Photo: JNP/Shutterstock

The Best Camping Spots Right Inside Major US Cities

Insider Guides Camping
by Sue King Oct 12, 2018

Camping often conjures up images of wild and remote places. However, in a pinch, you can get your dose of wilderness — or at least sleep in a tent — right inside a major metropolitan area. Not only can you experience an urban escape within buzzing places like Los Angeles and New York, but camping in these spots can be a cost-effective way to visit some of the most exciting cities in the US. Here are eight campsites that are all within city limits.

1. Cherry Creek State Park Campground, Denver

Migration of the American White Pelican with a stop at the Cherry Creek Reservoir in suburban Denver

Photo: Images by Dr. Alan Lipkin/Shutterstock

Camp among the shady cottonwood trees in this gem of a campground in the southeastern corner of the Denver metropolis. Despite being in the middle of the city, Cherry Creek State Park feels remote and pastoral. The spacious and well-maintained sites are spread out over a sprawling area in the shape of six loops. Trails criss-cross the park, and bike paths in the campsite connect with the Cherry Creek Trail, which you can cycle all the way into downtown Denver.

A half-mile from the campsite is Cherry Creek Lake, a popular spot for boating and fishing. With a little luck, you may spot wild turkeys and golden eagles, and you’re bound to see deer wandering through the campsite early in the morning and again in the evenings. Sunset is a special time of the day when you can watch the sun sink over the Rocky Mountains. You can reserve online.

2. Anderson Road Campground, Nashville

This woodland lakeside oasis is 10 miles east of downtown Nashville but inside city limits and easily accessible. The best sites, which you should book ahead of time, are next to the sparkling Percy Priest Lake and are secluded and peaceful. An early morning walk or run through the cedar glade is a great time to see deer and take in misty views of the lake.

Activities include fishing, boating, horse riding, and wildlife-spotting, and the lake has a small beach and a boat launch. Surrounded by 19,087 acres of woods and grasslands, it’s a quiet place to rest your head after checking out the country music scene in Nashville.

3. Rob Hill Campground, The Presidio, San Francisco

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Rob Hill Campground in SF

Photo: Camp Unalayee/Facebook

This campground is the only one within the city of San Francisco, and it’s in an impressive spot. Perched above Baker Beach, it’s located in the Presidio, a 1,500-acre national park in the north end of the city. Wake up amidst eucalyptus trees to the sound of surf and birdsong, and enjoy the spectacular city views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands from Immigrant Point just across the road from the campsite. A trail leads down to the beach at the foot of rugged cliffs.

The campground accepts groups of up to 30 people, and the sites are arranged in such a way that groups tend not to encroach on one another’s space. In the morning, you can drive to Peet’s Coffee or Starbucks and come back with coffees and almond milk lattes before your campmates are even awake. Email in a reservation form to book.

4. Camp Gateway, Staten Island, New York

Aerial photo of Battery Weed Staten Island New York

Photo: Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock

Camp Gateway is located at Fort Wadsworth, a historic military base that’s now part of the Coast Guard and the National Park Service on Staten Island, one of the five boroughs that make up New York City. The park wraps around the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, so the views of the bridge and of New York Harbor are amazing — especially when you consider that you’re just a bus and ferry ride away from Manhattan.

From the campground, you can hike uphill for views of the Manhattan skyline or head to the boardwalk for a stroll or bike ride. The campground only has seven campsites, so you should be sure to reserve well ahead.

5. Musch Camp, Los Angeles

Parker Mesa overlook on the west side of Topanga State Park, California

Photo: divanov/Shutterstock

A small and intimate campground with space for just eight tents, the Musch Camp is in Topanga State Park above LA’s Santa Monica Mountains. For a few dollars a night ($7 per person), you can pitch up and enjoy a night under the stars just a stone’s throw from the glamor and glitz of Los Angeles. Eucalyptus trees shade the campsites, which feel impressively rustic considering that the multi-lane freeways slice up the Los Angeles basin just below the mountains.

It’s called a hike-in camp, but this is LA after all — you can park pretty close by for $10. With 30 miles of hiking and biking trails, Topanga is the perfect escape within the SoCal megalopolis. When you wake up refreshed from your overnight, a five-mile hike takes you to the Parker Mesa Overlook where you have sweeping views of Santa Monica Beach and West Los Angeles. Campsites are first-come, first-served.

6. Emma Long Metropolitan Park, Austin

This green urban space next to Lake Austin is a half-hour drive to the downtown area. Situated within Emma Long Metropolitan Park, it compromises 1,000 acres of ash, oak, and juniper trees and a mile of shore. The campsites along Texas’s Colorado River — which is different from the really big Colorado River running from Colorado to Mexico — offer a variety of options, from basic to premium on three large sites. You can see the selections from the options online.

Some excellent trails nearby include the 2.5-mile Turkey Creek Trail, which has stream crossings to splash in and rocks aplenty to scramble over. The beach area has lots of picnic tables and is a relaxing place to enjoy a packed lunch, take a refreshing dip, and then watch the sunset across the lake as fireflies take to the night skies.

7. Larry and Penny Thompson Park, Miami

This oasis in South Miami is a safe and peaceful place to set up base for easy access to the attractions of the city. Situated next to the zoo, the Larry and Penny Thompson Park is a natural playground of 270 acres of woodland, bridle trails, and hiking paths.

A freshwater lake with its own beach, as well as three waterslides that are carved into mountain rock and flow into a pool, are tempting ways to cool down in the Florida heat. Mango, avocado, and lychee trees surround the quiet campground, and the only clue that you are in the middle of a major city is the occasional wail of a siren. You can book online.

8. Campland on the Bay, San Diego

Palm tree silhouettes at sunset at Campland on the Bay in San Diego

Photo: Campland on the Bay/Facebook

Campland is not exactly a quiet escape in the middle of the city. This campground on the shores of Mission Beach is aimed primarily at families with a lot of energy. Non-stop events include yoga on the beach and dodgeball games, and you’ve got access to a swimming pool, game room, and restaurant. It’s close to the San Diego Zoo and the Gaslamp Quarter, and you can see the nightly fireworks from nearby SeaWorld without having to pay the entrance fee.

Accommodations range from primitive tent sites to super sites that each have a jacuzzi and patio. It may not be for purists, but Campland is a good choice for families who want the convenience of arranged events and having everything close by. You can’t beat its location in the heart of San Diego. Reserve on the website.

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