Best State Parks with Camping

May 13, 2016 |

Best State Parks with Camping

By Nathan Paul Swartz

Camping in State Parks of the United States

What other experience in this short time we have to roam the Planet Earth can provide such a magnificent trifecta as the serenity of nature, the freedom of travel, and the conveniences of home quite like RV camping?

While it’s entirely possible to freeze your toes off in a tent, or even rent out a cabin at many of the nation’s state parks, bringing your RV means you’re entitled to your personal, familiar space, leaving more time for birding away your early mornings or hiking that trail this afternoon. And whether you’re interested in a cup of coffee or an evening cocktail, everything you’ve come to know and love is right at your fingertips.

State Park RVing in the US is as wide and varied as our grand nation itself, of course, and not each corner of the country will provide the same experience; not even neighboring states. Never fear, stalwart rubber tramps, we’re here to help.

Never fear, stalwart rubber tramps, we’re here to help.

Whether you’re looking for mountain solitude or a beach paradise, a warm desert to winter those old February blues away or just a nice family weekend out, North America’s got what you need and Campendium is here to help you find it.

America’s Best State Parks

Was it Thomas Jefferson who first stated that all state parks are created equal? Considering that the first state park in the US didn’t show up until the founding of Niagara Falls State Park in 1885, it’s doubtful, but were one of our greatest founding fathers to see that vast assortment of options available to his good citizens today, it’s a fair bet he’d have a hard time staying impartial.

While individual preferences will certainly sway one camper down a different trail than the next, we tend to find a few truths about the various states’ offerings to be more or less, well, self-evident. Take a look at the top pics from across the country, as determined by Campendium’s users, and see for yourself.

Best States for RV Camping in State Parks

Just as one state park may tickle your funny bone while another leaves you with ants all through your Gortex pants, some states have gone out of their way to create an amazing and accessible system of parks while others may still be working out some kinks. So if you’re finding it hard to sleep at night, dreaming about that perfect RV camping trip and which state is going to provide it…look no further.


Best State Parks for RV Camping in Utah

Snowy mountains, endless painted canvas desert vistas and even an island park have kept Utahians and travelers alike flocking to the state every year. And while Utah is considerably more well known for it’s Mighty Five, the stretch of National Parks that line the southeast corner of the state, places like Kodachrome Basin State Park and Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park easily rival their beauty, if not their sheer size.

With pricing as low as $12 a night, and settings ranging from primitive desert scrublands to full hookups near quaint towns and big cities alike, luxury glampers and backcountry hikers shouldn’t have any trouble nestling into the perfect little site.

Not sure where to get started? Book a night at Goosenecks State Park in the southeastern corner of the state and make your way in just about any direction from there.

Best State Parks for RV Camping in Texas

With 75 state parks that offer some amount of camping, Texas continues to live up to its reputation of being larger than life. And just as first time visitors are surprised at how their expectations of the Lone Star State are easily shattered as they visit the hipster-lined streets of Austin or the artsy communities of West Texas, so may they find that it’s not all rocky deserts and flat oil fields once you get into more natural areas the state is ready and willing to offer.

Of course, it’s easy to find big mountains lined with prickly pear cacti and roaming bighorn sheep when exploring parks like Davis Mountain or Big Bend Ranch State Park, that’s but one corner of a very, very large and diverse state.

Big trees more of your thing? Hike through a lost pine forest only 45 minutes outside of Austin in Bastrop State Park. Want to float a river in that shiny new kayak? Guadalupe River and Pedernales Falls certainly won’t disappoint. Long days at the beach or canoeing through a swamp are options, it’s even possible to grab a cab for a little barbecue dinner before catching a Willie Nelson show from one of the state’s most popular parks, McKinney Falls.

The best part? Sites start at $8 and though it costs $70 a year for a pass that waives the entry fee at most parks, you also get four nights of discounted camping and 10% off anything in a state park campground store. Most families and couples can make the cost of the annual pass back in a week, and it’s still a better deal than paying full price at an RV park for 1/3rd of the space and none of the natural beauty that Texas’ parks afford.

Best State Parks for RV Camping in Florida

Depending on who you ask, Florida is either paradise or a nightmare. Strips malls, traffic and a relative humidity that reads like an NBA scoreboard, just driving an RV in the Sunshine State can be problematic.

Then again, there is absolutely nowhere with quite the same beauty as the tropical reaches of the state. Swamps teeming with exotic birds (and mosquitos!), mangroves drooping shade over alligator snouts and hammock strewn palm trees are all waiting for you and your rig to pull up and soak up the sunshine, no matter what season it is.

And there is no better place to camp in Florida than the state parks. Relatively inexpensive and abundant across the state, expect large campsites and plenty of activities in and out of the water. On the other hand, be prepared to fight for a spot…particularly in the Winter it can be next to impossible to secure a campsite in Florida without a reservation, and sometimes those reservations need to be made up to 11 months in advance. So a few months before pointing your grill south, hop onto Campendium and start planning your adventures in paradise…so that it can be just that.

