12 of the Best State Parks for Summer Camping

Skip the crowds (and the pricey entrance fees) and head to a nearby state park

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.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 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.

Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 its own rules for when and how they’ll take reservations for camping sites.

Related Article: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park was established in 1975 as a state park and is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

105 developed campsites with a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30 amp and 50 amp voltage. Sites tend to fill up in the evening from May until November. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. There are also two non-electric campsites available. They have a picnic table, fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles with a ramada for shade. These two sites are 22 feet long for camper/trailers.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island State Park, Georgia

The State of Georgia bought Jekyll Island and the exclusive Jekyll Island Club for use as a state park 75 years ago.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A century ago, Jekyll Island provided a winter escape for a handful of America’s wealthiest families who valued its natural beauty, mild climate, and seclusion. They built magnificent “cottages” and a grand, turreted clubhouse on a sliver of the island’s 5,700 acres, preserving the remainder for hunting, fishing, and outdoor pursuits. Today, a bike ride across Jekyll reveals remnants of that grandeur, some of it vividly restored, some in ruins—along with modest campgrounds, facilities devoted to public education, pristine new hotels and shops, and, still, vast swaths of the untamed landscape.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park your RV under the magnificent oaks on the northern tip of Jekyll Island. Located opposite the Clam Creek Picnic Area, you are near Driftwood Beach, the fishing pier, and fascinating historic ruins. For your convenience, there are camping supplies and a General Store for those pick-up items, and bike rentals, so you can explore all that Jekyll Island has to offer. The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18 wooded acres on the Island’s north end with 206 campsites from tent sites to full hook-up, pull-through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL Internet are free for registered guests.

Related Article: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Enjoy camping, fishing, and boating at Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico’s largest state park. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers restrooms, picnic areas, and developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Elephant Butte has 133 partial hookup sites and 1150 sites for primitive camping.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Campground shower houses provide warm showers and flush toilets. A sanitary dump station is near the campground entrance. In addition the park offers three camping cottages, two yurts, and three group camping areas. The maximum reservation window is 12 months in advance to the date.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Hunting Island is South Carolina’s single most popular state park attracting more than a million visitors a year as well as a vast array of land and marine wildlife. Five miles of beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon, and ocean inlet are all part of the park’s natural allure.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island is home to the historic Hunting Island lighthouse built in 1859 and rebuilt in 1875 after it was destroyed during the Civil War. A unique feature of the lighthouse is that it was constructed of interchangeable cast-iron sections so it could be dismantled should it ever need to be moved. Severe beach erosion made it necessary to relocate the lighthouse 1.3 miles inland in 1889. Due to safety concerns, the Hunting Island lighthouse is currently closed to tours, until repairs can be made. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park camping is available at 102 campsites with water and 50-amp electrical hookups, shower and restroom facilities, beach walkways, and a playground. Two campgrounds are located at the northern end of the park near the ocean. One of the campgrounds provides individual water and electrical hookups. Some sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet; others up to 28 feet. A designated walk-in tent camping area is available that includes tent pads, fire rings, picnic tables, no power, and centralized water. 

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park has miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, great climbing routes, the beautiful Sylvan Lake which sits beneath granite crags, and wildlife.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park offers 9 campgrounds in a variety of scenic locations. Nestled in a ponderosa pine forest near French Creek, Blue Bell Campground accommodates large RVs and tents with 31 camping sites. Center Lake Campground is located just above Center Lake with 71 sites shaded by ponderosa pines. This campground can accommodate smaller RVs and tents and all sites are available by same-day reservations. No electricity. Centrally located in the park near the visitor center, Game Lodge Campground offers 59 camping sites with electricity. Legion Lake Campground accommodates large RVs and tents. 26 camping sites with electricity are available.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Able to accommodate any camping unit, Stockade North Campground offers 42 campsites with electric hookups. Located on the western side of Custer State Park, Stockade South Campground can accommodate mid-sized RVs. 23 sites available with electric hookups. Just a short stroll from Sylvan Lake, the crown jewel of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake Campground is the highest campground within Custer State Park at 6,200 feet. Sites within the campground are close together and are not suitable for large tents or RVs over 27 feet. In addition, walk-in primitive camping and group and youth camping areas are available.

