25 GREAT BEACH CAMPS
It’s summer and the heat is on. Cool out by heading to the beach-for a campout! Every coastal state offers campgrounds either on the sand or so close to the ocean that you can smell the salt in the air. Here are a few of our favorites. Read on, take some notes, make a few calls, and then get packing and head down to the beach. And don’t forget your swimsuit, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and flip-flops!
WEST COAST BEACH CAMPS
Washington State is probably better known for its apples, high peaks and thick forests than beaches, but there are a couple of salty camps we can suggest. On Pugent Sound you’ll find Fort Flagler State Park. Flagler offers dramatic views of the Sound and the surrounding Olympics and Cascades; provides interesting history and a variety of hiking trails; features amenities ranging from picnic tables and fire grills to flush toilets and showers; and delivers easy access to the sea and beaches for clamming and the abundant fishing.
Flagler’s 784 acres are surrounded on three sides by nearly 20,000 feet of saltwater shoreline. It has 101 tent sites, 15 sites for RVs up to 50 feet (right on the beach), and two primitive tent sites. Flagler features a marine park with good diving, a store, café and boat launch. For more information: call 360/902-8844 or click on /parks.wa.gov/.
On the Pacific coast is another Washington State site on our “it” list: Cape Disappointment (formerly known as Fort Canby) State Park. Cape Disappointment State Park offers nearly 2000 acres of old-growth forest, lakes, marshes, creeks and tidal zones set on the Long Beach Peninsula. It features 152 campsites (27 with partial hookups for RVs up to 45 feet), some cabins and yurts; and offers access to 27 miles of ocean beaches and two lighthouses. More information: dial 360/902-8844 or go to /parks.wa.gov/.
Hushed tones of near-mystical respect are used when people who have been there talk of the Oregon coastline. Almost every turn of the road reveals a new, more amazing sight. Flip a coin, pick a number, throw a dart at the map; it would be hard to go wrong. None-the-less, we can’t help mention two places we love.
Try Nehalem Bay State Park. It’s situated on a huge sand spit near the little village of Manzanita on Oregon’s northern coast. Nehalem offers 265 sites with electrical hookups; and some yurts, horse camps, and a few primitive fly-in sites adjacent to the airstrip. During summer months you can ride horses, bike or hike along the beach, pedal the 1.75-mile bike trail, kayak the bay, fly a kite, hike the dunes, or just sit on the beach and watch a sunset. More information: dial 800/551-6949 or click on /oregon.gov/OPRD/PARKS/.
Then there is the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Administered by the Suislaw National Forest and stretching for nearly 40 miles along the southern Oregon coastline between Florence and the North Bend/Coos Bay area, the Dunes offer two distinct experiences. Depending on what part of the recreation area you visit, you can find quiet solitude hiking the lonely dunes and soulful shorelines set aside as nature preserves, or rev up your engines and let sand fly in the sections set aside for dune buggies, ATVs and motorcycles.
A dozen good campgrounds dot the Dunes, but our pick is the smallish 23-site Carter Lake. Carter Lake is at the northern end of the recreation area near Florence, with the campground at one end of the long narrow lake set among the dunes. Dune hiking, swimming, fishing, and boating are highlights. No off-road-vehicle access is available at Carter Lake (keeps the place more quiet than some of the other campgrounds); but if that’s what you’re looking for, a short drive will take you to one of the off-road access points. More information: call 541/271-6000 or turn your browser’s attention to /fs.fed.us/r6/siuslaw/recreation/tripplanning/oregondunes/.
Redwoods form the background to the campground at Gold Bluffs Beach in the rolling hummocks of dune-grass set back from the wide, dark-sand beach. On the northern coast of California, this idyllic spot in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is a picture-perfect campsite. Gold Bluffs offers 25 RV sites, and there are 29 tent sites available right on the beach. Facilities include restrooms, solar shower, and fire pits. Prairie Creek Redwood State Park is located 50 miles north of Eureka and 45 miles south of Crescent City on Highway 101. More information: call 707/464-6101 or click on /parks.ca.gov/.
