Tag Archives: camping

Castle Mountains National Monument

Overview

Designated in February 2016, this small monument borders Nevada and is surrounded by the much larger Mojave National Preserve on its other three sides.  Its highest point is Hart Peak (5,543 feet), named for James Hart who discovered gold here in 1907 and founded a boomtown that reached 1,500 residents. 

Highlights

Hart Peak (5,543 feet), Hart Mine ghost town, view of Castle Peaks

Must-Do Activity

This new National Monument is undeveloped with no trails, no visitor center, and little signage.  Drive or walk its network of dirt roads to get a feel for the Mojave Desert.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

Joshua trees are always photogenic, especially when the jagged Castle Peaks are in the background (though they are outside the monument’s northern boundary within Mojave National Preserve).

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

There are visitor centers in the adjacent Mojave National Preserve that have hours posted here:

https://www.nps.gov/moja/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Walking Box Ranch Road is a groomed dirt road passable to any vehicle from Highway 164 west of Searchlight, Nevada.  Access roads from Mojave National Preserve require high-clearance.

Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed within the monument.  Hole-in-the-Wall Campground within Mojave National Preserve is accessible by paved road from Interstate 40.

Explore More – Piute Spring is charged by the aquifer within Castle Mountains National Monument; when researchers tested it, how long ago did its water fall as precipitation?

Top 10 Primitive Campgrounds

We previously ranked our 10 favorite campgrounds with running water, so these are the best of the “dry” campsites with vault toilets, four of which are free when you pay the park entrance fee.

10. Haleakala National Park

You might think Maui is going to be hot, but the free campground in the Hosmer Grove sits at 7,000 feet in elevation.

9. Channel Islands National Park

You will never forget a night spent on East Anacapa Island and not solely because the foghorn sounds 4 times per minute.

8. Joshua Tree National Park

This park in the Mojave Desert has several campgrounds with running water and reservations, but rock climbers love Hidden Valley for its first-come, first-served sites surrounded by boulders.

7. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Kulanaokuaiki Campground only has 8 free walk-in campsites, but at night you can see the glow of molten lava from Kīlauea Caldera.

6. Denali National Park and Preserve

Reservations (minimum 3 nights) at Teklanika River allow you to drive your own vehicle (or RV) to Mile 29 on the park road and pick up the shuttle bus there.

5. Canyonlands National Park

Willow Flat is in the Island in the Sky District west of Moab, Utah way up at 6,000 feet in elevation; a great place to stay if you want to photograph sunrise at Mesa Arch.

4. Yellowstone National Park

Slough Creek is a small campground in the northeast corner of the park and its first-come, first-served sites are hard to come by.

3. Badlands National Park

Often jam-packed in the summer, the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground is frequented by bison and coyotes (Note: beware the sticky clay after a rainstorm).

2. Grand Canyon National Park

If you drive the 61 miles of dirt road to beautiful Hovenweap Overlook on the north rim of the canyon, you deserve to spend the night for free.

…and finally our #1 primitive campground in a National Park!

1. Dry Tortugas National Park

Bring your own water and your snorkeling gear aboard the ferry to Fort Jefferson, 70 miles west of Key West, Florida.

Honorable Mentions

Devils Postpile National Monument

Technically this riverside campground is in the adjacent Inyo National Forest, but staying here is one of the few ways you are allowed to drive your own vehicle into the monument.

City of Rocks National Reserve

Designated sites are spread throughout this reserve in southern Idaho and are popular with rock climbers; try to get one near photogenic Window Arch.



Mount Rainier National Park

Overview

Only 3 hours from Seattle, 14,410-foot tall Mount Rainier dominates the skyline in all directions.  It spends many days cloaked in clouds, so your best view might be out a tiny airplane window before landing at Sea-Tac Airport.  It is an active volcano, uncomfortably close to a population of millions, but it provides recreational opportunities year round.  The park truly contains the wonderland for which its 93-mile circumnavigating trail is named.

Highlights

Paradise, Sunrise, Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, Wonderland Trail

Must-Do Activity

Despite receiving an average of 680 inches of snow annually, the road to Paradise is open all year.  Even in July, you should pack your snowshoes to follow the 5.5 mile Skyline Loop or the 1.2 mile long Nisqually Vista Trail.  This is the jumping off point for most mountaineers attempting to summit the volcano.

