correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island is located in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In fact, it is in Lopez Sound. The article has been updated.
July marks the turning point when warm weather transitions into quintessential summer, and with it comes the season for camping. Why not celebrate summer with a little fresh air? Our country boasts a bounty of beautiful scenery: soaring snowcapped peaks melt into burnt orange slot canyons before fading into thickly forested mountains shrouded in a cornucopia of colorful explosions. Scenic campgrounds are scattered throughout, but which have the best views? Below, you’ll find the most breathtaking campgrounds in America.
Piñon Flats Campground
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in Mosca, Colo.
Open: April 1 to Oct. 30
Cost: $20 per night
Bordered by massive sand dunes, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Medano Creek, Piñon Flats is one of the more topographically varied campgrounds in the United States. The dunes for which Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is named are less than a mile away, so camp visitors can splash in the creek to escape the heat of the day. At night, traipse out on the sand dunes and view one of the most epic star gazing experiences on the planet at this newly appointed International Dark Sky Park. For those willing to add some sweat equity to their day, the trek to Star Dune (the highest sand dune in North America; 750 feet) is a calf-burning must.
North Rim Campground
Grand Canyon National Park in North Rim, Ariz.
Open: May 15 to Oct. 31
Cost: $18 to $25 per night
Dodge the crowds that swarm the South Rim of the second most-visited park in the country and head to the quieter North Rim. It is higher in elevation (roughly 8,300 feet) so the weather is chillier and the air noticeably thinner, but the relative solitude more than makes up for the brisk evenings. Campsites are scattered throughout the ponderosa pines. The entire campground borders Transept Canyon, an offshoot to the main attraction, so epic views of canyons are inescapable. For the best panoramas, try to snag campsites 23 to 26. Note: Because of a water main break, the campground has water restrictions.
Lost Creek Campground
Crater Lake National Park, Ore.
Open: Early July to mid-October
Reservations: First come, first served only: nps.gov/crla/plan
Cost: $5 per night
To be clear, the scene stealer of this quiet-and-rustic campground is the deep blue water of nearby Crater Lake, a 2000-foot-deep caldera (the deepest in the world) that was formed by the collapse of Mount Mazama. The lake is completely fed by rain and snowmelt so the water is utterly clear and clean. But, for those who want to return to a tents-only home base tucked into old growth Douglas fir and Hemlock trees, Lost Creek is a great bet. This hidden gem doesn’t have running water (vault toilets only), but the sites are private and peaceful. Besides, who needs amenities when you have world-class scenery right outside the tent?
Spencer Spit State Park
Lopez Island, Wash.
Open: Year round
Cost: $20 to $45, depending on the time of year
This stunner of a campground is situated in the 138-acre marine park in Lopez Sound . The entire parks sits on a sand spit that wraps around a saltchuck lagoon so views of the water abound from all directions. Families love the campgrounds thanks to its access to crabbing, clamming, saltwater fishing, and swimming . The San Juan Islands host a large contingent of bald eagles as well as dozens of shorebirds, so the wildlife viewing is top shelf. Bonus: This campground is on one of the few car-accessible islands in the San Juans.
Cranberry Lake Campground
Cranberry Lake, N.Y.
Open: May 17 to Oct. 14
Cost: $20 per night (out of state residents surcharge additional $5 per night)
Cranberry Lake is one of the largest remote lakes in the Adirondacks, so it is no wonder the beauty is off the charts. Civilization has barely encroached upon this pristine wilderness so campers enjoy more solitude than usually found at established campgrounds. Outdoor enthusiasts have plenty to do with dozens of trails in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area that wind through the surrounding forest, and the lake is stocked with trout for the avid fisherman. It isn’t a small campground — more than 170 sites — but the sound of rocking lake waves fills the air, creating the ultimate sound machine to help you drift off to sleep at night.
Lafayette Place Campground
Franconia Notch State Park in Franconia, N.H.
Open: Year round with peak season mid-May to mid-October
Cost: $25 per night
If you like drama, look no further than the White Mountains in Franconia Notch State Park. The Franconia Notch Recreation Path and the Pemi Trail crisscross through the campground, so hikers have easy access to moderate hiking routes, and the more ambitious can tackle portions of the Appalachian Trail — which also runs through the notch. A few wooded campsites sit along the banks of the Pemigewasset River, reflecting dappled light throughout the campground. Free interpretive programs are offered for kids wanting to learn more about the surrounding environment. Keep your eyes peeled: hawks and falcons are frequent visitors in the skies above.
Curry Hammock State Park Campground
Florida Keys, Fla.
Open: Year round
Cost: $36 plus a nonrefundable $6.70 reservation fee. Florida residents above the age of 65 are eligible for a 50 percent discount on some sites.
Secluded, picturesque beach camping is ideal but in reality, it is tough to find. That is why Curry Hammock Campground is special. Tucked away within the largest uninhabited stretch of land (1,000 acres) between Key Largo and Big Pine Key, Curry Hammock is the perfect campground to admire Earth in her rawest form. Campers can explore mangrove swamps, sea-grass beds and numerous wetlands, all while surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. The park itself is on a migration route and a highlighted stop on the Florida Birding Trail, so eagles and hawks are common sights. If you have the gumption, set an early alarm to watch sunrise. The campground faces the Atlantic so the morning views are certainly worth the extra cup of coffee.
White Tank Campground
Joshua Tree National Park in Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Open: Year round
Reservations: First come, first served only
Cost: $15 per night
White Tank Campground is unlike any other on this list thanks to the barren desert found in Joshua Tree. But, the hot-and-sandy environment makes this campsite feel otherworldly. Nestled among gigantic boulders, it is a popular spot with rock climbers, but hiking and biking are available too. More notable, however, is the night sky viewing. White Tank is located near the darkest corner of the park, making the star show a life-list experience for anyone. Note: there is no water, so campers must bring what they need. When in doubt, pack extra; dehydration in the desert is not a good life choice.
Rochfort is a writer based in Colorado. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @AColoradoGal.
More from Travel: