America’s Best Summer Base Camps

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Few things can top the simplicity of setting off into the wild with whatever you can carry on your back. But there is one thing that has a slight edge: immersing yourself in that same grand and beautiful setting along with a six-pack of your favorite microbrew and enough wood for a solid three-hour campfire. And for that, you’ll need a great base camp. Sure, some call it car camping. But we like to think of it as simply making yourself more at home—if home were at the base of a 3,000-foot granite wall in Yosemite National Park or tucked among the sand dunes along Lake Michigan’s remote coast. You wouldn’t eat freeze-dried lasagna or sit on a bare floor at home, would you? We didn’t think so. But bringing all your car can carry—and not just what can fit into a 50-liter pack—actually allows you to do more, carry less, hike farther, bike, and kayak during the same trip. And fuel up for it all with bacon. There are a lot of stunning places in America—we have more acres of protected wilderness than any other country in the world—but finding the perfect base camp is an art form. 

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Iconic Rock Walls

Yosemite National Park, CA

The most spectacular view of Yosemite’s towering granite walls and cascading waterfalls is looking up at them from Yosemite Valley. North Pines Campground has several riverfront sites and trails heading to Mirror Lake, Nevada Fall, and, much farther on, the roof of Half Dome. Plus, it’s a five-minute walk to showers and a grocery store in nearby Curry Village. 

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Desert and Dunes

Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO 

Many of the tent sites in the only campground in this national park have unobstructed views of the park’s otherworldly dune field, full of 750-foot-tall mountains of sand. Rent a sandboard in nearby Alamosa and rip down the dunes all day. Then, in the evening, kick back and watch the alpenglow light up the blood-red Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 

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Caribbean Gem

Bahia Honda State Park, FL 

With nothing but powdery white sand, clear blue sea, and gently swaying palm trees, Bahia Honda is one of the few remaining undeveloped islands in the Florida Keys. Pitch your tent at Sandspur Campground (sites 64 to 72 are waterfront) and snorkel the nearshore reef to check out huge schools of hard-fighting tarpon. 

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So-Cal Surf

Jalama Beach County Park, CA 

Wake up early enough on this windblown stretch of California coast, and you may have the shifty beach break all to yourself. Grab your board—and a cup of pick-me-up—for a session in the morning, and when the winds rise, dry off and poke around the Jalama Creek tide pools or wander south toward the historic Point Conception Lighthouse. 

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Surreal Sandstone

Paria Canyon, AZ 

Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in northen Arizona’s canyon country feels midway between nowhere and nothing. But, in fact, it serves as a primary trailhead for Buckskin Gulch, one of the world’s longest and deepest slot-canyon hikes. This narrow sandstone corridor is a daylong reflection on claustrophobia, as well as a lesson in how changing light can soften and bend color. 

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Glacier Views

Mount Rainier National Park, WA 

Way down the southeast slope of Mount Rainier, Ohanapecosh is set amid an old-growth forest and sits on the banks of the frothy, freezing-cold Ohanapecosh River. Miles of lush, moss-laden forest trails fan out from here, including a short jaunt to some natural hot springs, as well as access to the high-elevation Skyline and Wonderland trails.

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Camp and Kayak

Adirondack Park, NY 

Set among the Adirondacks’ 6 million acres of wilderness, Fish Creek Pond is an outdoorsman’s paradise. Paddlers can launch kayaks straight from their campsites. (90% of the campground’s sites are waterfront.) And two area resort towns are perfect for a rainy-day respite. (We like Lake Placid Pub & Brewery.); 

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Fat Tire Fun

Pisgah National Forest, NC 

At Lake Powhatan, you can roll out of your campsite and, minutes later, be shredding epic singletrack—this is near Asheville’s popular 30-mile trail system. Even the two-lane highways are famous for roadies, and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains have everything nonbikers could ask for—hiking, rafting, and fishing.

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Lake Solitude

Ludington State Park, MI 

This 5,300-acre park boasts more than six miles of sandy shoreline. The Pines Campground is tucked between towering coastal sand dunes and Hamlin Lake, and it neighbors a 21-plus-mile trail network and a canoe trail that navigates wildlife-rich shallow waters bursting with northern pike, walleye, and tiger musky.

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Cowboy Country

Grand Teton National Park, WY

The pristine tent-only Jenny Lake Campground, at the foot of the toothy Teton Range, is the park’s smallest and quietest, with access to just about any type of adventure. THis is the heart of the park’s epic trail network. For something more vertical, hook up with Exum Guides for an all-day ascent of the 13,770-food Grand.


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