I’ve stayed at some great campgrounds and so not-so-great places. Here’s a list of my current favorite places. As I travel, I add new places to this list, so check back when you’re going to an area and see if I’ve been there or added something new.
Death Valley National Park – Furnace Creek is quiet and dark at night, making for fantastic night sky viewing. And next door is the Ranch, where $5 a day gets you access to the warm springs pool and showers.
Half Moon Bay State Park – Long beach to walk on, beautiful sunsets, and a short walk into a small town that has some interesting shops and a wonderful bakery (Half Moon Bay Bakery, of course). Best spots are next to the dunes (west side of the loop) but all are close to the beach.
New Brighton State Park – Above the beach, but two trails lead down to it, and at low tide, you can walk to Seacliff or to Capitola. A few hookup sites, but most are dry camping, with some having decent exposure for solar panels. If you want to stay in the Santa Cruz area, this is probably your best shot. And the sunset views can be amazing.
Salton Sea State Recreation Area – Mecca Beach has a few hookup spots but is mostly dry camping; it is a short walk across sharp barnacle-like sand to get to the water; it also has toilets and hot showers. Best time to go is before it heats up, because then the smell will kill you. And there are pelicans here, American (white) and brown!
Seacliff State Beach – This is as close to the beach as you can get, you are literally camping next to the boardwalk that runs from Rio del Mar beach to the north end of Seacliff. The downside is that it is a well-loved walking and running spot so people tend to be loud and social, sometimes right outside your RV. The upside is that you can watch pelicans fly by, see the sunset from your window, and hear the ocean all night long. It’s pricey (full hookups), and reservations sell out every month about 2 minutes after the site opens. There are a few walkup-only spots, no hookups, at the south end, that become available at noon daily.
Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora. Nearest state park to Denver, and offers both dry camping and full hookups. Lots of hiking trails, biking roads, and deer and birds. For being about 20 minutes from downtown Denver, this is an amazing park. Think of it as the place Denver residents go to get away from their horrible traffic. Oh, and it can snow in May. Like this.
Prairie Dog State Park
Lake Ogallala State Park – Choose this small park over anything on neighboring Lake McC. It’s right on the water, with a good hiking trail to the dam, or to day use spots across the lake. In the off-season, it might be just you and the camp host and a few other hardy souls. Electric hookups, water nearby, dump at Lake McC about a mile away.
Lake Minatare State Park – Tons of electric sites, water spigots available, and beautiful trees around the lake. And the only lighthouse in Nebraska. This is a locals hangout so once the weather warms up, the weekends are busy and noisy. You can kayak here, but watch out for the powerboats and fishing boats.
Bottomless Lakes State Park – Near Roswell, so you can let your freak flag fly when it comes to aliens and all that. The park has a beautiful lake right next to the campground and walking trails across the road through desert terrain. Quiet and peaceful place in the off-season.
City of Rocks State Park – My first time here, I didn’t stay long enough to get to know the place, so I went back several months later and stayed almost a week. Beautiful desert, hiking trails on all sides, and a hot springs place next door (which also has RV spots if you want to move on over). Don’t fall for the hookup spots, they are like a parking lot. Go for the dry camping spots and you’ll enjoy the experience so much more.
Oliver Lee Memorial State Park – While New Mexico has a half-dozen parks I really like, this is the one I love. I can’t explain it, it’s hard up against the west flank of the Sacramento Mountains just south of Alamogordo, with one row of hookup sites (water and electric) and the rest of the two loops are all dry camping, although most have great solar exposure. I wouldn’t go here in summer, but any other time, it is my “feels like home” place in this state.
Schodack Landing State Park – Just south of Albany, this is one of the newest state parks and one of the best, mainly because it’s right on the Hudson River. It can be hard to get a spot during striped bass season, but the rest of the time, it’s pretty easy. The back side of the park has a kayak launch so you can explore the marsh; I saw more than a dozen blue herons! Just watch the tides or you’ll get stuck in the mud! There are also some really good hiking trails to explore.
Watauga Dam Campground – A very small park, reservations are required and can be hard to get because it’s a lovely little spot. I like site #1 the best, but you can launch a kayak from almost every site here. It’s quiet and peaceful and one of my very top favorite campgrounds.
Big Bend National Park – I stayed at Rio Grande Village, no hookups but I wish I had stayed at Cottonwood on the other side of the park. No hookups there either, but smaller sites and less of them, so no big rigs running their generators non-stop. And it felt closer to all the cool stuff. Either way, you really can’t lose, Big Bend is amazing. And don’t skip the fossil exhibit, it’s one of the coolest tiny dinosaur museums ever.
North Bend Park and Campground – This is a Corps of Engineers (CoE) park that sits on Lake Kerr. Sites are well-spaced and C loop has several spots where you can access the lake directly from your site; I loved having my kayak right there, it made paddling so much easier and I sometimes kayaked twice a day. In the photo below, my kayak is pointed right at my trailer, hidden in the trees.
Dash Point State Park – Most convenient state park to Seattle, with tons of hiking trails. Offers dry camping, water/electric sites, and full-hookup sites. (Saltwater SP is closer, but it’s right under the flight path for SeaTac so unless you like planes flying over your head every 3-5 minutes, pick Dash Point instead.)
Grayland Beach State Park – The best campsites here are the loops that are closest to the beach (doh!) and many of them have trails that link to the main beach trails. Long beautiful sandy beach with great sunsets.
Kalaloch Campground – The sites are small, none of them have hookups, and many are very crowded into each other, so pick wisely. But even if you get a “bad” spot, it’s not that bad when the beach looks like this. Endless beach walking, simply endless.
Kanaskat-Palmer State Park – The big attraction here is the Green River, and it’s worth it. You can hike down to the edge, wade in a bit, or sit on the big rocks and watch the water go by. Big trees give each campsite a bit of privacy.