focuses on organic herbs, fruits, and vegetable farming for local markets. Expect countryside landscapes of scenic brooks, forests, and meadows that offer a peaceful setting.

Other close camping options are the incredibly charming Basalm Way Campsite, or the further afield Toddy Pond Farm, set within a 90-minute drive of Acadia.

National park camping in the South

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Shayna Frankenfield at Coyote Crossing near Big Bend

Big Bend National Park, Texas

If all of Texas’s parks were royalty, then Big Bend would be the crown jewel. The crème de la crème of Lone Star State parks, Big Bend is known for its ultra big size, vast diversity in elevation, assorted biology, archeology, and over 1,000 miles of international boundary shared with Mexico along the Rio Grande. All this and Big Bend is still considered one of the most underrated, most remote and least visited parks in the lower 48—lucky for you!

The park is particularly exciting for hikers and backpackers, who have Chimneys Trail, Marufo Vega Trail, Outer Mountain Loop, and endless other options to choose from. Oh, and did we almost forget to mention that this is one of the best places in the United States for stargazing?

To mix things up and maybe get a quick horseback ride in before your trip to the park, check out Coyote Camp. Those with RVs will want to check out Jackass Flats Campground, only 25 minutes away from the main Maverick Junction park entrance.

Photo by Bryan Collins at the Butterfly Farm Sanctuary

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina

The Great Smokies sing the songs of country music herself with rambling streams, ancient mountains, and remnants of true Southern Appalachian mountain culture. The park holds some of the most diverse plant and animal life in US, plus endless trails in which to explore it. You can spend your days climbing waterfalls, fishing for trout, bicycling under fall foliage, picnicking, and ca-brewing (the holy union of beer and canoeing). The Butterfly Farm Sanctuary is a favorite nearby Hipcamp.

Photo by Scottie T. at Erwin Estate High Point, AR

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

America has a national spa—who knew? It’s true, and you will find it at Hot Springs National Park, a place that is not your average national park. Once the area became a US territory in the early 1800s, settlers discovered the hot springs and built up a new town around it, making this national park one of the few that offers more of an urban experience than a wild one. Choose between an environment that resembles a public pool, or head for your own private bathtub of warm natural spring water, modeled after European spas of the 1900s. Now that’s called relaxation.

To add a little wild to your trip, book a stay at the 250-acre Erwin Estates High Point and sleep upon your own perch in the Ouachita Mountains foothills.

National park camping in the Midwest

Photo by Scottie. T. at Boundary Country Trekking, MN

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

If you want solitude and a chance to discover the pure ruggedness of the outdoors, Isle Royale is your place. Surrounded by Lake Superior and only accessible by ferry, this island park is one the least visited US national parks but has a huge amount of backcountry acreage. Here you’ll find rugged shorelines and towering forests with no roads—both of which house hiking trails and a wild ecosystem pulsing with life. (Even moose and a very special pack of wolves call Isle Royale home.) Kayakers, backpackers, anglers, hikers, and those with an enthusiasm for discovery and preservation will have a hell of a time on this archipelago.

For your own private yurt on the nearby mainland, just head west from Grand Portage to Boundary Country Trekking in Minnesota.

National park camping in the West

Photo by Madison Kotack at Desert Mountain Majesty

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Where can you find geological formations—other-worldly in their contortions—that rise like desert gods toward an empty sky? Joshua Tree National Park, where the earth’s rich history is hidden among dusty rock and the twisted Joshua tree branches trace a slow dance against the skyline.

Like with so many others within the National Park Service, Joshua Tree camping sites full up quickly. For a less stressful camping reservation, try the Desert Rose Collective, a perfect spot for a variety of campers including tent campers needing group sites, RVers needing hookups, and those wanting a canvas tent glamping experience.

Desert Mountain Majesty, which probably has the best damn outdoor shower we’ve ever seen.

Photo by Evan K. at The Arboretum, WA

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

With its namesake mountain reigning 14,410 feet above sea level, this national park is a popular destination for campers from all over the world. The active volcano hoards much of the attention, but entire region is flush with seasonal wildflower meadows and ancient forests whose mysteries rival what really goes on at Area 51. Mount Rainier also spawns six major rivers, meaning the land surrounding the ice-covered volcano is truly lush with flora and fauna.

