Top Family Camping Destinations for Every Different Skill Level
Your summer vacation plans may be up in the air, but you can still go camping. There’s nothing like being surrounded by trees and fresh air to make your family feel calm and renewed. Set up a tent in your backyard now, then look into these awesome spots for a nature-filled getaway when the time is right.
Check the websites of the campgrounds featured in this story for details on if they are currently open to the public, and follow federal, state, and local guidelines before you travel.
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Best Family Camping for Beginners
Yes, you can take kids camping even if you’ve never been yourself. What’s more, you don’t even have to sleep in tents—unless you want to!—at these perfect choices for first-timers.
Lakedale Resort in San Juan Island, Washington
With lushly forested shores and family activities galore, this gorgeous island, about a two-hour drive from Seattle, will have you psyched before you even step foot on it! Drive your car and your camping gear right onto the ferry, which will make its way to San Juan as you pass smaller islands along the way and maybe even spot an orca. “I’m not a big camper, but my in-laws all are, and we all loved Lakedale,” says mom of two Kristin Thorsness, of Seattle. “We spent all day playing Frisbee and boating on the lake, cooked outside, and made s’mores over a campfire every night, but at the end of the day we had real beds to sleep in.”
Her fam opted to stay in canvas-covered yurts, but there are also glamping tents, two-bedroom log cabins, and tent sites set among the property’s fir trees and three lakes. (If you book a tent site, spring for the $45 EZ Camping package, and they’ll provide and put up the tent for you.)
Assateague State Park in Berlin, Maryland
Two words: wild horses. This stretch of barrier island off the coast of Maryland is home to a herd of 76 horses that roam right through the beach and campground, and yes, it’s totally amazing. The area has more than 300 campsites, but try to pick one nestled into the dunes, which will let you have plenty of privacy while still enjoying the benefits of a large campground. Stephanie Puglisi, mom of three and coauthor of See You at the Campground, loves that the uncrowded beaches are big enough for a family game of Wiffle Ball and describes the bathhouses as “downright luxurious,” with tiled showers and hot water.
You can even have a bright-colored tiny house that sleeps four delivered to the campsite if you don’t want to tent it. They ring up to $475 per night for a four-night stay during peak season but may be worth the splurge.
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Best Family Camping for Older Kids
Already have a few family camping trips under your belt? These spots are an ideal next step.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Duluth, Minnesota
If you want to go off the grid, this million-acre oasis with many lakes in northern Minnesota might just be your jam. But where to start? Blogger Maura Marko, at WeFoundAdventure.com, who has taken her two kids camping in the Boundary Waters since they were babies, suggests that parents opt for a lake you can get to by canoe. Kawishiwi Lake is relatively easy to access because it sits on the edge of the Wilderness, has sites with tent pads and fire rings, and boasts clear water and thickly wooded shores. Use these as your base camp, then pile into the canoe to explore during the day, keeping your eyes peeled for loons, eagles, and moose. Use BoundaryWatersOutfitters.com or another outfitter to help you plan your trip and supply gear.
Burton Island State Park in St. Albans, Vermont
There are no cars allowed on this island park in the middle of Lake Champlain. And that’s half the fun: “My kids love that it’s an island, and I think it makes them feel more like adventurers,” says Shannon Alexander, a mom of two in Barre, Vermont. Catch the ten-minute ferry over from the mainland’s Kamp Kill Kare State Park, which sits 45 minutes north of Burlington, then head to your campsite on foot. (They’ve got carts you can use to lug your gear, or for $10, the park staff will haul it for you.) You can reserve the island’s 44 campsites up to 11 months in advance, so opt for one of the waterfront spots that boast stunning sunset views. And while you can’t bring your car, you can—and should—bring bikes.
Piñon Flats Campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Colorado
Come for the sand dunes, stay for the stars. Southern Colorado’s lesser-known national park’s 750-foot-high sand dunes are not a hard sell for kids. “My 5-year-old son was 100 percent in his element,” says mom of two Andrea Baldwin, of Denver. “He sprinted up, down, around, and through the sand dunes like a gazelle!” (If you want to wow your kids even more, rent a sand sled at one of the local outfitters.) The real beauty of camping at Piñon Flats, though, is that you also get to experience the dunes after dark. The combo of dry air, little light pollution, and high elevation makes for some crazy-good stargazing. Go for a full-moon walk with no flashlight needed, spot the Milky Way during late summer, and look for nocturnal animals.
Best Family Camping for Explorers
If you’re a family that likes to go, go, go, these spots offer the perfect home base for you to get out and do tons of fun stuff.
Little Talbot Island State Park in Jacksonville, Florida
The powdery white sand beaches of this northeastern Florida spot are perfect for building sand castles and are rarely crowded. The north end’s rolling waves offer some of the best surfing in the area. And at low tide, there’s even more to discover: Rent bikes at the ranger station and ride 2 miles up the beach to the beautiful “Northern Sand Spit,” where you can hunt for sand dollars and shark teeth and watch as tons of birds do the same. Across the half-mile-wide island, the park’s campsites are set among oak, pine, cedar, and magnolia trees and have views of Myrtle Creek, where you can launch kayaks and stand-up paddleboards right into the salt marshland. You’re also just a bike ride away from neighboring Big Talbot Island State Park’s “Boneyard Beach.” (It’s a 4-mile trip, so take the car if your legs are tired from the beach!) Natural beach erosion left behind a mile’s worth of giant tumbled oak trees that lie there like huge pieces of driftwood. “The trees are a natural playground,” says Dicy Watson, a Gainesville, Florida, mom of four, who talks all things camping on her YouTube channel, Travel More Family.
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Wahweap RV & Campground in Lake Powell, Arizona and Utah
A 186-mile-long man-made reservoir that’s ringed by towering red sandstone rock formations, Lake Powell is known for houseboat vacations. But living out on the water 24/7 can be ... um ... stressful for families with little ones in tow. This campground is the perfect home base, especially if you book one of the Airstream “glampers,” which have AC (woot! woot!) and sleep up to five. During the day, you can walk over to sandy Wahweap Swim Beach to cool down, or rent a boat from the nearby marina. “We loved taking our boat into different canyons, where we’d find sandy beaches for the kids to swim from and build castles and forts on all day long,” says Cory Hegwer, of Westminster, Colorado, whose family of five camped there last summer.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's July 2020 issue as “This Land Is Your Land.” Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here