Skip to main content

Main Area

Main

Most popular national parks for campers

1/
Canva

Most popular national parks for campers

On March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the territories of Wyoming and Montana as “a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” The park itself was placed under the exclusive control of the secretary of the Interior. In the following years, the U.S. government authorized the creation of several more national parks and monuments, many of which were located in the less-developed West.

Then on Aug. 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act that created the National Park Service. The new federal agency was responsible for protecting and managing 35 existing national parks and monuments, which had previously been looked after by a variety of departments, including the War Department and the National Forest Service. The National Park Service was also responsible for creating new parks. Today, the national park system is comprised of 400 areas, which cover more than 84 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.

Among other things, almost all U.S. national parks have developed campgrounds and allow backcountry camping. Stacker has rounded up the 25 most popular national parks for campers.

To determine these parks, Stacker consulted the National Park Service’s (NPS) Annual Park Ranking Report, which was updated in 2018. NPS categorizes data on campers as “tent campers,” “RV campers,” (both of whom use developed campgrounds) and “backcountry campers” (backpackers who set up camp in the undeveloped wilderness). We added together the total visits from each category and ranked the most popular 25 national parks based on their total camping visits in 2018. All 61 national parks were considered.

Whether you’re an experienced camper or looking to sleep under the stars for the first time, camping at any one of these national parks is sure to be a hit. And from California's Yosemite Park to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Park to North Carolina and Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains Park, there’s almost certainly one close to home.

You may also like: Stunning, historic hotels from every state and the stories behind them

2/
NPS

#25. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 34,146
- Tent camper visits: 19,527 (#40 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 12,531 (#46 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 2,088 (#65 most popular)

There are three camping sites at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: the South Rim, North Rim, and East Portal. The South Rim site is by far the largest and includes amenities such as electrical hookups and reservable/accessible sites. Campers flock to the park for its wealth of hiking trails, outstanding trout fishing, and expert-level kayaking and rock-climbing opportunities.

3/
Joshua Woroniecki // Pexels

#24. Arches National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 34,463
- Tent camper visits: 17,938 (#41 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 16,157 (#40 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 368 (#83 most popular)

Seeing the 2,000+ natural stone arches that give Arches National Park its name, is undoubtedly the primary draw for campers. From the Devil’s Garden Campground, the only campsite within official bounds of the park, visitors can set out to hike to the Delicate Arch, one of the most famous geological features in the world, through the Devil’s Garden, and up to the Balanced Rock. A hiker’s heaven, the campsite includes amenities like trash collection and firewood for sale, but no electrical hookups or showers.

4/
Arlene Waller // Shutterstock

#23. Great Basin National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 52,386
- Tent camper visits: 32,758 (#32 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 19,348 (#37 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 280 (#87 most popular)

While many national park campgrounds are open year round, four of Great Basin National Park’s five developed campsites are closed from October to May. During the summer season, visitors can arrange a park ranger-led tour of the Lehman Caves, some of the 40 known caves in the park which contain unusual life forms and geological features. Another attraction is the Bristlecone pines, among the oldest-known and longest-living trees. Hikers who keep a sharp eye out will be sure to spot them as they hike through the park’s 60 miles of trails.

5/
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve // Flickr

#22. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 53,972
- Tent camper visits: 29,832 (#33 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 19,665 (#36 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 4,475 (#47 most popular)

While backpacking at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is popular, it isn’t for the faint of heart. Overnight backpackers who want to stay on the dunes first must hike at least 1.5 miles out of the day-use area, before finding a place to bunk down that is sheltered from the strong winds that swirl through the dunes. But those who persevere are rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, including, on a clear night, beautiful views of open, starry skies.

6/
GPA Photo Archive // Flickr

#21. Capitol Reef National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 56,013
- Tent camper visits: 24,822 (#34 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 27,143 (#30 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 4,048 (#50 most popular)

In the heart of red rock country in south-central Utah, Capitol Reef National Park is home to the Waterpocket Fold, a truly unusual geological wrinkle in the earth. Those who stay at the 71-site Fruita Campground have access to 15 day-hike trails through the Cathedral Valley District and under natural stone arches. More adventurous backcountry campers can choose from a number of marked backcountry trails, including a few near the Upper and Lower Muley Twist canyons and Halls Creek.

7/
NPS

#20. Mammoth Cave National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 59,909
- Tent camper visits: 38,784 (#27 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 13,264 (#45 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 7,861 (#36 most popular)

Mammoth Cave National Park derives its name from its primary feature: the world’s longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles of explored caves, a “grand, gloomy, and peculiar place.” Ranger-led and self-guided tours are some of the park's most popular activities. But many campers who stay at one of the park’s five campgrounds also enjoy water activities like fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and swimming along 30 miles of the Green River and the North River that lie inside the park’s boundaries.

