There’s plenty of places to go beach camping in the U.S. that allows you watch incredible sunsets right from your RV or tent! Whether by car, tent, caravan or RV, camping on the water makes for the ultimate coastal getaway to relax, watch the sunrise or sunset and surely, catch a wave!
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There’s nothing like watching the sunset right on the beach, right? How about waking up to the sound of the waves lapping the shore with the sun greeting you like an old friend? Doesn’t that sound like paradise? Well, let’s find out where in the United States where you can pitch your tent or park your RV waterside!
Beach Camping in the U.S.
How to Find Places to Camp on the Water!
According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the United States comes in 8th place in the world for coastline measuring in at approximately 95,471 miles. That’s a lot of blue space!
Some interesting U.S. coastal facts that should get you excited about camping on the water:
- 30 states border the water
- 23 states abut oceans
- 8 states are located along the Great Lakes.
- 15 states have coastlines that span over 1000 miles of beautiful scenic waterfront views.
- California has the longest coastline along the Pacific Ocean.
- Indiana claims the smallest coastline nestled up in the western most part of Lake Michigan.
NOAA Shoreline Mileage of the outer coast includes offshore islands, sounds, bays, rivers, and creeks to the head of tidewater or to a point where tidal waters narrow to a width of 100 feet.
Interestingly though, while California claims to have the longest coastal waterfront, Boston.com cites,
“According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data, Maine’s “general coastline” runs just 228 miles, compared to California’s 840-mile coastline. When traced in closer detail, the length of Maine’s scenic coastline expands more than fifteenfold. The state’s 3,478-mile “tidal shoreline” is the fourth-longest in the nation, even beating out expansive states like Texas and California (the latter by just 51 miles).”
✰✰ READ MORE ✰✰ How Blue Spaces Can Improve Our Health & Well Being
Where can you camp on the beach in the U.S. legally?
There’s plenty of beach and waterfront locations where you can camp legally. But, you’ll need to do a bit of research to find the best camping spot to pitch your tent or park your van on the beach for an overnight.
Here’s the thing though. Beach camping isn’t a free-for-all where you can just park your RV or pitch a tent.
Waterfront locations are either privately-owned or owned and operated by the federal, state and local governments. There are ordinances and rules to follow to camp along the water.
Most importantly, you’ll need permission to either through reservation or private arrangement.
Sadly, there are very few places where you can actually camp for free and legally on the beach or waterfront.
Panama Jack says that beachside camping is actually illegal on most public beaches. So, you really have to plan ahead on where where you want to camp with a water view. Some of the best camping spots are actually away from popular touristy beaches so don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path.
However, there are other amazing shoreside places to camp on the beach without worry about getting kicked out. But, it’s going to cost you; some may cost a pretty penny for a water view.
As you may already have figured out, these coastal destinations are in the game to make money off tourists. And, they are in high demand. So again, do your research.
Also, never assume you can camp even on public beaches. You’ll definitely get a knock on your door and be ordered to vacate the premises immediately if it’s not been designated for camping or even overnight parking.
Don’t ever think that just because there is no sign prohibiting camping or parking for extended hours that you can camp there.
Camping reservations required
Due to the influx of campers even in the past decade, finding a place to camp on the water isn’t just going to magically happen.
It used to be you could just call any campground and make a reservation. However, now most campground bookings are done digitally.
Securing a reservation during prime camping seasons, weekends and holidays is like joining fight club. Due to the popularity of beachfront camping, campers are having to fight tooth and nail to even try to make a campsite reservation.
Most waterfront camping spots are booked up to a year in advance. But, just be patient. You may have to log on everyday to pick up a cancellation.
✰✰ READ MORE ✰✰ Best Camping and RV Trip Planning Resources
Beach Camping at Federal Campgrounds or Corps of Engineers Parks
Some of our favorite places to camp on the water are at Corps of Engineers Parks and here’s why.
Funded by the federal government, the Corps of Engineers manages over 55,000 miles of shoreline, over 400 rivers and lake dam projects in 43 states.
Additionally, the COE also manages over 92,000 campsites. At those campgrounds, campers have access to about 8000 miles of trails and over 3700 boat ramps!
So, as hikers, kayakers, bicycle riders and fishing enthusiasts, you can certainly see why COE parks are amongst our favorites for beach camping or camping on the water.
Be aware though, Corps of Engineers campsites are limited to no longer than 14 days during any 30-consecutive day period.
So, thinking you can camp a whole season or even for a month at a particular COE campground just isn’t going to happen unless you’re going to camp host.
A small tip for those Seniors and persons with a medical disability to save money at a campground run by the federal government is to get the National Park Pass.
The America the Beautiful Lifetime Senior Pass is for U.S. citizens age 62 or older. And the Access Pass is for U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. with a permanent medical disability.
These particular National Park pass holders can receive a 50% discount on most National Park campgrounds, Corps of Engineers parks and any federally-owned/operated campgrounds.
To make a reservation at a National Park, Corps of Engineers Park or federally-managed campgrounds, visit Recreation.gov. Our advice though is to know when the best times to visit the most popular National Parks so you can plan your camping adventure accordingly.
