According to KOA’s 2019 North American Camping Report, more people are pitching tents closer to home. And that’s even more true now as we navigate state-by-state reopenings from coronavirus shutdowns. Luckily, there are more urban places to camp than you’d think, like these sites—all within 100 miles of big cities.
Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park
A smattering of 34 islands and peninsulas just off the coast, this park has no shortage of activities, including swimming. We recommend Lovells Island, one of four that offer camping, for its hiking and views of the harbor. Seven primitive sites (from $8) are tucked into the woods and walkable from the beach. While most visitors take the ferry from Boston, those looking for a challenge can kayak an hour to reach the island. Note: the park is currently closed. Check nps.gov for updates.
Lost Dutchman State Park
Lost Dutchman has the same dramatic landscape as the region’s Joshua Tree and Saguaro National Parks—think classic Sonoran Desert full of majestic cactus—but without the crowds. Forty miles east of downtown Phoenix, the 320-acre park serves as a well-appointed trailhead for Tonto National Forest. At the RV-friendly campground, choose wisely to get a site with views of the Superstition Mountains (from $25).
Panola Mountain State Park
Atlanta is famous for suburban sprawl, but tucked amid all the chaos is Panola Mountain State Park, a 1,635-acre swath of wilderness 15 minutes east of downtown. You’ll have to hike half a mile to reach five primitive campsites (from $22), which sit next to a pond filled with bream. There are 36 miles of hiking trails and a tree-climbing program that will have you reaching the tops of 100-foot red oaks. Time it right and you can sleep in the canopy during one of the park’s overnight climbs.
The Vaudeville Urban Farm
Sometimes you don’t even need to leave the city to pitch a tent. A 9,000-square-foot farm tucked into Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood, this offbeat Hipcamp listing has five campsites (from $48). Gather eggs, feed the goats, and use the prime location to explore the city. Run or pedal the 606, an abandoned rail line that’s been converted into a 2.7-mile-long park; kayak along the Chicago River; or take the train to Lake Michigan and run or bike the Lakefront Trail.
San Francisco, California
Angel Island State Park
The best view of San Francisco’s skyline is from a tent in the middle of the bay. The 740-acre Angel Island State Park has 12 campsites (from $30). Catch a ferry to reach the island, or kayak to one of two sites accessible from shore. Rent a bike from the Angel Island Company and ride nine miles of car-free roads, or hike the Sunset Trail to the top of 788-foot Mount Livermore for 360-degree views of downtown San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz.