Watching the sunrise or the sunset from a pristine beach is a quintessential vacation must-do. While there are hundreds of beachfront hotels in the United States, nothing beats sleeping on the beach with sand between your toes.
We’ve found a handful of beaches in the United States where you can camp on, or very near to, the beach. Eliminate the need for a pre-dawn trek to catch the sunrise or or for the fun to end when the sun goes down. Plus, you’re already assured a prime spot on the beach before daytime beach-goers arrive.
Tips for beach camping
- Campsite options are limited as are their capacities so make reservations well in advance.
- Many campsites aren’t ADA Accessible, so contact the campsite for details prior to making a reservation.
- Apply for camping permits (if needed) in advance.
- Prepare for any type of weather.
- Pack proper supplies like a bear canister to keep raccoons and other animals from eating your provisions; sunscreen; insect repellent; screen tents for shade and insect protection; and long tent stakes to anchor tents in the sand to withstand wind.
- Watch the high tide level and camp well above that.
- Consult with park rangers for details on hiking, weather conditions and campsite conditions.
- Plan ahead of time for how to pack for a camping trip if you are flying.
Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida
Located at mile marker 37 in the Florida Keys, Bahia Honda State Park offers three camping areas within the 500-acre park. Up to 80 campsites for tents and RV campers are available. Two of the camping areas, Buttonwood and Sandspur, offer waterfront camping.
Buttonwood accommodates small tents and large RVs on a gravel site, and the waterfront campsites here, which don’t have much shade, are #12-25. Amenities include electricity, water, a picnic table and a grill, plus there are restrooms and hot showers.
Sandspur is located in a hardwood hammock that has low clearance, so only tents and small campers are allowed. The waterfront campsites here are #64-72, and amenities include a picnic table, grill and water. Pets are welcome, but they must be leashed. Some 19 boat slips are available for overnight rental/camping and amenities include water, electricity and full use of park facilities (bathhouse, showers, trash disposal and pump-out).
The park offers campfire circles, lectures on local plants, animals or history conducted by park rangers. During the day, campers can enjoy kayaking on rentable open kayaks, tarpon fishing with guides via charter boats and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay. Campsites can be reserved up to 11 months in advance by calling 1-800-326-3521 or via Reserve America.
Homer Spit Campground, Homer, Alaska
At the end of Homer Spit, Alaska, campers are afforded picture postcard views of the mountains and the ocean. The Homer Spit Campground n the shores of Kachemak Bay can accommodate 122 RVs and 25 tents. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, dump station, fresh water, laundry, restrooms, showers and a gift shop. Firewood and ice are available for purchase.
The campsite is within walking distance to shops, restaurants and bars, like the Salty Dawg Saloon, a dive bar where visitors must try the Duck Fart, a shot purportedly originating in Kodiak and composed of Kahlúa, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Crown Royal. Open May 1 to Sept. 15, visitors can reserve campsites by calling 907-235-8206 or emailing email@example.com.
Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
The pristine beaches of the Cape Lookout National Seashore offer ocean camping at its purest: a chance to sleep under the stars at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, far from the distractions of the mainland. Ferries depart from the historic town of Beaufort, North Carolina. and the old-fashioned maritime village of Harkers Island for the Cape Lookout Lighthouse area and Shackleford Banks, where descendants of Spanish mustangs have roamed wild for five centuries.
This is primitive camping, with no fixed sites or camp stores and few amenities. Restrooms are open seasonally at the lighthouse area and Wade’s Shore on Shackleford Banks, but campers must carry in all supplies, including water, provisions and firewood if they want to build a campfire, which is allowed below the high-tide line. Campers must also be prepared to carry all trash back to the mainland.
Permits are generally not required except for groups of 25 or more. Park rangers recommend tents with insect netting and a tarp or a rain fly capable of withstanding strong winds. Longer tent stakes are also advised to anchor tents in the soft sand.
Malaquite Campground, Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Campers have the option to camp on the beach or at an inland campsite at Malaquite Campground. Tucked in the dunes, the campground offers a view of the Gulf of Mexico. There are 48 semi-primitive campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Amenities include restrooms, cold-water rinse showers and picnic tables. Campsites on the Gulf side have grills and shade structures.
