From Colorado to Montana, Utah, and Wyoming, these are our absolute favorite places to pitch a tent
1. Moraine Park Campground, Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk, mule deer, and coyotes often wander through the meadow near this campground, which has a backcountry feel despite its proximity to the road. The 2.3-mile Cub Lake Trail leads to a lily pad–covered pond. Leave your car behind; starting on Memorial Day, summer park shuttles provide easy access to trails. $20 (plus $20 park entrance fee per vehicle); book at recreation.gov
2. Pinyon Flats Campground, Great Sand Dunes National Park
In this park, sand dunes of up to 750 feet―the tallest in North America―are dwarfed by the 13,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. During May runoff, Medano Creek becomes a virtual water park, with gentle, kid-friendly flows. $14 (plus $3 park entrance fee for adults 16 and up); no reservations; 719/378-6300.
3. Big Creek Lakes Campground, Routt National Forest, Northwest of Walden
This remote 9,000-foot haven near the Wyoming border boasts beyond-blue lakes and spiky summits near the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness. Hike the moderate Seven Lakes Trail 2 miles in; you’ll reach Big Creek Falls, where moose sightings are routine. $10; 970/723-8204; book at recreation.gov
4. Elk Run and Fisherman’s Paradise Campgrounds, Sylvan Lake State Park, Southeast of Eagle
An 8,500-foot alpine park with aspen groves, meadows of wildflowers, a 42-acre lake, and big, big mountains. Canoes, sea kayaks, and paddleboats are available for rent here from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. $14 (plus $6 daily per vehicle); 970/328-2021; book at reserveamerica.com
5. Hall Valley and Handcart Campgrounds, Pike National Forest, Northwest of Bailey
These high-country campsites are tucked into a densely forested valley punctuated with wild-flowers and aspens. The North Fork of the South Platte River is within earshot. Walk 1.4 miles to access the super-scenic 2.4-mile Gibson Lake Trail, which climbs a moderate 1,544 feet to its namesake lake. $14; 303/275-5610; book at recreation.gov
6. Rosy Lane Campground, Gunnison National Forest, Northeast of Almont
Campsites are tucked beneath tree canopies at Taylor River’s edge. Whitewater-rafting outfitters run the river daily. From $18; 970/641-0471; book at recreation.gov
7. Saddlehorn Campground, Colorado National Monument
From your campsite, spot steep-walled canyons and crimson-colored rocks of the national monument. Hike the 6-mile Monument Canyon Trail to see signature rock formations. $10 (plus $7 park entrance fee per vehicle); no reservations; 970/858-3617 ext. 360.
8. Turquoise Lake Recreation Area, San Isabel National Forest, West of Leadville
Thick evergreen forest, mountains, and an 1,800-acre lake surround the eight campgrounds here, all at a cool 10,000-foot elevation. Bike the easy 12-mile paved Mineral Belt Trail loop; it starts in downtown Leadville, 4 miles east of the lake. From $14; 719/486-0749; book at recreation.gov
9. Granite Tent Campground, Gunnison National Forest, Near Crested Butte
The Taylor River flows right next to Granite Tent Campground’s seven sites in Gunnison National Forest near Crested Butte. The burbling water’s lullaby guarantees you sound sleeping and a bright-eyed morning for landing the lunkers that swim in these waters: Across the river, Harmel’s Ranch Resort stocks huge trout in its private stretch of the Taylor, and many of those migrate into the public water. $10; no reservations or potable water; fs.usda.gov/recmain/gmug/recreation
10. Belle of Colorado, Turquoise Lake Recreation Area, San Isabel National Forest
Talk about prime real estate: These 19 tent-only sites sit right on the edge of Turquoise Lake, so you wake to views of soaring Sugarloaf Mountain framed by broad blue waters. String a hammock among the lodgepole pines shading the shoreline, take a bracing dip in the lake, or cast a line for trout. $20; May 22–Sep 7; vault toilets; no reservations; 1.usa.gov/1zLusw7.
