This 10-page feature compiled 25 of the West’s best campsites, as well as gear reviews and how-to tips from camping experts.
Co-written with Evelyn Spence
A quiet alternative to the generator-filled sites along the Homer Spit, the new Camp Homer (6 miles inland from town) offers 15 tent pads amid a field of fireweed that produces shoulder-high blooms from late July through August. The fuchsia “walls” shield your view of other campers; some sites include vistas of 10,000-foot Mt. Iliamna, an active volcano. A shower house and covered cooking pavilion are scheduled for spring completion. $20; mid-May--mid-Sep; camphomer.com.
Crabtree Wash Recreation Site
To park your tent or trailer right on Apache Lake’s gravel beach, drive 100 miles northeast from Phoenix to Crabtree Wash. Dispersed camping here gives you a front-row view of saguaro-covered volcanic cliffs that catch dawn’s first rays, and the shallow water is perfect for swimming or paddling. $6/vehicle/day; no reservations or potable water; fs.usda.gov/recarea/tonto/recreation.
GRAND CANYON HIDEAWAY
A secret guarded by locals and National Park rangers: You don’t have to battle crowds to camp on the North Rim. The adjacent Kaibab National Forest contains a number of backcountry overlooks where dispersed camping is free and gloriously scenic—the trick is navigating the dirt roads (suitable for low-clearance cars). Pack plenty of food and water, buy a map at the Kaibab Visitor Center in the town of Jacob Lake, then drive an hour to Locust Point. It’s primitive (BYO water, no facilities), but you’ll have Grand Canyon magnificence all to yourself. Free; no reservations; fs.usda.gov/Kaibab.
POACH MONSTER TROUT
Granite Tent Campground
The Taylor River flows right next to Granite Tent Campground’s seven sites in Gunnison National Forest near Crested Butte. The burbling water’s lullaby guarantees you sound sleeping and a bright-eyed morning for landing the lunkers that swim in these waters: Across the river, Harmel’s Ranch Resort stocks huge trout in its private stretch of the Taylor, and many of those migrate into the public water. $10; no reservations or potable water; fs.usda.gov/recarea/gmug/.
MAROON BELLS SUNRISE
Let Colorado’s most famous view start your day. Of the three U.S. Forest Service campgrounds located beneath the Maroon Bells of Aspen, only Silver Queen offers vistas of the photogenically pointy Elk Mountains. The choice site is 6, on Maroon Creek. A short walk upstream reveals pinch-yourself views of the Bells. $15/night, plus $10/vehicle (valid 5 days); late May-Sep; recreation.gov.
GARDEN IN THE SANDS
Capitol Reef’s Fruita Campground and its 71 sites sit along the Fremont River, amid historic orchards that now provide campers with shade and grass—rare comforts in the red rock desert. Depending on the time of year, you wake to the scent of cherry, apricot, peach, and apple blossoms; come U-pick season for the various varieties, the fallen fruit attracts deer that spend mornings browsing near your campsite. $10, plus $8 entrance and vehicle fees; no reservations; nps.gov/care.
Gros Ventre Campground
Most sites at Gros Ventre Campground in Grand Teton National Park lack stunning mountain views. Why go? Because the 350 individual cottonwood-shaded sites sit near the Gros Ventre River in prime moose territory, so you’re virtually guaranteed to wake up to a Rocky and Bullwinkle show, with the browsers nibbling on willows and slurping aquatic plants. Despite feeling like the back of beyond, it’s just 12 miles north of Jackson. Contact for prices (excludes $25 park entrance fee); early May—early Oct; nps.gov/grte
SLEEP LIKE A BABY
This cushy setup gives new meaning to sleeping “on the ground.”
Tall and roomy tent
The Mountainsmith Conifer 5+ tent has a 6-foot ceiling and 117 square feet of floor space, with mesh panels that make it feel even bigger. $360; mountainsmith.com.
Cozy-tough camp shoes
A fleece lining for comfort and no-slip rubber soles for navigating the forest floor make Patagonia’s Advocate Lace shoes the perfect camp slippers. $75; patagonia.com.
Rugged welcome mat
Made of mousepad material, the tough but welcoming Domestic Construction Mat helps keep you from tracking dirt inside. $105; plasticashop.com.
An update on the camp classic, the 8D Retro Family-Size Lantern provides up to 30 hours of bright light at a stretch (and has a night-light setting too). $35; coleman.com.
Super-comfy sleeping pad
The MegaMat self-inflates, can be tethered to another to create a queen-size bed, and rivals any “real” mattress for comfort. $219; exped.com.