There are places so stunning and famous they have starring roles in movies, coffee table books and paintings. While you may be familiar with some of them, others might surprise you. So unfold your chair, pour a cup of Joe and start making a plan to stay at one or two of these five iconic campgrounds.
Watchman Campground, Zion National Park, Utah
Camp here under the watchful eye of the Watchman. The campground is surrounded by tall sandstone cliffs that change colors throughout the day and especially at sunset, and the small but powerful Virgin River runs adjacent to the sites. The campgrounds fill up fast, and it’s first-come, first-served, so grab a hotel the night before or come in early from nearby St. George and circle the campground waiting for a spot to open. The park is very busy, and a shuttle bus runs most of the year, but if you drive above the second tunnel and park along the road, you’ll find some amazing places where you’ll feel like you are the only hikers in the park.
Yosemite National Park, California
Everyone wants to camp at Yosemite, but it’s not easy to get reservations. If you are lucky enough to snag a spot online, congratulations! If not, you might want to make a trek to the park anyway and find a spot on a first-come, first-served basis because it’s worth it. Sure, it’s crowded with campers from all over the world, but the view of El Capitan and the climbers who brave the wall, hanging on the rocks by their fingertips, is as exciting as it gets.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Camping at Carlsbad Caverns National Park is permitted only in the backcountry, which says something right there. No RVs with their generators running, no little kids running through your site, just you and the lore of the Apache Indians of the Guadalupe Mountains. You backpack your stuff in and out at this park, but what a difference it is from the other parks. Backcountry camping requires a permit and a minimum half-mile (.8 km) hike into the desert away from your vehicle. Before you go, remember you’ll be camping in the desert, so come prepared and enjoy your time away from the tourists.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
This national park has appeared in movies such as Dances with Wolves, Armageddon and many others, so you might recognize the rugged scenery at Cedar Pass Campground and Sage Creek Campground from the big screen. As you’re sitting around your fire telling stories in the same spot the Lakota Indians once roamed, consider yourself lucky. Cedar Pass Campground has 96 level sites and if you have an RV, there are hook-ups, but it’s still kind of primitive. At Sage Creek Campground, Bison might wander through your campsite, located on the west side of the park’s North Unit, near the Badlands Wilderness Area, available on a first-come, first-served basis and rarely filling to capacity. A portion of the Sage Creek Campground is designated for horse use.
Glacier National Park, Montana
There are more than a dozen campgrounds as well as 65 backcountry sites here in Montana. This is bear country. In this iconic park, the chance of running into a grizzly is small, although a possibility. There are 1000 campsites at Glacier, but if it starts to snow, the closed signs are posted right away. Beside the bears, the park is filled with lakes and streams and most campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you go and pitch your tent, you can brag that you’ve been to one of the most iconic campgrounds in the country.