Beach camping is a unique way to experience the beauty and tranquility of our waterways. Many national seashores and state parks in the United States offer beach camping opportunities, allowing you to escape from your busy schedule and get back to the basics.
You can wake up to waves crashing on the shore and fall asleep to the gentle sounds of the sea. And with access to activities such as kayaking, fishing, and hiking, beach camping makes for the perfect outdoor getaway.
Below, we’ll explore eleven different campgrounds across America that allow you to enjoy beach camping.
Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)
Cape Cod National Seashore in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, spans 40 miles along the beautiful Atlantic coastline. If you’re driving in from Boston or Providence, it is a two-hour drive to the seashore, while Plymouth is a little over an hour away. You will find:
- Pretty landscapes
Beach Camping: Self-Contained Vehicle (SCV) beach camping is allowed along certain parts of Race Point Beach. You must have a permit, and your SCV must have specific amenities, like self-contained toilets and water-holding tanks. Tent camping and camping trailers are not permitted.
Things to Do: Besides hiking, you can enjoy beaches, such as Nauset Beach and Coast Guard Beach, which provide opportunities for swimming, kayaking, and fishing. You’ll find fishing plentiful with striped bass, bluefish, and flounder on the seashore. In addition, the seashore is home to several historic sites, such as the Marconi Wireless Station and the Highland Lighthouse.
Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland)
Assateague Island National Seashore is a barrier island on the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia, known for its wild ponies. The island offers miles of beautiful shoreline, scenic views, and recreational opportunities for beach-goers, fishermen, and nature lovers.
Beach Camping: It is important to note that camping is only permitted on the Maryland side of the island. Virginia’s portion does not allow any camping. Camping reservations are required from March 15 to November 15 and can be made up to six months in advance. Reservations for weekends tend to fill up quickly and are usually fully booked on the first day of availability.
Things to Do: The seashore offers different experiences, including beautiful scenery, wildlife, and recreational opportunities. Vacationers can explore the marshlands on foot or catch sight of wild horses and other animals from their cars along the seashore. Fishing and boating are also popular activities.
Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)
Cape Lookout National Seashore is a protected area along the southern coast of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. This 56-mile stretch of land is an excellent place for outdoor recreation. The seashore is home to wildlife like:
- Shackleford Banks Wild Horses
- Sea turtles that nest on the beaches
Beach Camping: While beach camping is permitted, it is essential to note that there are no designated campgrounds and very few amenities. Therefore, beach campers must bring everything they need. Generally, permits are not required for camping.
Things to Do: Activities at Cape Lookout National Seashore include swimming, fishing, kayaking, surfing, and hiking. Some vacationers also take a ferry to the nearby islands to explore the abandoned sea village of Portsmouth.
Hunting Island State Park (South Carolina)
Hunting Island State Park in Beaufort, South Carolina, is a gorgeous east coast destination that offers a variety of recreational activities and tons of natural beauty. Its beautiful beaches, forests, and wildlife make it an excellent place to get outdoors.
Beach Camping: Hunting Island State Park has two campgrounds near the ocean. Both campgrounds have restrooms and hot showers. There are walk-in tent sites available that are nestled between the parking lot and the ocean. Reservations are required.
Things to Do: You can enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, biking, swimming, and fishing. The park also offers opportunities to explore the historic Hunting Island Lighthouse (temporarily closed for repairs) and the Hunting Island State Park Nature Center to learn more about the area.
Gulf Islands National Seashore (Mississippi – Florida)
Gulf Islands National Seashore, stretching from Cat Island, Mississippi, to Florida’s panhandle, is known for its:
- Emerald waters
- Marine life
The seashore includes several islands, including the barrier islands of Horn Island, Petit Bois Island, and Ship Island. The area also has several historic forts, such as Fort Pickens.
Beach Camping: Gulf Islands National Seashore has two campgrounds. However, beach campers must head to one of the designated islands for backcountry camping. There are some rules and regulations for beach camping, so familiarize yourself with them before heading out.
Things to Do: On the Gulf Islands National Seashore, you can swim, kayak, fish, and hike. You can enjoy the park’s beaches, take a guided tour of historic forts, and discover the local wildlife on nature hikes. Boating and sailing are also popular activities, as there is access to the Gulf of Mexico.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, located on the northern coast of Wisconsin on Lake Superior, consists of 21 islands and over 12 miles of beach on the mainland. The area is known for its:
- Crystal-clear waters
- Reddish sandstone cliffs
- Sea caves
Beach Camping: You can camp on 18 of the 21 islands and at the one campground on the mainland. There are no designated campsites in the primitive zones, but there is an option for backcountry camping. Reservations are required.
