Whether you choose a simple tent or a deluxe RV, camping opens up a lot of easy-on-the-wallet options for exploring North America. State parks, national forests and other public lands maintain plenty of affordable campsites. Private campgrounds do, too, and they often add resort-like amenities and “glamping” comforts.
We’ve gathered some spectacular scenic spots to set up your camp. Of course, the list is endless—and that’s camping’s real appeal.
Camping is the way to go in the northernmost, narrowest part of Idaho, where the views vastly outnumber the hotel rooms. Take your pick of terrain: pine forests, glacier-carved lakes and riffling fly-fishing streams, all framed by the Selkirk, Cabinet and Bitterroot mountains.
Stock up on camping supplies in Sandpoint, an outdoorsy outpost on the shores of expansive Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced: pon-der-ay). Carved by glaciers and the Missoula Flood, the lake bends in a broad arc for more than 40 miles and reaches depths of 1,150 feet.
Loop east on Idaho 200, the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway, along the lake’s rocky northern shore toward Hope. City services soon give way to scenic campgrounds, both along the shore and in the adjacent Kaniksu National Forest. Popular spots include Trestle Creek and the Sam Owen Campground, where swimming beaches and boat launches let you make the most of the clear lake waters.
Southeast of Hope near Clark Fork, Huckleberry Tent and Breakfast puts a decidedly soft spin on camping. Canvas-walled tent cabins have queen-sized beds, wood floors and wood-burning stoves. Beyond those comforts, discover a region as wild as you want, hiking the surrounding peaks and exploring the quiet waters of the Clark Fork Delta. Or head north toward the Priest Lake area, where Priest Lake State Park and national forest campgrounds put you among mountain lakes and sublime hikes.
Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands
Wisconsin may claim just a small corner of Lake Superior’s vast shoreline, but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. In northwestern Wisconsin, 22 forested islands are scattered off the tip of the Bayfield Peninsula, a striking tableau of woods and water protected as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Camping options here can be as convenient as an RV site along Superior’s mainland shore or a backcountry site on an uninhabited island.
Begin your visit in Bayfield, an appealing lakefront town where you can pick up groceries and other last-minute supplies. The town’s old county courthouse now houses the park’s headquarters and visitor center.
The national lakeshore’s mainland segment lies 13 miles north up the Wisconsin Lake Superior Byway, where the Lakeshore Trail skims along a scalloped shoreline of red sandstone cliffs and coves. An RV and tent campground at the Little Sand Bay Recreation Area makes a good base, with views of Sand Island just offshore.
The Apostle Islands Cruise Service offers three- to four-hour sightseeing tours that weave through the archipelago. This and other outfitters also provide water taxi service for campers headed for sites scattered among the many islands. Sea kayaks provide another popular way to reach campsites on the park’s islands; even beginners can paddle safely with outfitters such as Living Adventure.
Campers have a third Apostles option: Catch the car ferry from Bayfield to Madeline Island, part of the archipelago but not within the national park. Waterfront campgrounds at Big Bay State Park and Big Bay County Park let you wake up to big blue lake views and a long stretch of sandy beach.
California’s peaks and valleys
Campers can go to extremes in California. Two hours west of Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park claims the lowest terrain on the continent: 282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin. Despite its intimidating name, the park offers plenty of temperate terrain for hiking among desert canyons and rocky pinnacles. In warmer months, head for higher-elevation (and free!) campgrounds like Wildrose on the park’s southwest end.
Four hours north, Yosemite National Park showcases the Sierras’ high-alpine splendor. With its soaring granite walls and plunging waterfalls, Yosemite belongs on every camper’s bucket list. Its campsites, however, can be notoriously hard to snag. Your best bet may be one of the national park’s non-reservation campgrounds such as Porcupine Flat. Many of these are outside the busy Yosemite Valley, at 7,000-foot-plus elevations along the Tioga Road.