Whether you’re staying close to home or planning an adventurous long distance trek for your family this spring break, we’ve got you covered! We set out to explore America’s best campsites like a Lewis and Clark expedition — roaming from the hills of the Northeast to the majestic mountains of the West and hidden jewels of the Midwest to the sizzlin’ beaches and crystal-blue waters of the Southeast. And, we discovered the top 25 places where you can find an affordable, yet unforgettable spring break this year.
Northeast Early Season Adventure: Hike, Whitewater Raft, or Head for the Hills
Hampton Beach State Park, New Hampshire
Keep the troops busy swimming, fishing and picnicking along miles of sandy Atlantic beaches at Hampton Beach State Park. Got an RV? Camp easy with full hook-ups. For a scenery change, day-trip to nearby Portsmouth for history, culture and shopping. Campgrounds open April 24.
Harriman State Park, New York
Spring break camping opportunities exist even near the Big Apple. Drive 25 minutes north of the George Washington Bridge and you’ll arrive at Beaver Pond Campgrounds in Harriman State Park. There, you’ll find more than 200 miles of hiking trails, three beaches and 31 lakes and reservoirs. The campground opens April 15 and offers tent and trailer sites, as well as accommodations for larger vehicles.
Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania
Want natural beauty and whitewater adventure on the East Coast? Then, make this Keystone State park your spring break destination. Encompassing nearly 20,000 acres of rugged natural beauty, Ohiopyle State Park is the gateway to the Laurel Mountains, home of the Youghiogheny River Gorge and some of the best whitewater boating in the eastern United States. The park’s Kentuck Campground opens in early March.
Greenbelt Park, Maryland
Perhaps only in America can you visit the nation’s capital in the afternoon, drive 12 miles, and lay your head down by nightfall in the solitude and tranquility of a national park campground. Called an “Urban Oasis” by the National Park Service, the park is open year-round and offers 174 campground sites with hot showers and bathroom facilities. Prior to Memorial Day, everything is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The park offers four hiking trails as well as picnic areas to accommodate both small and large groups.
The Sizzlin’ Southeast: Lush Landscapes, Coastal Waterways, Out-of-this-World Wildlife
Tomoka State Park, Florida
If you’re looking for ideal weather 365 days a year, then Tomoka State Park, part of the popular spring break destination area of Daytona Beach, provides families with camping, boating and canoeing. Described by locals as “the real Florida,” the park
protects a variety of wildlife habitats and endangered species, such as the West Indian manatee. Tomoka is also a bird watcher’s paradise, especially during the spring and fall migrations, when visitors can discover over 160 species of birds.
Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
This park attracts more than a million visitors a year to its rugged coastal setting, ideal for springtime camping. Visitors can enjoy five miles of beach, thousands of acres of marsh, tidal creeks, maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon and ocean inlet. Then there’s the exciting array of wildlife, ranging from loggerhead sea turtles to alligators, pelicans, dolphins and even the rare coral snake. Don’t miss the pride of Hunting Island, the 175-foot climb to the top of the historic lighthouse. Tent/RV camping is available on the northern end of the park near the ocean.
Tishomingo State Park, Mississippi
To experience a truly lush getaway that will raise your spring fever, take a trip to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains to this Mississippi crown jewel of natural parks. It’s steeped in Native American history from as far back as 7000 BC. Discover the same timeless natural beauty that enchanted the Indians centuries ago like its unique rock formations, many of which are blanketed in beautiful moss, and fern-filled crevices unlike any other in Mississippi. Campers can also enjoy canoeing, nature trails, swimming, bird watching and fishing.
Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia
Amicalola is a Cherokee Indian word meaning “tumbling waters.” Visitors to the Amicalola Falls State Park find just that when hiking or diving around the 729-foot waterfall tucked away in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Located an hour’s drive from Atlanta, the park offers weekend adventures for tourists keen to hike the 8.5-mile trail leading to Springer Mountain. After the long hike, put your feet up and relax in the park’s lodge, RV/tent campsites or group/picnic shelters.