Things to Do: Vacationers can enjoy hiking, kayaking, fishing, hunting, and swimming. You can also explore islands, sea caves, and several old lighthouses.
Bahia Honda State Park (Florida)
Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys covers over 500 acres, including three separate beaches. Two beaches, Calusa and Sandspur, have been named some of the best beaches in the area. The historic Old Bahia Honda Bridge, built in 1912, is also a popular spot to take in the views.
Beach Camping: There are three designated camping areas with around 80 campsites. There are primitive tent sites and RV sites with full hookups, all within easy access to the beach. Reservations can be made with the park’s new reservation system.
Things to Do: Bahia Honda State Park is perfect for swimming and snorkeling and has unique marine life like manatees. There are also opportunities for kayaking, standup paddleboarding, and fishing. Nature trails allow you to explore the park’s beautiful scenery and wildlife, including the rare Key deer, ospreys, and pelicans.
Long Key State Park (Florida)
Long Key State Park is a 965-acre nature reserve on Florida’s Long Key island. The park’s unique ecosystem of mangrove forests and wetlands is home to:
- Various fish
- Bottlenose dolphins
- Sea turtles
Beach Camping: Long Key State Park has tent-only campsites near the ocean that can only be reached on foot. While the camp offers picnic tables, grills, restrooms, and cold showers, no electricity or water hookups exist. Reservations are required.
Things to Do: Long Key State Park is great for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, and hiking. One unique feature of Long Key State Park is the Golden Orb Trail, a boardwalk trail that winds through a section of the park’s mangrove forest. And with some luck, you may be able to spot the Golden Orb spider and its beautiful webs.
Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)
Padre Island National Seashore is a barrier island off the South Texas coast stretching 70 miles. It is the largest undeveloped barrier island in the world. The park is also known for its turtle nesting grounds, where the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles come to lay their eggs each year.
Beach Camping: Padre Island National Seashore campgrounds are open year-round with a first come, first serve reservation system. Any type of camping, including beach camping, requires a permit. There are also several primitive camping options.
Things to Do: Besides your typical fun in the sun, there is plentiful fishing at Padre Island National Seashore. There are also canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and wildlife-watching opportunities. Another popular activity is stargazing at the park’s Night Sky Observatory.
Catalina Island (California)
Catalina Island is a popular tourist spot located approximately 22 miles off the coast of Southern California. The area has gorgeous scenery with a variety of marine life. The island is famous for hosting the Catalina Wine Mixer, an annual event inspired by the movie “Step Brothers.”
Beach Camping: There are several campgrounds, including boat-in camping sites. Secluded beach camping can be found on Parsons Landing. You must hike to the campgrounds, which also require a reservation.
Things to Do: Popular water activities include snorkeling, diving, standup paddleboarding, and kayaking. Hiking is also popular, with several trails offering views of the island’s rugged coastline and terrain. You can also visit one of the towns and explore museums, taste local wine, or enjoy fresh seafood.
Point Reyes National Seashore (California)
Point Reyes National Seashore, an hour’s drive from San Francisco, covers around 70,000 acres. The park is known for its rugged coastline, beautiful beaches, and wildlife, including Tule Elk, which were once thought to be extinct. Point Reyes National Seashore is home to the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse, built in 1870.
Beach Camping: Point Reyes National Seashore offers year-round backcountry and boat-in camping in certain areas. Because the campgrounds are near the San Francisco Bay area, they are quite popular and require reservations.
Things to Do: You can hike through various landscapes like grasslands, forests, and wetlands. Wildlife viewing is plentiful and includes exciting creatures like the Tule elk, elephant seals, and gray whales. Popular water-related activities include kayaking, fishing, and tide pooling.
Plan Your Beach Camping Adventure Today
Before you set out on your beach camping adventure, understand the rules and regulations for each national seashore and state park. Each destination has different requirements that must be followed to ensure these protected areas remain safe. With a bit of planning, you’ll soon be on your way to an unforgettable outdoor experience with friends and family!
This article originally appeared on Savoteur.
Featured image credit: Roxanne Desgagnés
About the author
Alex Sumuel is the founder of the travel website Wander With Alex. She provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. Alex travels to experience, eat, explore and, on occasion, escape! Her mission is to help people travel a little easier.