Related Article: Go Here, Not there: 7 State Parks that Rival National Parks

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature, or just relax! Hike or bike four miles of trails through the park’s varied habitats. Stop at the observation platform or photo blinds, and stroll boardwalks over dunes and marshes.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20 water and electric (50/30-amp hookup) sites are available on the bayside of the park with 1.5 miles of beach to explore. Sites are close together with a communal pavilion and shared ground fire rings. Restrooms with showers are about 150 yards away. These sites are for RV camping only. Weekly and monthly camping rates are available from November to February.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Many folks come here to swim, but the park is more than a great swimming hole. With four miles of river frontage, the Guadalupe River takes center stage at the park. Step away from the river to find the more peaceful areas. On the river you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. While on land you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watching. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the 0.3 Mile River Overlook Trail which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park provides 85 water and electric campsites and nine walk-in tent sites. Turkey Sink Campground offers 48 sites with 50 amp electric service. Cedar Sage Campgrounds offers 37 sites with 30 amp electricity. Campground amenities include a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and tent pad with restrooms with showers located nearby.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco State Park, Texas

This small park hugs a one-mile stretch of the Blanco River. On the water, you can swim, fish, paddle, or boat. On land, you can picnic, hike, camp, watch for wildlife, and geocache. A CCC-built picnic area and pavilion are available for a group gathering. Anglers fish for largemouth and Guadalupe bass, channel catfish, sunfish, and rainbow trout. Swim anywhere along the river. Small children will enjoy the shallow wading pool next to Falls Dam. Rent tubes at the park store.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from full hookup sites or sites with water and electricity. Eight full hookup campsites with 30/50-amp electric service are available. Nine full hookup sites with 30-amp electric are available. 12 sites with 30 amp electric and water hookups are also available. Amenities include a picnic table, shade shelter, fire ring with grill, and lantern post.

Related Article: 7 of the Best State Parks in Texas to Take Your RV

Or reserve a screened shelter overlooking the river.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

The name of this stunning state park may seem less appealing but the history behind it is interesting. Back in the days of the old west, cowboys used the area as a place to corral wild mustangs. Trapping the horses at the edge of the cliff, they would round up the desired horses and take them back to be tamed. Usually, the remaining horses were set free. However, legend has it that one time the remaining horses remained at the edge of the cliff and died of thirst.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Dead Horse Point provides a beautiful mesa where you can look 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of hiking and biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. 

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled within a grove of junipers, the Kayenta Campground offers a peaceful, shaded respite from the surrounding desert. All 21 campsites offer lighted shade structures, picnic tables, fire rings, and tent pads. All sites are also equipped with RV electrical hookups (20/30/50 AMP). Modern restroom facilities are available and hiking trails lead directly from the campground to various points of interest within the park including the West Rim Trail, East Rim Trail, Wingate Campground, and the Visitor Center.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New in 2018, the Wingate Campground sits atop the mesa with far-reaching views of the area’s mountain ranges and deep canyons.  This campground contains 31 campsites, 20 of which have electrical hookups that support RV or tent campers while 11 are hike-in tent-only sites. All sites have fire pits, picnic tables under shade shelters, and access to bathrooms with running water and dishwashing sinks. RV sites will accommodate vehicles up to 56 feet and there is a dump station at the entrance to the campground. The Wingate Campground also holds four yurts. 

Note: Water is not available at Dead Horse Point to fill up RVs. The water table is too low for a well so the park must truck it up every day. The closest town to fill up at is Moab.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 and six with partial hookups.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

The Summer Travel Season Begins with Memorial Day

Memorial Day kicks off the summer travel season that will surely test American’s resilience for inflation

Observed on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day is a major remembrance day that deserves our attention. It is a day where we come together to remember the sacrifice of many for the freedom all of us enjoy today. Many will attend events to commemorate the men and women of our armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice to secure our freedom.

