Beaches You Can Camp On
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Oceanside Campground, Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
Two words: wild horses. In fact, Assateague Island may be one of the only spots in the country where not only can you camp on the beach, but said horses may also wander into your campground. If not, you’re bound to find them by driving around the island. Assateague’s horses are said to be the descendants of domesticated herds, but with any wild creature, it’s important to keep a respectful distance. If you want to experience this amazingness on a weekend, you’ll need to reserve your campsite six months out.
Polihale State Park, Hawaii
If you’ve ever dreamed of camping in a tent on a deserted island paradise, look no further than Polihale State Park on Kauai. Mind you, anything that’s worthwhile is rarely easy; reaching this secluded section of white sand requires navigating a five-mile dirt road in a four-wheel drive. Check the forecast beforehand since heavy rains can flood the path. In return you’ll find your pick of choice beach spots and Na Pali Coast views. Amenities are primitive (you’ll find restrooms, showers and picnic tables), but you’ll need to provide everything else.
Wright’s Beach, Sonoma Coast State Park, California
California is blessed with more than 3,000 miles of spectacular shoreline, and the rugged Sonoma landscape is no exception. Feel free to bring your RV to this popular site, which includes bathrooms (sans showers) as well as picnic tables and fire pits, but not much else. However, the nearby Bodega Dunes campsite offers pay showers plus water and dump stations. You can also bring your dog to Wright’s Beach as long as it’s leashed; just make sure pets and people stay out of the water, since it’s not swim-friendly. As with most beach sites, book months in advance if you want to secure a coveted spot right on the sand.
Portsmouth Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Not many people know about Portsmouth Island, and that’s a good thing. It’s perfect for camping, since there’s literally nothing on the island beyond an abandoned village and the untouched landscape. The fact that you can only reach it by boat also reduces the odds of having to share your beach site with hordes of other campers. Even better, there are no designated campsites, so you can feel free to set up camp on any spot of the beach that calls to you.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Campers are spoiled for choice here, since Rialto, Second and Shi Shi beaches offer sand camping, as long as your tent is above the high tide water line. Camping sites usually get crowded in the summer, but the area’s natural beauty and wildlife, such as seastacks, bald eagles, whales and tide pools, are true compensation. You’ll just need to apply for a wilderness permit and brush up on those camping skills, from filtering stream water to storing all food and garbage.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Live out your deserted island fantasies at this remote park, located about 70 miles of Key West. The adventure begins with a two-and-a-half hour ferry ride, and be prepared to carry all of your camping needs—unless you have your own boat—since the grounds are primitive. Camping is only allowed on Garden Key, known for the 19th century Fort Jefferson, and is first-come, first-serve, but at least you’re on the beach. Even though the Dry Tortugas lack amenities, you’ll never miss them since there’s fantastic snorkeling and diving thanks to protected coral reefs and marine life (sea turtles, nurse sharks, octopus). You can even snorkel or scuba dive at night outside of Fort Jefferson’s moat wall. Swimming, fishing and bird watching are other island highlights.
Bolivar Peninsula, Texas
Camping along the Bolivar Peninsula is pretty primitive, but you’re here for the beach, which is far less crowded than the ones found on neighboring Galveston Island. In fact, compared to other beaches, which may only offer a handful of designated sites, campers are welcome to choose anywhere along the 27-mile peninsula to set up tents or travel trailers. While you don’t need reservations, you do need a $10 permit if you have a car or motorized vehicle. Otherwise, you’re good to just show up and camp out.
Parsons Landing, Catalina Island, California
Underrated Catalina Island is just off the coast near Los Angeles, but it feels like a world away. For a true off-the-grid primitive experience, Parsons Landing is seven miles from the closest town of Two Harbors. The site offers little more than a fire pit, picnic table and chemical toilet, but a required locker purchase includes 2.5 gallons of water and one bundle of firewood. You can only access the campsite by either kayaking there or undertaking an arduous hike, but the payoff is a pristine, remote beach with unsurpassed views. You might even spy bison wandering around.
Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana
Unless you’re from the area, you’ve probably never heard of Grand Isle State Park, but it’s the rare, under-the-radar spot that allows tent camping right by the water. There are even fire rings and picnic tables. Since it’s on the Gulf of Mexico, the warm water is ideal for swimming, but be mindful of dangerous rip currents. Jellyfish and stingrays are also known to hang out in shallow water; the “stingray shuffle” is a proven technique to scare off the latter.
South Padre Island, Texas
Beach camping is possible year-round at any of San Padre’s five campgrounds. The Malaquite Campground offers a bathhouse with cold showers, while Bird Island Basin is the place to be for windsurfing, fishing, and yes, bird watching. Go old-school primitive camping at North and South Beaches, which allow tent or RV camping. Yarborough Pass is the trickiest to reach, since it involves finding an unmarked path and navigating a four-wheel drive through sand dunes. You can also boat there. Unlike many beach sites, South Padre doesn’t accept reservations, so off-peak times may be your best bet for nabbing that dreamed-about beach spot.