Just an hour outside the park, you can stay the night on a private Christmas tree farm—yep, you read that right. Take a look at the The Arboretum at Bear Canyon West in Cinebar, Washington.

Photo taken at Cedar + Fern, WA

Olympic National Park, Washington

Diversity is the hallmark of the nearly million acres in Olympic National Park. The park protects a vast wilderness, thousands of years of human history, and several distinctly different ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests, and over 70 miles of wild coastline. Wandering Joy Campground in Port Angeles sits just 20 minutes from the Olympic National Park welcome sign, while Cedar + Fern is closer to Seattle, about an hour’s drive from the park.

Photo by Jess Wood at Golden Skyfall

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Wild and hugely iconic, Yellowstone National Park holds status as the first-ever US national park. If 300 hydrothermal geysers aren’t enough to get you here, how about some megafauna? Think the largest bison herd in America and an extremely elusive pack of wolves. Backcountry trips and Yellowstone day hikes take campers through wild grasslands and lodgepole forest with unbeatable mountain views and epic canyon trails. Horse trails are plentiful—or maybe take a llama packing trip for an overnight adventure? Seriously, how cool is that?

For last-minute Yellowstone camping, Specimen Creek Outfitters is just minutes from Gardiner, Montana’s Yellowstone North Entrance, the only one open year-round. Meanwhile, Yellowstone Wander Camp sits in Idaho as a top choice for those accessing the park via the West Entrance.

Photo by Matthew MacDonald at Southridge Summit

Yosemite National Park, California

There is no better place in California that envelops the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, and the tranquility of the High Sierra than Yosemite. Perhaps most famous for the granite rock formation Half Dome, Yosemite is almost equally well-known for its spectacular waterfalls (some measuring up to almost 2,500 feet!). With 1,200 square miles to explore (and lots of wide-open backcountry camping), there truly is a unique Yosemite experience to be had for everyone.

Southridge Summit is one of our favorite Yosemite camping spots, set in nearby Oakhurst, a town with plenty of amenities that sits just a 25-minute drive from the Yosemite south entrance and Mariposa Grove.

National park camping in Alaska

Photo by Mike Henrie at Majestic Denali View Campsite

Denali National Park, Alaska

Make all your alpine dreams come true in Denali National Park. Mountaineers swoon over the chance to bag Denali, the tallest peak in North America, but there’s lots more to this Alaskan NPS outpost beyond the famous mountain. We’re talkin’ 6 million acres of wilderness with one road slicing through it: the famous Denali Park Road. The Majestic Denali View Campsite sits under 30 minutes from the park entrance and offers views of the namesake mountain.

National park camping in Hawaii

Photo by Allison Moon at Stargazers Jungle Lounge Glampsites on Maui

Haleakala National Park, Maui

Spanning some 33,000 acres with more than half designated wilderness areas, Haleakala National Park is on Maui, an island so beautiful that you may want to take a permanent pau hana (the Hawaiian phrase for “leisure time after work”). The park is divided into two sections: the summit region and the coastal Kipahulu area. Stargazers Jungle Lounge Glampsites put campers in Hana nearby.

Photo by Natalie A., Goat With the Flow!, HI

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island of Hawaii

On the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is where campers say mahalo to Mother Nature for 70 million years of volcanism and the magic it bestowed. Two active volcanoes grace the landscape: Kilauea (one of the world’s most active) and Mauna Loa (the world’s premier subaerial volcano). This national park was created to preserve the natural setting and serve as a refuge for delicate native plants and animals.

Just under two hours out of the park—and under a mile from the majestic Waipio Valley—is the Waipi’o Lodge in Kukuihaele.

More ways to plan your national park camping trip

Read on for more on America’s best idea.

Jenna is Hipcamp's Managing Editor. Aside from storytelling, she spends her time reading, hiking, watching baseball, and heading out on weekend getaways to California's corners and beyond.

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