The National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Memorial Day was originally referred to as Decoration Day. Shortly after the Civil War, General John A. Logan called for a “Decoration Day” to honor those who died during the bloody struggle by decorating the graves of comrades who were lost in defense of their country.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over time, Decoration Day became known as Memorial Day. For a long time it was observed on May 30. It wasn’t until Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act in 1968 that Memorial Day was officially recognized on the last Monday in May. This law went into effect in 1971.

Related Article: Honoring Memorial Day the Revolutionary Way

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red poppies are traditionally worn on Memorial Day, inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields:

We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.

Fort Davis National Historic Site, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Memorial Day is also the official beginning of the summer season and that includes camping, picnics, and parades. With many celebrating the holiday out of town, the roads are typically filled with people traveling. According to USA Today, Memorial Day is one of the 10 most traveled days of the year.

Nearly 60 percent of American adults shared that they have plans to travel during Memorial Day Weekend versus 27 percent in 2021, according to a recent survey by The Vacationer.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“This is a clear indicator that summer travel is going to be up significantly. In a general summer travel survey not related to Memorial Day, we saw more than 42 percent—180 million people—said they intended to travel more this year than last year so it’s not surprising that there is a significant increase in Memorial Day travel,” said Eric Jones, co-founder of The Vacationer.

Related Article: Memorial Day: Honoring Those Who Served Their Country

“People said that last year was gonna be the revenge travel year, but now that everyone’s much more comfortable with COVID and restrictions have loosened, this’ll really be that year.”

Saratoga National Historic Park, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than half of the survey’s respondents confirmed that they would be traveling by car (or RV) this Memorial Weekend. And despite nearly 54 percent confirming that high fuel prices will affect their travel plans in one way or another this Memorial Day, almost 57 percent said they were still going to take some sort of road trip, a form of domestic travel that has grown in popularity during the pandemic.

Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amongst road trip types, traveling somewhere closest to home was, naturally, most popular. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they would be going to a destination within 100 miles of their home, 13 percent said they were going to a destination within a 250 mile radius, and nearly 11 percent are headed somewhere within or over 500 miles from their home.

Fort Adams State Park, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These numbers follow several reports of American travelers saying that they are planning to spend more on travel this summer than that of last year. While higher fuel prices may fail to deter many from still traveling, it will most likely force travelers to spend less elsewhere in their travel expenses.

Related Article: Remembering D-Day

Boston Freedom Trail, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Memorial Day Weekend of 2022 will be a “test run” of sorts as the first US holiday of this summer which is already recording tremendous leaps in the travel industry since the start of the pandemic. Travelers will be testing the waters and looking to see whether these long-awaited travels are worth the higher fuel prices they’re paying for. 

Old Ironside (USS Constitution) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the beginning of summer, so travelers will have to watch their money. There are still a lot of people out there who are still cautious—they might travel for the first time, say Memorial Day, and then realize “Okay, inflation and fuel prices are still going up, maybe we’ll reconsider for Fourth of July.”

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If gas prices go down, people who were on the fence and leaning towards no might say yes, which could also increase overall travel.

Related Article: Memorial Day 2021: Best Arizona Road Trips for the Long Holiday Weekend

We wish all of you a Memorial Day weekend filled with peace and remembrance and safe travel.

Worth Pondering…

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

—John F. Kennedy

To Visit a Popular National Park this Summer, Start Planning Yesterday

A guide to visiting national parks this summer

Venice, Italy knows the burden all too well. And some of the most visited national parks in the United States are going through the same thing—the downside of being popular.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It puts the parks in quite the jam especially those with short, sought-after peak seasons and one-of-a-kind attractions. After all, you want people to come. Just not too many all at once! Achieving a balance can be tricky.

And like the canal-laced European favorite, the US National Park Service (NPS) is turning to some of the same methods to regulate the flow.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How does this affect you? If you want to visit a popular park this summer, it’s already time to plan.

Extra fees, advanced reservations, special passes, lotteries, and caps on the number of visitors are all in play in 2022 to keep what’s special about some crowd-pleasing parks from being deluged by the sheer flood of humanity.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travelers to national parks: We want in!