Best Trail

A really fun (or scary) swinging footbridge grants access to the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail (1.2 miles roundtrip), where giant Douglas-fir trees tower to more than 300 feet in height.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Reflection Lake is right off the main park road east of the Paradise turnoff.  When there is no wind, it offers a stunning mirror view of Mount Rainier.

Peak Season

Summer, but expect heavy snowpack through July and at least 9 months a year.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads to Paradise and Sunrise are paved, though the latter is closed October to July, as is the dirt road that accesses Mowich Lake.  The Carbon River Road in the northwest corner was washed out in 2006, but is still walkable for 5 miles one-way to access Ipsut Creek Campground.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds that accept reservations, but White River Campground near Sunrise has 112 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. 


This design we created to celebrate Mount Rainier National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How many different glaciers cling to the sides of the Mount Rainier volcano?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Devils Postpile National Monument

Overview

Originally managed as part of Yosemite National Park, this monument was established in 1911 to protect it from demolition by dam builders.  It is only 798 acres, so it can easily feel crowded; therefore we recommend getting an early or late start when the shuttles from Mammoth Lakes, California are not running.

Highlights

Devils Postpile, Rainbow Falls, Minaret Falls

Must-Do Activity

Devils Postpile National Monument is named for a 60-foot tall wall of columnar basalt formed by a volcanic eruption that occurred less than 100,000 years ago.  These interesting columns are one to three feet in diameter and more than half are hexagonal in shape. 

Best Trail

The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail runs through the monument, but just outside its boundaries in Inyo National Forest is a 3-mile round trip hike to pretty Minaret Falls.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A short 1.3-mile roundtrip hike takes you to 101-foot-high Rainbow Falls, which usually lives up to its name and is one of the most stunning waterfalls we have ever seen. 

Peak Season

Due to high snowfall in the Eastern Sierra, it is generally only open from June through October. 

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/depo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass, but most visitors have to pay $8 per person for a shuttle bus to enter the monument.

Road Conditions

You are only allowed to drive your own vehicle down the narrow access road if you are staying at Reds Meadow Resort or the Inyo National Forest campground.  Otherwise, you must pay to take a shuttle from Mammoth Lakes, California. 

Camping

A 21-site campground is located near the National Monument and many others outside Mammoth Lakes, California in Inyo National Forest, where dispersed camping is also allowed in some places.

Explore More – How did glaciers help expose the Devils Postpile formation 10,000 years ago?

Padre Island National Seashore

Overview

To experience the natural side of this semitropical region, make a trip to Padre Island National Seashore south of Corpus Christi, Texas.  Unlike touristy South Padre Island, this barrier island offers 65 miles of undeveloped beaches for exploration by foot and 4-wheel-drive vehicles. 

Highlights

Malaquite Beach, Grasslands Nature Trail, Bird Island Basin

Must-Do Activity

This wild island attracts a lot of wildlife, like white-tailed deer, a variety of shorebirds, and, unfortunately, Portuguese man-o-wars.  Keep an eye out for sea turtle patrols that drive up and down the beach all day seeking females laying eggs, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley.  Head further north for more bird watching, as Aransas National Wildlife Refuge typically sees a few overwintering whooping cranes, an extremely rare species.

Best Trail

Take a walk on a boardwalk through the sand dunes on Grasslands Nature Trail to find white-tailed deer and maybe even a crested caracara.  Also look for caracaras along the roadside since they will eat carrion.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On the bay side of the barrier island, you can camp and watch kitesurfers at Bird Island Basin where herons and egrets are a common sight.  We also saw white pelicans in the spring.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/pais/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to Malaquite Beach visitor center and from there you can drive most of the beaches with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. 

Camping

Primitive camping is allowed on the beaches, but there is also a nice campground with water and showers near Malaquite Beach visitor center.  If you cannot find a campsite at Padre Island National Seashore, try up north at Mustang Island State Park.

Explore More – Currents in the Gulf of Mexico bring significant amounts of floating trash to the shoreline; how can you help during your visit?