5 Great Places To Camp In The American Southwest
Campsites vary from the most primitive of settings to truly exceptional sleeping quarters. Some may only have simple pit toilets (nose-pinching and breath-holding required), while others have full-on hot showers, laundromats and convenience stores with coveted goodies such as Clif Bars and miniature bottles of bourbon.
While no summer road trip is complete without a little down and dirty camping (indeed, your vacation will certainly be enhanced by crashing in the parking lot of a super-sketchy truck stop at least once), you should plan to hit some of the exceptional campsites around the U.S. at some point.
You don’t have to succumb to creepy — not to mention pricey — motels to get a good night’s sleep. Here, in no particular order, are some of the best campsites the American Southwest has to offer.
1) Snow Canyon State Park
A truly memorable campground, Snow Canyon State Park offers sweeping views of rust-colored rocks; large but secluded campsites; cushy, sand tent platforms; and huge, shady bushes that shelter campers from the blazing noon sun. Choose a campsite that sits flush against one of the park’s many rock walls for a cozy enclosure.
If you must restock supplies, the nearby sprawling suburban town of St. George offers big-box grocery stores and dingy restaurants — admittedly not the most charming place. And remember that you’re in Utah, which means you have to venture into a government-owned liquor store to buy any booze or watered-down beer.
Thankfully, Snow Canyon lies far enough away from St. George to obscure city lights and noises from the night sky. Flush toilets and lukewarm showers offer convenience amid the wild desert landscape.
2) South Campground, Zion National Park
Seconds away from the Zion National Park Visitor Center, South Campground resides in the green valley floor of Zion Canyon. Though the park has a desert-like climate, several large trees provide shade on hot afternoons. Due to the lack of electrical hookups, unsightly RV’s are kept to a minimum and are usually relegated to the more crowded Watchman Campground. Water and flush bathrooms are several steps away — a blessing during dark nights.
During the day hike Angel’s Landing, a beastly trail that sends you up a ridge that drops off hundreds of feet on both sides. Needless to say, this trail is not for the faint of heart.
At dusk the setting sun reflects off the valley’s walls, lending an enchanting and luminous light to dining campers here.
3) Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground
When a campsite is equipped with free Wi-Fi, you know you are in for a relatively lavish night. A stone’s throw from downtown Santa Fe, Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground has all the amenities a roadtripper could possibly wish for: hot showers, water, electric hook-ups, full-flush bathrooms and laundry, all of which guarentees you’ll depart cleaner than when you left.
Equipped with a dog park, playground and free outdoor movies from May to September, kids and pets will be entertained and happy. The campsites themselves are large and roomy, are shaded by scraggly trees and have beautifully cushioned mulched tent platforms for a restful evening.
4) Natural Bridges National Monument
Forty-two miles west of Blanding, Utah — so, basically, the middle of nowhere. Good luck.
It’s easy to see why Natural Bridges National Monument has been designated an International Dark Sky Park: The nearest town is a whopping 40-odd miles away. But as long as you stock up on firewood and food prior to making the drive, you should have an exceptional night. Other necessities: small red flashlight, star chart and binoculars.
Though the park gets its name from the sandstone bridges carved by water millions of years ago, it’s the night sky that’s the main attraction. Spotting meteors within seconds of nightfall makes up for the lack of flush toilets, showers, electrical hookups and cell service.
The sites themselves are huge with hefty fire pits and picnic tables. Though the park is open all year round, the summers and winters have harsh weather. For the best stargazing, plan a visit around a new moon (a.k.a. no moon).
5) Lake Colorado City State Park
Featuring wide-open campsites with a great view of Lake Colorado City, this 500-acre state park is a fantastic place to spend an evening. Full-flush bathrooms and showers are close to the numerous campsites, as well as running water for each location. Swimming is allowed in the lake (no lifeguard) — a blessing on a hot Texas day. Try to snag a site with a view of the lake and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular morning sunrise.
Bonus: If a thunderstorm is in the vicinity, you’ll be able to see lightning coming across the horizon for miles — a terrifyingly beautiful vision you won’t soon forget.
About the Author
Jenna Blumenfeld, (Jenna Ogden Blumenfeld when she’s in really big trouble) hails from the wee state of Connecticut. Although her childhood dream of becoming a bug doctor — with a specialization in ladybugs — has gone unfulfilled, she is content writing about travel, cuisine and culture. A vegetarian, she currently resides in the food hub of Boulder, Colorado. Read more of her food-centric writing at NewHope360.com.