Before your kids have to hit the books, finish out the summer with one last camping getaway for the family! Whether you want an amenity-laden resort or a classic U.S. National Park experience, these fun, easy trips will have you packing your bags in no time.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
America’s most-visited National Park is popular for many reasons, but don’t let the popularity keep you from visiting. The beautiful mountains, array of plant and animal species and endless opportunities make the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a must-see. Stretching more than 800 square miles throughout the states of Tennessee and North Carolina, the park contains 10 different campgrounds with about 1,000 sites total. You can choose from front country campsites with limited amenities, or trek through the backcountry if your family is up for something more challenging.
Popular park activities include horse riding, scenic drives, waterfall hikes, and wildlife viewing. There are plenty of ranger-led programs to help you learn all about the park’s history, flora and fauna as well.
Garner State Park, Texas
Ask just about any Texan and they will fondly recall memories of family camping trips spent floating the Frio River, the best outdoor escape from Texas’ summer heat. Known as the cleanest and coldest river in the state—frio is Spanish for cold—the Frio River is just waiting for you to kayak, tube or swim in its clear, blue-green waters. The section that runs through Garner State Park is about 2.9 miles long and offers easy access and a gentle current.
The 1,774-acre park also offers opportunities for fishing, geocaching, mini golf, camping, and 11 miles of hiking trails in the beautiful Texas hill country. With 335 electric/water or water-only campsites, 37 screened shelters, and 17 cabins, there are options for every family. And don’t forget your dancing shoes; during the summer, visitors gather each evening for a lively jukebox dance at the park’s concession building, a tradition since the 1940s!
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Colorado
Pitch your tent beneath cottonwoods and piñons and enjoy the view of golden sand dunes, snow-capped Rockies and lush grasslands at the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. The park has a surprising diversity of ecosystems, so you can enjoy a forested hike, splash in the water, or shred some sand by trying out sandboarding or sand sledding (rentals available outside the park). In summer, it’s advised to enjoy the dunes in the morning or evening; while the average high temperature for August in about 80 degrees, the sand surface can reach up to 150 degrees. Ouch!
The park has activities for everyone, from horseback riding to backpacking. The park is also an excellent place to view the stars. If you happen to go when there’s a full moon, explore the dunes at night for a surreal experience. Don’t forget your camera!
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Idaho/Montana
Renowned as the world’s first National Park—and the first one signed into U.S. law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872—Yellowstone should be on every family’s camping bucket list. With its stunning geological features, abundance of wildlife, and variety of activities, Yellowstone is just waiting for you to come and explore. There are 12 campgrounds to choose from, but they can book up quickly in August, so plan ahead. Must-sees include Old Faithful, Mount Washburn, and the Grand Prismatic Spring.
While Yellowstone begs to be explored, remind your family that safety comes first. Teach your kids bear and animal safety, to stay on designated paths and boardwalks, and not to get distracted by their mobile phones.
Redwood National & State Park, California
With an average high of 67 degrees Fahrenheit, the Redwood National & State Park along the coast of California is an excellent place to escape from the heat of summer. Adventure through the magical forest and sleep beneath towering redwoods at one of the state or national parks. Mill Creek Campground in the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park is a prime spot with lush, secluded campgrounds—plus amenities such as hot showers!
Kids and adults alike will love walking through the magnificent old growth redwood forests. Be sure to take the Stout Grove Loop Trail for a simple yet stunning walk through the forest beside the sparkling Smith River. If conditions are good, you can book a ranger-led kayaking trip on the Smith River (kids must be 10+ years old to ride). Most importantly, enjoy the pristine beauty around you, and learn about how you can help preserve its beauty for future generations.