Courtesy of Visit Bucks County
Photo by Stephan Soesbe
One of the best views in San Francisco is from the Kirby Cove Campground.
From New York to San Francisco, these urban-adjacent spots will get you out of the city and into nature in a few hours or less.
Hoping to escape the hustle and bustle of city life with a restful weekend in the great outdoors, but don’t want to spend all day traveling? You don’t need a full tank of gas (or in some cases, a car) for a sleep-under-the-stars getaway at these campgrounds, which feel blissfully remote despite being located relatively close to 10 major U.S. cities. Simply prime your sense of adventure, pack up your overnight gear, download a helpful hiking app, and hit the road—oh, and don’t forget the s’mores.
(Since many of these popular sites can book up quickly, we’ve also provided a few alternatives, just in case.)
The spot: Camp Gateway at Floyd Bennett Field
Distance from the city: 19 miles
You can actually ride public transit from NYC to the entrance of Gateway National Recreation Area’s Floyd Bennett Field, then use a wagon or backpack to haul your gear just over a mile to the seasonal campground, located near Brooklyn’s serene Jamaica Bay. While pets and alcohol aren’t allowed, you’re encouraged to bring kayaks, bicycles, fishing gear, and more to enjoy the sprawling grounds, which also include a community garden and a hangar filled with historic aircraft.
Booked up? Head up the Hudson River to Beaver Pond Campground at woodsy Harriman State Park, or pack your surfboard for a seaside campsite at Nickerson Beach Campground.
The spot: Tinicum Park
Distance from the city: 55 miles
Philly residents in the know seek bliss at the tiny, but pretty, campground tucked inside small, scenic Tinicum Park, a grassy retreat wedged between the Delaware River and Delaware Canal. A portion of the popular 165-mile multi-use D&L Trail runs near the campground, and parkgoers will also find historic structures, a disc golf course, and a polo field (matches are held Saturdays from mid-May through October) elsewhere in the park.
Booked up? Visit Hopewell Furnace Historic Site en route to French Creek State Park campground, or cross the Delaware to rent a cabin or stay at a car-accessible campground in New Jersey’s Wharton State Forest.
The spot: Camp Bullfrog Lake
Distance from the city: 22 miles
The leafy, lake-studded Palos Preserves boast nearly 50 miles of recreation trails that help Windy City hikers, cyclists, and equestrians unwind. Camp Bullfrog Lake is the perfect base camp for exploring this 15,000-acre oasis; snag a waterfront campsite in warmer months or cozy up inside one of three heated cabins once the mercury drops. An onsite store, summertime activity schedule, and lending library that includes backpacks and binoculars make this an especially attractive option for families.
Booked up? Nearby Camp Sullivan features a classic red barn outfitted with a climbing wall for adventure-seekers. Or head north to sunbathe and camp on Lake Michigan’s shoreline at Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park.
The spot: Lake Houston Wilderness Park
Distance from the city: 34 miles
Lake Houston Wilderness Park is actually located north of its namesake, but there is a (small) lake here, and it’s lined with spacious, Instagram-worthy cabins perfect for a weekend getaway. Glampers and tent campers alike will find peace and quiet kayaking along tranquil Peach Creek or enjoying the sylvan surrounds on foot or horse or by bicycle. Beware summer heat and humidity; fall and springtime offer more moderate temperatures.
Booked up? Camp near alligators, armadillos, and an assortment of birds at Brazos Bend State Park. Further north, sites at Stephen F. Austin State Park are located near a quiet stretch of the Brazos River.
The spot: J. Percy Priest Lake
Distance from the city: 16 miles
Massive J. Percy Priest Lake is so close to Nashville, you could run back for a quick barbecue fix, but city life still feels a world away. Three secluded campgrounds, open spring through fall, dot the shoreline; Seven Points features spacious sites and a sandy swimming beach. Craving a more adventurous experience? Paddle out to any of a dozen islands with room for dispersed (outside of a designated site) camping—these are first come, first served, so launch early on summer weekends.
