Last updated on September 22nd, 2023 at 08:18 pm
We love camping by the water any time of year, but it sure is extra nice when the temperatures are soaring outside. Nothing beats the breeze coming off a lake or ocean to cool you down. We are so fortunate that there are so many waterfront campgrounds across the country including those on rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and the ocean. Below are a few of our favorites divided into categories by cost: free, budget, and luxury options for RV camping by the water.
Free Waterfront Campgrounds
For those seeking a truly off-the-grid experience, waterfront boondocking sites can’t be beaten. Boondocking, or dry camping, means staying at a campsite with no water, electricity, or sewage hookups, relying solely on your RV’s onboard facilities. These sites are often free, allowing you to escape the hustle and bustle and immerse yourself in nature without breaking the bank.
Thanks to the Bureau of Land Management, there are many opportunities around the U.S. Just search “free camping by the water” on the internet or your favorite trip planning app and you’ll find that there are numerous options, particularly out west. A popular option due to its proximity to Las Vegas is Lake Mead National Recreation Area. There are several different areas where you can camp off-grid at Lake Mead — one even has bathrooms. Just note that while boondocking is free there, you will need to pay an entrance fee if you don’t have a National Park pass.
Budget Waterfront Campgrounds
There are three basic options that we’ve found for moderate or budget waterfront campgrounds: state parks, Corps of Engineer campgrounds, military campgrounds, and small, privately owned campgrounds.
Waterfront State Park Campgrounds
State park campgrounds are a fantastic choice for those who desire a blend of natural beauty, affordability, and various recreational activities. Some of our all-time favorite state parks are located on rivers. Most of these state parks are reasonably priced and they often offer additional discounts for seniors or state residents. In addition, the majority of them have power and water at the campsites, and a few even have full hookups.
It’s hard to pick just one favorite, so we’ll share two. The first is Rainbow Springs State Park in Florida. It is located on a crystal clear, freshwater spring-fed river. Seriously. The water is so clear it looks like a swimming pool. Another great thing about this state park is that the campground is separate from the main attraction area so you can enjoy a quiet day looking over the river.
Shenandoah River State Park in northern Virginia has 5 miles of waterfront access along the Shenandoah River. Another great thing about this campground is that it is only a 10-minute drive to Shenandoah National Park. That makes it a great place to stay as an alternative to the national park.
If you’d rather be on the ocean, Bahia Honda State Park and Curry Hammock State Parks in the Florida Keys are not only excellent spots for water-based recreation like fishing, snorkeling, and kayaking but also come with a reasonable daily fee.
Waterfront Corps of Engineer Campgrounds
Corps of Engineer or COE campgrounds offer some of the best waterfront camping in the country. They are managed by the Army Corps of Engineers but are not the same as military campgrounds. In fact, they are available to the public. Typically found on rivers, lakes, dams, and reservoirs, these waterfront campgrounds offer water and sewer at your site (some have full hookups, but that is less common), a centrally located dump station, bathhouses, walking trails, fishing piers, and swimming areas. If you have the Senior or Access (disability) National Parks Pass, you can even get 50 percent off your stay. We’ve loved every single one we’ve stayed at, but here’s just one example, Gunter Hill COE Campground located just outside of Montgomery, Alabama.
And here’s another gem on the Virginia – North Carolina border, Rudd’s Creek Campground. As you can see in the cover image of the video below, many folks come with boats and tie them up right behind their campsite! This campground also had a sweet little swimming area blocked off from the substantial boat traffic.
Waterfront Military Campgrounds
If you can access military bases, there are some phenomenal waterfront campgrounds to enjoy. If you’d like to know more about eligibility and reservations, read our Guide to Military Campgrounds. We have several that we’ve gone back to more than once. One of our absolute favorites was Sigsbee Campground in Key West, Florida. It has both a dry camping and a full hook-up area.
A second runner-up was Patrick Air Force Base. It is located on the Banana River, but the ocean is just across the street from the main base. The base has bike, kayak, and paddleboard rentals at the Outdoor Recreation office. I had a lot of fun trying to learn how to stand-up paddleboard there. The base also has a waterfront dining facility that is open to military retirees as well.
Inexpensive Privately Owned Campgrounds
Don’t forget about the small, locally-owned campgrounds. Typically no-frills, you will get full hookups in some of the most magical spots. For example, we stayed at the Wagon Circle campground along the Red River in Heber Springs, Arkansas for only $26 a night. It was in such a peaceful location and had stairs leading down to a dock on the river. Another fantastic one is Damascus Creekside RV Park in southwestern Virginia. It has eight RV sites and two rental cabins that back up to a serene creek.
Luxury Waterfront Campgrounds
Luxury and waterfront often go hand-in-hand. If budget isn’t a concern and you’re looking for a luxurious, resort-style experience, check out the upscale waterfront RV campgrounds. These privately owned properties offer top-notch amenities, like full hookups, swimming pools, restaurants, and spas.
We’ve stayed at some top-notch resorts along our RV travels. Here are just a few of the best.
The first is Catherine’s Landing, an absolutely gorgeous RV resort with a mile of waterfrontage on Lake Catherine. It is only about a 20-minute drive to Hot Springs National Park. The resort is packed with amenities and plenty of activities like boat & kayak rentals, zip lining, disc golf, and a huge pool.
We love beachfront RV resorts and two of the best (Gulf Waters Beachfront RV Resort in Port Aransas, Texas, and Bluewater Key RV Resort in the Florida Keys) have privately owned lots with cabanas. They offer different levels (pricing) of sites depending on what amenities you want.
As you can see, the options for camping along the water are abundant across the United States.
Do you have a favorite waterfront campground? Please tell us in the comments below.
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