Ian Shive / Tandem
Twin Peaks Campground, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
- nps.gov/orpi; $16; $12/vehicle; no reservations
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.
Ben 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.
John Delapp / Design Pics / Getty Images
Mesquite Spring Campground, Death Valley National Park
- nps.gov/deva; $12; $20/vehicle; no reservations
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.
Creative Commons photo by Stephen Moehle is licensed under CC BY 2.0
William Heise County Park, near Julian, CA
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.
Hawaii Island Retreat, Big Island
- hawaiiislandretreat.com; $195
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.
Devils Garden Campground, Arches National Park
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.
Rachid Dahnoun / Tandem
Cathedral Gorge State Park, northeast of Las Vegas
- parks.nv.gov/parks/cathedral-gorge; $17; no reservations
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.
Sunset State Beach, Watsonville, CA
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.
Manzanita Campground, Sedona, AZ
- $22; open all year, book at recreation.gov
Sites 10 through 12 at Manzanita Campground sit closest to the water, which lights up with yellow and red oak leaves. The 6-mile out-and-back West Fork Trail is a portal between striped canyon walls and stream crossings.
Bridge Creek Campground, Leavenworth, WA
- From $19; Apr-Oct; recreation.gov
On the border of the Enchantment Area Wilderness, Bridge Creek Campground’s falling leaves flash from mustard to maroon. www.fs.usda.gov. Make time for the 8-mile round-trip to Colchuck Lake, a turquoise glacial gem set against neon larches and craggy peaks.