Coast Camp, Point Reyes National Seashore
Ninety minutes north of San Francisco, spend the night 200 yards from Santa Maria Beach, one of Point Reyes’ most inviting stretches of sand. An up-and-down 1.8-mile hike on the Laguna and Firelane Trails leads to 14-site Coast Camp, where breaking waves croon a soothing lullaby. Sites 1 through 7 have optimal privacy and views. From Santa Maria Beach, walk north toward Limantour Beach or south toward Sculptured Beach, with miles of uninterrupted shoreline between. The camp has vault toilets and fishing. $20; nps.gov/pore.
Ridge and Sunrise Campsites, Angel Island State Park
After day-trippers leave, campers reign over Angel Island and its San Francisco Bay vistas. Ridge sites, on the island’s west side, offer city and Golden Gate Bridge views. Sunrise sites, on the east, overlook Treasure Island and the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge. Fog and wind can be fierce: Layer your clothing and stake your tent. During daylight, explore the island, hike Mt. Livermore, or beachcomb Perle’s Beach. Campsites are minimalist with vault toilets and fishing. The trek in is up to 2.5 miles. $30 plus ferry from Tiburon, Oakland, or San Francisco; angelisland.org.
Water Canyon Campground, Santa Rosa Island, Channel Islands National Park
California’s second-largest island (nearby Santa Cruz is first), Santa Rosa provides 84 square miles to explore and a noticeable lack of crowds. A three-hour boat ride from Ventura and a 1.5-mile hike take you to camp. Enjoy long expanses of white sand beaches and a rare stand of Torrey pines-—this island and San Diego are the only spots where these wind-sculpted conifers grow. A hike to Lobo Canyon is a must. The camp is surprisingly plush-—showers, flush toilets, and wind shelters for food storage. $15 plus boat ($114 round-trip; islandpackers.com); nps.gov/chis.
Molas Lake Campground, Silverton
The state’s most photogenic summits tower over 10,515-foot Molas Lake, so it’s no surprise that campers routinely fill this 58-site campground south of Telluride. But its five walk-in options let tenters escape the hubbub, and the choicest sites even offer views of snowcapped peaks. It’s ample reward for hauling your gear 50 to 200 feet. New vault toilets feel nicer than many gas station rest stops, and a shower house delivers the kind of refreshment that only hot water can achieve. From $12; open Jun 1–Sep 30; molaslake.com.
Handkerchief Lake Campground, Flathead National Forest
Camping at one of these three walk-in sites due east of Bigfork is like entering a decompression chamber. Silence and solitude make campers feel as if they’ve arrived at the back of beyond, but an easy 100-yard walk is all that’s required to reach these scenic lakeside spots. Picnic tables, fire rings, and a vault toilet are the sole facilities—there’s no potable water—but rusticity keeps the crowds away: No motorboats disturb the water, which reflects the waterfalls and steep, forested peaks along its edge. Anglers should bring their tackle since Handkerchief is brimming with grayling. Free; no reservations; fs.usda.gov.