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Top Ten Campgrounds in the USA | Tenting Campgrounds Under the Sun

It was back in the summer of 1966 when my dad took my three older brothers and myself on an amazing camping trip. We started out from just outside of Flint, Michigan and headed north to Copper Harbor at the peak of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The first night we stopped at Taquanamon Falls State park, spent a couple nights there and then off to the next fun campground. It was a great family summer trip as we completed our loop of the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) and then headed south, travelling down the west coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. For two glorious weeks that summer we camped at five of Michigan’s state parks and visited several state and national forests along the way. Although this was not my first camping trip, it was my most memorable and I do believe that it was my "endless summer". I remember the distinct sound of the Coleman lantern illuminating our campsite, the crackle of the campfire and crawling into a sleeping bag in the big one-room green canvas tent. Camping has been in my blood ever since and I have proudly passed this family tradition onto my kids. A summer does not feel complete for our family without at least one camping trip a year.

Camping gained vast popularity in the years shortly after World War II. American families had money, a new interstate highway system and lower prices made cars affordable. With this newfound mobility came the urge to travel and explore but in those days hotels weren’t available on every corner. Campers visited national parks, other publicly owned natural areas, privately owned campgrounds or simply pulled off the road and made camp on the roadside. Car camping was on! Travelers all over the United States loaded up their station wagons with camping gear and took off for fun in the sun.

When referring to camping gear, most avid campers think of Coleman. The Coleman Company has been providing campers with top quality camping equipment since the very beginning. Equipment for camping ranges from their world-renowned "Coleman Lantern" (first sold in 1905) to Coleman Camper Trailers with all the convenience of any hotel. The Coleman Company did not start out in camping equipment. W.C. Coleman, a young typewriter salesman, was taking a stroll after a hard day’s work and spotted a new type of lamplight in a drugstore window in Brockton, Alabama. This new light burned with a strong, steady white flame and was fueled by gasoline. The standard lamp of the era burned kerosene and produced a smoky, flickering, yellowish light. It was this new steady white light that Coleman saw potential, and through his vision a new company was born. Coleman became pivotal in supplying our soldiers fighting in WWI and WWII with state of the art lanterns and stoves. The returning GIs had a familiar attachment to the Coleman name, given the tremendous success of the field stove and lantern, and these essentials became ”must haves” for the new auto camping crowd.


All different types or levels of camping require slightly different equipment. A survival camper’s equipment consists of small items (all related to food, heat and safety) and they must fit in one's pocket or could be carried on one's person. The other end of the spectrum is more my style, with Coleman outdoor living. Multi-burner gas stoves, cast iron flat top, BBQ grill and a coffee maker. One step in the other direction of camping is “glamping”, posh camping or luxury camping. It allows people to escape the hassles of finding camp space, carrying their equipment, erecting and taking down their own tents. Packages offered range from pre-erected tents to raised wood floor tent-like structures with room and turn down service - just bring your suitcases.

Camping is often enjoyed in conjunction with outdoor activities, such as: hiking, whitewater kayaking, canoeing, mountain biking, motorcycling, swimming and fishing. Along with planning meals, campgrounds and activities, make sure to also plan ahead for sun protection! Camping is a wonderful place to sun tan; however sun exposure can sometimes be overlooked as you are having a fun time under the sun. Extended time in the sun, be it boating, swimming, hiking or just relaxing in and out of the shade, along with higher elevations and reflection (off of water, sand or snow) will require higher SPFs and possibly reapplying lotion more often. After getting your Vitamin D from the sun’s rays, protect yourself with a good sun block and/or clothing. Read all labels before using! Some sunscreens may also work as bug repellant as well.

In the spirit and history of this great American outdoor pastime, Suntan.com will list our favorite top 10 "tent" campgrounds in no particular order:

1.    Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Ontonagon, Michigan -

Known as the "Porkies", the Porcupine Mountains are a step back in time, back to wilderness at its best. With 60,000 natural, pristine acres and over twenty-five trails for hiking and cross country skiing with some open to mountain biking, this is a camper’s playground! Fish for trophy trout and salmon on Lake Superior and the area’s many free-running rivers. Visit Copper mines, the awe-inspiring Lake of the Clouds and man-made marvels such as the Victoria Dam. Two boat launches are available on Lake Superior, with canoe and kayak rentals available. More than 250 campsites are available in ten separate campgrounds ranging from walk-in, rustic/primitive, two or three sites grouped together, to hundred site campsites with electric service and modern bathrooms. Several of these campsites have tent-only areas, for the tranquility (no electric generator sounds). In the more rustic sites, black bear are frequent visitors. Food and valuables must be hung on a rope between two trees, twenty-five to thirty feet above ground at least one hundred feet from camp! Other wildlife found here are deer, timber wolves, river otters and even moose. Towering pines, hemlocks, secluded lakes and beautiful wild rivers will make your camping trip to the Porkies one you will always remember.

