Our 5 Favorite Spots to Camp in National Parks

If you know us or follow us at all you know we LOVE our National Parks. We love hiking and camping just as much. In the coming weeks you will start to see National Park themed blog posts because, well, we write about what we love. This week is all about our favorite National Park campsites. This was tough, but we narrowed it down to the top 5.

1. Wonderlake Campground Denali National Park

Time of Year Visited – End-July

Distance from Car to Campsite – 85 Miles by Bus

Denali is a unique place and the views alone will keep you enamored so it’s not surprising it tops our list. Denali is a huge National Park and it doesn’t lack for camping. You can get a backcountry pass and wander until you find the perfect spot, but remember there are no trails in these backcountry areas of Denali and you can get lost very easily. We opted for the only campground in Denali National Park that has a view (when it is clear) of Denali Mountain. There is only 1 road in Denali National Park and you can drive your car in about 14 miles, but after that you must take an official Denali NP bus. Since Wonderlake Campground is at Mile 85, look to grab a seat on one of the busses. They have plenty of room for gear so don’t worry about how much you pack since the bus drops a few hundred yards from the campsites. The ride is approximately 5-6 hours long depending on how many times you might stop for viewing wildlife, which is often. We were told by the bus driver that we were lucky to be camping there on that day because the mountain was out in full view which only happens 20% of the time. We recommend staying for a few days to increase your chance of viewing Denali. It makes the bus ride there that much more enjoyable. The campsites at Wonderlake Campground are in the open and are fairly close to one another, but it was very quiet the entire time we were there. There is also running water and flush toilets at the campground with large bear lockers to keep your food safe and out of harm’s way.

Denali National Park Campground Reservations: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/campground-reservations.htm

2. Pear Creek Rocky Mountain National Park

Time of Year Visited – Mid-July

Distance from Car to Campsite – 7 Mile Hike

This backcountry was chosen WAY in advance unlike some of our other camping options.Rocky Mountain National Park is behind the times when it comes to reserving campsites, especially backcountry sites.And in RMNP backcountry sites are the best way to experience the park.As of last year, 2016, you had to call the office at RMNP to reserve all backcountry sites.They were talking about changing that which would make things much easier, but if they haven’t upgraded yet, make sure you have a list of options for sites that you would like to camp at when you visit.When I called my first 4 options were all booked up and I had to call them back.It wasn’t the easiest thing to get through to talk to someone who could book the sites for me so just have patience.We ended up booking a site at a group site at Pear Creek.Pear Lake does have a single site overlooking Pear Lake so if that is an option make sure to grab that one because that location can’t be beat.The Pear Creek Site is a short 500 yards away from the lake and technically has 6 tent sites that are pretty spread out.The site also has a vault toilet which was unexpected and not listed anywhere as an amenity, but we weren’t going to complain. The views of Pear Lake were incredible especially during sunrise and sunset and there is plenty around the lake to explore.The hike to Pear Creek was a decently strenuous hike, but wasn’t terrible.Make sure to start early and give yourself plenty of time to take in some of the amazing views. You will also want to watch for storms.We talked with a few other hikers and they said normally between 3pm-5pm every day during the summer storms roll through.We encountered a hail storm that included thunder and lightning and had to stop a few miles before our destination to hunker down and avoid the lightning. The storm set us back an hour or so which slowed us down more than we would have liked.The rangers told us that even though it was bear country, bears are rarely seen near Pear Lake.Even after that conversation I felt we needed to take our bear canister along just in case.The added weight took a toll on our way out, but I am always cautious in bear country.The views at Pear Lake are well worth the effort. We would recommend giving yourself a couple of days up there so you can follow the rustic trail to Hutcheson Lake which has even more great views.We didn’t make it up there, but we chatted with a couple other happy hikers and they said it was gorgeous.

Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness Camping: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/wilderness-camping.htm

3. Widforss Point Grand Canyon National Park

Time of Year Visited – Mid-July

Distance from Car to Campsite – 6 Mile Hike

The first time we visited the Grand Canyon we decided to take a fellow travelers advice and visit the north rim instead of the, much more popular, South Rim. The way we had our road trip planned it also made more sense and would save us a couple of hours in drive time. We were winging it on where to stay at this stop on our road trip. We went in without a plan and were hoping something would be open, especially at the North Rim. We had a few spots in mind and they were all backcountry sites. We stopped in at the Ranger Station and checked to see what was available. Our first two choices were all booked for the next few weeks and we started to worry if there was going to be anything left. Luckily our third option was available, Widforss Point. One of the amazing parts about this campsite is that the hike to the at large camping area is breathtaking. The trail dips into the woods and you wonder, at points, if you are even at the Grand Canyon anymore until the final approach where you emerge from the forest to the camp area and views that are perfect for sunsets. This is a backcountry site with no access to water, so I would make sure you pack light weight food options, tent (hammocks are great for this area with so many trees) and pack extra water. It also is on the rim of the Grand Canyon and got very windy throughout the night which we were told was common for the area. There are no toilets or access to water so prepare prior to heading out.

Grand Canyon Backcountry Permits: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry-permit.htm

4. Two Medicine Campground – Glacier National Park

Time of Year Visited – End of June

Distance from Car to Campsite – 0 Mile Hike

Two Medicine Campground is just that: a campground. You will run into some large Camper Trailers, but they do have tent sites set aside. The sites are nice and it is a very wooded area. You don’t really see your neighbors in most of the sites. The reason we loved this camp site so much is because it’s a little more of a laid back/relaxing site. We camped here on the first night we got to Glacier National Park and it was very quiet. The views were amazing and you are surrounded by mountains. It is also a great spot to set as base camp because there are numerous hikes that start around Two Medicine and in my opinion will take you to some of the best views in GNP. There is also a nice Cabin General Store that you can easily restock after each day. You can sit on their porch in wooden rocking chairs looking out over Two Medicine Lake while enjoying an ice cream. If you don’t want to get too wild and venture into the backcountry this is a perfect spot to call home for a few days. I woke up every morning and enjoyed my coffee on the banks of Two Medicine Lake. It is also comforting to have your car nearby just in case temperatures drop below freezing (which it did our first night there). Two Medicine Campground doesn't accept reservations, so get there early to get the best site.

Glacier National Park Camping: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/camping.htm

5. West Rim Backcountry Site #2 – Zion National Park

Time of Year Visited – Mid-July

Distance from Car to Campsite – 5.5 Miles

This site coming in at #5 is a little deceiving because we never actually made it to our camp site in Zion. We ended up spending so much time trying to find parking then waiting for a bus and hiking the Narrows that by the time our bus was coming back by the stop we needed to be at we hadn’t grabbed our gear from our car which would have taken about hour at least. We did however walk ¾ of the way to our site because we wanted to hike Angels Landing, which is on the trail to the campsite. We didn’t plan it out well since we had never been to Zion National Park before and didn’t realize how crowded it would be. All the other National Parks we visited on this road trip were not even close to crowded so when we got to Zion we were very surprised. Even though we arrived at the park early (8:30am) it took us 3 hours, once we entered the park, to board a bus. You have to take a bus to get back to the more popular hikes during busy season at Zion. What we ended up seeing on the hike towards our campsite were amazing views and perfect weather. A hiker who had just come down said the West Rim is some of the better camping in Zion and the quietness is wonderful. Be sure to pack plenty of water because there is no water source available or near these backcountry sites. You will also want to make sure to reserve these sites online prior to arriving. Zion’s online reservation system is quick and easy. We ended up finding a campground just outside the east entrance to Zion to stay for the night and it was loud, noisy and not comfortable so we questioned our decision, but there is no way we would have made it back. Time was not on our side and sometimes you have to realize what you can and can’t do and make a decision. We ended up seeing Angels Landing and enjoying the hike up towards our campsite, so we can only imagine how great it WOULD have been.

Zion Backcountry Reservation System - https://zionpermits.nps.gov/

We always love hearing from other people about their favorite camping spots, wherever they may be. Let us know what your favorites are! Email us at hiking@happypeoplehike.com

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