Where did the season go? With the end of summer officially just a month away, here are three spectacular places to pitch your tent and enjoy some of the best scenery and natural beauty in America. The clock’s ticking, so don’t miss these camping gems!

Sedona, Arizona


Camping in Sedona gives you an up-front view of natural beauty, like the famous Oak Creek Canyon accessible from four nearby campgrounds. The scenery is amazing: sandstone, limestone, lava and basalt rock formations, desert views and a mix of red rocks and evergreen forests nestled between towering canyon walls. The original locals, the wild critters, are plentiful here, with squirrels, jackrabbits, skunks, quail and a surprising variety of birds. Shyer, but visible at a distance, you’ll likely glimpse javelinas, deer, antelope, even bobcat and coyotes.

Most camping spots are available on a first-come basis and they fill quickly. A few sites can be reserved in advance so call to secure a sweet spot nearest the creek. But since all of the developed Oak Creek Canyon campgrounds are on or near the water, access to fishing and swimming is easy. In the Coconino National Forest you have 1.8 million acres to play in. There’s a 10,000 foot elevation differential through the park, and a remarkable variety of landscapes. You can climb a mountain, swim in desert creeks guarded by red rock cliffs, or float suspended on a hang glider from the crest of a cinder cone. 

Campgrounds offer picnic areas, barbeques and fire rings, and all have restrooms. Camping here is less about frills and all about the views.

Photo credit: Flickr CC

Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Tennessee

smoky mountains

Ridge after ridge of thick forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in America’s most-visited national park. Great Smokey Mountains National Park is primarily known for the diversity of plant and animal life, the stunning beauty of ancient mountains, and the quality of its Appalachian mountain culture. It’s also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The famous Appalachian Trail passes through the center of the park, which encompasses 522,419 acres, making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. The main entrances are located on US Highway 441 at the towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Cherokee, North Carolina.

There are 850 miles of trails and unpaved roads in the park for hiking, including 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Mount Le Conte is a popular destination in the park. At an elevation of 6593 feet it’s the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River.

Camping is allowed in designated areas and shelters. Most park trail shelters are located along the Appalachian Trail or a short distance away on side trails. There are three other shelters away from main trails. Backcountry campsites are scattered throughout the park. A permit, available at ranger stations and trailheads, is required. Reservations are required for many of the campsites and all of the shelters.

The park service maintains four historic districts and one archaeological district within the park boundaries, as well as nine individual listings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo credit: Flickr CC

Sequoia/King’s Canyon National Parks, California

Famous for giant sequoia trees, soaring mountains, deep canyons and roaring rivers, this tandem of parks offers plenty to see and do, and both are usually less crowded than nearby (75 miles) Yosemite.  Within the park borders, Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States at 14,494 feet, and the King’s River Canyon is one of North America’s deepest canyons.

Even with such a variety of terrain, gawking at the big trees is the most popular park activity…and no wonder! The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest living thing, and it’s surrounded by gargantuan neighbors. Other trees nearby may be taller or rounder, but the General Sherman – estimated to be about 2200 years old – is still growing, soaring more than 275 feet into the sky and measuring 103/31 meters around. Its combined weight and width make it the king of sequoias.

Camping among these leviathans is a special otherworldly experience. Most campgrounds here are on a first-come basis, with a maximum of six people allowed at a standard site. Group campsites are available by reservation. Each campsite has a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and a metal food storage box.