12 Great Beaches Where You Can Pitch a Tent or Park an RV
Find beautiful shorelines where you can spend the night.
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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 state parks. Bahia Honda is a Spanish name meaning “deep bay,” and you'll see this is a paradise for boaters, anglers and nature lovers. It’s not bad from the shore either; the island boasts 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.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some closures and restrictions at these destinations. Check each website or call before you go.
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 (check the website for its operating status). 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.
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. Download the Sandy Neck Beach Park mobile app for the up-to-date beach status.
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. Visitors come here to explore the beach looking for sea otters, whales and dolphins. At low tide, vast tidal pools reveal 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. Kalaloch is very popular. Reservation season ends on Sept. 16, 2020. Then the campground is open on a first-come, first-serve basis from Jan. 1, 2021 to May 19, 2021, weather conditions permitting. See the website for 2021 reservation season dates.
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 45 pull-through spots with electrical and water hookups. A central dump station is nearby. There are 14 unimproved beach camping sites (tents only). 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 one of the favorite activities among 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 one gallon) or play in the surf. The park is phasing in access to some areas and facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so visit the website for details. Camping reservations are required through Nov. 15, 2020 and on other peak-season dates.
Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
St. Marys is the gateway city to Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia's southernmost and largest barrier island. It's home to historic sites and ruins, unspoiled beaches, fascinating plants and animals and important nesting and habitat areas. You must take a ferry to reach the island, but capacity is currently limited due to COVID-19, so make your ferry and camping reservations well in advance. There are three wilderness camping sites with no amenities and two walk-to campgrounds with some amenities. Some sites allow carts for hauling gear, and some do not. See the website for more information.
Hammocks Beach State Park, North Carolina
Hammocks Beach State Park is Bear Island, a three-mile-long, undeveloped barrier island accessible only by boat. Ferry service is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but campers may visit if they have their own transportation. Some areas and facilities will re-open on Sept. 11, 2020; see the website for details. Pack light because campers must carry all provisions to the campsites from the beach or ferry dock. Under normal operating conditions, 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. As of September 8, 2020, the campground is closed for construction, but primitive camping is available. Visit the websites for other possible changes due to COVID-19.
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 to visit Petit Bois, Ship Island or Horn island. Campers can explore miles of dunes, coves and bayous all bookended by dramatic sunrides and sunsets. Gulf Islands National Seashore is currently using an adaptive recovery plan to increase access to park areas affected by COVID-19. Check the website for closures or restrictions before you go.
Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
Right in the middle of the Low-Country, roughly halfway 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, especially if you’re into fishing. Shore fish on the Atlantic, throw your line in at the Johnson Creek marsh or try crabbing off the 1,100-foot pier that extends into Fripp Inlet. If you’re a newbie, the park rents rods and reels and sells supplies and 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.