The COVID-19 pandemic fueled the desire of people hunkered down in small spaces for weeks and months at the time to head out into the restorative wilds all over the country.

In 2021, they especially packed the big-name parks, parkways, and related sites. Here’s a brief snapshot of some of the action:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina and Tennessee) set a visitation record for 2021, passing 14 million recreation visits for the first time
  • Also in North Carolina, Cape Hatteras National Seashore hosted more than 3 million visitors in a year for the first time
  • In Wyoming, Devils Tower National Monument saw the highest number of recreation visits in the monument’s history; for the first time, it surpassed 500,000 recreational visits
Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And the first US national park, Yellowstone, saw a staggering 4,860,537 recreation visits in 2021, making it the busiest year on record (That’s as if the entire state of Louisiana—plus the city of Des Moines, Iowa—came to visit. And a lot of that visitation is packed into a few months of the peak warm weather season.)

You begin to see what these park areas and others are up against.

Related Article: The National Parks Saw Record Crowds in 2021: Where Do We Go From Here?

So the NPS is experimenting with a variety of ways to satisfy crowd demand and safeguard fragile environments at the same time. Here are some of the things you may encounter on your next visit:

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New entry fees

Most national parks do not have entrance fees. Out of more than 400 parks, monuments, and related sites in the system, only about 110 have admission fees that range from $5 to $35. Of course, like anything else, it’s the big names that command the money, places such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, and Everglades.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, more could be joining the pay-to-enter list. Indiana Dunes National Park is one that will institute an entry fee for the first time this year, beginning March 31.

The fees will vary depending on how you enter. The walk-in / bike-in / boat-in rate will be $15 per person (up to a maximum of $25 per family). The new fee revenue will help pay for a bike trail and other improvements, the park said.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Timed entries

The days of just popping into the most popular parks on the spur of the moment could be fading.

In Utah, Arches National Park is introducing a timed entry program for visits from April 3 to October 3.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“By implementing a temporary, timed-entry reservation system, our goal is to better spread visitation throughout the day to reduce traffic congestion and visitor crowding,” Patricia Trap, Arches National Park superintendent, said in a statement late last year.

Related Article: Yes, these are the Most Visited National Parks in 2021

The park tickets are on a first-come, first-serve basis on Recreation.gov. They are released three months in advance in monthly blocks according to the following schedule:

  • February 1: May reservations (May 1-31)
  • March 1: June reservations (June 1-30)
  • April 1: July reservations (July 1-31)

The pattern continues into July for visits through October 3. A limited number of tickets will be available one day before entry for purchase through Recreation.gov.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Extra fees or advance tickets for popular attractions

You might start encountering more fees or advance tickets (or both) for highly popular park attractions once you’re inside.

In Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, visitors who want to hike to Old Rag Mountain will have to apply for a day-use ticket in advance. It’s only $1, but this arrangement does not allow for spontaneous visits to Old Rag. The trial program will be in effect from March 1 to November 30.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lotteries

Some features are so popular that the NPS is trying out lotteries—and there’s no guarantee you’ll win.

In Utah’s Zion National Park, visitors who want to hike the Angels Landing Trail will have to enter an online lottery in hopes of getting a permit to take the hike. There are actually two kinds of lotteries: Seasonal and the day before. The lottery entry fee is $6 and it’s not refundable even if you aren’t picked for a spot. This goes into effect on April 1.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At California’s Yosemite National Park, North Pines Campground is so popular during the peak summer season that they have tested a pilot program for campers: A lottery in which winners get a chance to make early reservations. The lottery ended on February 6. There was a $10 non-refundable fee to enter.

At Yellowstone National Park, backcountry permits for more than 1,000 miles of trails, and 293 designated campsites are very popular. In addition to taking advance online reservations, Yellowstone is also holding a lottery from March 1 to March 20. Winners get a chance to book early reservations. It costs $10 to enter; again, it’s not refundable if you’re not chosen.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New entrance stations

The last thing you want on your escape is being in a city-style traffic jam. Limited entry points can often be pain points these days.