11. Saddlehorn, Colorado National Monument
It’s big (80 sites), so you’ll almost always find a vacancy—and privacy. Sites sit among piñon pines and junipers, which create the illusion of solitude. And because they overlook the canyon rim, sites here enjoy cooler temperatures and easy access to commanding views: The campground’s Window Rock and Canyon Rim Trails lead to stunning vistas of red rock spires. $20; $10/vehicle; open year-round; nps.gov/colm.
12. Starlite Classic Campground, Cañon City
The nine vintage trailers at this throwback campground in Cañon City are now equipped with WiFi, a pool, and dog park. starliteclassiccampground.com
13. Sol Mountain Farm Camp, Alpine
Sleep under the stars in one of two new teepee sites on this privately owned organic homestead in Alpine. Pets are welcome. hipcamp.com
14. Silver Queen, Near Aspen
Let Colorado’s most famous view start your day. Of the three U.S. Forest Service campgrounds located beneath the Maroon Bells of Aspen, only Silver Queen offers vistas of the photogenically pointy Elk Mountains. The choice site is 6, on Maroon Creek. A short walk upstream reveals pinch-yourself views of the Bells. $15/night, plus $10/vehicle (valid 5 days); late May–Sep; book at recreation.gov
15. Lost Lake Campground, Near Crested Butte
Lost Lake is a gorgeous gateway to Kebler Pass, one of the country’s largest aspen groves, near Beckwith Mountains. Take the 3-mile Three Lakes Loop from the campground and pass countless aspens painting the hills yellow. $20/night; Mid-June–Oct; No reservations; fs.usda.gov.
16. Apgar Campground, Glacier National Park
Campsites sit in a pine forest beside glacier-fed Lake McDonald, with Continental Divide peaks at the head of the lake. The famously precipitous Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan Pass isn’t open to cars until June (and free public bus tours start July 1), but a portion opens to bikes and pedestrians in May. $20 (plus $25 park entrance fee per vehicle); no reservations; 406/888-7800.
17. Kintla Lake Campground, Glacier National Park
The quiet, rarely crowded campground sits by a tree-encircled lake with gorgeous mountain views, 40 miles from the Canadian border. Visit nearby Polebridge Mercantile (406/888-5105) to meet locals and try homemade huckleberry macaroons. $15 (plus $25 park entrance fee per vehicle); no reservations; 406/888-7800.
18. The Resort at Paws Up, Greenough
The Greenough resort with 30 luxury tents and 28 cabins kicks off the summer with a campfire concert series. pawsup.com
19. Group Bicycle Campsites, Placid Lake and Salmon Lake State Parks
Each of the 18 new sites in Placid Lake and Salmon Lake State Parks attract camping cyclists riding site to site. Ammenties include a fire ring, potable water, and covered shelter with picnic tables. stateparks.mt.gov
20. Holland Lake Campground, Near Bigfork
Holland Lake exposes a chillingly scenic swath of glacier-carved mountains, and waterside sites in Holland Lake Campground near Bigfork bask in those views. Park at the Larch Loop, which sits on a bluff overlooking the blue expanses; at sites 1, 2, and 6, panoramas include Holland Falls, a 40-foot cascade. $15; late May–Sep; book at recreation.gov
21. Colorado Riverway, Moab
The Colorado flows more gently just south of Arches National Park, making this area perfect for low-key kayaking or float trips. Campsites string out along State 128, with cliffs on all sides. At Hal Canyon Campground, nab site 2 or 11 for secluded riverfront. $12; no reservations; 435/259-2100.
22. Devils Garden Campground, Arches National Park, North of Moab
Juniper-studded, red sandstone–carpeted sites at the only campground in 76,519-acre Arches. Snag site 53―behind a “fin,” a slickrock boulder―for privacy. $20 (plus $10 park entrance fee per vehicle); 435/719-2299; book at recreation.gov
23. Watchman Campground, Zion National Park
Towering sandstone formations make up this gateway to Zion Canyon. Wade in the Virgin River; watch for grazing deer at dusk and dawn. Bring an awning for shade in summertime. From $16 (plus $25 park entrance fee per vehicle); 435/772-3256; book at recreation.gov
24. Tanner’s Flat Campground, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Southeast of Salt Lake City
It’s only 10 miles from Salt Lake City yet a world away, with thick stands of aspen and pine at a 7,250-foot elevation. On Sunday morning, head up the canyon to the Alta Lodge for its legendary brunch (Sun brunch $22; 801/742-3500). $18; 801/236-3400; book at recreation.gov
25. The Wedge Overlook, San Rafael Swell Recreation Area
Virtually unobstructed views of red rock country are the reward for camping above the Little Grand Canyon. Follow informal trails along the canyon rim for your own sunset lightshow. BYO water. Free; no reservations; 435/636-3600.