8/
Luca Galuzzi // Wikimedia Commons

#19. Bryce Canyon National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 81,969
- Tent camper visits: 49,747 (#23 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 29,619 (#28 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 2,603 (#61 most popular)

The largest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) anywhere on Earth lies in Bryce Canyon National Park. A free shuttle bus takes visitors to some of the park’s key sites, including Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, and Paria View. After a day of hiking and exploring, campers can spend the night under the stars at the North Campground or Sunset Campground, but visitors should note there are no hookups at either site.

9/
Galyna Andrushko // Shutterstock

#18. Lassen Volcanic National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 95,091
- Tent camper visits: 59,733 (#19 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 28,038 (#29 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 7,320 (#38 most popular)

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of only two known habitats for the rare Sierra Nevada red fox. Survey and tracking of the animal being done may be its last chance for survival. Aside from rare sightings of the animal, the park’s steaming fumaroles and natural hot springs are major draws for thousands of campers each year. Eight campsites dot the park, including rustic camping cabins at Manzanita Lake.

10/
Pixabay

#17. Canyonlands National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 102,113
- Tent camper visits: 13,221 (#48 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 10,517 (#48 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 78,375 (#7 most popular)

The Colorado River and its tributaries divide Canyonlands National Park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. The Needles is the most popular backpacking and backcountry camping district in the park, while backpacking and backcountry camping in The Maze are nearly impossible thanks to unmarked routes and steep trails. Rock climbing at Island in the Sky is also another popular draw for visitors.

11/
Linda Moon // Shutterstock

#16. Big Bend National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 112,930
- Tent camper visits: 55,863 (#22 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 33,209 (#25 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 23,858 (#23 most popular)

Big Bend National Park in far west Texas is home to hundreds of bird species and dozens of diverse cacti. There are four popular campgrounds in the park, including one with full RV hookups. In addition, visitors with valid passports can journey to Boquillas, Mexico, by either wading across the river or renting a rowboat for $5.

12/
NPS

#15. Death Valley National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 178,018
- Tent camper visits: 78,970 (#16 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 97,563 (#6 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 1,485 (#69 most popular)

Death Valley bears the distinction of being the hottest, driest, and lowest-lying national park. The park is in a below-sea-level basin, where steady droughts and record heat mark the seasons. Considering that, few of the park’s nine campgrounds are open during the hottest summer months, most popular for camping, as temperatures at midnight are still over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, October through April are the most popular months, making this park a great destination for those looking to do some off-season camping.

13/
NPS

#14. Mount Rainier National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 178,562
- Tent camper visits: 83,645 (#15 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 30,623 (#27 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 64,294 (#8 most popular)

Mount Rainier, an active volcano and the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, stands 14,410 feet above sea level. Mount Rainier National Park has a short camping season, with its four campgrounds only open from late May/June or early July to September. Key spots to visit include the temperate rain forests of Carbon River, the park’s largest lake at Mowich, the waterfalls and old-growth forests of Ohanapecosh, and the colorful meadows of Paradise.

14/
Hans Debruyne // Shutterstock

#13. Kings Canyon National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 178,840
- Tent camper visits: 114,921 (#11 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 40,043 (#21 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 23,876 (#22 most popular)

Kings Canyon National Park, which lies directly next to Sequoia National Park, is famous for its giant trees and huge canyons. There are seven campgrounds within the bounds of Kings Canyon, including two intended for group camping only. The most popular activity for visitors is exploring the giant sequoia groves, including Grant Grove in the park's heart.

You may also like: Oldest national parks in America

15/
Shenandoah National Park // Flickr

#12. Shenandoah National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 202,667
- Tent camper visits: 110,256 (#13 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 52,431 (#16 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 39,980 (#13 most popular)

A mere 75 miles from Washington D.C., Shenandoah National Park attracts thousands of city dwellers seeking a break from the hustle and bustle. The park boasts over 500 miles of hiking trails, and its fall color show is one of the best in the country. As a result, October is the park’s single busiest month, as visitors flock to the five campgrounds to check out the changing leaves.

16/
Eric Urquhart // Shutterstock

#11. Acadia National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 204,431
- Tent camper visits: 144,744 (#5 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 58,215 (#14 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 1,472 (#70 most popular)

One of the top 10 most-visited national parks, Acadia National Park sees more than 3.5 million visits each year. Stretching across a span of the Atlantic coastline in Maine, the beautiful park has 158 miles of hiking trails and 27 miles of scenic motor roads. There are five developed campgrounds, including one for those with stock animals and one on a small island only accessible by mailboat. Visitors come from near and far to enjoy the scenery and indulge in a little birdwatching.

17/
Frank Kovalchek // Wikimedia Commons

#10. Yellowstone National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 205,311
- Tent camper visits: 88,562 (#14 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 74,771 (#9 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 41,978 (#12 most popular)

The country’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park is famous for its wide variety of wildlife and its natural geysers and hot springs. There are 12 campgrounds with over 2,000 sites in the park, as well as 300+ backcountry campsites. Each campground has different amenities, from full hookups, showers, and dump stations to those with tent pads and little else, making this an ideal camping location for all comfort and experience levels.