2.    Alger Island, Old Forge, New York -

Alger Island is a boat-access campground, located on Fourth Lake, the fourth lake of the Fulton Chain of Lakes. The Fulton Chain is a series of connected lakes that begins at Old Forge Pond and ends at Eighth Lake. The first five lakes stretch unbroken for fourteen miles! Old Forge Pond and Sixth through Eighth lakes are separated from this main expanse by a series of channels. This campground, perfect for those who love water sports, offers fifteen lean-to sites which can accommodate up to two tents and six people per site (fireplaces, hibachis, picnic tables and pit toilets); and two dedicated tent sites (pit toilets, fireplaces and hibachis). Within the facility is access to canoeing, fishing, jet-skiing, picnicking, power boating, sail boating and water skiing. Anglers will enjoy fishing for lake, brook and rainbow trout, and landlocked Atlantic salmon, and nature-lovers will enjoy the hiking trail that winds around the island. For the ultimate in island remoteness and for a truly unique tent camping experience, put Alger Island, NY on your list.

3.    Lake Bomoseen Campground, Bomoseen, Vermont -

Nestled within the lush, green Taconic Mountains, lies the largest lake entirely within Vermont’s borders. Lake Bomoseen, home to Lake Bomoseen Campground, is a quiet lakeside retreat offering great camping fun for families with a large pool, barrel slides, kiddy pool and spa. Other amenities include a movie theater, miniature golf and a kid’s playground. Nearby fishing streams and lakes provide ample fishing for Rainbow, Brown, Brook, and Lake Trout, Black Bass, Northern Pike, Walleye and much more. Two boat docks are available for visitors use. No boat?  Motor boats, pontoon boats, canoes, paddle boats can be rented as well as cabins and trailers. There is also a well-stocked general store with plenty of ice, fire wood and LP gas. Plenty of camping possibilities exist with twenty-seven for tents only and seventy-foot pull-thrus with fifty amp service for the big guys. Outdoor recreation choices are plentiful with something for everyone, so running out of amusing stuff to do won’t happen here. A very fun, family-oriented campground that takes you back to the days when kids actually played outside.

4.    Catawba Falls Campground, Old Fort, North Carolina -

Located in the mountains of Western North Carolina in the town of Old Fort is Catawba Falls Campground. Almost all the campsites here are on the river. Seventeen of them are primitive tent-only sites. The campground is walking/hiking distance to the beautiful lower Catawba Falls and only minutes away from charming Asheville, NC and the breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway. Location, location, location is the key here in the mountains of western North Carolina, there are literally hundreds of waterfalls and miles and miles of hiking trails - you could spend a lifetime trying to see everything. Boasting a general store, a nail salon, rental cabins and available scooped ice cream, Catawba Falls Campground is not a resort, just a family-style campground in a serene setting that offers you a friendly and inexpensive place to camp while visiting North Carolina’s beautiful mountains.

5.    Fall Creek Falls State Park, Pikeville, Tennessee -

This camping destination is amazing. With 20,000 acres, 238 campsites in three different areas, Fall Creek Falls State Park has a lot to offer. Sixteen of the campsites are walk-in tent-only sites. There are over thirty-five miles of hiking trails with available short nature walks to longer thirteen-mile overnight hikes.  For the die-hards, the campground offers three different primitive camp areas. For the camper who likes the more relaxing venue, paved trails and roadways are there for bicycling. This state park campground has just about everything. Fishing is open on the lake and streams throughout the park. Rental paddle boats, aluminum fishing boats and canoes are available to rent. Four waterfalls are within hiking distance, there is a village with pool, general store, snack bar, playground, eighteen hole (par 72) golf course, two youth camp areas, thirty rental cabins (that sleep eight to ten) and the Fall Creek Inn with its own restaurant. Larger groups can absolutely be accommodated (tent or lodge). There are even guided tours into the parks’ many caves.

6.    Luna-White Deer Lake Campground, Eagle River, Wisconsin -

Found inside the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is Luna-White Deer Lake Campground. Say that three times fast! Thank goodness the camping here is worth the mouthful. Camping at this spot you get not only one undeveloped shore-lined lake, you get two! Luna Lake and White Deer Lake have crystal clear water and are among the prettiest in the state, and that is saying a lot. The campground is set atop a hill that has campsites overlooking each lake with boat launches on both lakes. Hike the tranquil deep woods trail circling both lakes and bring your binoculars and camera; you'll likely see lots of wildlife on a foggy morning or a sunny fall afternoon. After a day of Mother Nature at her best, settle down by your campfire, snuggle in your tent and listen to the loons’ eerie call in the night. Luna-White Deer Campground provides thirty-seven campsites but keep in mind only three are tent-only sites. Limit aside, this tent camping destination has what it takes to make the list because of the quality of the water available to play in nearby!

