Spend your days splashing in the water and your nights sleeping beneath the stars at these can’t-miss beach camping spots across the country.
When summertime rolls around, travelers head outside in droves to immerse themselves in nature. But with so many stunning locales in the U.S. to choose from — including expansive national parks, pristine lakes and tropical islands — deciding how to spend your hard-earned vacation days can be a challenge. To help you make the most of your time off this summer, U.S. News rounded up a selection of beaches where you can camp directly on or right next to the sand. Read on to discover which destinations are ideal for combining a beach vacation with a camping getaway. (Note: Some of the destinations mentioned may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Check with the CDC, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)
Long Key State Park: Long Key, Florida
Camp like America’s elite did in the early 20th century at Long Key State Park. Located in the middle of the Florida Keys, this waterfront state park was one of many stops along Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. Everyone from former President Herbert Hoover to American author Zane Grey frequented this tranquil spot to fish. Today, the park’s main oceanfront campground is closed due to damage caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017, but you can still camp by the shore year-round at the smaller primitive campground. Amenities in this campground, which is only accessible on foot from the 1.5-mile-long Golden Orb Trail, include restrooms in the parking area and designated campsites with picnic tables, grills and flat sections for tents. Most primitive campsites offer space for up to four people, though two sites can accommodate larger groups with up to 20 people. Reservation costs start at $22.50 per night and must be made in advance by phone or through the Reserve America website.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: Wisconsin
If you happen to live in the Midwest far from the country’s West Coast and East Coast beaches, fret not: Northern Wisconsin’s stretch of Lake Superior shoreline features 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland packed with small white sand beaches. Several of the lakeshore’s islands offer campsites on or near a beach, including Outer Island, York Island and Manitou Island. No matter which location you choose, you can expect to find amenities like fire rings and bear-proof food storage lockers. Some sites also offer picnic tables, tent pads and vault toilets or stump privies. Keep in mind, almost all of the lakeshore’s campsites are only accessible by boat. You must make advance reservations for camping permits, which are valid for up to 14 days. Anticipate paying $15 per night for an individual campsite that sleeps no more than seven people or $30 per night for a group campsite with space for up to 21 people.
Hunting Island State Park: Hunting Island, South Carolina
Venture 17 miles southeast of Beaufort to camp in South Carolina’s most popular state park. The area’s main draw is its 5 miles of pristine beaches, where loggerhead sea turtles and various shorebirds nest every summer. Hunting Island State Park is also home to a beachfront campground designed for novice campers thanks to amenities like paved roads and restrooms with hot showers. Plus, each campsite can accommodate recreational vehicles and features water and electrical hookups. A dump station can also be found on-site. Up to six people can stay at each campsite, and pets are welcome in all camping areas. Campsite fees range from $40 to $65 per night, depending on the day, season and site chosen. Most campsites require making reservations for a minimum stay of two nights. You can book a campsite by phone or through the South Carolina state parks website.
Sonoma Coast State Park: Bodega Bay, California
Travelers who want a dose of adventure while visiting Northern California should spend a few days camping at Sonoma Coast State Park. This 17-mile-long stretch of protected coastline sits less than 60 miles northwest of Sonoma and Napa, making it easy to tack some time at the beach onto a wine vacation. To wake up to phenomenal ocean vistas, camp at one of the park’s 27 Wright’s Beach campsites. On-site amenities are limited (think: picnic tables, fire rings and bathrooms with flush toilets), but registered campers also have access to nearby Bodega Dunes Campground, which features facilities like hot showers and a potable water fill station. All Wright’s Beach campsites, which cost $35 per night, offer space for up to eight people and two vehicles. Optional reservations can be made 48 hours to six months in advance by calling ReserveCalifornia. For visitors who do not make reservations, entry is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Padre Island National Seashore: Texas
Though you may be tempted to spend most of your Gulf Coast beach vacation on better known South Padre Island, consider traveling farther north to North Padre Island. Here, you’ll discover Padre Island National Seashore, which boasts more than 130,000 acres of beaches, trails and campsites. Multiple beach camping areas are available, including Bird Island Basin Campground, where you can enjoy Laguna Madre panoramas and activities like fishing, kayaking and windsurfing. The campground offers sections for both tents and RVs, but there are no on-site amenities other than covered picnic tables and chemical toilets, so plan on stocking up on supplies at the Malaquite Visitor Center before you arrive. Campsites are first-come, first-served and cost $8 per day for most campers. You can pay at the seashore’s entrance or one of the campground’s self-service kiosks. Should you desire a more primitive beach camping experience, stay at North Beach or South Beach.
