Pack up your tent or RV and hit the road for a completely different kind of camping experience this summer. We’ve rounded up 10 unique campgrounds where you can tuck into the Appalachian forest like a hobbit, sleep on top of boulders beneath a starry sky, and wake up on a barrier island where wild horses roam the beaches. At these unforgettable sites, you’re sure to be a happy camper.
Read the original story: 10 Campgrounds for an Unforgettable Summer Vacation by Jamie Moore, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel. Next
Sand-Dune Camping, Florence, Oregon
You can camp on top of the sand heap at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area if you’ve got a four-wheel drive to take you up there. The towering dunes that stretch 40 miles along Oregon’s coast reach up to 500 feet in spots and are a playground for sand boarders and dune buggy riders. South Jetty’s campsites near Florence are accessed only by four-by-four, but once you’re here, you can ride all hours of the day in this mini Sahara. Campsites are primitive and located directly on the sand, so you’ll need to BYO toilet, water, and fire pan. Get a break from the adrenaline rush with a swim or nighttime bonfire at the beach, where off-road vehicles aren’t allowed.
Great in Summer: The fog lifts and views from atop the dunes are spectacular in summer, a season when daily high temperatures are comfortable in the upper 60s and 70s. Don’t miss the coast’s sandcastle-building competitions and kite festival. Next
Red-Rock Cliff Camping, Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Utah/Wyoming Border
A scenic stop en route to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, or Arches National Park, this relatively hidden campground near Manila, Utah, lets you pitch your tent on the sandy shores of a reservoir, where red-rock cliffs rise high above the water. It gets hot at Stateline Cove Campground in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, but the water is cool and there’s a party atmosphere here in summer. Campers can beach boats directly at campsites, making transitions from water to land easy, especially when you’re toting water toys. Find great photo ops at sunrise at the Red Canyon Overlook. Keep an eye out for pronghorn antelope that live in the area.
Great in Summer: World-record trout have been caught in this reservoir’s cold waters, home to several summertime fishing derbies. See a great Fourth of July fireworks display here over the water. On the reservoir, you can rent boats, stand-up paddleboards, and Jet Skis. Next
Airstream Camping, Escalante, Utah
For a retro camping experience, rent an Airstream for a night or more at the Shooting Star RV Resort and join other throwback enthusiasts camping in their own shiny aluminum bullets. In this Airstream park, you can choose from eight on-site models decked out with decor from the movie sets of classic films including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Some Like It Hot, Viva Las Vegas, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. There are tenting and RV sites here, too. No matter where you stay, you can grab a seat at sunset at the resort’s drive-in, where a collection of classic 1960s convertibles with tops dropped await moviegoers.
Great in Summer: From this campground, you can easily take a day trip to several national parks that are popular summer vacation spots, including Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. After a day of touring in the heat, return to your air-conditioned Airstream. Next
Boulder Camping, Joshua Tree National Park, California
At Jumbo Rocks campground, campsites are scattered among house-sized boulders that no one can resist scrambling over. It looks like a cartoon scene out of The Flintstones’ city of Bedrock, and campers are often heard calling it that. The rock formations create privacy between sites and add an interesting backdrop for the campfire shadows that flicker at night. It’s dry enough that you can sleep tent-less on a flat boulder beneath a wide starry sky without waking up drenched in dew. Rock climbers will find several routes nearby.
Great in Summer: Temperatures can hit 100 degrees here in summer, but if you can stand the heat and come prepared with lots of water, you’ll avoid the crowds that fill this campground the rest of the year. Jumbo Rocks is cooler than most other campgrounds in the park because it’s more than 1,000 feet higher. Next
Camping with Wild Horses, Assateague Island, Maryland
Camp practically on the beach at Assateague Island National Seashore, where wild horses roam throughout the park and around the campground’s dunes. The beautiful animals gather on the island’s beaches in summer and have even been known to poke their noses into tents. Although they’re descendants of domesticated horses that were brought to this barrier island some 300 years ago, they’re living in the wild, so keep your distance and resist the urge to pet or feed them. Instead, swim, go surf fishing, and walk the beach by day then build a fire on it at night. There are several bike trails here, including one that leads to neighboring Chincoteague Island. Campsites have fire rings and picnic tables along with access to chemical toilets, cold-water showers, and drinking water.