While your mind will likely drift immediately toward the Keys, and if you do, Bahia Honda State Park near Big Pine Key is the best place to start, the further south you head, the harder it will be to find that perfect slice of solitude. So why not dust off the old adventurer’s cap and take the road less traveled? The “spring parks”, several natural springs gone state parks on the northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico, are less crowded gems. Swim with the massive sea cows (but don’t touch!) at Manatee Springs or kayak through a pristine river full of schools of fish at Rainbow Springs State Park. If you’re desperate to see an alligator, O’Leno in the state’s north will be your first easy sighting as you cross the Georgia border into the state. But if you absolutely must go south (you know, because it’s freezing everywhere else!), Collier-Seminole State Park is typically less busy and a good spot to hunker down while you wait for an available spot in the Keys to magically surface.

Cheap State Park Camping by U.S. Region

What makes camping in a state park affordable? Dirt cheap prices for a dirt lot? Or do you set all of the amenities offered–from scenery to shower–on your picnic table and let the true value weigh in?

We’ve spent years scouring the United States looking for the best deals on camping in every state park system out there, and know full and well it’s not like comparing pinecones to pinecones. After plenty of canoe trips gone bad, mosquito infestations and wet wood campfires, it’s become a little easier for us to find the most desirable camping setup. And though not everyone has the same idea as to what an ideal site or park is, for campers, families and couples who just want to get into the woods, set up camp, and not break the bank doing it, here are the best states to start in, no matter where you live.


Cheap State Park Camping in the Pacific Northwest: Oregon

Volcanic lava is gurgling beneath wedge-shaped snow-capped mountains cutting slices of pie into the clear blue summer skies above the Beaver State. A rainforest is lush with countless species of birds fluttering away above a plethora of mushroom-hunting. Wakeboarding, surfing, hiking, climbing, slacklining or disk golf…if it’s a sport, someone, somewhere in an Oregon state park is taking it to another level.

The state offers fifty five places to pitch your tent (or RV!) in its natural areas, and often at a fraction of the cost of neighboring Washington and California. Most state parks don’t skimp on amenities like flush toilets and showers, and all have some type of outdoor recreation immediately available from your site.

History buff? In Fort Stevens State Park you can discover the only military installation in the continental US to actually come under attack during WWII, a shipwreck, and of course the area’s rich Louis and Clark history.

Just south in Nehalem Bay State Park, you can leave footprints in the sand alongside a herd of elk or explore numerous old-growth forests prevalent in the area. Head west to float the Deschutes River via Tumalo State Park, near the adventurous town of Bend, or north to Viento State Park to find yourself between the mighty waters of the Columbia River and Oregon’s highest point, Mount Hood.


Most Affordable State Park Camping in the Rocky Mountains: Wyoming

The wild west is still firing off pistols and bucking its broncos in Wyoming. The state is the least populated, but one of the largest in terms of area, so your chances of finding a little solace are about as good as your chances of paying $14 for a hamburger in Jackson Hole. Luckily, though the state isn’t exactly brimming with state parks, camping in wonderful Wyoming is considerably more affordable than a ski trip to the Tetons.

While Yellowstone may be the state’s biggest draw as far as tourism goes, and if a volcanic city of a national park doesn’t exactly get your blood boiling, you might want to mosey your way on south to Sinks Canyon State Park, where park rangers will happily transform your $11 into a night under the twinkling stars. Think Aspen-shaded sites along a cool river (that eventually disappears into the hillside), all the while mountains loom in the background like your own private little John Wayne movie set. And when beans and hot dogs on the fire get a little old, charming and surprisingly hip-for-a-cowboy-town Lander is only fifteen minutes up the road.

For a rather different experience, brush up on your history a bit by calling Connor Battlefield Historic Site home. Take some time to learn about the Battle of the Tongue River, and if you get a little restless in the small park, kick up a little dust in the adjacent town of Ranchester, one of Wyoming’s famously small small towns.


Most Affordable State Park Camping in the Southwest: New Mexico

The thing about New Mexico’s State Park system is that if you make it home for awhile, it more or less starts to pay for itself. Up front, the Land of Enchantment hits you with a $225 fee for its out-of-state (non-resident) annual camping pass. Ouch! Nothing bites like tossing an extra twenty-five on top of two crisp Ben Franklins.

Stick around for two months and you’re looking at less than $8 a night

Then the discounts start piling up like frightened children in the path of the Gila monster. Exactly how deep is the discount? 100% in some cases, specifically those snakeskin type cases that come with absolutely no hookups. When there are hookups, expect to pay as little as $4 (sometimes $8) per night for the luxury of charging up that laptop and having running water or even sewage hookups right at your site.