26. Kayenta Campground, Dead Horse Point State Park, Moab
Moab’s best panorama is at Dead Horse Point State Park, where the rising sun ignites the multilayered 2,000-foot cliffs lining the Colorado River. The 21 juniper-shaded sites at Kayenta Campground place you within a 15-minute stroll of that epic view. After breakfast, hit the park’s 9 miles of mountain-bike trails, which guide riders on a flat, easy route along the scenic canyon rim. Contact for prices; no potable water; stateparks.utah.gov
27. Fruita Campground, Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef’s Fruita Campground and its 71 sites sit along the Fremont River, amid historic orchards that now provide campers with shade and grass—rare comforts in the red rock desert. Depending on the time of year, you wake to the scent of cherry, apricot, peach, and apple blossoms; come U-pick season for the various varieties, the fallen fruit attracts deer that spend mornings browsing near your campsite. $10, plus $8 entrance and vehicle fees; no reservations; nps.gov/care
28. Big Bend, Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway
Dramatic sandstone cliffs surround these 23 riverside campsites, which can be tricky to nab (they’re located just 8 quick miles from Moab on State 128). The popularity is fully justified: A sandy beach (good for swimming) and canyon vistas make each site feel like a true desert oasis. $15; open year-round; no potable water; vault toilets; no reservations; on.doi.gov/1GoFY9f
29. Capitol Reef Resort, Capitol Reef National Park
New Conestoga wagons in Capitol Reef National Park are modeled after authentic 18th-century designs and feature a king bed. Private bathrooms and fire pits are just a few steps away. capitolreefresort.com
30. Dead Horse Point State Park, Northwest of Canyonlands National Park
Perch your tent atop a mesa 2,000 feet above the Colorado River. Trails and views of Canyonlands National Park are just 20 minutes away. Rise early for the sunrise over the 12,721-foot La Sal Mountains. $20; 435/259-2614; book at reserveamerica.com
31. Jenny Lake Campground, Grand Teton National Park
Jenny Lake is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The 49 sites aren’t directly on the water—instead you camp among pines and grab views of the Tetons, then walk a few yards to see the astonishingly beautiful lake. The campground is near the visitor center, with great trail access. In summer, get here by 7 to nab a spot. $23; $25/vehicle park entry; open May 9–Sep 27; no reservations; nps.gov/grte.
32. Gros Ventre Campground, Grand Teton National Park
Most sites at Gros Ventre Campground in Grand Teton National Park lack stunning mountain views. Why go? Because the 350 individual cottonwood-shaded sites sit near the Gros Ventre River in prime moose territory, so you’re virtually guaranteed to wake up to a Rocky and Bullwinkle show, with the browsers nibbling on willows and slurping aquatic plants. Despite feeling like the back of beyond, it’s just 12 miles north of Jackson. Contact for prices (excludes $25 park entrance fee); early May–early Oct; nps.gov/grte
33. Keyhole Tree House, Keyhole State Park
The Cottonwood campground at Keyhole State Park gets an upgrade in the form of a private tree house with three rooms, an electric fireplace, and a large deck overlooking the lake. wyoparks.state.wy.us
34. Curtis Canyon Campground, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Northeast of Jackson
This little-known, bare-bones campground perches atop a 6,600-foot butte between the National Elk Refuge and the Gros Ventre Wilderness; sites look out at the snow-covered Tetons. Before leaving Jackson, grab a cup of locally roasted coffee at Jackson Hole Roasters ($; 307/699-3984). $12; no reservations; 307/739-5400