It's incredible, really. The United States is a land that's so vast and so wonderfully diverse, even its regional areas and states are distinctly different from neighboring ones. From rocky coastlines and arid deserts to beaches and woodlands, the topography that stretches thousands of miles from the Pacific to Atlantic is ripe for outdoor enthusiasts.
The West Coast is particularly notable for wide, open spaces and rugged terrain. If your family gets a thrill being out in nature (or if you just need a good excuse to unplug your household from its love of all things technology), you'll want to check out these incredible havens in the West for camping and outdoor recreation. This time, when you tell your kids to leave their cell phones and video games at home, they won't be upset. There are loads of adventures and spectacular sites waiting to be experienced in these amazing places.
Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz.
Nestled at the base of the Grand Canyon's steep red cliffs is the home of the Havasupai Indians. Their reservation sits along the national park's south end in northwest Arizona. It has a school, community store and peach trees that perfume the air each season when their blossoms pop open.
But this special place is known for something else: Havasu Falls, a magnificent waterfall. Swim in turquoise tiered pools during warm-weather months, take day hikes or explore the area's other nearby waterfalls. There's a rock outcropping behind Havasu Falls; you can swim up to the side of it, climb onto the ledge, and jump through the waterfall. This is an exhilarating experience for adults and kids alike. Go on foot, ride a burro or backpack in and send heavier gear on a donkey ahead of you. No backcountry camping is allowed; you must stay on the reservation campground for a fee.
Mogollon Rim, Ariz.
Just two hours north of the desert metropolis of Phoenix, Ariz., is a rugged wilderness called the Mogollon Rim. It forms the expansive southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Spectacular views can be seen from here, including desert landscapes and dense forests.
Area attractions include horseback riding, fishing, swimming, and hiking that ranges from easy to strenuous. Some campgrounds are free; others charge between $8 and $50 per night. Car camping or backpacking into the woods is often permitted and free in national forests like this one. Check with the Forest Service first to confirm camping rules for the area you'd like to visit and to get seasonal updates, such as road conditions or weather alerts.
A good rule of thumb for camping in the wilderness is to leave no trace -- haul out what you bring in, including trash and food, and don't damage or disrupt plants or animals that live there.
Coeur D'Alene, Idaho
Coeur D'Alene sits just 40 miles east of Spokane, Wash., on the Idaho side of the border. This small town has earned a big reputation for its stunning natural beauty thanks to its main attraction, Lake Coeur D'Alene.
World-class water recreation -- boating, kayaking, fishing, water skiing, wakeboarding, riding on seaplanes, and whitewater rafting at nearby rivers and much more -- draws visitors from all over the state and beyond. There are nearly a dozen campgrounds and RV parks in the area, and each offers something different, so if you're after cabins and laundry facilities or simply showers and bathrooms, do your research before booking a site. Some campgrounds even offer discounted tickets to the local theme park.
Mount Rainier, Wash.
Majestic beauty abounds at Mount Rainier, the most arresting peak in the Cascade mountain range. Experience everything here from sub-alpine streams and tundra to wildflower meadows and a 700-foot-thick glacier. It's a playground for the whole family, whether you and the kids like to climb, bike, hike or fish, or even go boating or snowshoeing during the winter.
Mount Rainier has five campgrounds; all are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but two take reservations. Check the Mount Rainier National Park Service Web site before going, as some sites only allow tent camping, no vehicles.
If you prefer a little more privacy and enjoy the raw beauty of nature (away from bathrooms and dump sites for campers' trash) consider heading out into the wilderness, instead. After all, camping doesn't get much more scenic. This kind of camping is the real deal -- and so are the bears. Bring supplies to hang your food; you don't want to tempt the area's furry friends who might go scouring for a midnight snack! A permit to camp overnight in the wilderness here is required, and permit pick-up locations vary by time of year.
Glacier National Park, Mont.
One of the best things about camping in Glacier National Park is the drive you take to get there. Drive a 50-mile stretch called Going-to-the-Sun Road, and see some of northwestern Montana's most stunning terrain. Enjoy sweeping views of sub-alpine lakes, soaring glaciers, waterfalls and forests dense with spruce, cedar, hemlock and many other trees.
Once you arrive at the park, you'll be right in the middle of all this magic. Horseback ride, bicycle, boat, cross-country ski, or hike on any of the park's hundreds of trails. Bus tours are also popular.
Choose from 13 campgrounds and more than 1,000 sites; you're allowed to stay up to a week. Most sites are available first-come, first-served, and two take reservations. Backcountry camping is possible here, too. If this is the adventure you're after, you'll need to read Glacier National Park's Backcountry Camping Guide, watch the park's seasonal backcountry camping videos and apply for a backcountry permit.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.