Depending on how you want to look at it, you are more or less paying the state $225 a year for cheap camping or free dry camping. You could theoretically just head out into the desert and find places that are completely free, but then you wouldn’t have access to the showers, dumpsters, trails and, of course, souvenir shops!

Even if you only hung around New Mexico for one month, and paid $4 every single night, your total fees would only be around $11.50 per night. Stick around for two months and you’re looking at less than $8 a night, and that’s all assuming you never use any of the free locations.

Not bad considering neighboring states like Colorado, Arizona and Texas charge closer to $20 a night for partial hookup sites. Not bad at all, New Mexico.

Most Affordable State Park Camping in the Great Plains: South Dakota

You’ve crossed the border from Minnesota on your journey to find the Great American West. Leaving behind the shackles of the populated east, you can almost taste the freedom of an uncrowded Great Plains beckoning you ever further on your quest.

You will leave behind the commercial nature of the “East of the Mississippi” strip malls, the billboards of Interstate travel, the ten minute commercials of readily available radio waves, all in favor of some solitude and camping with the sounds of coyotes howling in the background even as stars leave tracers as they shoot through the sky.

Then you see them, the signs. Wall Drug is calling, and whether you’re an adventurer barreling down US 14 or a tourist hauling on down I-90, you can’t miss them.

It’s a bit of a buzz kill, but as you’ll soon discover, traveling can be every bit as much about the destination as it is the journey…you just have to know where to end up as the sun hangs low on that western horizon.

Luckily, South Dakota comes packed with over sixty state parks calling your name for as little as $11 a night.

Gems like Sylvan Lake State Park in the Black Hills National Forest area rival national parks as far as the beauty and surrounding available activities. Go bison chasing in nearby Game Lodge Campground or disappear into nature even amongst the suburbs of Sioux Falls, only 20 minutes from downtown, via Big Sioux State Recreation Area.

While South Dakota doesn’t always come immediately to mind when the phrase, “Go West, young man” begins beckoning travelers to point their headlights toward the Rockies, those who manage to avoid the Wall Drug signs and linger around the Mount Rushmore State’s more pristine natural areas rarely emerge disappointed.


Most Affordable State Park Camping in the Northeast: West Virginia

Few places in the United States have garnered as poor a reputation as has this tiny sliver of the Appalachian Mountains, and it couldn’t be less deserved. West Virginia is, in so many ways, a shining jewel in an otherwise completely overdeveloped corner of our nation.

West Virginians have a deep appreciation for all things camping

The mountains are still rugged, the towns are still small, and the back roads still dirt and winding through forests and valleys alike. Spend some time exploring the state parks here and you’ll learn to love the twang of Americana, discover fall foliage to make New England green with envy, and maybe even meet a like-minded soul or two…West Virginians have a deep appreciation for all things camping and freedom in general.

To get started, Blackwater Falls State Park near the surprisingly hip small town of Thomas, West Virginia is a great place to hike to a beautiful waterfall in the morning and then relax at your shaded campsite come the afternoon as birds sing overhead in the black cherry trees and deer rustle through the bigtooth aspens. Or hop across the state to Beech Fork State Park to soak up that old fashioned summer camping experience with activities like canoeing, fishing, sitting around a campfire or even cooling off with an ice cream cone from the park’s general store.

Best of all, while the state is becoming more and more known for its “resort” style state parks like Stonewall Jackson and Canaan Valley, where glampers can sip lattes and play golf, ski or spend a day at the spa, the more primitive campgrounds offer camping for as low as $12 a night!

Most Affordable State Park Camping in the Southeast: Tennessee

Sharing the Smoky Mountains with neighboring North Carolina, Tennessee is a state born of country music legends and has even birthed its own particular brand of whiskey, but there’s so much more to explore in the Volunteer State than the honky-tonks of Nashville or the history behind Jack Daniel’s.

Rushing rivers lull campers to sleep in the shadow of the Appalachians in the state’s eastern edge, via Roan Mountain State Park, where you can escape the Disneyland experience of the Great Smokies in favor of equally gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Closer to Nashville, Standing Stone State Rustic Park celebrates man’s ability to reclaim the very nature it had a hand in destroying, and features the craftsmanship of the Civilian Conservation Corp throughout. While prices vary from park to park, sites at places like Edgar Evins State Park start as low as $8 a night!

While this nation has nearly as varied an array of options for camping as it does states, few experiences combine the beauty and peacefulness of nature with amenities like electrical hookups and showers that state parks can provide. Whether you’re after somewhere nearby for a weekend in the woods or planning a trip across the country, Campendium is here to help you find the best state parks that suit your particular tastes.

Ready for even more astounding views, rugged terrain and natural grandeur? Step it up a notch and explore camping in the National Parks, they are the United States’ best idea, after all.