7.    Devils Den State Park, Fayetteville, Arkansas –

Possibly one of the best campgrounds with horses in the area, Devils Den State Park is located deep in Lee Creek Valley’s picturesque setting. Situated in northwest Arkansas's gorgeous Ozark Mountains and spaced along the valley are 143 campsites and seventeen fully equipped cabins. Eight of these are walk-in tent-only sites and forty-two sites with water and electric hookups in the Horse Camp. These include access to a bathhouse and a bathing area for the horses. The horse campsites have direct access to approximately twenty miles of riding trails in the Lee Creek Valley and on the scenic surrounding ridges. A camper’s heaven, especially if you like horses! Three trails begin and end at the horse camp and all nature trails are within the park’s boundaries. Other fun outdoor activities include hiking, backpacking and mountain biking on the miles of multi-use trails winding through the lush oak and hickory forest with caves and crevices to explore. You can overlook Lake Devil from the cafe and pool area or rent canoes, tandem kayaks, pedal boats, or water bikes. Spend time on the water! Groceries, gifts and snacks can be purchased at the park store. The state park was built in the 1930's, using native materials to craft the rustic-style wood and stone structures and stone dam that spans Lee Creek and forms the peaceful eight-acre Lake Devil. Camping at Devil’s Den gives you an authentic, one of a kind old time Ozark feeling.

8.    Yosemite Creek Campground, Yosemite Park, California -

A bit rural, Yosemite Creek Campground in the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains is a tent-only campground with seventy-five first come, first serve sites. Unbelievably beautiful mountains, breathtaking views and a babbling creek provides for amazing camping solitude and abundant outdoor activities. Campsite #51 has an eight-foot deep swimming hole and is shared by everyone in the campground. The water is snow melt and very cold! Drinking water must be brought in here or use purified river water by boiling, filtering or using iodine. Food must be stored in provided lockers in order to protect from hungry Yosemite bears. This campground is not for “beginners” as the nearest stores are about thirty minutes away (Crane Flat or Tuolumne Meadows) and nearest showers are at Yosemite Valley approximately one hour away, so a daily dip in the creek may be necessary. The campground is four miles off the main road and is a very rough, single lane, downhill (mostly) unpaved drive to the campground, but very well worth the drive.

9.    Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, Washington -

A trip to the Olympic National Forest is a trip all its own, like entering a different world. The mossy giant rainforest, beautiful lakes and streams, snow-capped mountain peaks and the hot springs at Sol Duc all leave you in complete awe. Deer Park Campground, a small tent-only campground with fourteen sites has one of the grandest panoramas from any campground in Washington. At 5,400 feet elevation it is the only campground in the park’s high country, amid meadows and sub-alpine forests atop Grand Ridge. It’s merely a short walk from the campground to the top of Blue Mountain for an incredible 360-degree scenic view of the Olympic Range, Vancouver, and the Puget Sound. Or trek a fifteen-mile round-trip hike along Grand Ridge, through meadows and forests to Obstruction Point. Two other trails also begin at Deer Park, so a long weekend here provides plenty of hiking opportunities. Deer Park also lives up its name. Deer are commonly seen grazing in the meadows around the campground, sometime passing through the campsites. A delightful place but please remember the weather at this elevation can sometimes change fast. Plan ahead for hikes! Include warm clothing and a windbreaker for higher elevations and cool evenings.

10.    Los Padres National Forest, California -

Stretching over two hundred and twenty sun-splashed miles from Ventura to the Big Sur coast in Monterey County and sprawled across five of Central California’s most scenic counties, this 1.9 million acre National Forest has something for every camper or nature lover. With elevations ranging from sea level to 8,831 feet and a total of twenty-four campgrounds located throughout the park, 631 total campsites and seventy-eight tent-only sites, this camper’s paradise is sure to please. This is some of the most photographed landscape in the lower forty-eight states and there is absolutely every outdoor opportunity here! Abundant activities are yours for the experiencing, such as hunting, fishing, mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding, just to name a few. The last (but not least) campground on our list is Chula Vista Campground, located in the Mt. Pinos Ranger District, roughly fifteen miles west of Frazier Park, California and approximately eighty miles north of Los Angeles. The highest campground in the park makes it a favorite for star gazers and wildlife photographers. Alive with 468 species of fish and wildlife, including the endangered California Condor as well as many sensitive and endangered plant species, this is a naturalist’s playground. The campground is a good five hundred feet from the parking lot, so it is pack-in, pack-out. Sites are composed of huge Ponderosa pines and it is bordered on one side by a glorious meadow of wildflowers. There are thirteen sites containing picnic tables, fire rings and vault toilets. On the weekends, very serious amateur astronomers set up their telescopes in the parking lot. Most of these folks are from the L.A. area and sometimes welcome campers to look through their (sometimes very large) telescopes. Camping is limited in the parking lot to self-contained vehicles. No campfires in parking lot. This place is a must see. You could spend an entire summer camping in Los Padres National Park, from the Big Sur coast to the Southern California Mountains and still not see and do it all!

-SoCal Suntan

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