Know where to pitch your tent in the glorious landscapes of the West
Thomas J. Story
Numerous studies have found benefits to spending time in the outdoors: better concentration, elevated mood, even faster healing, and improved sleep patterns.
But camping isn’t just a prescription for dealing with urban angst and anxiety. It’s also a joy in its own right—an excuse to go to bed early, stare at the stars and get your hands dirty eating gooey s’mores roasted over an open flame.
If you’re looking for a reason to dust off your headlamp or fire up the RV, every single state in the Western U.S. boasts remarkable landscapes where you can bunk for the night.
From remote beaches accessible only by boat to rugged canyons best explored by canoe, these are the best places to camp in the glorious landscapes of the West.
In a state full of natural riches, Glacier Bay is a marvel, home to lofty peaks, humpback whales, 700 miles of coastline, and blue-tinged glaciers that calve directly into the sea. Set within temperate rainforest along Bartlett Cove, the park’s only campground is gorgeously green (if a bit damp) and an easy jumping off point for paddling trips or boat tours.
Getting to Havasupai is a challenge. Permits are snatched up almost instantly, and even if you snag one it’s 10-mile trek from the rim to reach this rustic campground hugging Havasu Creek. Make the journey, however, and you’re rewarded with a series of gushing waterfalls and natural pools all an astonishing shade of robin’s egg blue.
Californians are spoiled for choice when it comes to jaw-dropping campsites, yet landing one of the two spots inside this state park is considered the pinnacle of achievement for coastal campers. At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, take the aptly named Waterfall Overlook Trail to its logical end, where you’ll have a front-row seat to McWay Falls, an 80-foot cascade that pours from a granite cliff into the teal Pacific surf below.
Mountains of sand may not be the first thing that comes to mind in Colorado, but the nation’s largest dunes soar over 700 feet into the sky at this popular park. Eighty-eight sites in two separate loops accommodate tents or RVs, but your best bet is grabbing a free backcountry permit and finding your own corner of the 30-mile dune field for an otherworldly night under the stars.
JL Jahn / Alamy Stock Photo
Fall asleep to the sound of the ocean on Oahu’s north shore at this campground paradise, where your tent or cabin occupies prime beachfront real estate to rival any resort. Rent kayaks, paddle boards and bikes onsite, or sign up for a surf class to practice catching waves. When you’ve worked up an appetite, a food truck serves satisfying plates like kalua pork omelets and fish tacos.
This petite campground in the Sawtooth National Forest is a cliché in the best possible way: sites framed by towering pines, a pristine lake reflecting the mountains, and hundreds of miles of trails just beyond your sleeping bag. Pull on your hiking boots, fish for your dinner, or just plant yourself in a camp chair with a good book. As long as there are s’mores, you’re doing it right.
This is the Glacier National Park you’ve imagined: thick forest, jagged peaks and mirror-like lakes that reflect the whole gorgeous scene. Even better, this high-elevation campground gives you a head start on some of the park’s best day hikes, so you can make it to and from milky-teal Grinnell Lake or Ptarmigan Falls with daylight to spare.
Pitch your tent in this scenic park amid Aztec red sandstone formed by ancient dunes that date back to the dinosaurs. The campground’s namesake arch is one of the premier attractions, but you’ll also find petrified trees, narrow slot canyons and ancient petroglyphs, like the one at Valley of Fire’s second campground, which is better suited to RVs and trailers.
By day, explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site that served as a cultural center for the Pueblo people more than 1,000 years ago. By night, turn your eyes skyward. A designated dark skies park, Chaco’s observatory is one mile from the campground and hosts guided telescope viewings a couple nights a week.
Molded over millions of years, this natural sculpture garden in Moab is a gallery of geological masterpieces that seem to defy the laws of gravity. Scattered among rock formations and juniper bushes, the park’s 50 campsites offer shade, privacy and prime views of snow-capped mountains and the glittering night sky.
Considered the crown jewel of the park’s west coast, campers pitch their tents right on the sand of this Pacific Northwest beach. Make a driftwood bonfire, photograph sunset over the sea stacks and try to absorb this enchanting spot with your entire being.
Nestled in the Tetons, serrated peaks provide a dramatic backdrop to a lake-dotted valley where bison, elk and moose meander. Make camp among the trees at tent-only Jenny Lake, then hike through glacier-carved Cascade Canyon or hop a raft down the Snake River. If you’re feeling fancy, the restaurant at the nearby lodge serves a five-course dinner that’s not to be missed. Reservations (and showers) required.