Oceanside Campground, Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
Camping on the Maryland district portion of Assateague Island is a treat for experienced campers. Beach camping is not permitted in either the state park or the National Seashore; camping in either place is only allowed on designated pads that are located behind the dune line. The campground loops offer access points to the beach, but there is no water view from the campsites. Campsites accommodate tents and trailers and even horse camping (horse camping is available Oct. 16 to Apr. 14). Campsite amenities include toilets, cold water showers and drinking water. Reservations can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or via via www.recreation.gov; campsites are first-come, first-served Nov. 16 to Mar. 14.
Waiʻānapanapa State Park, Hana, Hawaii
The remote campsites in Waiʻānapanapa State Park offer the chance to camp along the volcanic coastline. The campsites are set in the jungle near an ancient Hawaiian coastal trail, which leads to Hana, Hawaii. Campers get an up-close-and-personal interaction with nature here. The park is home to a seabird colony, native hala forest, anchialine pools (landlocked bodies of water with subterranean connections to the ocean), heiau (religious temple) and a beautiful black sand beach.
Horseneck Beach State Reservation, Westport, Massachusetts
Camping directly on the beach is prohibited here. However, the Horseneck Beach State Reservation campground offers a unique camping experience. The 100-site campground is nestled between the natural sand dunes and the Atlantic Ocean, affording a panoramic view from the beach of the Elizabeth Islands and Cuttyhunk Island. Campgrounds include waterfront campsites. Amenities include a picnic table, a fire grill, toilets, hot showers, dishwashing sinks and a dumping station. The campgrounds also include a swing set, basketball court and volleyball court. The combination of ocean beach and estuary habitats makes Horseneck Beach one of the premier birding locations in New England. Reservations can be made one day to six months in advance by calling 1-877-422-6762 or via Reserve America.
Wright’s Beach, Sonoma Coast State Park, California
The 17-mile Sonoma Coast stretches from Bodega Head to Vista Trail, offering a dozen beach access points along coast Highway 1 and countless spots for photo ops. Wright’s Beach offers 27 developed campsites located adjacent to the beach. Dogs are allowed on the picturesque beach too. Amenities include a picnic table, a fire ring, running water and toilets. (Registered campers may use the hot showers at Bodega Dunes Campground, which is approximately five miles south). Reservations can be made 48 hours to seven months in advance by calling 1-800-444-PARK or via Reserve America.
Sea Camp Campground, Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
The remote Cumberland Island National Seashore is only accessible via a 45-minute ferry ride. There are five campsites on the island, including backcountry camping as well as the Sea Camp Campground located a short walk from the beach. Sea Camp has 16 individual sites and two group sites. Amenities at the shaded campsites include a picnic table, a fire ring, a grill, a food cache box, cold-water showers, restrooms and treated drinking water.
Reservations can be made up to six months in advance by calling the Cumberland Island Camping Office at 912-882-4336; campsite assignments are made upon arrival to the island. Visitors must carry everything off the island, including trash. All campers must have permits, which can be obtained at a mandatory orientation at the Sea Camp Ranger Station.
Kalaloch Campground, Olympic National Park, Washington
Located on the southwest coast of Olympic Peninsula, Kalaloch Campground is a popular place to camp, particularly at the 170 year-round campsites located on a high bluff adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. The campground is located between the two-lane Highway 101 and a cliff above the beach. Book a campsite with an ocean view; E009 and A001 are the closest ocean-view campsites with the easiest bathroom access. There are four stairways that go down to the beach from the campsite.
Other nearby beach camping options include Second Beach off the road between Forks Road and La Push Riad (there is a short, not terribly steep hike with a large pile of driftwood to climb over at the bottom). Campers need a Wilderness Camping Permit to camp at these locations.
You’ll need a bear canister to store food anywhere on the beach. Bear canisters are available at Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles and are used primarily to keep raccoons out of your food stash.
The fall and winter months are known for perfect storm watching from the safety of the shore with a hot drink. Pets are also welcome at Kalaloch. Nearby, the Creekside Restaurant at Kalaloch Lodge offers casual, cozy dining with panoramic ocean views serving fresh local and sustainable cuisine to recharge campers before another walk on the beach. Campsite reservations can be made during the summer (June 10 to Sept. 20) via the Olympic National Park website; campsites are first-come, first-served the rest of the year.
Main image: iStockPhoto/Vesna Andjic