Your Guide to Camping at 9 Popular National Parks

Oct 19, 2022 | Campgrounds

Your Guide to Camping at 9 Popular National Parks

These national parks are crowded for a reason—use this guide for insider tips on how to camp at some of the most visited national parks in the U.S.

By Sara Sheehy

National parks hold a special allure that draws people to them year after year. From coast to coast, the parks’ diversity and abundance of natural beauty make them a popular destination for every type of traveler—sightseers, adventure junkies, families, overseas visitors, and everyone in between.

Camping is a great way to experience national parks. Whether you choose to stay within the park’s boundaries or support an RV park nearby, there are plentiful options for places to rest your head after a day enjoying one of these beautiful destinations.

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Smokemont Campground
Smokemont Campground. | Photo: The Nomad Campers

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The most-visited national park in the U. S. is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which stretches across the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. Close to major population centers and free to enjoy, this park may have the most visitors, but with hundreds of miles of hiking trails, historic sites, and more than half a million acres to explore, there’s plenty of room to roam.

The park offers 10 front-country camping locations within its boundaries. Smokemont Campground in Cherokee, North Carolina, is centrally located with quiet spots along a creek. Elkmont Campground in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, has spacious sites and access to excellent hiking trails.

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For more amenities, check out one of many private campgrounds that line the borders of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Well-reviewed RV parks include Greenbrier Campground, Little Arrow Outdoor Resort, and Indian Creek Campground.

Campground Highlights at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Madison Campground
Madison Campground. | Photo: Campendium

2. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the country’s first official national park and remains one of the most beloved. Inside park borders, you’ll find an otherworldly landscape of hot springs, geysers, waterfalls, and forests as well as the animals that call them home, from buffalo and grizzly bears to Yellowstone Cutthroat trout.

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Yellowstone National Park has 12 campgrounds and more than 2,000 sites within the park itself. With so many places to stay, you might think that grabbing a site would be easy—but it’s not. The campgrounds are a mix of reservable and first come, first served, and many fill early in the day. The park maintains a digital dashboard that reports on the status of each campground in real-time. Campendium community favorites include Madison Campground near West Yellowstone and Bridge Bay Campground on Yellowstone Lake.

Outside of the park, check out Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park in Livingston, Montana, and Jolley Camper RV & Cottages in Ashton, Idaho. There’s also plentiful dispersed camping around West Yellowstone and in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Campground Highlights at Yellowstone National Park

South Campground
South Campground. | Photo: Campendium

3. Zion National Park

In a state that boasts five national parks, Zion takes the crown for most popular. Surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs, the deep valley that runs through Zion National Park is a photographer and rock climber’s dream—and a gorgeous destination for anyone to explore.

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There are three campgrounds inside Zion. Watchman and South Campground are the most well-known and are situated at the entrance to the park near Springdale, Utah. South Campground is available via reservations only, and Watchman allows reservations from March through October. Lava Point Campground is tucked in a remote northern corner of the park and is best for tent campers or smaller RVs.

If you’re not able to secure an in-park campsite, Zion Canyon Campground & RV Resort in Springdale offers convenient but busy sites just outside the park entrance.

Campground Highlights at Zion National Park

Wildlife at Moraine Park Campground
Moraine Park Campground. | Photo: MOcamping

4. Rocky Mountain National Park

Wildlife, snowy mountains, and that Rocky Mountain high await at Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado. Located just 1.5 hours from Denver and the Front Range, it’s easy to see why this gorgeous park makes the list of most popular national parks.

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Rocky Mountain National Park’s three reservable campgrounds are Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, and Moraine Park. All three often book up well in advance, so be sure to plan ahead. Rocky Mountain also offers two first-come-first-serve campgrounds, Longs Peak and Timber Creek.

Outside of the park, check out Winding River Resort and Elk Creek Campground & RV Park as alternative camping options.

Campground Highlights at Rocky Mountain National Park

Moose at Gros Ventre Campground
Gros Ventre Campground. | Photo: Fables and Trails

5. Grand Teton National Park

There are few landscapes as iconic and easily recognizable in the U.S. as the outline of the Grand Tetons. Located just a short distance from the resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is often visited in tandem with its northerly neighbor, Yellowstone National Park.

This isn’t to say that the Tetons aren’t worthy of being a destination in their own right. Grand Teton National Park is chock full of places to adventure and explore, with gorgeous lakes, snow-capped peaks, and plenty of trails.

