- Camping in national parks offers a chance to connect with nature and experience the great outdoors, while also being budget-friendly.
- The Great Smoky Mountains, Joshua Tree, Badlands, and other national parks offer unforgettable camping experiences with stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife.
- Whether it’s falling asleep under the stars, exploring hiking trails, or fostering a deeper appreciation for conservation, national park camping is a rejuvenating and memorable adventure.
The U.S. is home to stunning national parks scattered across the country. Travelers planning to have an immersive experience can camp within the park, as it helps to connect with nature’s beauty and experience the great outdoors. Camping can be an eco-conscious adventure and offers a chance to escape the bustle of everyday life. Another great point is that camping can be budget-friendly, allowing travelers to enjoy the wonders of nature without breaking the bank.
Falling asleep under the stars, waking up to the sounds of wildlife, and exploring hiking trails are just some of the unforgettable experiences camping offers. It fosters a deeper appreciation for conservation and environmental stewardship, making it a perfect adventure for nature enthusiasts and families alike. These are the best places for budget-friendly national park camping.
10 Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee
Gatlinburg, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a must-visit destination, straddling North Carolina and Tennessee. Its breathtaking landscapes, diverse wildlife, and rich cultural history make it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Highlights include over 800 miles of hiking trails perfect for visiting in April, picturesque waterfalls, and iconic scenic drives like the Cades Cove Loop Road. Spring offers vibrant wildflowers, while fall showcases a stunning array of colors.
Wildlife viewing, including black bears, is a thrilling experience. Whether camping, hiking, or enjoying scenic beauty, visiting the Great Smoky Mountains is a memorable journey any time of the year.
9 Joshua Tree National Park, California
The Milky Way over Joshua Tree’s Arch Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
Joshua Tree National Park in California is a unique and surreal desert landscape, enticing visitors with its otherworldly charm. The park’s iconic Joshua trees, massive rock formations, and star-studded night skies offer unparalleled scenic beauty. It’s a paradise for rock climbers, hikers, and photographers.
The park’s diverse flora and fauna, including desert tortoises and bighorn sheep, add to the allure. Fall and Spring are the best times to visit, as the weather is pleasant, and wildflower blooms add vibrant colors to the desert. Exploring Joshua Tree promises an unforgettable and enchanting outdoor experience.
Starts at $15
8 Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands National Park Near Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
Badlands National Park in South Dakota beckons travelers with its otherworldly landscapes and unique geological formations. The park’s rugged terrain, dramatic canyons, and towering spires create an awe-inspiring sight.
Visitors can enjoy many activities within the park, but hiking seems the most popular. While hiking, travelers can encounter fossilized remains of ancient creatures, preserving a rich paleontological history.
The sunsets here are a photographer’s dream, painting the sky with vibrant hues. Spring and fall are ideal times to visit, as summer can be scorching. The best thing about camping at the park is that it’s free.
7 Big Bend National Park, Texas
Santa Elena Canyon at Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park in Texas offers a breathtaking blend of desert landscapes, canyons, and the winding Rio Grande. Visitors can marvel at its stunning vistas, hike through diverse ecosystems, and explore ancient fossils and Native American rock art.
The park is excellent for birdwatching and stargazing, being designated as an International Dark Sky Park. The best time to visit is during the cooler months from November to April, avoiding the scorching summer temperatures.
Experiencing the rugged beauty and remote wilderness of Big Bend promises an unforgettable adventure in the heart of the Chihuahua Desert.
6 Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Rose River Falls in Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Its scenic Skyline Drive offers breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and picturesque valleys. Hiking trails lead to cascading waterfalls, serene forests, and abundant wildlife, including deer and black bears.
The park’s vibrant fall foliage is a significant highlight, attracting visitors from all over. Visiting the park during the Spring gives a chance to see wildflowers, while summer provides a refreshing escape from the heat.
Whether camping, hiking or simply enjoying the serene beauty, Shenandoah is a must-visit destination year-round for a rejuvenating and memorable experience.
5 Olympic National Park, Washington
A stream flowing in Olympic National Park in Washington
Olympic National Park in Washington Captivates visitors with its stunning landscapes: From lush temperate rainforests and rugged mountains to pristine coastlines, the park offers a unique blend of ecosystems in one place.
Highlights include the Hoh Rainforest, known for its towering trees draped in moss, and Hurricane Ridge, offering panoramic mountain vistas. Visitors can explore tide pools on the beaches and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and backpacking. Travelers planning to camp in the regions can find campgrounds that cost between $15 and $24.
The best time to visit is during the summer when the weather is pleasant, and most areas are accessible. Olympic National Park promises a truly immersive and unforgettable natural experience.
4 Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park, Colorado
Steep granite cliffs of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado impresses visitors with its dramatic landscape, as they can witness the deep and narrow canyon walls carved by the Gunnison River over millions of years.
The most popular points in the park are the Painted Wall, Colorado’s highest cliff, and the stunning Warner Point. Hiking and rock climbing opportunities abound for adventurous explorers. The best time to visit is during the Spring and fall when the weather is pleasant, and the canyon’s beauty is accentuated by the changing seasons.
3 Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Scoria Point Overlook Along Scenic Loop Drive in Theodore National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota offers a rugged and wild landscape reminiscent of the region’s history and the president it’s named after. Visitors can see the colorful badlands, vast prairies, and the meandering Little Missouri River.
They can also admire the rich wildlife, which includes bison, pronghorn, and wild horses, roaming freely in their natural habitat.
Best activities include scenic drives, hiking, and wildlife watching. The park’s beauty shines during Spring and Fall when temperatures are mild, and wildflowers or vibrant autumn colors adorn the landscape.
2 Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Boardwalk in Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park in South Carolina is a hidden gem with its unique and diverse wilderness. Visitors can witness the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States, featuring massive trees and abundant wildlife. They can also go canoeing and kayaking at the Congaree River.
The park’s biodiversity invites birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. The best time to visit is during the cooler months of fall and Spring when the weather is pleasant and the park’s natural beauty is on display.
1 Acadia National Park, Maine
Ship Harbor in Acadia National Park, Maine, United States
Acadia National Park in Maine impresses visitors with its granite peaks and beautiful islands. Visitors can see the iconic Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the East Coast, providing breathtaking sunrise views.
The park features scenic carriage roads perfect for biking and hiking trails leading to tranquil lakes and dramatic ocean cliffs. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot peregrine falcons and seals along the shorelines. The best time to visit is during the fall, when the park’s foliage displays vibrant colors and the crowds thin out. Acadia National Park promises a serene and captivating natural escape.
Travelers have many choices for the most budget friendly national park camping in the U.S., but there’s nothing ‘cheap’ about the camping experience.