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The U.S. National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016, and what better way to celebrate the centennial than visiting one of the Parks’ many coveted campgrounds? How do we define “coolest”? Certainly there are tons of great campsites within the National Park system, but for the following list we aimed to capture a variety…be it a scenic spot close to hikes and amenities, or a back country destination that’s as secluded as it is breathtaking. Be sure to check for reservation information and alerts before venturing out. Sites fill up fast (or are reserved months in advance) and some experience occasional closures.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

WhiteWolf Campground: Yosemite National Park, CA

So desirable is camping in Yosemite that some campgrounds fill up within minutes, even seconds(!) of reservations opening to the public each month. Fortunately, that’s not the case with White Wolf located an hour north of Yosemite Valley and nestled in a pine forest overlooking Alpine lakes. This high-country campground at 8,000 feet operates on a first-come, first-served basis.

Kalaloch Beach in Olympic National Park

Kalaloch Beach in Olympic National Park

Kalaloch Campground, Olympic National Park, WA

The only campground in the park to take reservations, Kalalochis located on the southwest edge of Olympic National Park on a high bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, making it a perfect spot for beachcombers as well as hikers wanting to explore the nearby Hoh Rain Forest.

Rock Harbor Lighthouse at Isle Royale National Park

Rock Harbor Lighthouse at Isle Royale National Park | Flickr CC: Ray Dumas

Moskey Basin, Isle Royale National Park, MI

If solitude is truly what you seek—and not, say, quick access to a camp store for extra bug spray and snacks—head to this rugged island in Lake Superior for unparalleled access to nature and solitude. Among many, ahem, *superior* campground options, Moskey Basin at the end of Rock Harbor is a favorite among Isle Royale insiders.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Fruita Campground, Capitol Reef National Park, UT

Mention Utah’s National Parks, and you’ll hear people rhapsodize (rightfully so) about Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Canyonlands. Lesser known but no less stunning is Capitol Reef National Park, offering fewer crowds but just as many towering spires and scenic vistas. Fruita Campground, encircled by orchards, is a surprisingly lush place to pitch a tent in the desert.

Sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains

Sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains

Loft Mountain Campground, Shenandoah National Park, VA

Trails, waterfalls, woods and mist-veiled mountains: Shenandoah isn’t as popular as Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the southeast but offers natural beauty of a similar sort. Loft Mountain campground sits atop Big Flat Mountain and is the perfect spot to watch sunsets over Blue Ridge peaks.

Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park

Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park

Jumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Atop Skull Rock, on the western edge of the Park, Jumbo Rocks is the largest campground in the geologic wonderland that is Joshua Tree. Fortunately, massive boulders afford privacy, and the lack of light pollution means you’ll drift to sleep under a dazzling blanket of stars.

Blackwoods Campground

Blackwoods Campground | Flickr CC: Peter Rintels

Blackwoods Campground, Acadia National Park, ME

Blackwoods is located on Mount Desert Island along the lovely Maine coast—not too far from the quaint New England town of Bar Harbor, but also tucked away in an inviting forest of balsam, hemlockand pine. Paths lead down to cliffs overlooking the ocean, where you can watch the sun rise over the Atlantic.

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Laura Pearson

Laura Pearson

Laura is a travel-loving Chicago-based journalist who writes about art and culture. Follow her on Twitter at @tislaurapearson.

2 thoughts on “The 7 coolest camp sites at U.S. National Parks”

  1. I would add Cottonwood Campground at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I just camped there, and it was heavenly: Bison, grazing around the tent with the Little Missouri River in the background.

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