If you're new to camping, you may be unsure about whether you can survive in the wilderness without a hot shower, hair dryer and flat-screen television for a few nights. But camping doesn't have to resemble your week of mosquito hell at fifth grade summer camp. Many campgrounds have running water and public restrooms, or even cabins, lodges or yurts. Regardless of what kind of shelter you select, you may be surprised by how little you miss your everyday conveniences while camping. After all, it's easy to forget about luxuries like 500-thread-count sheets and refrigerators when you're gazing at stars over the Grand Canyon, exploring a sea cave in Hawaii or spotting crocodiles in the Everglades.
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Experienced campers know that there's more to sleeping in the great outdoors than avoiding bears and peeing in the woods. Enjoy a variety of activities right outside your door (or tent flap) — like boating, fishing, biking, hiking, rock climbing and spotting wildlife. Find inner peace on a forest hike, tone your arms and abs while kayaking, or learn about the importance of protecting the environment as you observe endangered animals in their natural habitats. As an added bonus, campgrounds also offer great value for travelers looking to trim their vacation budgets in a time of economic uncertainty.
Ready to hit the great outdoors? We've gathered a list of our favorite U.S. campgrounds to help you plan your trip. These campsites offer lots of activities, they're located in some of the most beautiful destinations in the country, and many have on-site facilities like cabins or bathrooms. Check out our list, and then [post your own favorite places to camp]!
Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
If sleeping in a tent isn't for you, hang your hat in a remote Arizona lodge set along the Colorado River near the Grand Canyon. Phantom Ranch can only be reached by mule, foot or raft, so don't expect to see any cars or convenience stores during your stay. Enjoy views of the Grand Canyon while hiking or riding mules through trails near the ranch. Dorms start at $36.29 per person, per night and are outfitted with bunk beds. Due to the popularity of this place, be sure to book your reservation early; you can book up to a year in advance.
Waianapanapa State Park, Maui
Picture black sand beaches, hiking trails, sea caves and an ancient Hawaiian temple and you'll be imagining Waianapanapa State Park, a natural reserve located three hours east of Kahului Airport in Maui. We love this park because it shatters Hawaii's image as an expensive vacation destination; stay in a state park cabin from $11 per night, or bring your camping equipment and enjoy the use of outdoor showers and restrooms for free! Staying in cabins or tents is a rustic experience, but your views of Hawaii's rugged beaches will be just as beautiful as those from a five-star hotel.
Denali National Park, Alaska
Located at the foot of snow-capped Mount McKinley, Denali National Park is a wildlife watcher's paradise. The park is home to black bears, wolves, caribou, grizzly bears, wolverines, foxes, sheep, moose and a variety of bird. Cars are not allowed on Denali Park Road, but the park offers shuttle buses large enough to transport camping equipment. Denali has six campgrounds situated among six million acres of wild lands, with fees from $12 to $20 per person, per night.
Death Valley National Park Campgrounds, Nevada
Death Valley's nine campgrounds let visitors spend some time immersed in the valley's arid and otherworldly terrain. Although motel accommodations are available near the park, we recommend saving your money — sleeping under the stars in the desert wilderness is an unforgettable experience. Enjoy hiking, roasting marshmallows in a fire pit, or searching for unusual plants and desert animals. A seven-day camping pass is $10 per person, but the famous sunsets and sunrises in Death Valley give campers a million-dollar view each day.
Yosemite National Park Campgrounds, California
Yosemite National Park is a World Heritage site filled with sequoia forests, waterfalls, streams and cliffs. The park has a Mediterranean climate, which means mild temperatures year-round. Camp in the California wilderness and we guarantee you'll see a diverse assortment of plants and animals; watch out for bears, who routinely raid campgrounds in search of food. Campground entrance fees range from $5 to $20 per person, per day. Many campgrounds offer running water and restrooms. Keep in mind that you'll need to make reservations well in advance to camp here, especially in the summer months.
Southern Vermont Campgrounds, Vermont
New England charm mixes with fresh air and emerald-green mountains in Southern Vermont. Choose from over a dozen state and private campgrounds in this area. The Battenkill River and the Connecticut River give campers plenty of opportunities to kayak, swim and fish, while mountain trails lead hikers to historic New England towns. You can even take mountain biking classes on Mount Snow. State park campgrounds in Southern Vermont start at $4 per person, per night and private campgrounds start at $20 per night.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Summer is the wet season in the Everglades, which means humidity, high temperatures and rain. But we still have to suggest camping in this park, no matter what time of year it is. After all, you'll have a more peaceful experience if you visit the Everglades in the summer, when crowds are sparse; plus, camping in the wet season is free. If you want fewer mosquitoes and more sunshine, however, plan a trip for the dry season.
Either way, camping is one of the best ways to get up close and personal with the Everglades, which is a World Heritage site. Activities include boating, fishing, bird watching and wildlife spotting — look out for American crocodiles and panthers! Nightly camping fees are $14 per person in the dry season, which runs from December through April.
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