18/
Galyna Andrushko // Shutterstock

#9. Zion National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 227,968
- Tent camper visits: 132,988 (#8 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 72,016 (#11 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 22,964 (#25 most popular)

Zion National Park was Utah’s first national park and was once home to the area’s first peoples some 12,000 years ago, as well as the Southern Paiutes, some 800 years ago. Visitors can spend a night under the stars in one of the park’s three campgrounds, before exploring the Kolob Canyons and the Narrows, which remain generally unchanged from early times. The park’s hallmark and a must-see destination for all visitors is the Temple of Sinawava, a natural amphitheater accessible by a free shuttle.

19/
Alphie Photography // Shutterstock

#8. Rocky Mountain National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 235,780
- Tent camper visits: 117,924 (#10 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 71,016 (#12 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 46,840 (#10 most popular)

At 415 square miles, Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses some of the country’s most spectacular mountain environments. Visitors can take a peek at the Holzwarth Historic Site, where John and Sophia Holzwarth use the Homestead Act of 1862 to build their family’s estate. Alternatively, visitors can take a scenic drive along the Old Fall River Road or the Trail Ridge Road, or hike on any of the 300 miles of trails. There are five campgrounds within the park, three of which take reservations.

20/
NPS

#7. Glacier National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 252,422
- Tent camper visits: 110,507 (#12 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 109,566 (#5 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 32,349 (#16 most popular)

A hiker’s paradise, Glacier National Park is home to over 700 miles of trails, including those that lead up to Two Medicine, the park’s first major attraction. Cross-country skiing, fishing, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road are also major draws for visitors. With 13 drive-in campgrounds, hundreds of backcountry campsites, and eight hotels, lodges, and chalets, there’s a way for almost everyone to experience a night or two in the rugged mountain park.

21/
welcomia // Shutterstock

#6. Sequoia National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 259,369
- Tent camper visits: 142,945 (#6 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 78,543 (#7 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 37,881 (#15 most popular)

The twin to Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park has seven developed campsites as well as a host of backcountry spots. For those really looking to experience all the park has to offer, a day’s hike will lead them to some of the best rock climbing in the country. Moro Rock, Angel Wings, Little Baldy, and Big Baldy are some of the most popular faces for experienced rock climbers.

22/
Joshua Tree National Park // Flickr

#5. Joshua Tree National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 315,150
- Tent camper visits: 222,228 (#2 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 73,485 (#10 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 19,437 (#29 most popular)

Humans have occupied the area that is now Joshua Tree National Park for over 5,000 years. From the Pinto culture to the Serrano, Chemehuevi, and Cahuilla tribes, this land where the Mojave and Colorado desert ecosystems come together was an unusual home. Visitors may drive the 18-mile Geology Tour Road to get an idea of the fascinating landscape and plants and wildlife that make the area so iconic. The park’s eight campsites are regularly full from September to May, but campers have a good chance of snagging a spot during the off-season, from June to early September.

23/
Dean Fikar // Shutterstock

#4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 363,409
- Tent camper visits: 152,167 (#4 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 113,649 (#4 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 97,593 (#5 most popular)

Straddling the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation’s most-visited national park. Cades Cove is far and away the most popular destination within the park. Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, the area has been home to Cherokee Indians and, beginning in 1818, European settlers. The historic buildings as well as the wildlife make it a great place to spend a day. There are 10 developed campsites within the park, as well as five horse camps and hundreds of backcountry spots.

24/
NPS

#3. Olympic National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 367,762
- Tent camper visits: 162,192 (#3 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 77,436 (#8 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 128,134 (#2 most popular)

At nearly 1 million acres, Olympic National Park is one of the country’s largest. With glacier-capped mountains, temperate rain forests, and miles of coastline, there’s something for everyone in this Washington State park. The park has 14 developed campgrounds, providing visitors with tons of options for staying over between bouts of hiking, boating, and fishing.

25/
ronnybas frimages // Shutterstock

#2. Grand Canyon National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 544,794
- Tent camper visits: 139,004 (#7 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 68,000 (#13 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 337,790 (#1 most popular)

Clearly the main attractions of Grand Canyon National Park are the awe-inspiring views of the 277-river-miles-long geological phenomenon. Photography, hiking, and both whitewater and smooth water rafting are the park’s chief activities. Visitors have their choice of four developed campgrounds, one on the North Rim and three on the South Rim; located on the “Arizona side” of the canyon, the South Rim is open year round and more popular with visitors.

26/
Andrew Opila // Shutterstock

#1. Yosemite National Park

- Total recreational camping visits in 2018: 739,144
- Tent camper visits: 354,819 (#1 most popular)
- RV camper visits: 259,748 (#1 most popular)
- Backcountry camper visits: 124,577 (#4 most popular)

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park has been called “a shrine to human foresight.” At 1,200 square miles, Yosemite has space for nearly every outdoor activity, including hiking, fishing, backpacking, rock climbing, biking, birdwatching, and horseback riding. There are 13 campgrounds within the park, including backcountry campsites that require a permit but no reservation, RV campsites, horse campsites, and group sites.

You may also like: Most popular national parks in America

2018 All rights reserved.