Two days into a backpacking trip across Glacier National Park a few years ago, my husband and I pitched our tent along a stream beneath the protective curve of a band of cliff walls, at a site called Hole in the Wall.
That spot goes down in my memory as the most beautiful place I’ve ever camped. Perched high on a ledge in what’s called a “hanging canyon,” a dozen small waterfalls spilled over the vast stone curtain around us. I wanted to stay there forever, plucking thimble berries from bushes and staring at the stars.
But there’s no easy way to get to Hole in the Wall. You have to hike several days to reach the spot, carrying all your gear. And if you’re continuing east through the northern section of the park, you’ll have to walk along a steep drop-off that kicked my fear of heights into high gear.
Still, I loved it.
Most of my best nights have unfolded inside a sleeping bag, whether I was tucked inside a tent in the backcountry far from civilization or kicked back at a developed campground.
Below are some of the most memorable. …
As far as I can tell, Sea Rim State Park near Port Arthur lays claim to the only publicly accessible floating campsite in the Lone Star State.
The 13-by-20-foot platform, designed by architecture students from the University of Texas, is situated 2 miles from the boat ramp on the inland side of the park, 24 miles from Port Arthur.
Read more: Six places to park your campervan in Texas this Spring
It takes about an hour to paddle to the site by canoe or kayak, but you can’t get lost. Just follow the channel cut into the tall grass. Take the left fork when it splits, and look for the tall wooden tower, which stands out like a beacon.
That tower is a three-walled structure, designed to provide privacy. You’ll appreciate it when it’s time to use the 5-gallon waste bucket (sold at park headquarters) that you’re required to bring with you because there is no restroom.
The site holds two free-standing tents and four people. And bring mosquito spray – they can be vicious. The reward? The gentle splish-splash of fish at dawn, and the knowledge that an alligator may be spying on you.
Most convenient access to fresh fruit
At Big B’s Delicious Orchards in Paonia, Colorado, you can pitch a tent or park a small campervan between rows of apple trees in a working orchard. Even better, you can head to the orchard’s headquarters store to buy snacks, homemade hard cider or lemonade, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Bands perform on the stage outside, and kids (and overgrown kids, too) can climb onto a launching block and take a ride on a high-flying swing.
Each site has a fire ring and picnic table, and porta-potties are positioned nearby. And a bonus – the orchard is located about 45 minutes from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Read more: Fishing up old memories and making new ones at Inks Lake State Park
You’ll need a guide, a good pair of shoes, plenty of water, and lots of energy to find what might be the prettiest spot in Texas, high atop Mesa de Anguila on the western fringes of Big Bend National Park.
I tagged along with a quirky guy named William from Far Flung Outdoor Center in Terlingua to make ￼the trip a few years ago. (A backcountry permit is required, and please don’t go alone. This spot is difficult to find.)
We struck out on the Mesa de Anguila trail near Lajitas, slogged up a steep hill, then followed the path as it swept east, past a sinkhole and a field of recliner-sized boulders. Then we kept going. The trail peters out after 9 miles, fading into an ocean of creosote, sotol and little piles of mountain lion scat. The going is slow, but seven and a half hours later you’ll reach a point high above the Rio Grande, across from its confluence with Fern Creek. There, you’ll find a metal ammunition can with a registry stashed inside – and a sheer wall that drops nearly 900 feet to the river.
It’s rugged, prickly, and perfect. Just make sure you pop your tent far from the edge, watch for poisonous snakes and insects, haul out all trash, and pack lots of water. It’s hot and dry up there. Don’t even attempt this in the summer.
Peer out of your tent flaps and look in any direction from the Guale 2 campsite at Big Bend Ranch State Park, just west of the better known national park, and you’ll get an eyeful of West Texas. The solitude takes your breath away.
I’ve camped at this site twice and consider it the premier spot at the sprawling park, home to 238 miles of multi-use trails that wind among the collapsed crater of an ancient volcano. Once, I woke up, zipped open my tent, and found myself eyeball to eyeball with a tarantula.
This is rugged country; take maps, a compass, and plenty of water if you go hiking. It takes more than an hour and a half to reach the campsite from the park’s headquarters at Sauceda, itself an hour and a half drive from the park’s entrance east of Presidio. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are a must, and bring two spare tires. Access permits are available at Barton Warnock Education Center in Lajitas or Fort Leaton State Historic Site in Presidio.
After 15 days hiking the John Muir Trail, all I could think about was the hot cheeseburger I’d feast on and the shower I’d take once I popped out on the other side of Mount Whitney. Guitar Lake is the last spot backpackers camp before climbing over the Whitney Pass and blasting down the other side to finish their trek, so it’s sort of a backcountry party (that ends as soon as the sun sets and doesn’t involve loud music or booze.) Volkswagen-sized boulders surround the lake, which is shaped like a guitar. Tuck your tent behind one of those, feel free to finish all your food, use all your gas, and deplete all your resources (well, except for one day’s supplies) before you go to sleep. I’ve camped here twice – and both times endured late afternoon thunderstorms. I was thrilled.
Best for photographers
OK, so I’m cheating a little on this one. When I went to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Far West Texas, the wind was blasting so hard that rangers advised me not to make the steep climb up to the top of Guadalupe Peak. (I did other spectacular hikes instead.)
Still, I’m including it because hardy photographers will want to snag a spot at the Guadalupe Peak Wilderness Campground, located 3.1 miles up from the Pine Springs Trail Head on the Guadalupe Peak Trail. The backcountry campsites – there are five designated tent pads – are perched on a small knoll , and minimally protected from high winds. There are no amenities. But from that spot, it’s a relatively short 1-mile slog up to the peak, where you can set up cameras and get the best sunrise shots in the entire all the Lone Star State.