12 Great Beaches Where You Can Pitch a Tent or Park an RV

Find beautiful shorelines where you can spend the night.

By: Jacquelyn McGilvray and Jennifer Plum Auvil
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Bahia Honda State Park, Florida

If you’re heading down to Key West, at mile marker 36.8 you’ll find Bahia Honda Island. The entire island is one of Florida’s most southern sate parks. Bahia Honda is a Spanish name meaning “deep bay”, so you can easily guess it is a paradise for boaters, fisherman and nature lovers. It’s not bad from the shore either; the island boast beautiful white sand beaches with over 80 campsites to choose from. If you don’t have your own watercraft, you can rent canoes, kayaks and snorkeling equipment at the park. 

Jalama Beach County Park, California

Less than an hour from Santa Barbara’s swanky shops and mansions, Jalama Beach County Park boasts more humble seaside accommodations. The sought-after campsites (some directly on the beach) are first-come, first-served. They have basic amenities, such as picnic tables and fire rings, and dogs are welcome for a small fee. The park has a cool California vibe, with water sports such as surfing and surf fishing. If campfire food isn’t your forte, walk to the Jalama Beach Grill for the much-lauded burger topped with veggies and a special sauce that’s so special, the ingredients are a mystery.

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

A short drive from Corpus Christi, Padre Island National Seashore contains the world’s largest undeveloped stretch of barrier island. Take a few days to enjoy the natural beauty from your base camp at Bird Island Basin campground. Reservations for RV and tent camping are available on a first-come, first-served basis year-round. You will need to pick up a camping permit (for a nominal fee) from the campground host or kiosk to enjoy the serene campsites and basic amenities, such as fire rings and water. The area is known for its ideal windsurfing conditions at Laguna Madre, a protected hypersaline lagoon. Connect with Worldwinds Windsurfing for lessons and rentals.

Sandy Neck Beach Park, Massachusetts

If you’re heading out to Cape Cod, the town of Barnstable allows beach camping at Sandy Neck Beach Park. If you’re taking an RV —no trailers allowed — it must have both a gray water and septic tank. Your vehicle may also be required to pass a beach driving test to make sure it can maneuver through the sand. If you want to backpack it, there is a primitive tenting area 3.3 miles from the parking lot. The park also offers miles of hiking trails through marshlands and a maritime forest. 

Kalaloch, Washington

Kalaloch Campground is located on a high bluff on the southwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Olympic National Park. The campground is set amidst a peaceful, coastal forest that thrives on the region's high annual rainfall. No matter the weather, visitors come here to explore the beach looking to spot sea otters, whales and dolphins. At low tide, vast tidal pools are revealed a world of crabs, sea urchins, mollusks and the like. Kalaloch is also known for birding; species such as western gulls and bald eagles are frequently sighted. Visitors may even get a glimpse of a puffin. Fishing and shellfish harvesting is allowed under state and park regulations. 

Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana

Grand Isle State Park is located two hours south of New Orleans on the east end of Grand Isle. Its combination of lagoons and the Gulf shore attract numerous species of wildlife for nature enthusiasts of all kinds. The park offers 49 RV sites, with electrical and water hookups, as well as 14 beach camping (tent only) sites. Those interested in fishing can check out the lagoon on the northwest side of the park, or venture out onto the 400-foot fishing pier for saltwater fishing. Surf fishing is also among a favorite activity of the park’s visitors. 

Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland

The protected seashore at Assateague Island stretches from Maryland into Virginia, with camping permitted on the Maryland side. The park’s oceanside campsites are spacious, sandy and just a short stroll on the boardwalk past the dunes to the beach. Walk-in and drive-in sites feature picnic tables, grills and easy access to restrooms, showers and clean water. After setting up camp, head out on a hike to catch a glimpse of the island’s famed wild ponies, collect seashells on the beach (limited to 1 gallon) or play in the surf. Campsite reservations are required only if visiting during prime season, from March 15 to Nov. 15

Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

Made up of 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland coast, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore offers visitors a place to hike, paddle, sail or camp along the shores of Lake Superior. Camping is available on 19 of the 21 islands. The park also offers more than 50 miles of maintained trails. Big Bay State Park offers a near mile-and-a-half of secluded beach, making it the perfect spot to camp.

Hammocks Beach State Park, North Carolina

Hammocks Beach State Park is Bear Island, a three-mile-long, undeveloped barrier island accessible only by boat. The park provides ferry service or you can reach the island by paddling a canoe or kayak. Pack light because campers must carry all provisions to the campsites from the beach or ferry dock. Water and other facilities are available on the island except in the colder months, from mid-November through mid-March.

Long Key State Park, Florida

Experience a quieter side of the Florida Keys at Mile Marker 67 on the Overseas Highway with an oceanfront campground at Long Key State Park. Each of the park’s 60 sites overlooks an isolated stretch of the Atlantic Ocean. Relax on the beach or snorkel in the gentle waves along the shoreline. When you’re ready to shake the sand off your feet, take a 40-minute walk around the Golden Orb Trail. Rent a canoe or kayak and navigate the 1.5-mile Long Key Lakes Canoe Trail through the park’s shallow lagoons. Amenities include hot showers, electric hookups (for lighting or charging) and water at each site, plus some ranger-led activities.

Deer Island, Mississippi

The pristine barrier islands forming Mississippi’s Gulf of Mexico coastline offer untouched landscapes for adventurous campers. Paddle to Deer Island, just offshore from Biloxi or sail to Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Petit Bois, East Ship or Horn islands. Campers can explore miles of dunes, coves and bayous all bookended by dramatic sunrises and sunsets.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Right smack-dab in the middle of the Low-Country, roughly half way between the cities of Charleston South Carolina and Savannah Georgia, sits secluded Hunting Island State Park.  Camping at the park is at the north end of the island. There are special tent sites as well as water and electric sites for RVs. You’ll find plenty to do at Hunting Island, especially if you’re into fishing. You can shore fish right on the Atlantic, throw your line in at the Johnson Creek marsh or trying crabbing off 1,100-foot pier that extends out into Fripp Inlet. If you’re a newbie to fishing, the park rents rods and reels as well as supplies bait. The park also offers over eight miles of biking and hiking trails through the maritime forest. Don’t forget to climb to the top of the historic Hunting Island Lighthouse. Interesting footnote: The war scenes in the movie Forest Gump were filmed in this park.