The West's best camping

Fair warning: Waking up at any one of these places will hook you on camping for good

California & Hawaii: 44 best campgrounds

From Santa Barbara to Big Sur, here are the best spots in California to pitch your tent--plus our top spots in Hawaii

37. McGrath State Beach, Ventura

You’ll be bounded by sand dunes at this 2-mile-long beach at the mouth of the Santa Clara River. Birders, bring your binoculars and identification books. Lush riverbanks and a freshwater lake attract more than 200 species. $25; 805/585-1850; book at reserveamerica.com   

38. North Beach Campground, Pismo State Beach

Sites sit among pine-covered dunes bordering the beach, with privacy and wind protection. Beach walking and birding are prime activities. Winter campers can observe thousands of monarch butterflies clustered in the neighboring eucalyptus grove. From $20; 805/489-1869; book at reserveamerica.com    

39. Ricardo Campground, Red Rock Canyon State Park, Northeast of Mojave

At Red Rock Canyon, colorful sandstone walls rise from the desert floor, and campsites are tucked against the White House Cliffs. The stargazing is so exceptional here that rangers post constellation charts detailing each evening’s display. $12; no reservations; 661/942-0662. 

40. Serrano Campground, San Bernardino National Forest

A camp at Big Bear Lake that’s within walking distance of the water, this pine-shaded spot is a favorite of families who want to swim or fish. Hike the moderate 2-mile Cougar Crest Trail to Bertha Peak, or pedal the 3.5-mile paved path along the north shore. Pick up trail info at the nearby Big Bear Discovery Center. From $28; 909/866-3437; book at recreation.gov 

41. Moro Campground, Near Laguna Beach

Look coastward for Pacific seascapes. Look inland for 17 miles of trails through canyons and rolling hills (hike ’em early, while it’s cool). In Crystal Cove State Park near Laguna Beach, sites 51–60 at Moro Campground sit above 3.2 miles of pristine sands—and within walking distance of Bloody Marys garnished with lobster claws at the Beachcomber Café ($$$). $50; crystalcovestatepark.com

42. Parsons Landing, Catalina Island

These eight sandy sites at Parsons Landing on Catalina Island reap beachfront sunrises that are perfect for morning basking (and dolphin-spotting). Grab your camera and scale the bluffs to connect with part of the 37.2-mile Trans-Catalina Trail, where you stand decent odds of seeing some of the island’s unique animals: endemic Santa Catalina fox and Catalina California quail, plus a bison herd first imported here for a 1924 silent western movie shoot. $18/person, plus $14/stay for water and firewood delivery; visitcatalinaisland.com

HAWAII

43. Anini Beach County Park, Northeast of Lihue, Kauai

Vacation homes at Anini Beach go for top dollar, but camping at the grassy park is practically free. Keep your eyes peeled for the rare Ni‘ihau shells that sometimes wash up on the sand at this calm, sheltered beach. Closed every Tue (for maintenance); $3 per person (permit required); 808/241-4463; for reservations, submit permit application by mail.

44. Namakanipaio Campground, Volcanoes National Park, Big Island

The 10 newly renovated cabins at Na--makanipaio Campground in the Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park are about as close as you can (or want to) get to sleeping on an erupting volcano. At night, the sky may glow orange if Kilauea is burbling from Halema‘uma‘u crater, a half-mile walk away. Forget an alarm too; just listen for the calls of bright red ‘apapane and yellow ‘amakihi birds. $55, plus $10/vehicle; hawaiivolcanohouse.com

 

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