When Kelly Sage, an Indiana-based teacher and mom of two, plans a camping trip, the first thing she does is look at campsite reviews online. "Is it clean? Is it safe? Will we be on the side of the road? Are there bathrooms?"
Bathrooms, of course, are a concern for any family traveling with small kids — but the list doesn't stop there. Food, activities, and walkability are also important factors, especially for anyone new to sleeping in the great outdoors. But with these practical concerns comes the thrill of connecting with nature, whether that means listening to owls hoot ten feet from your tent, or hunting for sticks to throw on the fire. "Camping is also just really fun," admits the mom and CuriosityEncouraged blogger.
When it comes to family camping, Sage advocates for finding places with plenty of options for things to do. "Assateague was hands-down the best place we camped," she recalls of a recent Maryland trip. "It has everything for a family you could want. There are tons of places to explore, the beach is exquisite, and the amount of wildlife was just incredible!"
The other obvious benefit to camping? It's cheaper. "I want to be able to spend our money on experiences," Sage explains. So while a hotel might offer more conveniences, it also eats up a travel budget that could otherwise be put toward an adventure in Sequoia National Forest, or spying on alligators in Florida. "When you have kids, you have to think about activities, plus food and travel. So camping is always our first choice."
Most importantly, camping doesn't have to be complicated. Sticking to national and state parks is a convenient way of exploring the country without having to construct an elaborate itinerary. And once you're there, an entire afternoon can be spent walking along a creek looking for fossils or identifying trees in the forest. In fact, it's this total lack of a schedule that can make a camping trip so relaxing.
Ready to plan your own family camping adventure? Read on for our picks of the best campgrounds in the U.S. for families.
McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana
Half an hour from downtown Bloomington, McCormick's Creek State Park is a lush wooded escape, complete with waterfalls, caves, and plenty of wildlife. It's also a favorite for camping families, thanks to its modern, clean facilities (showers and bathrooms are included in all 190 campsites) and easy access to hiking trails. During Halloween, travelers get into the spirit by decorating their tents, offering candy to trick-or-treaters, and attending educational talks on spooky creatures like bats and spiders, given by an on-site naturalist.
Wallowa Lake State Park, Oregon
Set in eastern Oregon at the southern tip of Lake Wallowa, this campground is guaranteed to put a smile on everyone's face the minute you step out of the car. The views are just that gorgeous. The lake itself, which kids will have a ball exploring inside glass-bottomed kayaks, is surrounded by the Wallowa mountain range, whose highest peak rises nearly 10,000 feet in the air. There's also go-karting and an aerial tramway, in case the water sports aren't entertaining enough.
Sequoia National Park, California
After a day spent gawking up at Giant Sequoias, nothing compares to being able to unzip your tent and sleep directly under these magnificent trees. Seven campgrounds are dotted through the park, though Lodgepole Campground might be the best. Located in the center of the park, it offers campers the opportunity to get fully immersed in the forest: Pine trees and boulders form natural boundaries between the tent sites, and sounds are muffled by the soothing roar of the Kaweah River. A visitors center with a market and snack bar is nearby, as are several trails, like Tokopah Falls, a 1.7-mile loop leading to a dramatic 1,200-feet high waterfall.
Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
Nothing says "family bonding" like watching a herd of wild horses gallop full-speed across a pristine sandy beach. That's exactly what you'll get at Assateague Island National Seashore, a 37-mile long strip along the Delmarva Peninsula. Camping here is about as rustic as it comes: it'll be just you, your tent, and a picnic table. But between the crashing waves, the sand dunes, and those enchanting horses, what else could you possibly need?
Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia
Located inside Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, a 402,000-acre reserve, this campground on the Georgia-Florida border takes you right into the heart of nature's most fascinating ecosystem: the swamp. Here, kids of any age will delight in all the critters that call this place home. Alligator, turtle, frog, lizard, snake, and even black bear sightings will add a thrill to any hike or pontoon ride; and as if that wasn't enough, the park is also a certified dark-sky area, so there's plenty to see at night, too. That is, if everyone can stay awake after the day's adventures.
Highland Hammock State Park, Florida
One of Florida's oldest state parks is also its most camper-friendly. Highland Hammock State Park offers 143 campsites tucked inside a forest of live oaks and sawtooth palms where whitetail deer are frequent visitors. Though the facilities can feel a little dated (the park was built in 1931, after all), they are reliable. Take your pick from a wealth of trails, which bring you face-to-face with the cypress knees, birdlife, and wild orange trees; there's also a scenic 3-mile bike loop under a canopy of dense foliage (it's perfect for rollerblades, too). Want to feel really removed from civilization? A handful of wilderness campsites are available, too.
Zion National Park, Utah
Located just inside the south entrance of Zion National Park, South Campground offers the best of both worlds. It is well-shaded and wonderfully scenic, with views of the red cliffs rising behind you; meanwhile, conveniences like showers, shuttle buses, and food are all within easy reach (it's a 5-minute drive to the town of Springdale, which offers a variety of restaurants, shops, and cafes). Best of all is the campground's setting along the banks of the Virgin River — not only is it a great place to cool off in the summer, it also is the starting point for Pa'rus Trail, a paved ADA-accessible route that leads to scenic Canyon Junction Bridge, a popular sunset viewing spot.
James M. Robb Colorado River State Park, Colorado
Modern, well-kept facilities and well-spaced campsites make the Fruita Section of this park an easy pick for families, especially those seeking a quieter, more hands-off experience. Colorado National Monument, a staggering landscape of sandstone canyons and other impressive geological formations, is just a quick drive away. And speaking of ancient relics, the neighboring town of Fruita is home to the Dinosaur Journey Museum, which is specifically geared towards younger audiences. Here, kids can observe a paleontology lab, try out an earthquake simulator, and dig up actual dinosaur bones in a nearby quarry.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
The vast, towering Sleeping Bear Dunes are a sight to behold at this rugged park on the northeast shore of Lake Michigan. With dozens of trails crisscrossing the bluffs, you won't have to think too hard about how to plan your day; just wake up and go. The Platte River Campground is situated a mile from the lake, and covers a large wooded area, giving families all the privacy they need (mosquitos are another story though, so pack plenty of bug spray), and the facilities are always kept clean. Tubing down the lower Platte River is a must, but if a lazy day on the beach is more your vibe, no one's going to stop you.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota
The Black Hills of South Dakota are one of the most distinctive landscapes in the country, with roaming buffalo and jagged granite spires dotting the horizon. One of the best options for families is a KOA — that stands for Kampgrounds of America — called Palmer Gulch Resort. Unlike national and state parks, KOAs are typically privately owned, and this one is set on the grounds of a former country club from the 1920s (the wooded camping area has mesmerizing views of the surrounding peaks). A tram service will take you to nearby Mount Rushmore National Monument and Crazy Horse Memorial, and when you get back to the property, there are UTVs, horseback rides, mini golf, movie nights, and a pool to keep your little ones entertained.
Mount Desert Island, Maine
Planning a camping trip to northeast New England? You'd do well to start on Mount Desert Island, one of 20 islands that make up Acadia National Park. The island is famous for its jagged cliffs, scenic drives, and sweeping views from the top of Cadillac Mountain. Seawall Campground, on the island's west side, is ideal for its remote feel and proximity to the beach (the ocean also makes a handy place to wash off, as there are no showers here); and when you're in the mood for a treat, ice cream and souvenir shops are just a half hour drive away in Bar Harbor.
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