You’re planning an epic trip to visit a national park, only to get online and find out that the campgrounds at the park are fully booked. What now? Do you cancel your plans or explore more camping options outside of the park’s gates?
While it may be disappointing to have your dream trip suddenly disrupted by a lack of campsite availability, you shouldn’t cancel your plans. Most popular national parks are located near gateway towns where you’ll find private campgrounds that may not book as quickly as campgrounds located inside of the park.
Pros and Cons of Staying Outside a National Park
You may have to drive in and out of the park each day, but chances are, the drive is beautiful. Plus, national park gateway towns usually offer conveniences not found within the parks, like restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and family attractions. Gateway towns may also offer better cell phone signal than you’ll find in the middle of a national park.
The private camping sites outside of the park gates may offer hookups and amenities not found at the more rustic national park campgrounds. WiFi, pools, and planned activities can be more common at campgrounds outside of the park, and sometimes the sites are larger as well. If you have a larger rig—in many cases, one that’s longer than 30 feet—you might not fit at most standard national park campgrounds.
On the downside, you can expect to pay more because of the amenities offered at private parks, on top of the fact that they don’t receive public funding. Also, in locations with long winters, these parks have a shorter season to turn a profit.
The bottom line is that you can fully enjoy a national park whether you’re camping inside or outside of its gates. Some private parks offer a potentially better experience, while others will just be a convenient place to sleep.
Here’s a list of private park campgrounds that receive high reviews on Campendium and are conveniently located near popular national parks in the U.S.
Where to Camp Near Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the U.S. More than 14 million annual visitors come to admire the rolling green hills and abundant wildlife. Despite its popularity, this park doesn’t have many developed campsite options, especially for RVs. Luckily for visitors, gateway towns offer tons of private camping options.
- Greenbrier Campground in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Situated along a river, this park offers the beauty of a public campground combined with the amenities of a private one, including full hookups and big rig friendly sites. Gatlinburg is a tourist town, packed with family attractions.
- Little Arrow Outdoor Resort in Townsend, Tennessee: Located on what’s considered the quiet side of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this park is also situated along a river and earns rave reviews for its beauty and cleanliness. Don’t miss the chance to go tubing on the Little River.
Where to Camp Near Zion National Park
Nearly 5 million people visit Zion’s epic red rock landscape every year. With less than 300 campsites in the park, it can be hard to snag a spot. Luckily, Zion’s beauty extends beyond the park’s gates.
- Less than 1 mile from the entrance gate, you’ll find Zion Canyon Campground & RV Resort. Though the sites are tight, the views and proximity can’t be beat. Reviewers note that you can walk to many restaurants in nearby Springdale, Utah.
- You’ll find Zion River Resort about a 20-minute drive from the entrance gates in Virgin, Utah. This campground has a great layout, access to a river, and stunning panoramic views. After a long day of hiking in Zion, it’s nice to relax in the park’s pool and hot tub.
Where to Camp Near Yellowstone National Park
The oldest national park in the U.S. remains a perennial favorite, with 5 million annual visitors. Campground reservations inside Yellowstone book quickly, so don’t be disheartened if you can’t find a site inside the park gates. There are several gateway towns bordering this massive park, with great campground options in each.
- Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park & Cabins in West Yellowstone, Montana: West Yellowstone is a charming home base, and this large campground is notable for its meticulous sites. Some spots back up to the Gallatin National Forest.
- Rocky Mountain RV Park & Lodging in Gardiner, Montana: You’ll find views of Yellowstone and may even spot elk in this campground, located just outside of the park’s north entrance.
Where to Camp Near Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park attracts more than 4 million visitors every year to this natural playground. Estes Park and Grand Lake, Colorado, are popular gateway towns, each offering a different vibe. Here are top choices near each side of the national park.
- River Run RV Resort in Granby, Colorado: Though it’s located 20 minutes from the park entrance, reviewers give this resort a five-star rating, thanks to the many amenities (a pool, hot tub, game room, and more) and well-developed sites.
- Jellystone Park of Estes Park in Estes Park, Colorado: If you want a campground that will please the kids, this Jellystone is a top choice in Estes Park.
Where to Camp Near Acadia National Park
While the campgrounds inside Maine’s Acadia get rave reviews, if you don’t get a spot, you’ll find plenty of options outside of the national park, which attracts 4 million annual visitors.
- Bar Harbor-Oceanside KOA in Bar Harbor, Maine: With waterfront sites, an onsite lobster shack, and a private beach, this KOA is popular for both adults and kids.
- Bar Harbor Campground in Bar Harbor, Maine: This first-come, first-served park can accommodate both RVs and tents, offers hookups, and has ocean views.