National Parks are a treasure and worth putting on your travel list. But while you’re dreaming, consider adding State Parks, too. It takes a little planning (every state has a different reservation system) but is well worth the effort.
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 backyard. State parks like Dead Horse Point in Utah hold their own against the neighboring Arches National Park (or Canyonlands, for that matter) while California’s Anza-Borrego State Park is arguably just as wild as the well-known Joshua Tree National Park. 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—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.
No matter your level of camping expertise, spend the night beneath a canopy of stars and awake to a wondrous landscape when you park your RV or pitch a tent at some of America’s beautiful campgrounds from the beaches to the desert to the mountains.
Before I dive in, take a moment to review the following state park camping tips.
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 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 the available amenities— 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 laundry.
And finally, be sure to respect any wildlife you encounter, manage your campfire responsibly, and follow the principles of Leave No Trace.
State Park Camping Reservations
Making reservations at state parks, especially when planning a trip that crosses multiple states, can be both complex and frustrating. Each state, and in some cases, individual parks, make their own rules for when and how they’ll take reservations for camping sites.
Georgia State Parks allow for reservations up to 13 months in advance and require a 50 percent deposit for most reservations. Reservations can be made over the phone or online. Mississippi’s state parks have one of the most generous reservation windows and can be booked 24 months in advance. The parks also welcome walk-ins when there is availability. The vast majority of Alaska State Park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with a few exceptions.
Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground, and picnic areas. Many hiking trails traverse the desert landscape and offer hikers both scenic and challenging hikes.
Picacho Peak State Park’s campground offers 85 electric sites for both tent and RV camping. Four sites are handicapped-accessible. No water or sewer hookups are available. Access to all sites is paved. Sites are fairly level and are located in a natural Sonoran Desert setting.
Related Article: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping
Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona
The story of the park’s name begins with the Ireys family who came to Arizona from Minnesota looking for a ranch to buy in the late 1940s. At one of the ranches they discovered a large dead horse lying by the road. After two days of viewing ranches, Dad Ireys asked the kids which ranch they liked the best. The kids said, “the one with the dead horse, dad!” The Ireys family chose the name Dead Horse Ranch and later, in 1973, when Arizona State Parks acquired the park, the Ireys made retaining the name a condition of sale.
There are three lagoons within the park that offer great fishing and a place to watch the area aquatic wildlife and birds. All three lagoons have trails that navigate their circumference and are full of a variety of sport fish.
More than 100 spacious sites grace the grounds of this riverfront getaway in the Verde Valley. The campground consists of four loops that each have varying numbers of spots available for you to stay. Most campsites are RV accessible with hookups. Many of the pull through sites can accommodate RVs up to 65 feet long. The spacious campgrounds give quick access to most of the park features like trails, playground, lakes, and the Verde River. Clean, accessible restrooms and showers are available at the campgrounds and near the lagoons. A dump station is available.
Eight one-room cabins are available who would rather not do so in the campground. All eight cabins have electricity, lighting, and heating/cooling but there is no water available. These dry cabins are however situated close to a clean restroom with showers.
Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers.
Finding accurate and complete information on Anza Borrego camping can be difficult to track down. There are basically two ways to camp in Anza Borrego: 1) in established campgrounds which come with varying degrees of amenities and cost, or 2) in dispersed camping areas where you can set up camp where you like in accordance with a few rules set by the state park system.
There are a dozen established campgrounds in Anza Borrego Desert including eight primitive, first-come, first-served campgrounds which are free but offer few amenities and four developed campgrounds that offer more amenities to varying degrees.
Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is divided into three sections. Two of the sections offer tent and RV camping with no hookups. The third section offers full hookups.
Tamarisk Grove Campground offers 27 camping sites. The campground’s amenities include coin-operated showers, non-potable water (don’t drink it), flush toilets. Each site has a picnic table with a shade ramada as well as a fire pit with a metal grill.
Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia
Wander among the pines at Laura S. Walker, the first state park named for a woman, an oasis that shares many features with the unique Okefenokee Swamp. This park is home to fascinating creatures and plants including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. Walking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, saw palmettos, yellow shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons.
The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming and boating, and kayaks and bicycles are available for rent. The Lakes 18-hole golf course features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates.
Related Article: 16 of the Best State Parks in America
The park offers 44 electric campsites suitable for RVs, six cottages, and one group camping area. Sites are back-ins and pull-through and range from 25 to 40 feet in length.
Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi
A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt State Park. Facilities for use include: visitor center, banquet hall, meeting rooms, game room, performing arts and media center, picnic area, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, disc golf, softball field, swimming pool and water slide, tennis courts, and nature trails. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are available on Shadow Lake, a 150 acre fresh water lake.
There are 109 campsites available for RV camping which features picnic tables and grills. 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups. 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups. Many campsites feature views of Shadow Lake and some feature water front access. Campground roads and RV pads are paved.
