There are more lodging and camping options for explorers bound for national parks than ever before. Anyone exploring national parks, state parks, or just overlanding has way more options than ever before. There are 5 great lodging options you can use to explore national parks:
- Rooftop Tents
- Airbnb / VRBO
- Hotels / Motels
Camping – Traditional Sites
Traditional camping sites at private campgrounds, state parks, national parks, and in US Forest Service sites are great options – and one of the options that probably springs to mind for most explorers. Camping at a traditional site in a park is great as it allows you to stay in the park and be steps away from your in-park activities.
These sites encompass many different vibes and amenity levels. Some of these campsites can be crowded and active, while others are quite secluded and quiet.
While the specific campground is everything – no two are ever identical – here are some pros and cons of the different types:
- National parks: Our National Parks System is often said to be one of the crown jewels of America – staying in our amazing parks is an incredible experience. Typically there are different campgrounds within most parks. Some of these have different rules. For instance, some allow RVs and trailers while others are only able to accommodate tents or camper vans. Often campgrounds in the National Parks System are fully booked well ahead of time though so make sure to make your reservations early. You can book reservations for national parks and USFS campgrounds through recreation.gov.
- US Forest Service: Underrated are the USFS campsites, which are often in remote, pristine areas and have significantly fewer visitors than national parks or state parks. While some are car camping sites, others are only accessible via hiking in – make sure to bring lightweight camping gear and a lightweight tent (some great examples here). Often sites that are managed by the USFS have primitive facilities (vault toilets) but make up for the facilities with tranquility and lack of crowds
- State parks: Most states have their own campground systems – sometimes they are even adjacent to National Parks, such as Redwood National & State Parks. Often these have more amenities that USFS campgrounds. Restrictions will vary by state and by park – some campgrounds will be tent camping only while others will accept trailers and RVs. As with national parks, we recommend making reservations well ahead of time as these can be crowded. Reservations are different for each state but Reserve America incorporates many of the state operated campgrounds.
- Private campgrounds: There are tons of privately operated campgrounds across the US, many near national parks. KOA is probably the most well known chain of private campgrounds, but there are hundreds of local independently owned campgrounds across the US in great locations.They all vary by price, amenities and how well maintained they are. These can usually accommodate everyone from tent campers to RVs.
Roof Top Tenting
Roof top tents have been popular on other continents for a long time, but more recently caught-on in North America. Like the name suggests, the roof top tents (like these) go on top of your vehicle. They are mounted securely and fold-out to create a nice, flat, secure surface for camping.
Obviously, you will need to find campsites that allow for vehicular access, but a nice thing about roof top tents is that you can also use them in other places in a pinch. Forest Service and BLM land typically allow for dispersed camping, making it super easy to pull off the road and find a great spot to camp.
Hipcamp and Similar Apps
Recently, some innovative companies have developed apps to help people find places to camp. Hipcamp, Tentrr, and The Dyrt are a few great apps which can help you find campsites. You can discover everything from camping on private land near a national park, Forest Service campgrounds in the backcountry, and popular state and national park campgrounds.
These apps allow you to access private land for your campsite, whether you are using a tent, RV, roof top tent, or sleeping in your vehicle (or if you are lucky enough, your camper van). Private landowners opt-in to allow a slice of their land to be booked, and travelers book the site they want for the time they want.
These can be a great option if you want a specific experience, or if other camp areas are sold out.
AirBnB & VRBO
In outdoorsy areas and those close to national parks, AirBnB and VRBO usually have a stock of well-maintained and extensively-reviewed homes, condos, cabins, and even glamping for rent. It is going to cost more than a campground, but many are happy to make the tradeoff in order to have access to kitchens, bathrooms, comfortable beds, and climate control.
Tip: Many ski towns have tons of rental condos and apartments for ski season, and often offer deeply discounted rates during the summer months.
Hotels and Motels
Hotels and motels are always an option for many people bound for national parks. While there are typically hotels and motels in towns near national parks, many national parks have hotels located within the park grounds. Yosemite, for example, offers 9 different options for staying within the park. You’ll have to research each park to find what lodging options are available as they are all independently managed. If you are unable to secure a spot inside a national park, the hotels and motels outside are still a great option – they offer (hopefully) clean shows and A/C after a long day of exploring national parks.