If you venture out to one of the U.S’s amazing national parks, there is no better place to stay than a campground in the park. Some of them are very popular, so make sure to plan ahead. Some are first come first served or you reserve a spot up to six months in advance, and for some of them, it is well worth the advanced planning. And, if you are looking for a cool van life experience check out some great rental options to get the best of both worlds.

Tuweep, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park – The north rim takes you away from the crowds and hustle and bustle of tourism. Tuweep is a remote campground site with only 9 camping spots and involves over an hour or dirt road driving – 4-wheel drive recommended. The sites have no water, gas, food, lodging or phone, but offers stunning views and cliff edge drops of 3,000 feet at Toroweap Overlook. You must have a permit, which you can request 4-months in advance.

Pinon Flats, Great Sand Dunes National Park – Unlike Tuweep, Pinon Flats sits in the middle of the park’s main attraction and gives outstanding views of North America’s tallest sand dunes, which tower up to 750 high. Outside your door, you will find a 30 square mile dune field waiting for hard core hikers or inner tubes to slide down and play.  Half of The campground is booked on first come first serve and the other have can be reserved six months in advance.

Wonder Lake, Denali National Park – This campground boasts outstanding views right next to 20,000+ foot Mt. Dani and offers 28 campsites for tents only. Visitors can fish for trout and graying in Wonder Lake and bird watch. Reserve your spot really early though, it fills up fast.

Fruita, Capital Reef National Park – Named for the fruit orchards in Utah which were first planted by settlers in the late 19th century, is an oasis. Go when the fruit is on the 3,000 trees and you can pick and eat as you please by the banks of the Fremont River. The Waterpocket Fold and sandstone cliffs are right out your door and provide an natural playground for dining, rambles and slot-canyon exploration.There are 64 tent sites that fill up fast, with no reservations allowed. So rise up with the sun and get there early.

Seawall, Acadia National Park – This park is located opposite the town of Bar Harbor and the wooded Sewall campground is close to both the Atlantic Ocean and the town of Southwest Harbor, where yacht builders still practice their craft. Outside your door are amazing sunrise, the Wonderland Trail, and the Beech Mountain Trail. From Beech Mountain Trail, you can look down on Echo Lake or enjoy the summit at the fire tower which gives you an incredible view of the entire island. There are 214 campsites here and they do accept reservations.

Garden Key, Dry Tortugas National Park – this park is 70 miles west of Key West and offers exploration of coral reefs, blue waters and tiny, deserted keys covers in mangroves. The park sits adjacent to an unfinished naval base which the navy began in the mid 19th century. There is not tourism development here. There is snorkeling off Garden Key and great bird watching. There are 10 sites on the campground and they are first come first serve. You will have to reserve a ferry to get there though.

Namakanipaio, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park – Camp near five active volcanoes that spew and flow magma. Within the borders of the National Park is Mauna Loa, the highest mountain on earth if measured from its underwater base to the summit. The campground feels serene, although in the midst of volcanic fury. It is set high on the mountainside at 4,000 feet and offers tent sites and cabins. Campsites are first come first served and cabins must be booked in advance.

Camp 4,Yosemite National Park – On the National Register of Historic Places, the campsite has been instrumental in the development of the sport and culture of hiking. It is a hot spot for hikers all over the world. You can take a big 7.2 round-trip hike up 2,700 vertical feet from camp to the top of Yosemite Falls. All of the sites are open year-round and are tent only. No reservations.

Houseboat, Voyageurs National Park – You can rent a houseboat from a local outfitter and explore the park while retreating to a warm bed at night. This park also allows motorized boat travel which is banned in the Boundary Waters. The fishing here is world class. You can catch small mouth bass, walleye and pike. You have to get a permit if you rent a houseboat and although you can move around the park at will you must camp at a designated houseboat site.

SloughCreek, Yellowstone National Park – This site is tucked two miles dow a dirt road and includes 23 sties for tents only. The park does supples basic services and food storage boxes to keep everyone safe. Slough creek in on the edge of the wide open Lamar Valley where the first packs of wolves were introduced to Yellowstone in the 1990’s. You cold find wolf packs, grizzlies, bison and elk in the valley’s meadows. All spots are first come first serve.


This is a portion of an article originally posted on National Geographic