Lake Powell, UT and AZ
- Wahweap Campground Glen Park National Recreation Area: What better payoff for taking the camping plunge than the finger canyons of Lake Powell? A waterfront campground comes with basic creature comforts (hot showers, shaded picnic tables). After breakfast, the main event: Rent a boat or kayak at the marina to explore what looks for all the world like Zion National Park filled halfway with water. From $23. Book it: 888/486-4665.
Mt. Hood National Forest, OR
- Hoodview Campground: The name pretty much says it all: the shark’s tooth summit of Oregon’s signature peak rising from an alpine forest and mirrored in aquamarine. A prime position on the south shore of Timothy Lake makes Hoodview the most popular of the five campgrounds on this reservoir, where anglers, paddlers, swimmers, and water-skiers proliferate like mayflies. Newbies, wrap your hands around a steaming mug of cowboy coffee and just take in that surreal view. $17; opens Memorial Day; 503/622-3191. Book it: recreation.gov
Orange County, CA
- Live Oak Grove Campground at Caspers Wilderness Park: Camp out under the oaks and sycamores in the Santa Ana Mountains without forgoing life’s little necessities—like flush toilets. Get oriented to the great outdoors at the Saturday night campfire talk or on the Sunday morning ranger walk. The 2.5-mile East Ridge Trail makes a great beginner’s hike. $27; 949/923-2210. Book it: 800/600-1600.
Near Santa Cruz, CA
- New Brighton State Beach: Set on a pine-shaded bluff above an endless white beach, New Brighton’s 100+ sites get snapped up by those itching for a beach weekend—without the triple-digit nightly tab. The beach is the real draw, and the hot showers don’t hurt, but another bonus is that if you forget your matches or just don’t feel like cooking, you can easily grab takeout in town, a five-minute drive away. After all, this is vacation, right? From $35; 831/464-6330. Book it: reserveamerica.com
- Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Yes, this campground 20 miles from Boulder or Denver has extras like electricity, plumbing, and laundry. But wander beyond the campsites and you’ll find big mountain appeal in nearly 12,000 acres of forest, rocky peaks, aspen-laced meadows, and miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking. If tent camping is a little too ... rocky for you, reserve one of the cozy cabins or yurts ($60). $16; 303/582-3707. Book it: 303/470-1144.