Sam Houston Jones State Park, Louisiana
Any family that has a bird watching aficionado will love Sam Houston Jones State Park. At certain times of year, nearly 200 species of birds can be seen at or within 30 miles of the park. Nature lovers will appreciate the park’s unique tree-filled lagoons and forests mixed with pine and hardwoods. Numerous waterways make water sports a fitting highlight. Boat launches on the West Fork of the Calcasieu River provide access to the Gulf of Mexico and the nearby Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. Accommodations include 12 vacation cabins, 62 campsites and 19 tent sites.
Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia
In search of waterfront real estate this spring? Find it at this rolling, mountainous park, which features more than five miles of river frontage along the south fork of the Shenandoah River. The area is mostly wooded and also offers scenic vistas overlooking Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. Families can enjoy over a dozen trails, half of which are multi-use, catering to hiking, biking and horseback riding. The park features 10 tent sites, one group site, a new RV campground and camping cabins.
Cool Midwest Digs: Where Buffalo Roam, Chainsaw Sculpture, Blooming Wildflowers
Beavers Bend State Park, Oklahoma
Named by LIFE magazine as one of the “100 Places To See In Your Lifetime,” this Southeast Oklahoma destination offers an affordable venture for your spring break budget. Free local activities onsite and nearby include live radio shows in the town
of Broken Bow, goat-feeding at Honey Bear Ranch, chainsaw sculpting at Hochatown Junction Station and yakanoes (combination kayak and canoe) cruising at Broken Bow Lake. The park offers traditional outdoor fun at its year-round nature center as well as more than 16 miles of hiking trails. There are 15 primitive camping areas for tents and RVs in addition to cabins and a lodge.
The Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
For a feel of Appalachia without leaving Ohio, visit the park described as being “very unexpected for the Midwest.” Thundering waterfalls and blooming wildflowers account for the scenic appeal in spring. Rent an all-terrain vehicle, or ATV, to experience Hocking Hills Nature Trails. If off-roading doesn’t suit you, try canopy zipline adventures from Hocking Hills Canopy Tours. Other activities: hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, canoeing and kayaking.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, Missouri
Completely redeveloped, the park officially re-opens this spring after repairing damage done in a 2005 reservoir breach. The park’s signature feature is its collection of volcanic rock “shut-ins,” which are water-carved sculptures in the rock formations. Tourists can access these “shut-ins” by a newly built boardwalk. The park also features a new campground in the Googins Mountain area.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
If you’re into big game wildlife, the country’s second largest state park is the perfect destination for you. At Custer State Park, 1500 buffalo roam the vast 71,000 acres of open air along with elk, mountain goats, pronghorn and burros. Campers can enjoy wildlife from the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The park has 14 campgrounds and miles of hiking trails, including one to Mt. Harney — the highest peak east of the Rockies. Venture outside the park to see the nearby Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments as well as the Wind Cave and Bedlands national parks. Camping cabins can be reserved year-round. Campsite and picnic shelter reservations are available starting in mid-May.
The Wild Northwest: The Land of Giants, Grand Meadows, Glacial Mountain Tops
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California
As the Lonely Planet Guide to Yosemite, Sequoia & King’s Canyon describes the area, “with a cleft deeper than the Grand Canyon and a forest harboring the largest tree in the world, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks dazzle with superlatives.” With terrain that makes it perfect for the dreams that spring getaways are made of — from exploring caves to backcountry hiking — the “Land of Giants” deserves its title as one of the country’s best parks. Activities vary by season and elevation, which ranges from 1300 to nearly 15,000 feet. Three park campgrounds are open year-round: Lodgepole, Azalea, and Potwisha.
Yosemite National Park, California
One of the first wilderness parks in the United States, Yosemite is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more. Most spring breakers flock to the crowded Yosemite Valley. But, according to Justin Wood, REI Adventures Program Manager, if your family’s in shape, you’ll have a hugely different experience if you get off the beaten path. Wood recommends the 16-mile round-trip hike to the park’s icon, Half Dome, which rises nearly 5000 feet above Yosemite Valley. As a former guide, the inspiration behind the trips he designs for REI Adventures is for people to experience wilderness as it was meant to be. “Any family on a backcountry, remote tour quickly realizes what matters most — that it’s each other. And, with each other’s encouragement and companionship shared on a challenging venture, a family can come away from a vacation achieving a lot together.”