All of the RV pads are within easy access of a central sewage dumping station and a bathhouse with hot showers. Washers and dryers are located at the bathhouse in each campground.
The park also offers primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility.
Rich in Native American history, Edisto Beach on Edisto Island is one of four oceanfront state parks in South Carolina. Edisto Beach State Park features trails for hiking and biking that provide a wonderful tour of the park. The park’s environmental education center is a “green” building with exhibits that highlight the natural history of Edisto Island and the surrounding ACE Basin.
A series of short and mostly level trails wind through Edisto Island’s maritime forest of live oak, hanging Spanish moss, and palmetto trees. During your walk you may see white-tailed deer, osprey, or alligators, and may even catch a glimpse of the wary bobcats. Two picnic shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis for family or other group gatherings at no charge.
Camping with water and electrical hookups is available ocean-side or near the salt marsh. Several sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each campground is convenient to restrooms with hot showers.Edisto Beach offers 112 standard campsites with water and 20/30/50 amp electrical service. A dump station is available.
Note: Please be aware that because of the dynamic location of the park, the water has a high salt content. The water is treated by the Town of Edisto Beach and deemed safe to drink from the Department of Health and Safety. The Town of Edisto Beach does have a water filling station, which allows you to fill up to five gallons per day. Bottled water is also available at the local filling stations and grocery stores.
Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek.
Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes. Take the Rock Shelter Trail (only for hikers) to see where early visitors camped.
Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups). 12 sites offer 50-amp electricity while the remaining 69 sites offer 30-amp electric service. Other amenities include a picnic table, fire ring with grill, lantern post, tent pad, and restrooms with showers located nearby. A dump station is available.
Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks
Lockhart State Park, Texas
Spend a relaxing night camping under the stars. Tee off on the historic golf course built by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps over 80 years ago. Look for geocaches and wildlife while exploring the hiking trails. Stroll the easy Clear Fork Trail for views of the creek, plants, wildlife, and check dams built by the CCC to create fishing holes. Or hike the short but challenging Persimmon Trail. Try your luck fishing in Clear Fork Creek year-round and swim in the pool in summer. Pick up a souvenir at our park store. Drive into Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas.
Reserve a campsite with water and electricity or full hookups. Eight full hookup sites with 30/50-am electric are available. These sites can now accommodate RVs up to 40 feet and are in the Fairway View Camping Area. Eight sites with 30-amp electric and water are also available. These sites are in a wooded area with large trees along a creek and are in the Clear Fork Creek Camping Area. Campground amenities include picnic table, fire ring, upright grill, and washroom with showers nearby. Dump station located nearby.
A little piece of the tropics lies just an hour from Austin and San Antonio. With multiple sources of water including the San Marcos River, Palmetto State Park is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.
You can swim, tube, fish, and canoe here. Besides the flowing river, the park also has an oxbow lake, an artesian well, and swamps. Hike or bike the trails, camp, geocache, go birding, or study nature. Hike the Palmetto Trail which winds through a stand of dwarf palmettos. Canoe the San Marcos River. The river has a steady current but no rapids; check river conditions at the park. Bring your own canoe and arrange your own shuttles.
Choose one of 19 tent sites or 17 RV sites. The RV sites are long back-ins and offer 30/50 amp electric and water hookup, picnic table, outdoor grill, fire ring, and lantern post. Restrooms with showers are located nearby. The maximum length of vehicle is 65 feet. The tenting sites have enough space for families with multiple tents or families camping together. Or rent the air-conditioned cabin (for up to six people). The cabin is next to the San Marcos River near the small fishing pond and four-acre lake with a pathway down to the river for fishing and swimming.
Related Article: America’s Best State Parks
Utah Lake State Park, Utah
Known as Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 sq. miles, Utah Lake provides a variety of recreation activities. Utah Lake State Park offers fishing access for channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, and paddleboarding.
Newly renovated facilities include four boat launch ramps, marina, boat slips, courtesy docks, modern restrooms, visitor center, showers, campsites, a fishing area for the physically challenged, and sewage disposal and fish cleaning stations.
The RV campground consists of 31 sites, complete with water and power hookups. The campground is located on the east side of the lake. All campsites are available for reservation on a four-month rolling basis.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah
Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. The park offers a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and mountain biking.
The park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. There is also a pleasant picnic area. On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.
The park includes a developed campground with RV sites, six with partial hookups.
Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia
Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.
Ten riverfront tent campsites, an RV campground with water and electric sites, cabins, recreational yurts, six-bedroom lodge, and a group campground are available. Camping is year-round. Shenandoah River’s developed campground has 31 sites with water and electric hookups suitable for RVs up to 60 feet long. The campground has centrally located restrooms with hot showers. Sites have fire-rings, picnic tables, and lantern holders. Twenty-six sites are back-in and five are pull-through. All sites are specifically reserved.
However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.