Related Article: Reservations and Permits Required at Some National Parks in 2022

In Southern California, desert favorite Joshua Tree National Park has begun accepting public comments on a project to construct a West Entrance Fee Station about a half-mile farther inside the park to replace the existing fee station. The park hopes a new station will ease “excessively long traffic back-up outside the park boundary” as well as give park staff safer working conditions in the desert.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campground size limits

Big RVs are posing a problem at some places run by the NPS.

Along the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Islands National Seashore has imposed length and height limits for all campsites in the Fort Pickens Campground in Florida and the Davis Bayou Campground in Mississippi. Enforcement began on February 1.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The current limits in place will be enforced for the safety and protection of the park and visitor property,” said Darrell Echols, Gulf Islands superintendent, in a news release.

“In 2021, Gulf Islands National Seashore saw an increase in incidents resulting in damage to park resources and visitors’ property. The enforcement of these restrictions is expected to reduce these incidents.”

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning far out on your calendar

The general trend is toward visitors having to plan out their trips for months and even more than a year ahead.

At Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, the NPS has already started accepting applications for noncommercial river trip permits to raft the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park for launch dates in 2023. That is not a typo—it’s for 2023. A total of 359 permits will be available for 12- to 25-day river trips.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The application period ended on February 22. The NPS says follow-up lotteries are “held as needed throughout the remainder of the year to reassign canceled and/or left-over river trips.”

Back at Yellowstone, they’re already taking reservations for several campgrounds six months out. At Indian Creek, Lewis Lake, Pebble Creek, Mammoth, and Slough Creek campgrounds, 80 percent of sites will be reservable six months in advance. For people who don’t like to plan that far out, the remaining 20 percent of sites will be available two weeks in advance.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other NPS efforts

Here’s a short roundup of other parks and their crowd-control efforts for 2022:

  • North Cascades National Park (Washington State): It will offer online trip planning and reservations for the May 27 through September 30 peak hiking season. It starts March 3 with an early access lottery.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado): It’s moving to a new system for backcountry camping permit reservations for peak season this year. Beginning March 1 through April 3, customers will be able to view permit availability, book a reservation, and pay online. Phone, mail, email, and fax reservations will be not accepted.
  • Glacier National Park (Montana): Visitors in 2022 “can expect to use a ticket system to access portions of the park from May 27 through September 11. This will be the second year of the pilot ticket system in the park, designed to manage high traffic volumes within the park and avoid gridlock.” Visitors will need to set up an account on Recreation.gov to get tickets.
  • Yosemite National Park (California): Beginning May 20, the park will start a temporary peak-hours reservation system, designed to spread visitation out and reduce congestion. Park visitors will need a reservation to enter the park from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escape the crowds

Don’t like those fees and early planning involved with the most popular parks?

Related Article: My Favorite Under-appreciated National Parks to Visit in 2022

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider visiting lower-profile or harder-to-reach parks. The NPS is encouraging people to see their other offerings. Some ideas:

  • Congaree National Park (South Carolina): This is the “largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the Southeast.” You won’t find another national park quite like it.
  • Great Basin National Park (Nevada): This features a 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, sage-covered foothills, and the darkest of dark-night skies.
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota): A park for isolation, both the north and south units offer great hiking, expansive vistas, easily accessible wilderness, abundant wildlife, and not many visitors.
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas): About 110 miles east of El Paso, it features the four tallest peaks in Texas, canyons, desert landscapes, and dunes.
  • Katmai National Park and Preserve (Alaska): Stunning views and brown bear sightings are just two of the highlights of this park southwest of Anchorage.
Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go North to Canada

Renowned for their scenic splendor, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are comprised of Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes national parks in Alberta, Kootenay and Yoho national parks in British Columbia, and Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks in British Columbia.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The seven parks of the Canadian Rockies form a striking mountain landscape. With rugged mountain peaks, icefields and glaciers, alpine meadows, lakes, waterfalls, extensive karst cave systems, and deeply carved canyons, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks possess an exceptional natural beauty that attracts millions of visitors annually.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go state level

