So far south it’s almost in Mexico, this park flaunts an array of desert flora, including the sentinel-like saguaro and the organ pipe cactus. See them by driving or biking Ajo Mountain Road, a 21-mile interpretive loop highlighting the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. Or hike the short trails leading from camp, where 208 sites are bordered by lush desert greenery.
2 of 8Ben Herndon / Tandem
Ryan Campground, Joshua Tree National Park
nps.gov/jotr; $15; $20/vehicle; no potable water; no reservations
Watch a desert sunset or a dazzling star show from the top of a massive boulder, then crawl into your sleeping bag when the night turns cool. The gargantuan rocks also provide a cozy sense of privacy for most of the 31 sites. During the day, take the strenuous hike to Ryan Mountain’s view-filled summit or visit the ruins of the 1890s Ryan Ranch.
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Mesquite Spring Campground, Death Valley National Park
For a desert adventure without the crowds, head to Mesquite Spring in Grapevine Canyon. This 30-site camp is ideally situated for visiting the 32,000-square-foot mansion known as Scotty’s Castle, the 600-foot-deep abyss at Ubehebe Crater, and the strange moving rocks at the Racetrack Playa. Distances here are vast and services few, so triple-check your packing list.
4 of 8Creative Commons photo by Stephen Moehle is licensed under CC BY 2.0
This dog-friendly camp in the Cuyamaca Mountains offers 103 sites and 14 cute wooden cabins nestled in an oak grove, plus
numerous hiking trails. You and Fido can walk a 2.5-mile loop to Glen’s View, where the vista stretches from the Anza-Borrego Desert to the Pacific Ocean. Afterward, head into Julian for a slice of apple pie.
Reserve one of seven yurts at this Kohala Coast eco lodge, and you can pretend you’re roughing it. Your “camp” is an
organic farm powered by a wind generator and solar panels. At night, the yurts’ canvas walls let in a lullaby of chirping frogs. Perched on 50 blufftop acres above the Pacific, the retreat offers easy access to crashing surf, plus yoga classes and bodywork.
It’s tough to beat a night spent inside this park, where 2,500 natural arches and colorful rock formations supply the wow factor. The 50-site campground is booked solid from March till October but empties out in late fall. Campers gather on top of the rocks to
witness sublime desert sunsets.
7 of 8Rachid Dahnoun / Tandem
Cathedral Gorge State Park, northeast of Las Vegas
Not far from the Utah border lies one of Nevada’s geologic marvels: the bentonite clay spires and slot canyons of Cathedral Gorge. The narrow canyon is pocketed with sunlit labyrinths that lure photographers and desert lovers. To get a bird’s-eye view, hike or drive to Miller Point. Dogs are allowed at the tree-shaded, 24-site camp and on the trails.
Search for sand dollars, scan the waves for whales and dolphins, and warm your toes at a beach bonfire as the sun sinks over Monterey Bay. Sixteen miles south of Santa Cruz, Sunset State Beach’s 85-site campground is a short walk from the waterline, where anglers reel in surf perch and striped bass. Dogs are allowed in camp but not on the beach; drive two miles north to Manresa’s day-use area to let them romp in the sand.