Na Pali Coast combines all the best nature has to offer with its emerald valleys, cliffs overlooking the sea, sandy beaches, and cascading waterfalls.
Camping is one of America’s favorite pastimes. So is sunbathing along gorgeous coastlines. Combine the two and what do you get? An amazing time. Here are our favorite beaches to camp this summer. Take a look, book a trip, and enjoy your time communing with nature.
Na Pali Coast, Hawaii
Why go: Deep lush valleys, sea cliffs, sandy beaches, and waterfalls make Kauai’s Na Pali Coast a one of a kind backpacking adventure. A fit and experienced hiker can make the 22-mile round-trip backpack in two days, but some prefer to add an extra day or two to enjoy the beauty.
Best time to go: Plan months ahead to obtain a camping permit. May through October are hot and humid, typically with trade winds and some showers, but the rest of the year is less predictable with greater danger of flash floods. Kayaking in is only allowed from mid-May to early September.
How to pack: Bring mosquito repellent, sunscreen and a hat, rain gear, plenty of water and ways to purify more, a camp stove and fuel since open fires are not allowed, and all your other backpacking gear.
What to do: Hike the strenuous 11-mile each-way Kalalau Trail to camp at Kalalau or stop six miles in to spend a night at Hanakoa. Or opt for the sea route mid-May to early September and kayak into Kalalau or Milolii (the latter is only accessible via boat). The sea route is recommended only for experienced kayakers with knowledge about local conditions who are strong swimmers.
Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
Why go: Cape Lookout is primitive beach camping at its finest with no development or campgrounds to be seen. Arrive via ferry, but know if you bring a car there aren’t any roads, so be prepared for driving on loose sand and also keep in mind you will need four-wheel-drive (non-4WD vehicles can get stuck).
Best time to go: Ferries usually run April through November, but primitive camping is allowed year-round.
How to pack: Bring everything you’ll need, including all food and water. Pack insect repellent (especially May through October), consider mosquito netting, and bring foot-long stakes to anchor in your tent in soft sand and high winds. Pack a tide table, sunscreen, a hat, and wood if planning a campfire (which are allowed below the high tide line).
What to do: Kayak along the 112 miles of shoreline (file a float plan with rangers and inquire about conditions since some areas can be very rough). Get a fishing license and fish from a kayak or just look for wildlife while paddling. Enjoy an evening campfire and keep an eye out for bioluminescent plankton at night.
Lost Coast, California
Why Go: Located in the King Range National Conservation Area, Lost Coast is one of the most rugged and remote stretches of California’s coast. The scenery is jaw-dropping, and crashing waves and treacherous tides add an element of risk and adventure. Study the tide table, keep an eye on the ocean to avoid getting swept out to sea by unpredictable “sneaker waves,” and know that large sections of the trail are underwater at high tide. Steep cliffs mean retreat is not always possible if your hike is timed incorrectly.
Best time to go: Peak season (May 15 to September 15) generally has the best weather, but shoulder season will have fewer crowds, with half the number of overnight permits issued. Plan with the tides in mind, knowing that some stretches of trail can be underwater even if it’s not high tide. reeks can become impassible during or after storms or with high runoff.
How to pack: Bring everything you’ll need for a rugged, remote backpacking adventure, including a bear-resistant canister for scented items like food and sunscreen. Make a wilderness reservation in advance and bring your permit. This area receives up to 200 inches of rain per year and can be very windy, so bring rain gear and wear layers. Pack plenty of water and water purification—springs can run dry during the summer. And don’t forget a tide table—it’s essential.
What to do: The Lost Cost Trail is a 25-mile one-way backpack, with much of the route right on the beach. Look for wildlife, including great white sharks in the ocean, take side jaunts up into the mountains, and enjoy the Milky Way.
Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
Why go: Rounding up a “self-contained vehicle” is the only way to snag a camping spot on the beach at Cape Cod National Seashore. This unique experience in only open to one hundred vehicles per night.
Best time to go: Camping is allowed April 15 to November 15 (with a 21-day limit July through Labor Day), but the beach is subject to restriction and closure at any time.
How to pack: Bring a four-wheel-drive self-contained vehicle that meets designated toilet and holding tank requirements, obtain an off-road permit, and be sure to have all the required gear (it’s a long list, including shovel, towing device, and a spare tire). Know how to drive on sand, change a tire, extricate a stuck vehicle, and bring a tide table (and know how to read it) so you don’t become trapped.
What to do: The Cape has six swimming beaches, biking, and miles of hiking trails meandering through swamps, woods, marshes, and beaches. Get a permit for a beach fire, go fishing (license required), or boat offshore.
Biscayne National Park, Florida
Why go: With 95 percent of the park underwater, Biscayne is ideal for beach camping and water exploration. Camp at Boca Chita Key or Elliott Key, which are both only accessible via boat. Powerboat shuttles are available, but some experienced kayakers prefer to paddle the seven miles across Biscayne Bay.
Best time to go: Winter usually has the best weather, with dry and mild conditions. Summers are hot and humid, with afternoon thunderstorms, and June through November is hurricane season.
How to pack: Don’t forget the bug spray, especially in the warmer months. Be sure to bring everything you’ll need for camping, including all your food and water.
What to do: Hike across Elliott Key on the seven-mile-each-way trail, swim in designated areas, or fish with a Florida saltwater fishing license where permitted. Boat out 10 miles to dive and snorkel along the reef, explore the six shipwrecks of the underwater Maritime Heritage Trail, or kayak in shallow areas and lagoons to watch for sharks, jellies, rays, birds, and other wildlife.
- Nat Geo Expeditions