Horseneck Beach State Reservation: Westport, Massachusetts
For easy access to a beach campground from New England cities like Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, head to Horseneck Beach State Reservation. Situated less than 70 miles south of Boston and about 35 miles southeast of Providence, this 2-mile-long stretch of sand boasts breathtaking Buzzards Bay vistas, plus excellent windsurfing, fishing and bird-watching opportunities. Beach wheelchairs are also available, meaning travelers with mobility issues will be able to enjoy the beach and its scenery as well. At the beach’s tent-, trailer- and RV-friendly campground, visitors will find 100 partially paved campsites and a variety of amenities, including basketball and volleyball courts, a playground, picnic tables, grills, a dump station and restrooms with flush toilets and hot showers. Each campsite can accommodate up to four adults, two tents and two vehicles. The beach permits camping annually from the first week of May until Columbus Day. All campsites cost $22 per night for Massachusetts residents and $70 per night for out-of-state visitors.
Olympic National Park: Washington
Enjoy both lush greenery and proximity to the beach at Olympic National Park. In this national park 75 miles northwest of Seattle, you will find trail-filled forests and 70-plus miles of coastline, which you can admire from one of two campgrounds with beach access: South Beach and Kalaloch. South Beach Campground, the smaller of the two, offers campsites for $15 per night that are available on a first-come, first-served basis from Memorial Day to late September. Meanwhile, Kalaloch Campground welcomes visitors year-round for $22 per night. Kalaloch’s larger size, prime location and on-site amenities — such as flush toilets, potable water and fire rings — make it one of the park’s more popular options, so plan on arriving early in the day (during the offseason) or reserving a space online months in advance (for stays between mid-May and mid-September). Pay extra attention to which Kalaloch campsite you choose, since some spaces do not overlook the Pacific Ocean.
Gulf Islands National Seashore: Florida and Mississippi
Gulf Islands National Seashore, which stretches 160 miles from Florida to Mississippi, is home to 12 areas featuring historical forts, hiking trails and white sand beaches. Although the shoreline’s main campgrounds do not sit directly on the sand, several sections allow backcountry camping, or camping in an undeveloped area with no facilities. In Florida, travelers can beach camp in the Perdido Key Area. On the Mississippi side, campers can choose from four islands: Petit Bois, West Petit Bois, Horn and Cat. To beach camp in any of these areas, visitors must arrive by boat. None of these areas require purchasing camping permits, but keep in mind that campsites must be at least 300 yards away from bird nests and can only be established on flat sections away from dunes and vegetation. Since there are no amenities available at these beaches, remember to pack adequate camping gear and plenty of food and water.
Napali Coast State Wilderness Park: Kapaa, Hawaii
Head to Kauai’s Napali Coast to camp in the shadow of multicolored sea cliffs. In Napali Coast State Wilderness Park on Kauai‘s north shore, most visitors choose to camp at Hanakoa or Kalalau, which boast proximity to the challenging Kalalau Trail. But if your main objective is to sink your toes in the sand while camping, opt for quieter Miloli’i. Only accessible by boat or kayak, this beach is a haven for monk seals and sea turtles. On-site amenities include covered picnic tables, fire rings and an outhouse. You can camp on any flat sections of the beach; however, you can only camp here from May 15 to Sept. 7. What’s more, a camping permit — which costs $15 per person, per night for Hawaiians and $20 per person, per night for out-of-state visitors — is required. These permits are valid for no more than three consecutive nights and are sold online and at Hawaii’s Division of State Parks offices.
Assateague Island National Seashore: Maryland
Whether you’re looking for a change of scenery from bustling Ocean City or a unique camping experience, Assateague Island National Seashore can’t be missed. Maryland’s section of the seashore offers countless opportunities for leisure activities like kayaking, fishing and swimming. Plus, you’ll find two herds of wild horses here, which you may spot roaming the beach from your oceanside campsite. Individuals and smaller groups can pick from drive-in spaces (which can accommodate trailers and RVs) and walk-in spaces (which only permit tents). Both options cost $30 per night and come with amenities like picnic tables and fire rings. The seashore’s campground also features shared facilities, such as dump stations and restrooms with chemical toilets and cold showers. Campsites are open year-round, though reservations are required between March 15 and Nov. 15. Spaces fill up fast in summer (especially on weekends), so consider booking your site a few months in advance.
Jalama Beach County Park: Lompoc, California
A quieter beach park than others found in and around nearby Santa Barbara, California, Jalama Beach County Park appeals to everyone from surfers to anglers to wildlife enthusiasts. Inside this West Coast sanctuary, visitors can catch a wave, cast a line or go whale watching and birding. The park also serves as a superb option for camping by the Pacific Ocean. All of Jalama Beach’s 107 campsites offer beach or ocean panoramas, as well as amenities like picnic tables and barbecue pits. Additionally, the park has restrooms with hot showers and a convenience store that sells grocery staples and fishing equipment. Each campsite can accommodate up to eight people and two vehicles. Camping fees vary depending on the site chosen and time of year (for select sites), but beachfront locations — which are considered premium sites — cost $50 per night year-round. Most spaces need to be booked online in advance, though 16 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Sandy Neck Beach Park: West Barnstable, Massachusetts
Put a new twist on a classic Cape Cod beach vacation by camping at one of the peninsula’s highly regarded beaches. At Sandy Neck Beach Park, which sits in the mid cape section of Cape Cod, you can extend your day at the beach by camping overnight in an off-road vehicle or tent. Camping in an off-road vehicle can get expensive, so consider staying in the primitive tent area. This sandy section of the park is located more than 3 miles away from the parking lot, so you’ll need to hike with your gear to your site. Keep in mind, Sandy Neck requires starting your hike before 7 p.m. Once you arrive, you’ll find amenities like a portable toilet and drinking water. Every campsite offers space for five people and two tents. Campsite permits cost $20 per night and are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the park’s gatehouse. You can stay no longer than two consecutive nights.
