Camping

The West's Best State Parks

CAPE LOOKOUT STATE PARK
Near Tillamook, Oregon

The only late-night noise you're likely to hear at this campground on a sand spit is the roar of the ocean just across a narrow dune. Miles away from busy U.S. 101, the park is tucked between Netarts Spit and tall, narrow Cape Lookout, projecting 2 miles into the Pacific; both are inviting for all-season hiking. Grab a campsite on loop A for quickest beach access; for more seclusion, tuck into a forested tent site at the back of loop D, near the cluster of yurts. Brand-new log cabins all have an ocean view through the conifers; they're in the day-use area south of the campground. Hiking trails lead 7 miles through the forest and headlands. - Bonnie Henderson

WHERE: From U.S. 101 in Tillamook, follow Three Capes Scenic Route southwest 12 miles.

WHEN: Year-round; winters are rainy.

COST: $3 per car.

CAMPING/LODGING: 216 sites from $16, 10 yurts from $27, and 4 log cabins from $65; (800) 452-5687.

CONTACT: (800) 551-6949, (503) 842-4981, or www.oregonstateparks.org.

CIMARRON CANYON STATE PARK
Near Taos, New Mexico

At 8,000 feet in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, sun-dappled, wildflower-filled, 8-mile-long Cimarron Canyon State Park is a haven for campers, hikers, and anglers. Deer, elk, wild turkeys, and eagles are readily spotted, and the 400-foot-high granite Palisades are not to be missed. Trout abound in the crystalline Cimarron River. Clear Creek Canyon Trail, 7 miles round trip, is one of many beautiful hikes. With 100 sites in three shady campgrounds, many within the sound of the river, Cimarron Canyon draws crowds of loyal visitors each summer. - Sharon Niederman

WHERE: On U.S. 64, 36 miles east of Taos.

WHEN: Year-round; best May-Sep.

COST: Free.

CAMPING: 100 sites from $10; (877) 664-7787.

FYI: Bears are a concern for campers.

CONTACT: (888) 667-2757, (505) 377-6271, or www.nmparks.com.

D.L. BLISS AND EMERALD BAY STATE PARKS
Lake Tahoe, California

There aren't many more scenic spots to set up camp in California than along the forested shores of Lake Tahoe's deep blue water. At these two neighboring parks on the lake's dramatic southwestern corner, you can walk the beach, hike to see a lighthouse or the lake's only island, and visit Vikingsholm, a Scandinavian mansion built in 1929. Campsites are popular for a reason: They run along 6 miles of shoreline and up the surrounding steep slopes, for gorgeous views and star-speckled nights. - L.T.

WHERE: From South Lake Tahoe, take State 89 northwest 7 miles.

WHEN: D.L. Bliss: May 24-Sep 30. Emerald Bay: Jun 14-Sep 1.

COST: $2 per car.

CAMPING: 268 sites, plus a group campground and 22 primitive sites accessed only by boat, from $12; (800) 444-7275.

FYI: Water at D.L. Bliss may not be drinkable; inquire at ranger station.

CONTACT: (530) 525-7232 or www.parks.ca.gov.

FLATHEAD LAKE STATE PARK
Near Kalispell, Montana

Glittering, glacier-carved Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the West and comes complete with a legend of a monster lurking in its depths. The 128 shoreline miles vary from densely forested on the east to drier and more open on the west. The park is made up of six units: On the east side, camping at Finley Point is popular with RV owners and boaters; larch-shadowed Yellow Bay is surrounded by cherry orchards; and Wayfarers, close to Bigfork, has a great beach with wildflowers and trails for hikers. On the west side, Big Arm has a nature trail and is a takeoff point for boat trips to Wild Horse Island. West Shore is considered the most private unit. - Caroline Patterson

WHERE: 8 miles south of Kalispell. U.S. 93 traces the west shore; State 35 edges the east shore.

WHEN: Camping May-Oct; day use year-round except for Finley Point. COST: $4 per car.

CAMPING/LODGING: 113 sites from $12 and yurts at Big Arm from $35.

FYI: Boat ramps at all parks except Wild Horse Island.

CONTACT: (406) 752-5501 or www.fwp.state.mt.us.

SALT POINT STATE PARK
Near Jenner, California

On the rugged Sonoma County coast, this 6,000-acre park has 6 miles of coastline with rocky coves, tidepools, and an underwater reserve popular with divers. Camping here among the pines can be cool with damp fog in summer, but the setting, with dramatic coastal views from rugged headlands, is sublime. Watch abalone divers heading out or join the tidepoolers at Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve, go mushroom hunting (it's the only California state park that allows it), participate in interpreter-led programs, or just head out on miles of hiking trails. - L.T.

WHERE: 18 miles north of Jenner, off State 1.

WHEN: Year-round; wet in winter. COST: $2 per car.

CAMPING: 130 sites from $12; (800) 444-7275.

CONTACT: (707) 847-3221 or www.parks.ca.gov.