Last updated on September 25th, 2023 at 11:46 am
Camping in a National Park is often the highlight of any vacation, but when those coveted campgrounds inside the parks fill up, worry not! There are still plenty of options for camping near National Parks that offer similar experiences while giving you room to breathe. In this blog post, we will explore five alternatives to camping inside National Parks: Boondocking, Private Landowners, National Forests, State Parks, and Nearby Full Hook-Up Campgrounds. There is a world of adventure waiting for you just outside the park gates, so let’s dive in and find your perfect camping spot!
Watch the video below or read on for recommended alternatives to national park campgrounds.
Boondocking: Embrace the Freedom of Off-Grid Camping
Boondocking, also known as dispersed or dry camping, refers to camping in the wilderness without the amenities of a developed campsite or designated campground. This can offer a far more secluded and immersive experience in nature, allowing you to enjoy peace and solitude without the hustle and bustle of a busy campground. While it may sound a little intimidating at first, we found that there are many strategies to help make your boondocking experience a success.
Public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the US Forest Service offer numerous opportunities for boondocking, with many of these lands located in close proximity to National Parks. A fantastic example of this is the area surrounding Canyonlands National Park in Utah, where campers can freely boondock on BLM land while being minutes away from the park’s stunning landscape. At Big Bend National Park, you can get a 10-day permit for dispersed camping within the park. While visiting Joshua Tree National Park, we dry camped at the plentiful Bureau of Land Management (BLM) boondocking land right outside the south entrance.
Private Landowners: Connect with Locals and Enjoy a Unique Experience
Private landowners sometimes open their properties to campers, offering a unique and authentic way to experience the local environment. Platforms such as Hipcamp and Tentrr provide a marketplace for landowners to list their camping spots, allowing campers to browse, book, and connect with locals. This could be anything from a quiet spot on a farm to camping by a beautiful private pond. While many are dry camping spots, some of them offer power or water.
Another option to stay on private land near a national park is through the Boondockers Welcome program. This is a membership program with a flat annual rate that allows stays on private owner’s land. Each owner establishes their rules for things like the length of stay or generator usage. Many of the Boondockers Welcome hosts are avid RVers themselves and are happy to welcome travelers.
Membership Campgrounds: Experience the Power of Community
Some membership campgrounds are located near national parks. For example, if you wanted to visit Yosemite National Park and were an Escapees member, you could stay at their SKP Park of the Sierras. Thousand Trails members can stay at Yosemite Lakes RV campground five miles from Yosemite National Park. This is a situation where being a member has its benefits!
National Forests: Immerse Yourself in Nature’s Playground
If you really have your heart set on using your National Parks pass (especially if you can use the 50% senior or access pass discount), look for nearby national forests. Many National Parks are surrounded by scenic National Forests that offer campgrounds and dispersed camping options at a more budget-friendly price than park campgrounds. Camping in a National Forest allows you to enjoy a wide array of recreational activities, such as hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. Examples include the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, located right next to Mount Rainier National Park, and Kaibab National Forest’s Ten X Campground situated near the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
State Parks: Discover the Hidden Treasures of Local Regions
State Parks often provide similar experiences as National Parks in terms of natural beauty but with fewer crowds. Located near popular National Parks, you’ll be able to enjoy a more peaceful camping experience while still having access to incredible sights. For instance, consider reserving a campsite at Dead Horse Point State Park, which showcases breathtaking views reminiscent of the nearby Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
Adjacent to Big Bend National Park is Big Bend Ranch State Park. Jonathan Stewart State Park is only a 30-minute drive from Crater Lake National Park. We really enjoyed Shenandoah River State Park, which is only a 10-minute drive from the north entrance of Shenandoah National Park.
Nearby Campgrounds: Enjoy the Comfort of Modern Amenities
Last but not least, if you are still looking for a traditional campground with full hook-ups, toilets, and showers, consider exploring nearby RV parks and private campgrounds. Look for campgrounds within close proximity to your desired National Park that accommodate tents, as well as vans and RVs.
We have stayed at some of the most wonderful campgrounds right outside of national parks. One of our favorites was the Redwoods KOA in Crescent City, California near Redwoods National Park. Another fabulous option is the Tucson LazyDays KOA near Saguaro National Park. The bonus here is that you get to visit stunning natural areas while enjoying all the amenities of a private RV resort when you are back at your site.
Given that Zion National Park is on everyone’s Utah bucket list, scoring a campsite inside the park can be extremely tough, and if you park your RV far away, you may get stuck in a long line of traffic waiting to get in at the front gate. One solution is to book a site at Zion Canyon Campground. While, admittedly, the campground is busy and its sites are close together, it offers unparalleled access to Zion. In fact, you can leave your car parked at the campground and simply walk into the park (and then hop on one of the park’s shuttles to get around inside the park.) It is an ideal campground to use as a base for exploring this gorgeous national park.
As you can see, there are many options for you if the national park campground is full or simply isn’t the right fit for you.
Related post: Are you thinking of going to Acadia National Park? Here are my tips on what not to miss in Acadia.
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