Bog Springs Campground, Madera Canyon, Coronado National Forest
This canyon south of Tucson is hummingbird central in springtime, when swarms of them pause here during their annual migration. And it offers year-round opportunities for kids to marvel at other wildlife: Turkey, deer, and waterfowl congregate around Bog Springs’s 13 mostly oak-shaded sites, which sit near a lush riparian zone. Summer rain showers trigger bursts of butterflies, and a short nature trail winds through critter-spotting zones. $10; $5 park entry; vault toilets; no reservations; fs.usda.gov.
Lake Alpine, Stanislaus National Forest
Its water is a clear blue-green and its shore is edged by tall pines, with the peaks of the Sierra Nevada rising close behind. No wonder families and everybody else like Lake Alpine, off State 4 northeast of Arnold. Additional draws include swimming, trout fishing, and paddling the lake in kayaks and canoes you can rent from Lake Alpine Resort. Downside? This is a popular place in summer and campsites fill on a first-come, first-served basis—so go for a weekday visit. Showers, grocery, and fishing; $25; open late May–late Sep; no reservations; fs.usda.gov.
Leo Carrillo State Park, Malibu
Malibu is all about the ocean, and Leo Carrillo has two sandy beaches to roam, sea caves to explore, tidepools to inspect. The camp lies across the highway in a sycamore grove; a tunnel leads to the beach. Parents appreciate ranger-led nature walks, campfire programs, hot showers, and camp store for last-minute necessities. Bring your toys: stand-up paddleboards, surfboards, bodyboards, plus water sandals for the rock-strewn beach. And bring your dog; he or she is allowed in camp on the beach’s north end. Showers, grocery, and fishing; $45; $12/day park fee; parks.ca.gov.
Limekiln State Park, Big Sur
Tucked into a canyon, this 700-acre park on the south Big Sur coast preserves some of the oldest and largest redwoods in Monterey County. Kids love to splash around in Limekiln Creek, which runs through camp; campsites are creekside, beachfront, or in the redwoods. The park is named for its 1880s wood-fired kilns, which smelted limestone into powdered lime to make bricks and cement. Easy hikes lead to the kilns and a 100-foot-high waterfall. A small rocky cove is great for sunset and star watching. Hot showers are welcome luxuries. Showers and fishing; $35; $10/day park fee; campone.com.