Here is a list of the best campsites we have stayed at while backpacking. The sites are ranked based a variety of factors including scenery, solitude, space, etc. To keep the list diverse, I have listed only one site per National Park or Wilderness area. This list will be updated as we are able to visit more parks and wilderness areas!
1) Precipice Lake – Sequoia National Park, California
Location – Precipice Lake is located along the High Sierra Trail in Sequoia National Park (just west of Kaweah Gap). The site sits at approximately 10,400 feet of elevation and typically requires at least 2 days of hiking to reach. The Mineral King Loop is a 45 mile itinerary that includes a camping stop at Precipice Lake.
Pros – This campsite is all about the views. To the west you get awesome views of the Hamilton Lakes basin and to the east you get up close views of Precipice Lake. Furthermore, the beautiful Nine Lakes Basin is only a short day hike away.
Cons – Given the high elevation, this area can be snowy into August and the evenings can be a little windy. Also, it can be a bit tricky to find good bathroom spots given the ground is mostly granite.
Sequoia National Park Alternate – Another of our favorite campsites was next to Columbine Lake. This area had great views of Sawtooth Peak and beautiful Columbine Lake.
2) Island Lake – Desolation Wilderness, California
Location – Island Lake is a very accessible 4 miles from the Twin Lakes Trailhead in Desolation Wilderness. The lake sits at roughly 8,100 feet and is often free of snow in July. Nearby the campsite, there are day hikes which lead to viewpoints of the neighboring Lake Aloha, Twin Lakes, and some other features.
Pros – From the northwest shore, you get an amazing sunset view of Island Lake and the Crystal Range behind it. The sunset starts with the Crystal Range lighting up yellow. Then, the color changes to gray and vivid red/orange soon after. Other advantages include the easy proximity to the Twin Lakes trailhead and the proximity to views of Lake Aloha.
Cons – Since you are only 4 miles from the trailhead, you may have to share the lake with some other backpackers. Also, Island Lake is difficult to fit into a larger loop itinerary unless you are willing and able to hike off trail (the lake is surrounded by mountains on three sides).
3) Bunnell Point Overlook – Yosemite National Park, California
Location – This campsite is located in Yosemite NP along the High Trail above the Merced River and across from Bunnell Point. There are two small ponds and a wonderfully isolated camp area nearby. You can reach this site as part of the Yosemite Highlights Loop. The camp is approximately 13 miles from Yosemite Valley.
Pros – The Bunnell Point overlook site boasts both solitude and amazing views. You are unlikely to encounter many other hikers on this section of the trail. Also, you have a great viewpoint of the Merced River and Lost Valley very near to the campsite. It is very rare to find a campsite this beautiful and not have to share it with other groups!
Cons – The water from the two nearby ponds is not the best tasting and there is not a close by stream to get water from or to bath in.
Yosemite National Park Alternate – Sunrise Lakes in Yosemite NP is another great choice, though this area can get a little crowded.
4) Death Canyon Shelf – Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Location – The Death Canyon Shelf campsites are located approximately 20 miles into the Teton Crest Trail loop, between Fox Creek Pass and Mount Meek Pass. There are several sites available along the shelf, which overlooks Death Canyon.
Pros – Campsites on the shelf have great views of Death Canyon, the entire Death Canyon Shelf, and the top of the Teton mountains. There are several sites along the shelf and backpackers can find sites that are fairly isolated and private or that maximize the view and site on the edge of the exposed shelf.
Cons – Permits for campsites here can be tricky to acquire.
Grand Teton National Park Alternate – The South Fork Cascade area of Grand Teton NP is also an amazing area to camp. Several sites closer to Hurricane Pass have some amazing views of the Tetons and provide great opportunities for exploring and scrambling within the Cascade Canyon.
5) Sapphire Lake – Trinity Alps Wilderness, California
Location – Sapphire lake is located approximately 13 miles into the Trinity Alps Wilderness, along the Stuart Fork Trail. This trail terminates at nearby Emerald Lake and Sapphire Lake is a ~1 mile hike/scramble to the northwest.
Pros – The backdrop of the Sawtooth Ridge behind Sapphire Lake is truly awesome. Sapphire Lake also has fewer other backpackers when compared to the sometimes crowded Emerald Lake. The water at Sapphire Lake is also clear and clean and is great for a swim on a hot day.
Cons – There are a limited number of flat campsites with good views of the lake. Also, going to the bathroom can be annoying given the amount of granite in the area.
Trinity Alps Wilderness Alternate – The popular Four Lakes Loop has some very scenic campsites at Diamond Lake and Deer Lake. The only potential issue with these sites is that there are not many tents sites and they can fill up fast on weekends.
6) Rae Lakes – Kings Canyon National Park, California
Location – The Rae Lakes are located about halfway through the Rae Lakes Loop itinerary, roughly 20 miles from the Roads End Ranger Station. The lakes sit below Glen Pass and some of most scenic campsites are located on the land bridge that separates the two Rae Lakes.
Pros – The campsites at Rae Lakes boast great views of the surrounding mountains. From the area you also can go on a day hike into the Sixty Lake Basin or to Dragon Lake. Rae Lakes also have some great trout fishing.
Cons – Rae Lakes can be crowded in the summer, so finding a secluded campsite (and bathroom site) can be challenging. The mosquitoes can also be plentiful in the early summer.
7) Stoney Indian Lake – Glacier National Park, Montana
Location – Stoney Indian Lake campground is located near Stoney Indian Pass and about halfway through the 52 mile North Circle Loop itinerary in Glacier NP.
Pros – Nearby the campsites you can explore the area around Stoney Indian Lake, which has amazing views of Stoney Indian Pass, the surrounding mountains, a small waterfall at the lake outlet, and down into the Waterton Valley.
Cons – Permits can be difficult to acquire for campsites along the North Circle Loop.
Glacier National Park Alternates – A couple other great campsites in Glacier NP are Mokowanis Lake and Granite Park.
8) Inspiration and Perfection Lake – Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington
Location – This campsite sits along the land bridge between Perfection Lake and Inspiration Lake in the Enchantment Lakes region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The site is approximately 8 miles from the Stuart and Colchuck Lake Trailhead and 10 miles from the Snow Creek Trailhead and along the Enchantments Traverse itinerary.
Pros – The campsite sits between two scenic lakes and have some great views of the surrounding area. It also makes a great base for several day hikes to different areas of the Enchantment Lakes Basin.
Cons – Permits for camping in the Core Enchantments Zone are difficult to acquire. Also, mountain goats frequent the area and can be a nuisance for campers.
9) Kalalau Beach – Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii
Location – Kalalau Beach sits at the terminus of the ~11 mile Kalalau Trail in Kauai. It is the midpoint of this famous out and back backpacking trail.
Pros – You get to camp at and enjoy an incredibly beautiful beach, which is only accessible via an 11 mile trek. The Napali Coast backdrop behind the beach is amazing and the hike to get to the beach is just as beautiful. There are also some day hikes from the beach that lead into the jungle and into the Kalalu Valley.
Cons – There are almost certainly going to be other backpackers that set up camp nearby and there are likely to be “locals” who stay at the beach for long periods of time.
10) Snowmass Lake – Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado
Location – Snowmass Lake sits ~9 miles from the Maroon Bells Trailhead along the Four Pass Loop itinerary. The campground here is in the trees close to the outlet stream on the east side of the lake.
Pros – Nearby the campsites you are treated to epic views of Snowmass Lake and Snowmass Peak. The view at dawn and sunset is awesome. Water is easily accessible from the outlet stream as well.
Cons – Sites near Snowmass Lake are popular, so you are likely to encounter other backpackers.