America's Most Scenic Campgrounds
Courtesy of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department
These campsites with a view, from Alaska to Florida, are the perfect spots to pitch a tent or
park an RV.
“Well, you really picked a winner!” said Bob, the host at Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim Campground, after I
had serendipitously wandered onto site 14. And he’s right. Site 14 has plenty of space and is
close to the bathrooms—but not too close. Best of all, it extends right up to the edge of a
side canyon, providing a private view across to the Grand Canyon. I spent hours watching the
setting or rising sun change the color of the canyon’s rock layers from pink to purple to
chocolate, cup of morning coffee or glass of evening wine in hand.
It stands to reason that not all of the tens of thousands of campsites in the United States will
be winners. Many are little more than dusty, soulless patches of sun-parched earth with a
falling-down fire ring, a picnic table with one bench, and a view of the bathrooms. (The National
Park Service is promising vast improvements to its campgrounds as part of a sprucing-up before its
centennial, in 2016.) However, some real stunners are out there if you know where to look.
Another great find: the campground in Oregon’s Memaloose State Park, which has big, shady, grassy
sites right on the banks of the Columbia River. Set up your temporary home here and you’ll
have great views of the Columbia River Gorge, plus access to ample wild blackberry vines and some
of the best windsurfing in the country. Many of the sites come with hammock-ready trees.
The camping platforms over a gorgeous gator-and-migratory-bird-filled swamp in Georgia, meanwhile, provide an unusual and enthralling
experience for nature lovers. Then there’s the campground in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park that has its own resident herd
of majestic buffalo. Watch them roam—and take in a world-class sunset, with the dying light
spreading across the seemingly-endless grassy prairies, creating shifting shadows and dancing color
changes. Who could resist?
The answer to that question is not many. This means you won’t be alone in trying to
book a spot—especially after the September debut of Ken Burns’s documentary about the
National Park system, America’s Best Idea. NPS officials “expect a dramatic
increase in park visitation,” particularly in the spring of 2010.
So reserve as early as you can wherever reservations are accepted. For the
first-come-first-served locations, arrive by 11 a.m. (a lot of campgrounds set checkout times
between 10 and 12, which means many folks will be vacating their sites around 11). Ask for the
specific site you want, since many parks honor such requests. Don’t have a clue which one is
best? Log on to the park’s website and see if there’s a campground map.
Just be prepared to take what you can get should your dream spot already be taken. In most
cases, it’ll be worth a trip in its own right.