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
The majestic attraction of this destination is the mountain itself: a glacier-clad volcano of immense proportions. At 14,411 feet, it dominates the skyline for hundreds of miles. The surrounding area boasts spectacular glaciers and miles of permanent snowfields. Conveniently located 54 miles southeast of Seattle, the park appeals to visitors seeking a family’s weekend getaway. Nature lovers can stroll through the old-growth forest and visit the tumbling waterfalls. If you’re an experienced climber, take advantage of any number of guided trips for those keen on tackling the grand peak.
Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado
Colorado’s newest state park inspired Katharine Lee Bates to pen a poem which would later become the famous patriotic song, “America the Beautiful.” The park, which opens for camping mid-April, offers 20 miles of trails for hiking and biking alongside the scenic Rocky Mountains. Amenities aren’t an issue here; campgrounds offer a camper services building, picnic areas, a conference room, showers and a visitor center.
Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
Whether you’re a visitor or a resident of Portland, you’re within a convenient hour-long drive to Silver Falls, the state’s largest park. It’s nestled in the lower elevation area of the Cascade Mountains. “The Trail of Ten Falls,” an eight-mile hiking trail that encompasses 10 stunning waterfalls of the north and south forks of Silver Creek, is a popular attraction. The park also features more than 100 campgrounds and miles of horse and biking trails.
The Rest O’ the West: Epic Canyons, Freshwater Lakes, Serene Islands
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
A powerful and inspiring landscape, the Grand Canyon overwhelms with its immense size. While most of the five million people a year who see the Grand Canyon do so from overlooks along the South Rim, true adventurers can bear witness to the Inner Canyon by hiking foot-trails leading to the bottom or taking a boat through the canyon on the Colorado River. The South Rim’s visitor services (camping, lodging, restaurants) are open year-round. The North Rim’s facilities are open from mid-May to mid-October. Play it safe by making a reservation ahead of time, especially during busy seasons.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
The Bryce amphitheater in Utah is characterized by its thousands of pillars, columns, windows and hoodoos, all delicately carved by millions of years of erosion by wind and sand. Enjoy breathtaking displays of color with natural light changes throughout the day. A 37-mile roundtrip drive through the park includes popular sites such as Sunrise, Sunset, Rainbow, Yovimba and Inspiration Point. When you’re not admiring the view, have some traditional spring break fun hiking, camping, biking and horseback riding.
Channel Islands National Park, California
For camping enthusiasts looking for serene time on their own, this park fits the bill. According to Carol White, co-author of the book Live Your Road Trip Dream, Channel Islands National Park offers beautiful scenery and hiking in a primitive camping environment. “It’s peaceful, quiet and you virtually have the island to yourself,” she says. “The diversity of animal life and birds is incredible throughout the islands.” No facilitates other than bathrooms and picnic tables are available on the most visited islands. The islands can also be easily explored on a day trip from Ventura.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
Due to mild temps, spring is the best times to camp at this Lone Star State park, which locals describe as the most spectacular and scenic landscape in the Texas Panhandle. The Spanish name Palo Duro refers to the “hardwood” shrubs and trees found in the canyon. Take a side trip to Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, which features old Cadillac cars stuck upright in the ground.
Clear Lake State Park, California
Located on California’s largest freshwater lake, this area is popular for swimming, fishing, boating and water-skiing. While the park offers moderate to steep trails for hiking enthusiasts, it’s also renowned for its annual Heron Festival and Spring Wildflower Brunch (heronfestival.org) celebration in April. During this family-oriented weekend, the park offers boat excursions on Clear Lake for viewing nesting herons, egrets, grebes and other shorebirds and wildlife.
Mount San Jacinto State Park, California
If you weren’t planning to drive from Mexico to Alaska for this year’s trip, you may still be able to experience the same spectacular landscape changes by taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway — the gateway to the Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area. A 10-minute ride aboard the world’s largest rotating Tramway takes visitors up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon. Located two hours away from Los Angeles or San Diego, the tramway offers unique access to a scenic, high-country wilderness area. Day hikes or backpacking trips can be staged from the tramway into the wilderness area.
From Camping Life’s March/April 2010 issue.