And one last option to consider: state parks. There are some great ones scattered around the United States and they might be less congested while still offering memorable nature excursions. Some more ideas:

  • Custer State Park (South Dakota): This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite peaks and rolling plains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters.
  • 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.
  • Lackawanna State Park (Pennsylvania): The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest.
  • Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park (Texas): Mon­a­hans Sandhills offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as a close-up view of a unique desert environment.
Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Tips for Reserving a National Park Campsite

Some of the best places to go camping are America’s national parks

More people are leaping into the RV lifestyle every year. They’re exploring national parks in comfort but all that extra traffic makes spontaneous road trips to the parks largely a thing of the past, at least during the busy summer season. With more rigs on the road than campsites to accommodate them, RVers are constantly competing for a scant number of RV-friendly campsites.

Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mobile lifestyle exploded during the 2020 pandemic year and it hasn’t slowed down yet. In 2021, the RV industry saw a record 11.2 million households buying into RV ownership. That’s a 26 percent jump since 2011 when 8.9 million people bought their first rig. These figures don’t include the millions of pre-owned motorhomes, truck campers, travel trailers, toy haulers, and camper vans streaming into national parks all year long.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite this era of rising fuel prices and inflation, there’s no telling when or if RVing’s popularity will slow down. But as prices for other methods of travel increase, too, more people will likely buy into the relatively low cost of vacationing and living in RVs. Finding RV-friendly campsites at national parks is only going to get tougher but there are some steps you can take to enhance your odds of landing one.

Devils Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First, know your RV measurements. Starting this year, RVers at Gulf Islands National Seashore are discovering that size is everything when camping in national parks. Those RVers who ignore campsite length and height limits and trample vegetation and terrain with their rig will pay a price as park rangers are now enforcing maximum RV size limits to protect natural resources.

Related: National Park Campgrounds by the Numbers

Wahweep Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The restrictions are in place for all campsites in the Fort Pickens Campground in Florida and the Davis Bayou Campground in Mississippi. Visitors can verify the campsite length on recreation.gov. Reservations for vehicles exceeding the campsite size limits will be canceled by campground staff on-site.

Created in 1971, the national seashore stretches 160 miles along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Florida and Mississippi and includes barrier islands, maritime forests, historic forts, bayous, and marine habitats.

Cottonwood Campground, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unfortunately for many RV owners, the average length of campsites in national park campgrounds is around 30-feet long. This figure comprises the entire RV unit from end to end, including a tow or towed vehicle. New RVers tend to learn the hard way that many national park campsites just can’t accommodate newer, bigger motorhome and travel and fifth wheel trailer models rolling off RV assembly lines. 

Twin Peaks Camping, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even a couple of feet make a huge difference in where an RV can go. Smaller is just better for exploring national parks. From the front bumper to the rear bike rack, rooftop A/C to where the rubber meets the road, if you own an RV and you want to camp in national parks, here’s what you need to do for a successful experience:

  • Gather all of your RV unit’s measurements from end-to-end and top-to-bottom
  • Find your desired national park campground and look for the amenities you want (Hint: most national park campgrounds do not have utility hookups)
  • Check for road restrictions to the campground (many national parks prohibit longer RVs from traveling certain roads with a tight turning radius)
  • Look for campsites that can accommodate the type of rig you own
  • Pinpoint the earliest dates you can reserve a spot, reserve it online, or call to book your stay
Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If your RV exceeds the biggest campsite length where you want to go, don’t give up. In many campgrounds, guests can detach the trailer and park their tow vehicle elsewhere. When in doubt, call the reservations agency to confirm that the entire RV can be accommodated.

Related: Choose Your National Park Campground Carefully

Wahweep Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, research the campground facilities. Most national park websites don’t make it easy to find helpful trip planning logistics. From ADA-accessible sites to mandatory reservation seasons, much of the important information needed for RV trip planning to national parks is buried deep inside each campground’s park profile.