Yellowstone is America's first national park, and it spans Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Elk, bison, wolves, grizzly bears and many other animals call this extraordinary place home.
There are loads of things to see and do in Yellowstone. During fair-weather months, fish, bicycle, picnic, boat, hike, or go on a horseback or wagon ride. If you visit during winter months, take your pick of exciting activities like downhill skiing or snowmobiling.
Viewing wildlife and the scenery can keep you quite busy, as there are numerous hot springs, more than 300 geysers (including Old Faithful) and excellent campgrounds to take in. Peak season is early July to late August, so make reservations well ahead of time or secure a campsite as early in the day as possible. During this time of year, the seven campgrounds in the park fill up quickly. No overnight camping is permitted outside of these grounds unless you secure a backcountry camping permit.
Redwood National and State Parks, Calif.
The tallest trees in the world live here. But make no mistake: As majestic as these old-growth redwood groves are, there's a lot more to see! Check out expansive prairies, two rivers and almost 40 miles of rugged coastline. Situated on the northern coast of California and Oregon, Redwood National and State Parks enjoy an extremely moist climate. We advise taking warm, weatherproof gear when you visit.
There are four campgrounds here -- one is on the coast and three are in the redwood forest. Cars and RVs are permitted, and reservations are strongly recommended, although all campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you'd rather have a more primitive experience, consider backcountry camping, which is allowed only in designated backcountry campsites. There are 200 trails that will take you out into the wild to get there. Go on foot, horseback or bicycle. There's no backcountry registration system like many other national parks, but some areas may require a permit, which is free.
Yosemite National Park, Calif.
Yosemite National Park takes up approximately 1,200 square miles of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. Come here to see the awe-inspiring waterfalls that the park's famous for, as well as meadows, ancient sequoias and valleys.
Favorite activities here include bird-watching, rock climbing and participating in ranger programs. Although the park's open year-round, you'll most likely need a reservation if you visit one of its 13 campgrounds between April and September. There are tent and vehicle camping options in Yosemite, and other lodging includes simple tent cabins at The Ahwahnee Hotel in the middle of the park or backcountry camping, which can be done by backpacking in or riding a horse. You're required to get a free wilderness permit if you do backcountry camping (obtaining a reservation for $5 is recommended).
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Often called the "roof of North America," Mount McKinley stands more than 20,000 feet tall. It's the reason many of the 400,000 annual visitors of Denali National Park and Preserve make the journey. The park is open year round, but the most popular time to visit is between late May and early September.
Take guided bus tours, backpack, fish, bicycle or mountaineer. You can even visit the sled dog kennel for a demonstration or to meet the dogs that help protect the park's 6-million-acre wilderness area.
Camping options vary by time of year, and one of Denali's six campgrounds should accommodate your style, whether that's popping a tent or camping with a vehicle or RV. Five campgrounds close for winter, and there's no nightly fee starting soon after the high season ends each year.
The No. 1 site on our list of family camping hotspots is a little unusual -- and a little more centralized. You don't have to go out into the great outdoors to have a fun time camping with your family. If you love crowds, lively parties and a little excitement, consider hitting the NASCAR camping scene.
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is famous for sanctioning and governing numerous auto racing events across the U.S. every year. What you may not know is that hundreds of thousands of people camp at these events, and many come just for this scene, foregoing the races altogether.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series held at Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona is a model example of this spirited setting. Here, you'll find a maze of RVs and trailers as well as tents. Fans tailgate, barbecue and watch races on their TVs from the comfort of lawn chairs. Walk up and down these packed corridors, and friendly campers will engage you in conversation and probably greet you with a handshake or a cold beer.
HowStuffWorks looks at the popularity of hiking in the U.S.
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- Coeur d'Alene Idaho Visitor's Bureau. (Jan. 20, 2011).http://www.coeurdalene.org
- NASCAR.com. (Jan. 13, 2011).http://www.nascar.com
- National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. "Campgrounds in Yellowstone." (Jan. 14, 2011).http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/camping-in-yellowstone.htm
- National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. "Denali." (Jan. 14, 2011).http://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm
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- National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. "Mount Rainier." (Jan. 14, 2011).http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/camping.htm
- National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. "Redwood." (Jan. 14, 2011).http://www.nps.gov/redw/index.htm
- National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. "Yosemite." (Jan. 14, 2011). http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/directions.htm
- U.S. Forest Service. "Coconino National Forest: Mogollon Rim." (Jan. 13, 2011).http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/mog_rim/rec_mogollon.shtml