Booked up? Old Hickory Lake on the dammed Cumberland River offers as much waterside fun at four campgrounds. For a more arboreal experience, Cedars of Lebanon State Park boasts campsites in fragrant red cedar glades.
The spot: Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Distance from the city: 41 miles
In warmer months (which are plenty here), Phoenix residents make tracks to Lake Pleasant Regional Park to cool down in its large reservoir. Join them at one of two developed campgrounds or try your luck at snagging a first-come, first-served primitive (no facilities) site on the shoreline; if water levels are high, boat access may be required or camping may be prohibited here. In the morning or evening, when temperatures become more tolerable, hit the Wild Burro Trail; herds of its namesake mammal roam the park.
Booked up? Rent a boat to reach fee-free Bagley Flat Campground on Saguaro Lake. On a cooler day, camp (or decamp to a cabin) near the rugged Superstition Mountains at Lost Dutchman State Park.
The spot: Oxbow Regional Park
Distance from the city: 25 miles
Oxbow Regional Park is overlooked by most visitors in favor of the more famous Columbia River Gorge, but the place, nestled in a stand of old-growth forest within the Sandy River Gorge, is a local favorite. Its campground sits at a bend in the river, making it prime territory for anglers, swimmers, and rafters alike. Although most of the sites are available year-round, high season runs May through September; visit in fall to watch salmon spawn.
Booked up? Chase waterfalls near the campground at Ainsworth State Park, or stay at Champoeg State Heritage Area; whether you’re camping, staying in a cabin, or sleeping in a yurt at the latter destination, pack a corkscrew because it’s within sipping distance of Willamette Valley wineries.
The spot: Cherry Creek State Park
Distance from the city: 18 miles
Rocky Mountain National Park is only 74 miles from Denver, but Cherry Creek State Park, just southeast of the city, offers mountain views and lakeside recreation for a fraction of the drive. Paddle its namesake reservoir, sling arrows at an archery range, play with Fido in a 107-acre off-leash zone, or watch model airplanes soar above a mini airfield. Reserve sites well ahead for summertime visits and pack a shade structure—and perhaps earplugs since the nearby interstate can be noisy.
Booked up? Go to Chatfield State Park’s reservoir-adjacent campground for more mountain views, or camp post-concert at Bear Creek Lake Regional Park’s Indian Paintbrush Campground near the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
The spot: Kirby Cove Campground
Distance from the city: 7 miles
Enjoy one of the Bay Area’s most iconic sights at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Kirby Cove Campground (pictured at top), located at the foot of the craggy Marin Headlands. Its five sites, available March through November, are highly coveted for their front-row views of the Golden Gate Bridge. (Reservations open three months in advance and book up almost immediately, so be quick to click or look for last-minute cancellations.) If you’re lucky enough to snag one, bring plenty of layers, all the water you’ll need, and earplugs—foghorns start droning once the mist rolls in.
Booked up? Few people know that you can actually camp inside city limits at the Presidio’s Rob Hill Campground. Locals also flock to several campgrounds dotted around Mount Diablo State Park for weekend retreats.
The spot: Leo Carillo State Park
Distance from the city: 43 miles
Angelenos rejoiced when Leo Carillo State Park reopened after the devastating Woolsey Fire. They also began snapping up campsites immediately (so book yours six months out). The lure? Sleeping within earshot of the Pacific. At low tide, walk a short distance from your campsite to the beach to view craggy sea caves and tidepools flush with marine life. Visit in late spring to look for gray whales during their northward migration—or come anytime to watch sea lions and dolphins frolic in the waves.
Booked up? Head inland to Malibu Creek State Park, also recently reopened, for climbing and camping at a former Hollywood movie ranch, or trade sea breezes for mountain air at Buckhorn Campground, nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains.
>>Next: A National Park Lover’s Guide to Glamping
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