Can’t get enough of the Southwest? But don’t want to settle for the same destinations that everybody recommends? Well, here are some distinctive campsites to check out for your next trip. Some are in the middle of nowhere, others are at good crossroads for a road trip, and all are guaranteed to have the dry heat, stellar stars, desert flora, and colorful mountains you ever so crave.
There’s a good chance you will never feel more in the middle of nowhere then at Chaco Canyon. If the borderline treacherous road in doesn’t assure you of that, then the lack of modern human developments and best stargazing of your life surely will. Chaco Canyon used to be home to an extremely unique and complex Pueblo society. The ruins of their intricate dwellings, ritual sites, and petroglyphs can be admired all throughout the park.
You can also learn more about the Chaco culture in the visitor center. The park contains beautiful sandstone mesas that are fun to hike. Be sure to check out the 5 mile Pueblo Alto loop which overlooks multiple ancient sites from the highest nearby mesa. It’s hard to comprehend how such a prominent society lived in this harsh landscape one thousand years ago. Chaco Canyon is guaranteed to be a spiritual experience like no other.
At the Great Sand dunes you feel like you’re in multiple worlds at once. The Sahara? Check. Rockies? Check. Steppes? Check. Front seat views of the Milky Way? Its got that too. The dunes are conveniently accessible right from the campsite. You’ll walk through a desert prairie and cross the shallow, but very wide, Medano Creek until you reach the sloping hills of endless sand. There are multiple areas to explore in the park. There is alsobackcountry camping, but the roads into these areas can be extremely hazardous. I recommend checking out the forested mountain trails in the day and trek through the dunes in the late afternoon until dusk. This way you don’t overheat and your toes won’t burn underneath the sand. The sunsets from the top of the dunes are incredible, and the thick array of stars at night is the cherry on top of an unforgettable destination.
Imagine a landscape full of rolling mesas that look like delicate sand flowing down an hourglass. Each cliff looks like a vibrant layer of red, orange, and cream-hued cake waiting to be taste tested. Such a colorful place is called Ghost Ranch. No wonder this environment inspired Georgia O’Keefe to paint its indisputable beauty. Not only is the landscape enticing to the eyes, it also has many hidden artifacts inside the delicate layers of Colorado Plateau rock. Ghost Ranch is a popular location for paleontologists to search for dinosaur fossils. During your visit take a tour of the fossil exhibit, or dig up some of your own +200 million year old bones on a digging tour. Geology not your thing? Then bring a paint set and have at it.
If you thought the only worthwhile part of Texas was Austin then think again. This national park is at the southern edge of the United States, and it definitely feels like you’re in another country. For miles and miles there is barren desert land and then poof! Huge mountains!Even in the dead heat of the summer the desert vegetation is beautifully diverse and colorful. Junipers, pinyon pines, cacti, yucca, Joshua trees, and wildflowers can all be found in and around the campgrounds and park. I recommend the 8.4 mile Permian Reef Trail if you want an expansive view of the area. Most campers visit in the winter months, but braving the summer heat will ensure less crowds. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is also nearby if you want to go cave spelunking during your visit.
This campground has upfront views of the slanted Split Mountain in its backyard, with easy access to the Green River.
There are a lot of options for exploring in this area of Dinosaur National Monument. You can check out the dinosaur museum, swim or tube down the river, hang out on the sandy banks, spot bighorn sheep from the other shoreline, or climb up some of the many rock faces surrounding the campground. The dramatic exposed cliffs of the Uinta Mountains make this place unique in color and landscape. There is little vegetation so be sure to cover-up and stay hydrated while you enjoy this peculiar scenery.
Why pay for a Vegas hotel when you can have the best view of the city right from your tent? That’s the magic of Hilltop Campground. And if you’re longing for some greener vegetation, the site has that too. The campsite is on top of the mountain ridge near Charleston Peak.With scenic mountain views on one side, and Vegas on the other. This is a great place to see the stars and glittering lights of Sin City in the distant desert below. Pretty neat, huh? And you’re only 40 minutes from both Vegas and Red Rocks. Be mindful that you are on top of a mountain. Even in the summer this campsite can sometimes encounter high winds and chilliness, so be prepared!
Elaine is a young writer who is inspired by her outdoor surroundings. After traveling all across the United States, she wants to share her travels and experiences with like-minded explorers. If she isn’t adventuring, she’s most likely listening to live music, hanging out at the local brewery, or painting her nails. Follow more frequent posts on her instagram @elainelliott.