Bahia Honda State Park: Big Pine Key, Florida
The Florida Keys are home to several beaches that permit camping, but if enjoying phenomenal Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico vistas without straying too far from Key West is a priority, check out Bahia Honda State Park. Situated 35 miles northeast of Key West on a remote island, Bahia Honda provides a quintessential Florida backdrop (think: swaying palm trees, crystal-clear waters and stunning sunsets) for a beach camping vacation. Inside the park, travelers can rent snorkeling gear to explore offshore when they’re not bird-watching, fishing or biking onshore. Bahia Honda campgrounds that offer waterfront sites include Buttonwood and Bayside. Buttonwood is ideal for travelers with RVs, as its sites are gravel and come with electricity hookups and access to a bathhouse and a dump station. Meanwhile, Bayside appeals to campers who want to rough it, since its only on-site amenities are picnic tables, grills and water. Most campsites can accommodate up to eight people and cost $36 per night.
Siuslaw National Forest: Yachats, Oregon
Located within 50 miles of top Oregon vacation destinations like Newport and Florence, Siuslaw National Forest offers the unique opportunity to combine a trip to the beach with an outing in the woods. Within this dense forest’s 630,000-plus acres lies Tillicum Beach Campground, one of the area’s most popular spots to camp thanks to its location and array of activities, such as surfing, swimming and whale watching. Tillicum features 61 campsites, most of which overlook the beach. Campsites can accommodate up to eight people and offer basic amenities like picnic tables and fire rings, as well as access to flush toilets and drinking water. But remember, showers are not available on-site. The campground is open year-round but fills up fast, especially in summer, so plan on reserving your campsite online or by phone ahead of time. Waterfront campsites will set you back $26 per night.
Cape Lookout National Seashore: North Carolina
This collection of North Carolina beaches beckons to travelers eager to kick back and unwind. Because Cape Lookout National Seashore is only accessible by passenger or vehicular ferry, it provides a quieter atmosphere than other local beach havens in the Outer Banks. After arriving to the seashore, vacationers can climb the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, go birding or enjoy water sports activities like kayaking and windsurfing. Most of the seashore’s 56 miles of beaches allow visitors to camp directly on the sand without a permit, making this an excellent option for those sticking to a tight budget. However, all beach camping here is primitive, so campers will need to come prepared. It’s best to travel without an RV since there are no roads or hookups. Additionally, facilities like camp stores are not available, though travelers can access restrooms in some areas during the warmer months. Campsites must sit at least 100 feet away from structures and cannot be on top of dunes.
Grand Isle State Park: Grand Isle, Louisiana
Plan a camping trip to the barrier island town of Grand Isle — which is located about 110 miles south of New Orleans — if you’re craving campfire meals featuring fresh seafood, unobstructed views of the stars and endless hours staring at the Gulf of Mexico. The 140-acre Grand Isle State Park, at the eastern end of the island, is known for its sprawling beach and abundant wildlife. When you’re not surf fishing, birding or crabbing, grab your camping gear and head to the park’s main campground. Most of the 63 campsites are pull-through options with water and electricity hookups for RVs, but the best spots are those that sit directly on the beach. The 14 beach sites strictly for tents are without water or electricity, so plan accordingly. Up to six people can stay at a campsite for a maximum of 14 consecutive days. All beach sites cost $18 per night and are available year-round.
Homer Spit Campground: Homer, Alaska
Few states can rival Alaska’s rugged beauty, and one of its most awe-inspiring destinations is the Kenai Peninsula. Situated south of Anchorage, 90% of this outdoor oasis is composed of wildlife-filled wilderness, so you can look for critters like black bears and moose while hiking, dogsledding or sightseeing by plane. For some of the peninsula’s most jaw-dropping views, stay at the Homer Spit Campground. Overlooking Kachemak Bay, glaciers and snow-capped mountains, this campground boasts a prime location on the Homer Spit — a narrow strip of land with one of Alaska’s most highly regarded beaches. At the campground, you’ll find 115 campsites, as well as amenities like restrooms with hot showers, laundry facilities and a gift shop. All sites sit within 300 feet of the bay, but you’ll want to reserve a Beach Front space to be right on the sand. These sites lack electric, water and sewer hookups, but include Wi-Fi access and use of a dump station in the nightly $35 fee.
More from U.S. News