Pismo is much like Oregon Dunes. It can mean quiet sunset walks on the beach, explorative strolls through the trees (where millions of Monarch butterflies winter) topping some of the coastal dunes, and fishing in the surf, on the pier, or at the lagoon near Pismo State Beach. Two developed, but quiet campgrounds can be found at the State Park offering just over 100 sites (no hookups) at North Beach Campground and more than 80 (about half with hookups) at the Oceano Campground. More information on Pismo State Park: 805/489-2684 or go to /parks.ca.gov/.
Pismo can also mean rip-roaring, high-octane off-road action just a few miles south at the 1500-acre Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. The SVRA is filled with dunes and beach sand that can be driven on, is very popular with 4×4, ATV and motorcycle enthusiasts, and offers open camping. Those interested in the gas and oil cult can call the Oceano Dunes SVRA at 805/773-7170 or click on /ohv.parks.ca.gov/.
El Capitan State Beach is 17 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara and offers a sandy beach, rocky tide pools, and groves of sycamore and oaks along El Capitan Creek. Highlights include ocean swimming, fishing and surfing. A stairway provides access from the bluffs to the beach. A bike trail connects the 132-campsite (some RV only) park to its adjoining neighbor Refugio State Beach 2.5-miles west. Refugio offers excellent fishing, hiking trails and picnic sites. Palm trees planted near Refugio Creek give a distinctive look to the beach and the 66-site (no hookups) camping area. For more Refugio/El Capitan information, call 805/968-1033 or move your mouse to /parks.ca.gov/.
Leo Carillo State Beach is 24 miles north of Santa Monica along California’s Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1). Surfing, sandy shores, tide pools, sea caves and coastal bluffs are what you can expect. Leo Carrillo’s seaside campground has 135 family sites that can handle rigs up to 31 feet; a group site that can handle 50 persons sits in the back of the canyon. Giant sycamore trees shade the main campground. A tree-lined, stream-bottomed canyon penetrates deep into the surrounding hills. More information: call 818/880-0350 or navigate your way to /parks.ca.gov/.
Jam-packed on summer weekends, visits during mid-week and off-season are best for San Elijo State Beach, just north of San Diego near Cardiff-by-the-Sea. It’s worth it, though. The 170-unit campground is a narrow gem nestled against a coastal-cliff shoreline, offering superb views and great year-round surfing, snorkeling and diving. Catch the ranger’s campfire lecture on marine life. More information: call 760/753-5091 or click on /parks.ca.gov/.
GULF COAST BEACH CAMPS
Padre Island is south of Corpus Christi, Texas, and the longest undeveloped barrier island in the U.S. The National Seashore is on North Padre Island (avoid the crowds on South Padre Island). Most of the camping on North Padre is primitive. Toilets, showers and picnic tables are available at Malaquite, the most developed campground. Fifty campsites are less than 100 feet from the beach and offer an unobstructed view of the ocean. Driving is allowed in certain areas of the beach. Check with the Malaquite Visitor’s enter for programs including beach walks and evening programs. For more information: call 361/949-8068 or click on /nps.gov/pais/.
For the full schedule of outdoor activities head northeast of Padre Island National Seashore to Mustang Island State Park for fishing, swimming, hiking and mountain biking on five miles of open beach. Mustang’s 3954 acres offer well-vegetated coastal sand dunes (some approaching 35 feet in height); and the 48 improved sites at the park’s campground include electrical and water hookups, picnic tables, grills, restrooms and showers. Three hundred primitive campsites are positioned along the shoreline, too. Extremely high tides can affect beach and camping conditions-call ahead. For more information: dial 361/749-5246 or go to /tpwd.state.tx.us/.
Sun your buns at Grand Isle State Park, the most popular camping location on the coast of Louisiana. Fishing is the primary activity, and even though Hurricane Rita took out the 400-foot fishing pier (soon to be rebuilt) near the Visitor’s Center, Grand Isle still provides excellent surf fishing. Those who aren’t big on angling can spend their time chasing Grand Isle’s squirming beach crabs. This 95-unit beach campground includes sites with partial hookups, and offers a bathhouse. For more information: phone 888/787-2559 or take your browser to /crt.state.la.us.parks/.