✰✰ READ MORE ✰✰ Which National Park Pass Should You Get?
Every state in the United States has their own state-run campgrounds inside their State Parks. Many of those State Parks may have campsites located on the water. Thus, making them popular to those who enjoy boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and swimming.
Be aware though, those campsites with beachside access or have water views are difficult to score unless you plan almost a year ahead. Rarely will you just happen upon a vacant campsite with a water view.
Just like federal parks, you book your campsite online. But, State Parks use a reservation system to book a campsite through Reserve America.
Be aware though, we’re noticing some State Parks are tacking additional charges for day use or even non-resident. And some, are even charging local, state and/or hospitality taxes.
So, if you think for a moment that state park campgrounds a bargain, think again.
Our advice is if you have an open calendar, make your reservations for during the week. And, try to plan to camp off season instead of weekends and holidays. We’ve found they are less crowded.
Privately owned beach camping locations or waterfront resorts
There’s a great number of beach campgrounds and waterfront resorts where you can either tent camp or park your RV for a day, week or even a couple weeks. But as you’ll soon find out, they are very pricy. I guess you can call it ‘the price of staying in paradise’.
Private campgrounds typically have their own booking system embedded right on their website. Or, you can call them directly. I do suggest calling them first to see when their campgrounds are open as some are seasonal locations. As well, to check on availability and any questions you may have.
Important to know, private campgrounds are subject to charging taxes onto your reservation fee. So, plan on adding about 10-15% more for taxes. And some private campgrounds may have addition add-on fees (pets, extra persons, golf cart use, etc.).
✰✰ READ MORE ✰✰ Why are Campgrounds Rates So Dang Expensive?!
Our Favorite Beach Camping Locations
We’ve stayed at many different campgrounds that have amazing waterfront views or steps to the shoreline. But we have a few coastal camping favorites where we’ve made the best memories.
In 2016 and 2017, we stayed at Galveston Island KOA Holiday where we literally crossed the street to put our toes in the sand and the Gulf of Mexico.
✰✰ READ MORE ✰✰ Galveston Island, Texas – Trip Planning Guide
One of our ultimate favorite beach camping locations is actually in a place one would never think of being ‘beachfront’. Cattail Cove State Park, located right on Lake Havasu in Arizona, has it’s own private perfectly-groomed sandy beach where we could relax, launch our kayaks or swim.
It’s also located just steps away from great hiking trails and minutes away from awesome off-roading trails.
Check out our video of our campground review of Cattail Cove State Park:
In the summer of 2020 amidst the Covid 19 pandemic, we scored a beach camping site just steps away from Lake Michigan.
Grand Haven State Park is a 48-acre park set along a half-mile of sandy beach shoreline along the west side of the park and the Grand River. The park consists primarily of beach sand and provides scenic views of the Grand Haven pier and two lighthouses. And the best part is you can even have a wood burning campfire right at your campsite.
Another beach camping favorite, Boyd’s Key West Campground on Stock Island near Key West, Florida.
Boyd’s is popular for two reasons; one for it’s proximity to downtown Key West. And, it’s one of the only campgrounds on or very near Key West.
And because of that, be prepared to pay dearly for a beachside campsite! We paid $1200 for a week but since it comes with a ton of amenities and spectacular water views, who’s to balk at that?
But, our ultimate favorite beach camping spots on the water are, as we mentioned earlier, federally owned Corps of Engineers campgrounds.
While most may not be so-called beach camping, COE parks are located on the water! They’re perfect to enjoy fishing, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding! As well, you’ll be amazed at the beautiful sunrises or sunsets on the water right from your campsite.
Great beach camping resources:
Here’s just a handful of great resources for waterfront or beach camping in the U.S.
- 15 of the most beautiful beach camping spots in the United States – Travel & Leisure
- 50 Best Waterfront RV Parks Across 50 States – General RV
- Camp Florida
- Florida Beach Camping Guide – Visit Florida
- Best Places for Waterfront Camping in New England – Escape Campervans
- 30 Best Beach Campgrounds in Maine – HipCamp
- 20 Maine Coast Campgrounds for a Seaside Camping Trip – The Dyrt
- Beach Camping in California – California Beaches
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore Campgrounds – U.S. National Park Service
- Which OBX Beaches Can You Camp On? – Twiddy
- 10 Spectacular Spots In Michigan Where You Can Camp Right On The Beach – Only in Your State
- Fabulous Hidden Gems for Great Lakes Camping – Backroad Ramblers
- 10 Beautiful Texas Beach Camping Spots on the Gulf Coast – Enchanting Texas
- 4 Texas Campsites Let You Sleep Right by the Water – Texas Hill Country
- Northwest’s Top Spots For Beach Camping – Best of the Northwest
- The Best Beach Camping on the Coast and Lakes of Oregon and Washington – Campendium
Final thoughts on beach camping in the U.S.
You can see why beach camping in the U.S. is an all time favorite for those who enjoy a water view. There’s lots to be said about waking up to the sound of the sea and the sunrise greeting you right outside your door or tent fly or enjoying a beach bonfire under a canopy of stars to close the day of fun in the sun.
Now, are you ready to start planning your beach camping adventure?
More camping tips!
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