There’s a good chance that there were a few before it, but the first camping trip that I can vividly remember happened when I was six. It was just me, my parents, and my sister, hanging out in the woods, eating sandwiches, dipping our toes in the creek, and looking up at stars while a fire roared in front of us. For a kid that snuck in some video game playtime every chance he got, this was an amazingly different experience.
I’ve been hooked on camping ever since, and I love every iteration of it — backpacking deep in the wilderness, glamping in a luxury yurt, or the simplicity of packing up a car and heading to the nearest state park. Generally, I prefer more nature and less development. My favorite spots typically don’t have any RV hookups and I’m more or less boondocking. These are just a few of my favorite campgrounds from all across America.
Best Campgrounds in California
If I mention southern California, your mind immediately jumps to traffic jams, smog, and an unhealthy obsession with celebrities. Yes, L.A. is absolutely all of those things and none of them make me feel like camping, but take a drive over the San Bernardino or San Gabriel Mountains and you’re in a completely different world. The Inland Empire can be a truly wild place and nowhere exemplifies it quite like Anza Borrego State Park.
About an hour and a half east of San Diego and nearly the same distance south of Palm Springs, it’s a desert playground and at least in my mind, one of the best campgrounds in California. There are over 500 miles of dirt roads crisscrossing what resembles a Martian landscape and littering the countryside are over a hundred massive steel sculptures, from dragons to crickets, so there’s never a dull moment in Anza Borrego.
Plus you can camp almost anywhere inside the park for free (good luck finding that anywhere else in the state); there’s just a handful of developed sites at Borrego Palm Canyon campground with full hookups.
Best Campgrounds in Wisconsin
The first thing you need to know about camping in Wisconsin is that it’s all about the lakes and waterfalls. Bring a kayak, your fishing gear, and obviously a swimsuit. While winters in the Badger State might be fiendishly cold, you shouldn’t let that ruin a perfectly good camping trip. Trade in the kayak for ice skates, the swimsuit for long underwear, and still pack the fishing gear (but bring an ice auger!). Wisconsin is a year-round camping destination.
If I had to pick a favorite Wisconsin lake, it would probably be Devil’s Lake State Park. It’s only a half-hour or so from Madison and all of its delicious restaurants and college-town atmosphere. It’s also a half-hour from the overcrowded tourist mecca known as the Wisconsin Dells.
Like the Dells, it’s quite popular, but there are a few hundred campsites that are all reservable online, so there’s never a mad rush to claim one. In addition to the lake’s invitingly calm waters, there are several hiking trails, some killer rock climbing routes, and four miles of mountain biking trails. It’s an excellent campground for anyone looking for an adventure-filled vacation.
Best Campgrounds in Michigan
I’m of the belief that Michigan is the most underrated state for camping. Not only does it have the fabled Upper Peninsula, a wilderness wonderland that everyone should visit at least once in their life, but the Mitten State also has some of the coolest beach camping in the country.
Good beaches in Michigan? Absolutely! Have you never heard of Sleeping Bear Dunes? The 35-mile stretch of hundred-foot-tall dunes is designated as a national lakeshore and was ranked as “One of the Most Beautiful Places in America” by Good Morning America. I tend to agree.
One of the main campgrounds inside the national lakeshore region is Platte River Campground. It’s a great mix of developed sites that have hookups and less developed areas that have no amenities or require some hiking to reach your site.
I bring my folding sea kayak on most of my camping trips, and I like to put it just outside the Platte River Campground and paddle down to Loon Lake. It’s only a short distance from there to some big water out on Lake Michigan. If you don’t have a boat, there’s a rental shop across the street from the campground.
Best Campgrounds in Pennsylvania
As I said before, I’m not a huge fan of private, developed campgrounds. The sites are too close together, they’re noisier, and you end up feeling divorced from nature. It takes a really special place for me to want to sleep in close proximity to dozens of other campers.
Central Pennsylvania’s Buttonwood Campground is one such place. It’s the sort of place I like going to with friends that have kids. It has a big swimming pool, there’s laser tag and mini-golf, and a great winery for relaxing in the evening.
It’s not a middle-of-the-woods camping experience, but everything feels easy here and sometimes I like a more luxurious experience. The sites have full hookups, which means I can get an RV rental with all the amenities instead of using a smelly pit toilet and rationing my drinking water. Instead of worrying about all the details of camping, I can actually focus on enjoying the company of those around me.
Don’t worry if you don’t live in one of those states though, there’s great camping all over the U.S. I’ve probably traveled to 20 or 25 states, and in every single one of them, from the sandy beaches of California to the windswept Great Plains to the rocky shores of New England, there have been amazing campgrounds. These are just of handful of honorable mentions from other states:
The Upsides To Camping With an RV Rental
No matter where you live, there’s almost certainly a great campground within just a few hours from your house. You don’t need to take a cross-country road trip to have an adventure. One thing you might need though is a reliable RV rental. Tent camping is great; it’s a chance to experience nature’s essence, but it’s not for everyone.
An RV rental from Cruise America lets you bring the comforts of home on your adventures, like a flush toilet or perfectly-toasted bagels in the morning. Those little things make all the difference, especially to novice campers that maybe aren’t up for full-on excursions into the wilderness. There’s no shame in that either, camping should be about enjoying the outdoors, not who can deprive themselves the most. So get out there and find your dream campsite!