The 12 units of Gulf Islands National Seashore stretch 150 miles from Cat Island in Mississippi to Santa Rosa Island in the Florida Panhandle. A few lie just a handful of miles off the coast. On some, you’ll find sparkling blue waters and snowy-white beaches; on others, coastal marshes and dense maritime forests will be your treasure. Some like Cat, East Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois are boat-in only (you can hire NPS-approved outfitters to get you there); others such as West Ship can be reached by ferry; and others such as Santa Rosa can be driven to. Santa Rosa is home to Fort Pickens, built in 1829 and completed in 1834 to defend Pensacola, as well as the park’s largest campground with 200 sites. However, due to Hurricane Rita damage, the roads on Santa Rosa were still closed to private vehicles as of this report, but check with park headquarters for openings. For more information: call 850/934-2600 or go to /nps.gov/guis/.
Located about halfway down the Florida Panhandle and bounded by three sides of water, St. Joseph Peninsula State Park (2500 acres) is 63 miles southeast of Panama City. This state park offers miles of sugar-white sand beaches and dunes, with a heavily forested interior. The beaches of St. Joseph State Park are considered some of the most beautiful in the continental United States. Gulf Breeze campground is more open and can accommodate larger vehicles; Shady Pines campground is more secluded and shaded. There are a total of 120 campsites (with water and electric) between the two. For more information: call 850/227-1327 or go to /floridastateparks.org/.
Just one step back from land’s end at Key West is Bahia Honda State Park. Bahia Honda offers broad sandy beaches with exceptional swimming and snorkeling in turquoise waters that abound in sea life. Kayaking, boating and fishing are top draws to Bahia Honda. The 80 campsites are split among three campgrounds. Our two favorites are Buttonwood and Sand Spur. Buttonwood campground is best for RV’s and includes electricity, tables, grills, showers and a bathhouse. The Sand Spur campground is better for tents, is located in a hardwood forest, and features the park’s prettiest sites. More information: call 305/872-2353 or click on /floridastateparks.org/.
ATLANTIC COAST BEACH CAMPS
Cumberland Island National Seashore protects the Georgia mainland and shelters the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. Remote and only accessible by ferry, this nearly 20,000-acre national park facility has more than 17 miles of beach. The park features marshes, estuaries, ponds, oak forests, massive dunes, and clean sandy beaches that provide habitat for loggerhead turtles. The developed campground (Sea Camp) has restrooms, showers, drinking water, fire grills and picnic tables. Reservations are required for the campground and ferry. More information: dial 888/817-3421 or “google” /nps.gov/cuis/.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina, cradles a gem of a campground situated among dunes that are just a hop, skip and jump away from the ocean. Frisco Campground offers 127 campsites (tent only) with amenities such as tables, fire grills, drinking water, toilets and showers. Beach activities run the gamut from surf fishing and beachcombing to kayaking and wind surfing. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are allowed on the beach in some sections of the National Seashore. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is also just a short drive from camp. For information: call 252/473-2111 or click on /nps.gov/caha/.
Virginia may be for lovers, but it has some pretty lovely beaches, too. One that we can recommend is Kiptopeke State Park located at the southern end of Virginia’s Eastern Shore and just a few miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The 375-acre Kiptopeke offers nearly 4300-feet of beach that’s perfect for swimming, surf fishing, or taking long sunset walks. The campgrounds are set away from the beach with sand dunes in between; and each campsite offers a table, fire ring and lantern pole. The state park’s campgrounds include a total of 147 campsites, of which, 86 campsites are open to RVs up to 40 feet in length. The total of each site type: Tent, 47 (Tents only. No hook-ups. All sites are shaded, near a bathhouse and hot water; REWA, 54 (Electric and water sites; various equipment. RVs up to 40 feet; accepts outlets 20, 30 and 50 amp current. Half the sites are shaded); R304 (E/W/Sewer), 32 (Electric/water and sewer sites; various equipment. RVs up to 40 feet, 50 percent of the sites are shaded.); RVs on site for rent, 7; GPOP, 5 (Five group campsites, all shaded, no hook-ups. Available to groups of two or more sites together. No electricity or water; tents and pop-ups only.); Yurt, 1; Camping Lodge, 1. For more information: dial 757/331-2267 or go to /dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/.
Assateague State Park is Maryland’s only ocean park, offering two miles of shoreline for your enjoyment. Located on a barrier island of the same name, and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Sinepuxent Bay on either side, the park offers two miles of beach for swimming, sunbathing, surfing and fishing. The bayside of the park is great for exploring in canoes and kayaks, and the marsh areas provide habitat for wildlife, including deer, waterfowl and its famous feral horses. Three hundred and fifty campsites are available, with fire rings and tables at each site, and some electrical hookups are available. For information: call 410/641-2120 or click on /dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/.
Delaware offers beach goers Delaware Seashore State Park near the town of Dewey Beach. Bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by Rehoboth Bay and Indian River Bay, the 2825-acre park offers visitors two ocean swimming areas with bathhouses, restrooms and changing rooms. Fishing is popular, as is sunbathing, surfing and sailboarding. Crabbing and clamming are allowed in certain areas of the bays. The park has 37 tent campsites, and 143 RV sites (with hookups) up to 50 feet. For more information: phone 302/227-2800 or go to /destateparks.com/.
Hither Hills State Park might not sound like a place to beach camp, but this New York State (Long Island) park offers campers scenic picnic areas and fireplaces, fishing, sports fields, a childrens playground, and a 1.5-mile sandy ocean beach. If you get bored of sunbathing, flying kites, swimming or surfing, you can head over to the “walking dunes” of Napeague Harbor on the eastern border of the park. That side of Hither Hills also offers woodlands and trails for horses, hiking and biking. The 168-site campground is right on the ocean and can handle tents and RVs. For information: call 631/668-2554 or click on /nysparks.state.ny.us/.
Connecticut’s Rocky Neck State Park provides something for every member of the family. Located on Long Island Sound near the town of East Lynne, the 710-acre Rocky Neck offers clear waters and a stone-free beach with large expanses of white sand that are ideal for swimming and sunbathing. Straddled by a tidal river and a broad salt marsh, Rocky Neck has a diversity of hiking trails leading to places such as Baker’s Cave, Tony’s Nose and Shipyard. Fishing is popular and depending on season, you can expect mackerel, striped bass, blackfish and flounder; and wildlife is abundant in the area, with osprey a frequent summer visitor. The campground has 160 sites in open or wooded settings, but no hookups are available. For more information: dial 860/739-5471 or point your browser at /ct.gov/dep/.
Cape Cod National Seashore and Nickerson State Park are the places to be for beach camping buffs in Massachusetts. The Seashore is 44,000 acres of ocean and bay beaches, marshes and woodlands; and offers a multitude of outdoor recreational activities including swimming, sunbathing, boating and fishing. Self-guided natures trails, paved bicycle trails and guided ranger hikes are available. There is no campground in the Seashore, but nearby Nickerson State Park (Brewster) offers 420 sites for tents and RVs (no hookups) up to 35 feet. For more information, (Cape Cod N.S.) call 508/349-3785 or click on /nps.gov/caco/; (Nickerson S.P.) dial 508/896-3491 or go to /mass.gov/dcr/parks/.
The coastline of Maine is more typically rocky and rugged than sandy, but there are some very nice beaches to camp near. Our pick is the oceanfront park located in one the state’s favorite vacation regions-Lamoine State Park in the heart of Downeast Maine. The spread is 55-acres in size with 61 campsites (no hookups) for tents or RVs up to 40 feet, and offers access to a beach, picnic area, boat launch ramp, fishing pier, playground, hot showers and flush toilets. Lamoine is close to Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park, and area lighthouses, too. For information: call 207/667-4778 or click on /maine.gov/doc/parks/.
PRIVATE PARTY BEACH CAMPS
All of the campgrounds mentioned in this article are public campgrounds. If you’re interested in private campgrounds near any of these beach camp areas, go to /Woodalls.com/ and search its extensive online database of top-rated private tenting and RV campgrounds. Check out /KOA.com/, too; Kampgrounds of America offer excellent camping facilities all over the country. You’ll find one that’s just right for you.