Twin Peaks Camping, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As an RV owner, I need a certain amount of information before I feel confident reserving a campsite. For example, I work online and have a long list of questions I need to be answered, such as: 

  • Does the campground have drinking water to fill my tanks?
  • Will there be dump station access or should I plan on emptying holding tanks outside the park?
  • What does cellular connectivity look like in and outside of the park boundaries?
  • Is Wi-Fi available?
Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Everyone has different considerations for RV camping in national parks. National Park Traveler is currently developing a traveler’s directory that will make it easy to scan national park campground information pertinent to RVers and find key details that will help make your trip a success. I will provide additional information as more details become available.

Wahweep Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How many campgrounds are in the National Park System? How many are needed? If you’ve struggled with making a campsite reservation on recreation.gov, these questions might have come to mind. Here are some answers.

Related: Reservations and Permits Required at Some National Parks in 2022

According to the National Park Service, there were 1,421 campgrounds in the park system with 27,513 campsites. Filter that done a bit more and there are 502 front-country campgrounds with 16,648 sites (another 494 campgrounds don’t have front- or backcountry designations), according to the Park Service. 

Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That 16,648 number might explain why it is such a struggle to reserve a campsite. After all, Yellowstone National Park has more than 2,000 front-country campsites alone, Yosemite National Park has nearly 1,500, Glacier National Park has more than 1,000, Grand Teton National Park has more than 1,100, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon combined have just a bit more than 1,200 sites. Do the math and you’ll see that those six parks alone hold 40 percent of those 16,648 campsites.

Cottonwood Campground, Canyon de Chelley National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many other parks that are highly desirable with campers, meanwhile, have considerably fewer sites. Canyonlands National Park has fewer than 40, Arches National Park has 50, Rocky Mountain National Park has around 571, Acadia National Park has a few more than 600, and Shenandoah National Park has 472.

Of course, if you’re looking for RV campsites, they are even more scarce.

Wahweep Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, don’t leave your trip to chance. My wife and I started snowbird RVing in 1997. We were recently retired and few working-age people were long-term RVers back then. But today, we are surrounded by RVers of all ages. It’s great seeing people enjoy this lifestyle before (and after) retirement but the consequence is a loss of spontaneous road trips to national parks or most anywhere else. Impromptu decisions usually lead to disappointment in all but the most remote parks. Those who arrive without reservations usually get turned away. So forget spontaneity. Like it or not, this is a new era of planned camping trips to America’s most beloved natural gems.

Related: Yes, You Can Avoid Crowds in the National Parks & Here is How

Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When there’s a park you want to visit, do your homework, and book your spot as early as possible. Persistence and flexibility pay off in the never-ending game of national parks camping reservations.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

The Best RV Camping August 2021

Explore the guide to find some of the best in August camping across America

But where should you park your RV? With so many options out there you may be overwhelmed with the number of locales calling your name.

Here are 10 of the top locations to explore in August. RVing with Rex selected this list of 5 star RV resorts from parks personally visited.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly RV park recommendations for the best places to camp in June and July.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia

Coastal Georgia RV Resorts offer 105 spacious sites, all 35 feet wide with lengths ranging from 60 to 70 feet. Most sites are pull-through with full hookups including 30 and 50 amp service and tables. The Resort’s roads are all paved. Fire rings are available at the Pavilion. Amenities include a game room, conference room, two bathhouses, two laundromats, a dock, and a store where you can find RV supplies as well as LP gas. The resort also offers a swimming pool, horseshoe pits, and shuffleboard courts. Cable TV and Wi-Fi are included. From I-95 (exit 29) and US 17, go ½ mile west on SR-17, turn left onto US-17 south for ¼ mile, turn east onto Martin Palmer Dr for 1 mile and enter straight ahead.

12 Tribes Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12 Tribes Casino RV Park, Omak, Washington

A new RV park, 12 Tribes Casino opened in 2018 with 21 pull-through full-service sites 72 feet long and 42 feet wide. Interior roads are asphalt and sites are concrete. Amenities include a paved patio and picnic table, individual garbage container, cable TV, Wi-Fi, and pet area. Guests of the RV Park are welcome to enjoy the pool, hot tub, sauna, and workout facility located in the hotel. The casino also offers gaming, fine dining, and café.

