7 Campsites to Connect Your Northern Cross-Country Journey

by Will McGough

7 Campsites to Connect Your Northern Cross-Country Journey

by Will McGough

Gas is cheap and the countryside is free – good news for a summer or fall road trip. Unfortunately, lodging is not free, which is why budget road trippers often choose to pitch a tent. Sleeping under the stars in wilderness areas or National Forests also gives you the chance to stretch your legs with a short hike pre- and post-drive, or mellow out with some fishing and a campfire meal. Here are campgrounds that connect the northern route from New York to Oregon. (Prices are for tent sites, and many include access to shower and laundry facilities.)

Gas is cheap and the countryside is free – good news for a summer or fall road trip. Unfortunately, lodging is not free, which is why budget road trippers often choose to pitch a tent. Sleeping under the stars in wilderness areas or National Forests also gives you the chance to stretch your legs with a short hike pre- and post-drive, or mellow out with some fishing and a campfire meal. Here are campgrounds that connect the northern route from New York to Oregon. (Prices are for tent sites, and many include access to shower and laundry facilities.)

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Scenic campground / iStock/anatoliy_gleb
Campground
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Woodland Campground (Pennsylvania)

Woodland Campground is a very convenient stop off I-80 as you cross Pennsylvania, and a good excuse to check out a part of a state that you might never otherwise see. Pencil in some time to rent a kayak and paddle out on the lake before continuing west towards Ohio and Michigan. Rates start from $29 per night.

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Woodland Campground is a very convenient stop off I-80 as you cross Pennsylvania, and a good excuse to check out a part of a state that you might never otherwise see. Pencil in some time to rent a kayak and paddle out on the lake before continuing west towards Ohio and Michigan. Rates start from $29 per night.

Campground with tents
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D.H. Day Campground (Michigan)

Located in the Upper Peninsula along the shores of Lake Michigan, the beach is a short walk from your campsite and Sleeping Bear Dunes a few miles up the road, you’ll no doubt want to spend more than one night exploring this incredible outdoor area. After a day on the trails, when you want a good beer or meal, Traverse City is only 30 miles away. Prices start from $20 per night.

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Located in the Upper Peninsula along the shores of Lake Michigan, the beach is a short walk from your campsite and Sleeping Bear Dunes a few miles up the road, you’ll no doubt want to spend more than one night exploring this incredible outdoor area. After a day on the trails, when you want a good beer or meal, Traverse City is only 30 miles away. Prices start from $20 per night.

Lakeside tent
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Myre-Big Island State Park (Minnesota)

Talk about a part of a state you might overlook. Myre-Big Island State Park is smack dab in the middle of rural Minnesota, its scenic farmland rivaling the dairyland charm one typically associates with Wisconsin. If you're simply stopping to crash for the night, grab a campsite on the 116-acre Big Island and enjoy an evening walk that takes you through the woods and along the shores of the lake. If you have more than one night – or are arriving early – go for one of the more remote, serene campsites that are separated from the masses by a short hike. Prices start at $16-$18 per night.

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Talk about a part of a state you might overlook. Myre-Big Island State Park is smack dab in the middle of rural Minnesota, its scenic farmland rivaling the dairyland charm one typically associates with Wisconsin. If you're simply stopping to crash for the night, grab a campsite on the 116-acre Big Island and enjoy an evening walk that takes you through the woods and along the shores of the lake. If you have more than one night – or are arriving early – go for one of the more remote, serene campsites that are separated from the masses by a short hike. Prices start at $16-$18 per night.

 

Prices start at $16-$18 per night.

Devils Tower
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Reuter Campground (Wyoming)

The Black Hills are typically associated with South Dakota, but the area does stretch west and cross into Wyoming. A night at Reuter Campground, which sits in the Black Hills a few miles from Sundance, puts you in prime position (30 miles) to explore nearby Devils Tower without the crowds that fill closer campsites. Reuter is also just a few miles downhill from the Warren Peak Lookout Tower. Used by the Forest Service to spot forest fires, the tower is open to the public and has a panoramic view of the Black Hills. Prices start at $20 per night.

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The Black Hills are typically associated with South Dakota, but the area does stretch west and cross into Wyoming. A night at Reuter Campground, which sits in the Black Hills a few miles from Sundance, puts you in prime position (30 miles) to explore nearby Devils Tower without the crowds that fill closer campsites. Reuter is also just a few miles downhill from the Warren Peak Lookout Tower. Used by the Forest Service to spot forest fires, the tower is open to the public and has a panoramic view of the Black Hills. Prices start at $20 per night.

 

Sunset over Jackson Lake
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Signal Mountain Campground (Wyoming)

It would make total sense that you’d want to hit Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park on your way across the north. As the crowds flock to the campsites at the former, take advantage of Grand Tetons’ spacious vibe. If you want to be inside the park and only have time to get a feel for it (i.e. one night), try Signal Mountain campground for views of Jackson Lake and the sunset. If you have more time, spend a night or two at Curtis Canyon, about seven miles outside the Park. At 7,000 feet, the campground provides great views and immediate access to hiking trails. Rates start from $15-$34 per night.

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It would make total sense that you’d want to hit Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park on your way across the north. As the crowds flock to the campsites at the former, take advantage of Grand Tetons’ spacious vibe. If you want to be inside the park and only have time to get a feel for it (i.e. one night), try Signal Mountain campground for views of Jackson Lake and the sunset. If you have more time, spend a night or two at Curtis Canyon, about seven miles outside the Park. At 7,000 feet, the campground provides great views and immediate access to hiking trails. Rates start from $15-$34 per night.

 

Craters of the Moon National Preserve
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Echo Crater Backcountry Site (Idaho)

Welcome to a place that fewer than 100 people camp at per year. Craters of the Moon National Preserve was formed by eight major eruptive periods dating back as far as 15,000 years ago. Today, the preserve has more than 600 square miles of lava fields and formations, offering curious visitors a chance to explore its rugged volcanic terrain. Dispersed camping is allowed in the park near Echo Crater – all you have to do is obtain a free permit from the Visitors Center. For those who have already been to Yellowstone or Grand Teton, or simply want to avoid the crowds, this is an exceptional, lesser-known gem. Prices start at $8 per night.

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Welcome to a place that fewer than 100 people camp at per year. Craters of the Moon National Preserve was formed by eight major eruptive periods dating back as far as 15,000 years ago. Today, the preserve has more than 600 square miles of lava fields and formations, offering curious visitors a chance to explore its rugged volcanic terrain. Dispersed camping is allowed in the park near Echo Crater – all you have to do is obtain a free permit from the Visitors Center. For those who have already been to Yellowstone or Grand Teton, or simply want to avoid the crowds, this is an exceptional, lesser-known gem. Prices start at $8 per night.

 

Tent by a lake
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Willamette National Forest (Oregon)

There are more than 70 campgrounds in Willamette National Forest, so there are lots of options depending on how much time you have. Those looking for a convenient place to crash for a quick overnight stay should look into the campgrounds along the Mackenzie Travel Corridor. These sites are easily accessible along Route 20 and Highway 126, the main routes through the National Forest. Pro tip: Snag maps and links to the individual campgrounds before you travel. Prices vary, but most are less than $20 per night.

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There are more than 70 campgrounds in Willamette National Forest, so there are lots of options depending on how much time you have. Those looking for a convenient place to crash for a quick overnight stay should look into the campgrounds along the Mackenzie Travel Corridor. These sites are easily accessible along Route 20 and Highway 126, the main routes through the National Forest. Pro tip: Snag maps and links to the individual campgrounds before you travel. Prices vary, but most are less than $20 per night.

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