Reservations are strongly recommended for the campgrounds inside the park (sites can be reserved 6 months in advance). Headwaters at Flagg Ranch is the most pricey of the options but offers full hookup sites and a central location to visit both the Tetons and Yellowstone. Gros Ventre Campground, located at the southern end of Grand Teton near the National Elk Refuge, is a great place to see moose during their rut in September and October.

Outside of the park, the free dispersed camping at Upper Teton View/Toppings Lake is a Campendium community favorite.

Campground Highlights at Grand Teton National Park

Grand Canyon
Trailer Village RV Park. | Photo: Follow Your Detour

6. Grand Canyon National Park

Speaking of iconic landscapes, let’s not forget the deep, multi-hued beauty of Grand Canyon National Park. Located in Arizona—but within an easy drive of Las Vegas—the Grand Canyon’s mile-deep plunge into the Colorado River draws in millions of daytrippers and campers each year.

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Inside the park, Trailer Village and Mather Campground are the two most centrally-located campground options. With its full hookups and close proximity to the South Rim of the canyon, Trailer Village is one of the most popular campgrounds in the entire country. Planning well in advance for a reservation is essential. If you want to venture to the quieter North Rim, the North Rim Campground offers dry camping in a stunning spot.

If you’re set up for dispersed camping, you’ll have plenty of options just outside of park boundaries. Forest Road 302 and Forest Road 688 are both popular boondocking destinations.

Campground Highlights at Grand Canyon National Park

Coast of Acadia National Park
Blackwoods Campground. | Photo: Gina Dog

7. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park‘s rugged coastal beauty draws visitors from up and down the Eastern seaboard and beyond. Remote and gorgeous, Acadia is a destination that takes a bit of work to get to but is worth each mile under the tires.

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Mount Desert Island, which is home to most of Acadia National Park, has two national campgrounds, Blackwoods and Seawall. Blackwoods is the more popular of the two as it’s closer to the park’s main attractions. Schoodic Woods Campground, off-island at nearby Winter Harbor, is known for its quiet, secluded beauty.

Acadia’s in-park campgrounds are lovely, but those with big rigs or wanting electric, water, and sewer hookups will want to look elsewhere. Check out Bar Harbor Campground and Mount Desert Campground for quick park access and spacious camping.

Campground Highlights at Acadia National Park

5th Wheel camping at Hoh Campground
Hoh Campground. | Photo: EatSeeRV

8. Olympic National Park

Pacific Northwest vibes abound at Washington’s Olympic National Park. From old-growth rain forests to soaring mountains and a wild coastline, the Olympic Peninsula may be a popular place to visit but it’s also big enough to escape the crowds.

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If the park’s Pacific coastline is what you’re after, check out Kalaloch Campground, which has easy access to the beach and boasts some gorgeous sunset views. Highly-reviewed Hoh Campground and Heart O’ the Hills are both in the main section of Olympic National Park and provide access to different areas of this sprawling natural area.

For more amenities, check out one of the RV parks that line the perimeter of the park. Skokomish Park at Lake Cushman offers waterfront recreation, while Elwha Dam RV Park provides quick access to Port Angeles, Washington.

Campground Highlights at Olympic National Park

Airstream camping next to Joshua Trees
Belle Campground. | Photo: 4airstreamers

9. Joshua Tree National Park

The Mojave and Colorado deserts collide at Joshua Tree National Park in California, where you’ll find a landscape of Seussian trees, hulking boulders, and plenty of places to explore. Joshua Tree’s popularity is due in part to its proximity to California’s Palm Springs and Los Angeles, but it feels worlds away from urban life.

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There are more than 500 campsites inside Joshua Tree National Park, most of which are reservable. To stay in this park, you’ll want to plan ahead. Belle Campground is a Campendium community favorite, as is the larger Jumbo Rocks Campground.

Joshua Tree South Dispersed Camping lies just south of the park’s borders and is great for self-contained boondockers. The stay limit is up to 14 days, the cell phone service is speedy, and it’s just a quick jaunt into the town of Indio for groceries and other supplies. A bit further afield but more flush with amenities are the RV parks of Palm Springs-Joshua Tree KOA to the southwest of the park and Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground, located north of the park.

Campground Highlights at Joshua Tree National Park

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