Winning tip: Cathedral Gorge state park, Nevada
In the desert between several national parks (Zion, Death Valley, Grand Basin, and the Grand Staircase national monument) this gorge is a little gem. The night was clear so we eschewed our tents and camped out under the stars on the hot desert rock. Late at night we drove into the desert and sat in a thermal spring in pitch darkness, watching shooting stars overhead.
parks.nv.gov/parks/cathedral-gorge, pitch from $17 a night
Kluane and Glacier Bay national parks
Pitch your tent on the deck of the ferry M/V Columbia as it sails through the Pacific islands of Alaska’s Inside Passage. During the five-day journey from Haines to Bellingham you pass close to Kluane and Glacier Bay national parks. You are pretty much guaranteed to see whales, sea otters and even the odd bear ambling along the shore.
alaskaferryvacations.com/Vessel_Columbia.htm, fare, including camping, for the five-day trip, $353pp
Yosemite national park
The Pine Mountain Lake campsite must be California’s best-kept secret. You can rent a whole cabin or wooden house for the price of a tiny Yosemite tent and there are great facilities too. You can fish, canoe, hike and bike if you want a break from the park – plus there’s a water taxi giving tours of the lake.
pinemountainlake.com, tent pitches from $20 a night
Grand Teton national park
The Mike Harris Campground is a couple of miles from Victor on the west side of the Grand Teton national park and within the Caribou-Targhee national forest. It is small, shady thanks to its huge trees, and peaceful. It is fairly basic, but very clean and well looked after. You can access the Tetons from this side with plenty of peaks and hills to climb. Victor is a small town with a hip coffee shop.
fs.usda.gov/ctnf, pitches from $12 a night
Yellowstone national park
Well informed, helpful staff, a well-stocked store and a short stroll into West Yellowstone village, the Grizzly RV and campground is only a mile from the entrance to the park. On a quiet evening you can hear the wolves howling, but don’t panic – they’re from the wolf sanctuary down the road!
grizzlyrv.com, tent spaces (for up to four people) från $39.95 a night
Glacier national park
Den Chewing Blackbones campsite of the Blackfeet Indians of Montana, which borders the Glacier national park, is an eye opener for anyone who is lucky enough to spend time there. The facilities are extremely basic, but the hospitality is amazing and the huge park is purity itself, with its fresh air, clean rivers, pine forests and sparkling streams.
Big Bend national park
In terms of camping ambience, the experience at Stillwell Store and Campground is probably best described as somewhat barren: you can expect to share your pitch more with scrub bushes than shady trees. But it is full of character and Texan charm. It is close to Big Bend and the Rio Grande, has Wi-Fi, and the store means you’ll never be stuck for essentials – or friendly banter.
stillwellstore.com, pitches from $7 a night
Arches national park
If you’re after a proper bed, en suite shower and toilet, gourmet breakfast (even a wood-burning stove for chilly desert nights), then the Moab Under Canvas campsite is the place to be. I had to drag myself out of bed to watch the sun come up over the Arches national park.
moabundercanvas.com, tents range from tipis sleeping two to four from $89 a night up to luxury “suites” från $425 a night
Julia Hammond Johnson
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