Beach Camping in the U.S. – Places to Camp by the Water!

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 tent, caravan or RV, camping on the water makes for an ultimate coastal  getaway or favorite vacation spot to relax!

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. – Places to Camp by the Water!!

Beach Camping in the U.S. - Always On Liberty - Boyds Campground Key West
Photo by Always On Liberty©

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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.

Some interesting U.S. coastal facts…

    • 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).”

Where can you camp on the beach in the U.S. legally?

Waterfront Camping - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

So, as you just read, there’s plenty of beach and waterfront locations where you can camp legally. However, it will take a bit of research to find the perfect spot to set up on your own little piece of beach paradise.

Just be aware, 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.

As Panama Jack mentions in their guide to summer camping on the beach, “Beachside camping is actually pretty illegal on most public beaches, so you’ve to plan ahead on where you’re going to go. You’ll find some of the best spots away from popular touristy beaches so don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path.”

However, there are other amazing 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 that beach view. As you may already have figured out, these coastal locations are in the game of making money on tourism and are in high demand. So, 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. Don’t think that just because there is no sign prohibiting camping or parking for extended hours that you can camp there.

Camping reservations required

Beach Camping Locations - Tent on Beach Sunset

Due to the influx of campers in the past decade, finding a place to camp on the water isn’t just going to happen magically. It used to be you could just call any campground and make a reservation. However, now most campground bookings are done digitally.

I have to admit though, securing a reservation during prime camping seasons, weekends and holidays is like joining fight club. Due to the popularity of some beachfront campgrounds, campers are fighting tooth and nail when trying to make a campsite reservation. Most are now even booking up to a year in advance to score a waterfront camping spot with a water view. Just be patient. You may have to log on everyday as cancellations come in.

Do know, campsite cancellation fees may be charged should you need to cancel your beach camping adventure. Make sure you read the fine print and understand what cancellations entail. Even so, if you can’t keep your reservation, please release it so someone else can enjoy it.

RELATED:  Best Camping and RV Trip Planning Resources

Federal Campgrounds and Corps of Engineers Parks

Beach Camping in the U.S. - Army COE Waterfront Campsite
Photo by Always On Liberty©

Some of our favorite places to camp on the water are at Corps of Engineers parks. 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, camping Corps of Engineers campsites is limited to no longer than 14 days during any 30-consecutive day period. So, thinking you can camp a whole season at a particular COE campground just isn’t going to happen unless you’re going to camp host.

By the way, if you have an National Park’s America the Beautiful Lifetime Senior Pass (age 62 or older) or Access Pass (U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. with a permanent medical disability), you’ll receive a 50% discount on 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 accordingly.

RELATED: Which National Park Pass Should You Get?

State Parks

Waterfront Camping - Sunset Campfire
Photo by Always On Liberty©

All fifty states have their own State Parks. And many of those State Parks are oftentimes, located on the water. Thus, making them popular to those who enjoy boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and swimming. But every location that offers campsites with beachside access or waterfront views, know they are difficult to score unless you plan ahead. Don’t think you’re going to just happen upon a campsite with a water view. You’ll have to plan even as a year in advance to get a reservation.

State Parks use a reservation system to book a campsite through Reserve America. Just like federal parks, campsites are booked and fees are charged accordingly. Be aware though, we’re noticing some State Parks are now tacking on local, state and hospitality taxes. So, plan accordingly if you’re camping with a budget.

Our advice is if you have an open calendar, look at camping at State Parks (or ANY campground or RV park) during the week and off season instead of weekends and holidays. Generally, there are less crowds and aren’t in as much demand.

Privately owned beach camping locations or waterfront resorts

Beach Camping in the U.S. - Always On Liberty Private Waterfront Campsite
Photo by Always On Liberty©

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.).

RELATED: Camping Fees on the Rise! Why are Campgrounds Rates So Expensive?!

Our Favorite Beach Camping Locations

On Liberty Cattail Cove State Park
Always On Liberty©

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 RV Resort (now Galveston Island KOA Holiday) where we literally crossed the street to put our toes in the sand and the Gulf of Mexico.

RELATED: 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 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.

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. OH! And you can even have a campfire right at your site.

Another favorite, Boyd’s Key West Campground on Stock Island near Key West, Florida. Due to it’s location, we paid dearly for a beachside campsite to park our 25′ motorhome and Jeep for a week. But, since visiting Key West was a planned vacation, we didn’t balk at the $1200 for our week stay with all of the amenities and spectacular water view.

And, to be honest, some of our favorite camping spots on the water are at Corps of Engineers campgrounds located all over the United States. While they may not be so-called beach camping, COE parks not only offer camping, but also fishing, kayaking and paddle boarding! As well, you’ll be amazed at the beautiful sunrises or sunsets right from your campsite picnic table.

Great U.S. beach camping resources:

Beach Camping in the U.S. - Always On Liberty Sunset Waterfront Campsite
Always On Liberty©

Here’s just a handful of great resources for waterfront or beach camping in the U.S.

Final thoughts on beach camping in the U.S.?

Waterfront Camping -Campsite Campfire Fishing Kayaks
Always On Liberty©

Now that you’ve finished reading this, I bet you want to start planning your beach camping adventure. I mean, 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, enjoying the campfire light under a canopy of stars to close the day of fun in the sun. You can see why beach camping in the U.S. is an all time favorite for solo campers to vacationing families.

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Always On Liberty - Beach Camping Locations - Tent Camping

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