12 of the Best Places to Camp in U.S. State Parks

Skip the crowds (and the pricey entrance fees) of national parks by heading to a nearby state park instead.

You may dream of seeing the geysers of Yellowstone or the overwhelming greatness of the Grand Canyon, but chances are you have a handful of little wonders in your own backyard. State parks like Goblin Valley in Utah hold their own against the neighboring Arches National Park (or Canyonlands, for that matter), while Maine's Baxter State Park is arguably just as wild as the well-known Acadia National Park (Baxter doesn't even have running water!). Plus, state parks tend to be less crowded and more affordable, two things that bode well for overnight guests.

It doesn't matter if you're looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there's a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand — there are over 10,000 state parks, after all — we've curated a list of some of the best state park campsites that are known for their popularity and beauty.

Camping Under the Stars in Canyon Country, Goblin Valley Campground Utah
Scott Cramer Photography/Adventure_Photo/Getty Images

State Park Camping Tips

State parks may not see the heavy traffic of national parks, but in most cases, you'll still want to plan ahead to secure your camping spot. Each state runs its own reservation system, which may be online, via phone, or even in person. And some parks — like Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada — are first-come, first-served, so you won't want to show up too late in the day.

Before you pack up and head out, make sure to research what amenities are available — some state park campgrounds are extremely primitive, requiring you to pack in your own water and pack out your trash, while others have full RV hookups, hot showers, and stores.

And finally, be sure to respect any wildlife you encounter, manage your campfire responsibly (you don't want to be that person), and follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

Goblin Valley Campground, Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

Desert Camping in remote Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
William Dummitt/Getty Images

Visually, it doesn't get more spectacular than Goblin Valley State Park. The Mars-like terrain is dotted with rock hoodoos, and if you've ever dreamed of hiking in a slot canyon (a la Antelope Canyon), you'll be pleasantly surprised with what Goblin Valley has on tap. After a day of exploration, retire to one of the park's 25 campsites (including 14 RV spaces and a group site that can accommodate up to 40 people). Just keep in mind there are no electrical hookups.

City of Rocks Campground, City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico

A class a motorhome parked at a campsite at City of Rocks State Park near Deming, New Mexico, USA
duckycards/Getty Images

Imagine parking your rig or setting up your tent in a literal city of rocks. That's the vibe at City of Rocks State Park, a place where giant, rounded volcanic rock formations (some as tall as 40 feet) pop out of the Chihuahuan Desert. You can make your way through the network of roads and trails cutting amongst the rocks to find your home for the night, or secure your spot well in advance (there are both reservation and non-reservation sites). Either way, you'll have access to showers, bathrooms, and water.

Southend Campground, Moran State Park, Washington

It's all about getting out on the water at Moran State Park, which is set in Puget Sound on the stunning Orcas Island. With over 5,000 acres of terrain, the activities are endless and the scenery unbeatable (don't miss a journey up Mount Constitution for views over the San Juan archipelago). The best spot to lay your head is Southend Campground, where every campsite is positioned right along the shoreline. You'll have access to showers and bathrooms, but if you want to glam it up a bit, you can book one of the campground's canvas tents with real beds.

Bird Creek Campground, Chugach State Park, Alaska

The giant (like 495,204 acres giant) Chugach State Park has a little bit of everything — from oceanfront shoreline to glaciers and icefields. And when you're in the great wilderness of Alaska, you'll want to see it all, which is why you should set up camp in Bird Creek Campground. In addition to 24 campsites, toilets, water, and RV accessibility (for vehicles up to 35 feet in size), Bird Creek is renowned for its in-camp whale watching (paired with glimpses of bald eagles and moose).

Hammonasset Beach Campground, Hammonasset Beach State Park, Connecticut

Connecticut's largest public beach park has everything you'd expect from a waterfront park — miles of shoreline for swimming and sunbathing, walking trails, picnic areas, and a campground with 550 grassy campsites. Just keep in mind that camping is only available in the summer months (usually Memorial Day through mid-October). If you're hitting the beach from your RV, the campground also has electric and water hookups.

Samuel F. Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway Campground, Minnewaska State Park Preserve, New York

Just two hours north of New York City is the dreamy Minnewaska State Park Preserve, a hefty chunk of land on the Shawangunk Mountain ridge with waterfalls, lakes, and 50 miles of trails for hiking and biking. The tent-only campground includes 26 drive-in spots, 24 walk-in sites, a cooking area, and a pavilion (no RV camping is available). Before you pack up and head north, keep in mind the campground is only open seasonally, usually from April or May until November, weather permitting.

Atlatl Rock Campground, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Aerial view of Atlatl Rock Campground, Valley of Fire State Park
Courtesy of Nevada Division of State Parks

With red arches carved out of rock, petroglyphs, and slot canyons, there's more than enough to see and do in Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park. And when it comes time to put up your feet, the Atlatl Rock Campground is where you'll want to be. The campsites are near the Atlatl Rock petroglyphs and include RV spots (with power and water) and showers. Just keep in mind that all campsites (except group sites) are first-come, first-served.

Goose Creek Campground, Goose Creek State Park, North Carolina

It's all about water and wetlands at Goose Creek State Park, a coastal spot with walking trails crisscrossing the wetlands, boating, fishing, and, of course, plenty of camping. You can head to the park's RV camping area (offering 22 sites with full hookups) or continue on to the 14 tent camping sites. Each spot has its own fire ring, picnic table, and access to bathrooms and water.

Center Lake Campground, Custer State Park, South Dakota

The lake at Center Lake Campground, Custer State Park
Courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, Custer State Park

Set amongst the iconic Black Hills of South Dakota is Custer State Park, a huge swath of land (71,000 acres) with a little something for everyone. With granite spires nestled in thick forest and clear mountain lakes ripe for swimming, you can spend the day hiking, biking, fishing, or horseback riding (or all of the above!). When it's time to retire for the day, head to Center Lake Campground, which is — you guessed it — right next to Center Lake and has a mix of tent and RV spots with showers and bathrooms.

Colorado Bend Campground, Colorado Bend State Park, Texas

Two tents have been set up at a campsite near a cliff in Colorado Bend State Park in Texas.
nikkigensert/Getty Images

You never know what you'll stumble upon in Colorado Bend State Park, which is known for its caves, springs, and sinkholes set amongst a lush, wooded landscape. The park is an easy two-hour drive from Austin and has a good selection of campsites, including hike-in options, spots that can accommodate RVs, and group sites. Just keep in mind that Colorado Bend brands their overnight offerings as "back-to-nature camping," so make sure you pack along everything you need for the night — for example, their "hike-in" sites don't have water or bathrooms.

Roaring Brook Campground, Baxter State Park, Maine

Everything's a little wilder in Baxter State Park, a 200,000-acre piece of land offering visitors a truly remote camping experience (the park has no on-tap water, paved roads, or electricity). That means camping at the stunning Roaring Brook Campground is primitive (and only an option in the summer), so make sure to pack plenty of water, food, and headlamps. Once you're settled in, you'll have easy access to the Chimney Pond and Katahdin hikes from your campsite.

Emerald Bay Boat Camp, Emerald Bay State Park, California

Canoes and tent at Emerald Bay Boat Camp, Emerald Bay State Park, California
Courtesy of John Palmer/2022, California State Parks

With a desirable location on Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay State Park encompasses both an island, a 38-room mansion, and underwater shipwrecks. Campers will want to head to Emerald Bay Boat Camp (open in the summer only), where you can dock your boat and camp on the picturesque lakefront. Just keep in mind sites book quickly, so you'll want to go online and reserve your spot the recommended six months before your arrival.

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