Sun Outdoors Pigeon Forge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sun Outdoors Sevierville Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Tennessee

Formally known as River Plantation, Sun Outdoors Sevierville Pigeon Forge is located along the Little Pigeon River in eastern Tennessee. The park is located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the popular attractions of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Big rig friendly, guests can choose from a selection of modern and spacious, full hookup RV sites that include concrete pads, a fire ring, and a picnic table. Our back-in site was in the 75-foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and Cable TV centrally located. Amenities include a swimming pool with hot tub, basketball court, game room, fitness center, outdoor pavilion, fenced-in Bark Park, and dog washing station.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house was originally named “Federal Hill” by its first owner Judge John Rowan. Located near Bardstown, the mansion and farm was the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years. Tour the historic mansion, enjoy a round of golf, camp at the campground, stroll the grounds and explore the interpretive panels, and see the Stephen Foster Story in the summer months. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.

Reunion Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reunion Lake RV Resort, Ponchatoula, Louisiana

Reunion Lake RV Resort is a gated resort with top-rated facilities and service and all-concrete roadways. Built around a scenic lake the park offers an adult pool with a swim-up bar, poolside cabanas, a lazy river with a tiki bar, giant hot tub, fitness center, family pool, basketball and pickleball courts, fenced-in dog park. Our Premium pull-through site will accommodate any size rig.

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart State Park, Texas

Barbecue! The state legislature des­ig­nated the city of Lockhart as the “Barbecue Capital of Texas” in 1999. Three miles southeast of Lockhart, Lockhart State Park offers 10 sites with water and electricity in the Clear Fork Camping Area and 10 full-hookup sites that will accommodate RVs up to 40 feet in the Fairway View Camping Area. Play golf at the nine-hole golf course built by the Works Progress Ad­mini­stration and the Civilian Conservation Corps over 80 years ago.

Columbia Riverfront RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Columbia Riverfront RV Park, Woodland, Washington

Developed in 2006 by the present owners who are former RVers, Columbia Riverfront RV Park is a 5-star resort. A quiet getaway on ten acres of beautifully maintained property right on the sandy beach of the Columbia River, Columbia Riverfront is big-rig friendly. With a view of the Columbia River out of our windshield, our pull-in site is 45 feet in length with room for the toad. Utilities including 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable are centrally located. Pull-through sites in the 85-95 foot range are also available. Wi-Fi works well. Interior roads are paved and sites are crushed gravel and level. Columbia Riverfront is located 22 miles north of Portland, Oregon, in Woodland off I-5 (Exit 22); west 3.25 miles on Dike Access and Dike roads.

On-Ur-Wa RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On-Ur-Wa RV Park, Onawa, Iowa

Easy on easy off (I-29, Exit 112), On-Ur-Wa RV Park is a 5-star park with long pull-through sites in the 100-foot range with water, electric (20/30/50-amp service), and sewer. Amenities include community building, laundry facilities, free Wi-Fi, and a recreation area with bocce ball and horseshoes. Although located in a beautiful grove of cottonwood trees, connecting to our satellite was no problem due to an open field to the south.

Wahweep RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweep RV Park and Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Page, Arizona

Centrally located at Wahweap Marina, the campsites are about one-quarter mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort. This RV park/campground is a great place to enjoy the off-season solitude of Lake Powell. The campground offers 139 sites with 30 and 50 amp service, water, and sewer. Sites accommodate up to 45 feet. The season is an ideal time to visit nearby attractions including Rainbow Bridge, Antelope Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, and Horseshoe Bend. 

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort, Jackson, California

New in 2008, Jackson Rancheria RV Resort is part of a casino complex. Big rig-friendly 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV are centrally located. Wide, paved interior roads with wide concrete sites. Back-in sites over 55 feet with pull-through sites in the 70-75 foot range. Amenities include walking trails and dog parks, a heated pool and spa, and laundry facilities. We would return in a heartbeat. Reservations over a weekend are required well in advance. Jackson Rancheria is conveniently located in the heart of Gold Country.

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin