While most beaches don’t allow camping, if you know where to look, you’ll find quiet places to pitch a tent right on the sand. The best parts of beach camping are the sounds of crashing waves lulling you to sleep and morning strolls along the shoreline at low tide. As state and national park campgrounds start to reopen, here’s where to go to find empty campsites with ocean views.
Best for Surfers
La Push, Washington
Sleep on the beach at La Push, on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula, which is accessed via a four-hour journey from Seattle that involves a ferry ride and a scenic drive. Camping is allowed on Second Beach and Third Beach, both within Olympic National Park, but before visiting, you’ll need to pick up a wilderness permit ($8 per person per night, plus a $6 permit fee) from a ranger station and review the tide and weather conditions. For hardy surfers, there’s a well-known beach break at nearby First Beach, a few miles north. Before you go, check here for the the latest.
Best for Camper Vans
East Beach, Rhode Island
Three miles of pristine coastline make up East Beach, a barrier beach with tidal sand flats located outside the town of Charlestown, Rhode Island. The 20 rustic campsites ($28; reserve online) are designated for RVs, campers, and vans only—there’s no tent camping here—and offer access to Ninigret Pond, which has excellent fishing on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. There’s limited parking for day visitors, so East Beach sees fewer crowds than other spots in the area. Before you go, check here for the latest.
Best for Paddlers
Hammocks Beach State Park, North Carolina
The highlight of Hammocks Beach State Park is Bear Island, a four-mile-long undeveloped barrier island that you can only reach via ferry from the central North Carolina town of Swansboro or by paddling a canoe or kayak about 2.5 miles through the marsh along one of a few designated canoe trails. The island comes with 14 oceanfront campsites ($35; reserve online) scattered between the dunes. Paddle NC rents kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards and leads guided tours of the area’s loggerhead turtle nesting grounds. Before you go, check here for the latest.
Best for Backpackers
False Cape State Park, Virginia
The reason False Cape State Park, south of Virginia Beach, doesn’t see a ton of traffic is because it’s not exactly easy to get there. Located smack between the Atlantic and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, reaching this park requires hiking or biking a few miles, boating, or riding a beach transporter called the Terra Gator. Once you get there, you’ll find 12 primitive tent-camping sites ($20; call 800-933-7275 to reserve), six miles of undeveloped coastline, and hiking and biking trails. Before you go, check here for the latest.
Best for Bikepackers
Coast Campground, California
Newbie bikepackers will appreciate the ease of pedaling to the Coast Campground, located within Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, an hour north of San Francisco. Ride a paved road out to the Point Reyes Hostel, then it’s three miles of dirt on the bike-friendly Coast Trail to reach camp. (Hikers can come in from the hostel via a 1.8-mile trail or a longer 5.5-mile route.) There’s no driving to camp, which keeps the masses away. The 14 sites ($20; reserve online) are nestled in a grassy meadow, mostly protected from the ocean breezes, and spaced far enough apart to give you a sense of seclusion. The beach and tide pools are about 200 yards away. In a normal summer, these sites fill up all season long. Before you go, check here for the latest.
Best for Families
Cobscook Bay State Park, Maine
Many of the 106 campsites ($30; reserve online) at Cobscook Bay State Park, a few miles south of the town of Dennysville, Maine, line the water in the calm inlet of Whiting Bay. It’s a perfect, mellow beach for families. Plus, your kids will love digging for soft-shell clams at low tide and hiking the roughly two miles of trails in the 888-acre state park. Part of the protected Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, this area is home to many animal species, including bald eagles, bears, and Atlantic salmon. Camping is open to residents of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, as well as those who have abided by a 14-day quarantine or recently tested negative for the coronavirus; check here for the latest.
Best for Glampers
Sunset Bay State Park, Oregon
This destination is well named: the sunsets from Sunset Bay State Park, just south of Coos Bay and the small town of Charleston, Oregon, are well worth the trip out. Also spectacular: the surrounding sandstone sea cliffs, which provide protection from the wind and a quiet vibe. Trails connect to neighboring Cape Arago State Park, and tide pools dot the small bay. The park’s campground—just a short walk from the beach—has RV sites, tent sites, and eight well-stocked yurts (tents from $19 a night, yurts from $43; reserve online), as well as kayaks and paddleboards for rent. Before you go, check here for the latest.