Why: This grassy knoll provides a lush respite from the aptly named Badlands.
This 22 mile trek is truly a lonesome getaway, but in the best way possible. The contrast of the spires rising from the grassy flatlands and shrubby juniper trees is a gorgeous as anywhere, but it’s truly your own private Dakota. Spend the first night just three miles in at deer haven surrounded by the hoodoos, but pack plenty of water (at least a gallon a day per person) in a lightweight container like the Seattle Sports Aquasto 8 Liter Water Carrier as there is no potable water on the loop.
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Image: Getty Images / Michele Falzone
Hance Rapids, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Why: A gorgeous riverside site surrounded by stunning red rock is the perfect way to end a strenuous day of hiking.
After the knee busting descent into the grandest of canyons where trekking poles are a must, this red rock ringed oasis will take the edge off even the the most fatigued trekker. As night descends and innumerable stars appear the murmur of the Hance rapids will lull you into a comforting, heavy sleep.
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Image: Getty Images / Chris Murray
Jannock’s Landing, Cranberry Lake, Adirondack Park, New York
Why: Even backpackers need a beach vacation.
On the second day of this 19 mile route, you’ll find this lakeside lean-to (first come, first serve) so appealing and want to settle in for a another night and day. If you can pull yourself away from the sandy beach, Cat Mountain and it’s perch that surveys the vast forest below is a worthwhile side trip.
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Image: Getty Images / Panoramic Images
Kekekabic site #1406, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
Why: Honestly any waterfront site in these canoe-in watery wilds is stunning, but this one is exceptionally so.
Site #1406 occupies a tiny peninsula on the northeast corner of Kekekabic Lake, but is sheltered by numerous trees while still maintaining gorgeous views. With an easy landing spot for your canoe and crew, level tent pads and a convenient area for cooking make this spot an ideal lakeshore home for the night.
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Image: Getty Images / Danita Delimont
Perfection Lake, Enchantments Area, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington
Why: In one of the most beautiful areas of wilderness anywhere, this lake more than lives up to its name.
Every year multitudes of backpackers put in their lottery bid for itineraries in the Enchantments and those lucky enough to get permits for the Core Zone have a numerous options for jaw-dropping camp sites. Perfection lake, hook shaped with clear cerulean waters and ringed by ancient larches, rivals any here for the title of most gorgeous. Stunning views of Little Annapurna and Prusik Peak complete the picture perfect setting. Weather here can change with little notice so a sturdy, lightweight shelter like The North Face Mica is a must.
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Image: Jim Dailey
Sandstone Castles, Richland Creek Wilderness, Arkansas
Why: A rugged, wild adventure with a brambly scramble to a hidden hideout is your idea of a good time.
Outlaws and Civil War deserters holed up in this labyrinth of tunnels carved by wind in this sandstone bluff. Getting here requires adept route-finding skills and plenty of bushwhacking (a machete is a good idea) as there are no maintained trail in the wilderness. There is plenty of room for several tents once you arrive, but leave the rainfly at home if this you do this as an overnighter. Pack in all your water as there is none in the caves.
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Image: Getty Images / Untouchable Photo
Snow Creek Camp, Yosemite National Park, California
Why: You’ll be mesmerized by stunning sunset views of iconic Half Dome across the valley.
On the last night of a four day traverse of Yosemite’s less visited North Rim trail you’ll stroll onto a granite slab where you’ll find your own panoramic vista of Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest to its left. As the sun goes down and the vertical pitch of the epochal rock fades from copper to a pale coral to a dark shadow looming over you, look for the tiny headlights of climbers bivouacked on the rockface. Snuggle into a warm sleeping bag like Mountain Hardwear Lamina 20 as the night winds can bring a chill across the plateau.
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Image: Frank Bowman
Where: Upper Slate Lake, Eagles Nest Wilderness, Colorado
Why: The idea of climbing to and camping at nearly 11,000 feet invigorates you.
The reflection of the peaks surrounding Upper Slate Lake is an unparalleled optical illusion and 13,230 Peak Q’s jagged elegance dominates the surroundings. Hike clockwise around the lake past the first campsites to even better ones. Plan on pitching your tent for a couple nights and take a stroll to the beautiful waterfall at the west end of the lake.
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THE COMPASS: 8 U.S. Campsites that Need to Be on your Bucket List
Whether you’re craving a completely isolated experience, you love the social aspect of shacking up in the great outdoors, or you just want to chill by a lakeside with a roaring fire and some friends—these eight campsites are ones you really don’t want to miss out on. Add them to your bucket list and start checking them off this summer.