Great in Summer: Crabbing season peaks June through September on the island. Check the park’s crabbing guide for more information. This campground is less than 10 miles away from the historic Ocean City boardwalk with its indulgent fried foods, amusements, and shops. Next
Almost-Urban Camping, Boston Harbor Islands, Massachusetts
You don’t have to go far to escape downtown Boston and feel miles away. Paddle a kayak or take the public ferry to the Boston Harbor Islands to see a remarkable view of downtown and sleep within steps of the beach. During the Civil War, these islands served as the city’s front-line defenses and housed prison camps as well as recruiting and training camps. See the sites on a living history tour. There are also hiking trails and 150 other free things to do here. Three of the islands—Bumpkin, Lovells, and Grape—offer rustic camping experiences without running water or electricity. On Peddocks Island, you can stay in the new yurt campground or in a tent and have access to running water and electricity.
Great in Summer: The harbor-island campgrounds are quick getaways from the summer heat. They’re right on the water and typically much cooler than downtown Next
Hobbit Camping, Rohrersville, Maryland
Sixty-five miles outside of Washington, D.C., you can play out life as Bilbo Baggins or Gandalf in Maple Tree Campground’s Hobbit House, which just opened this spring. Set in the mountains adjacent to the Appalachian Trail, the Hobbit House feels authentic, with rough-hewn timber beams, tables, and benches. Light streams in through two skylights and a large front window. On cool nights, you can stoke a fire in the woodstove that sits at the center of the cottage. If hobbit life isn’t your thing, this campground also has tenting sites and little cabins built on stilts among the trees.
Great in Summer : River tubing is popular on the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Nearby, in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, see blacksmithing and artillery demonstrations as well as other living-history events throughout summer. Next
Boat-In Camping, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
To get to this national park’s campground just west of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, you’ll need a boat. It’s the only way into Voyageurs National Park’s North Woods wilderness, where a tent-pad area, fire rings, bear-proof food lockers, and toilets await. Adventurous campers can spend days exploring the remote park’s tiny islands and narrow interconnected waterways in rented canoes or rowboats. Hiking trails lead to lakes, where you’ll likely hear the call of a loon or spot bald eagles in their nests. Listen for the howls of the park’s gray wolves floating through the night air, somewhere far beyond your tent walls
Great in Summer : Families and friends planning a summer reunion here can book a private group campsite for up to 16 people. The next closest campsite is at least 200 yards away, so you’ll get the feeling of being alone in quiet solitude on the lake. Next
Camping at a Mine, Herkimer, New York
A four-hour drive north of New York City, the Herkimer Diamond KOA campground is part of the Herkimer Diamond Mines site, where visitors mine for quartz-crystal “diamonds” and usually don’t leave empty-handed. After a day at the mines, bring your gems to the activity center and turn them into jewelry. Curious nature and science lovers rave about KOA’s astronomy lodge, with its own elevated observatory and high-powered telescope that provides great views of summer meteor showers. Stay in a Solar Kolony cabin with solar panels and monitor how much energy is generated and consumed each day during your stay.
Great in Summer: You can register the kids for a weeklong educational camp, take in a movie at the outdoor cinema, or come for the free ice cream socials and DJs on Saturdays. Most campsites are along West Canada Creek, a peaceful place for canoeing or kayaking. Next
Volcano Camping, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii
Camp on top of Maui’s Haleakala volcano and you won’t be far from its peak, where you can watch the sunrise, a quintessential Hawaiian experience. At an elevation of just under 7,000 feet, Hosmer Grove Campground sits in the cloud belt near the volcano’s summit. The weather is cool and unpredictable, an adventurous departure from the tropical Hawaiian paradise below. Sites are huddled together in an open, grassy area near a forest, and hiking trails lead from there. The birds that inhabit the trails’ native Hawaiian vegetation are found nowhere else on Earth.
Great in Summer: Along the trails, listen for the “oo-AH-oo” call of the endemic ‘ua’u (Hawaiian petrel). The largest known colony nests in burrows on steep slopes in the crater during summer. These sea birds feed primarily on squid, navigate by the stars, and fly thousands of miles in search of food for their young. Back to the beginning
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