Guide to Camping at the 9 Most Popular National Parks
America’s 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 explore our 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 America’s most beautiful destinations.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The most visited national park in the United States 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 over 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.
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.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone was America’s first 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.
Yellowstone National Park has 12 campgrounds and over 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 handy 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 Livington, Montana, and Jolley Camper RV & Cottages in Ashton, Idaho. There is also plentiful dispersed camping around West Yellowstone and in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Zion National Park
In a state that boasts five gorgeous 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 climbers dream—and is a gorgeous destination for anyone to explore.
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.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Wildlife, snowy mountains, and that Rocky Mountain high await at Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado. Located just an hour and a half from Denver and the Front Range, it’s easy to see why this gorgeous park makes the list of most popular national parks.
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-served campgrounds, Longs Peak and Timber Creek.
Grand Teton National Park
There are few landscapes as iconic and easily recognizable in the United States as the outline of the Grand Tetons. Located just a short distance from the resort town of Jackson Hole, 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 six 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 favorite.
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 day-trippers and campers each year.
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.
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.
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, known for its quiet, secluded beauty.
Acadia’s in-park campgrounds are lovely, but those with big rigs and those seeking electric, water, and sewer will want to look elsewhere. Check out Bar Harbor Campground and Mt Desert Campground for quick park access and spacious camping.
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 is also big enough to escape the crowds.
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 national park. Skokomish Park at Lake Cushman offers waterfront recreation, while Elwha Dam RV Park provides quick access to Port Angeles.
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 Palm Springs and Los Angeles, but it feels worlds away from urban life.
There are over 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 bigger 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 service is speedy, and it’s just a quick jaunt into 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 north of the park.
Learn more in our Guide to National Park Camping in the United States.