Beach Camping: the Best Spots, the Best Tips - Panergy
Beach camping is a great way to shake up your typical camping or beach-going experience. It’s also easier to find than most people might think. After all, you don’t have to have an ocean to have a beach. According to recent data, almost 40% of the US population live in counties directly on some kind of shoreline, with even more people just a few hours’ drive away.
Beach camping puts you in easy reach of the water. You can watch the moonlight glittering on the water as you drift off to sleep, and in the morning, an early riser can run out and enjoy the surf before the crowds show up.
Beach camping permits tend to cost a lot less than hotel stays. Depending on where you are, you may be able to catch your own meals, too. And you can fall asleep to the sound of actual waves washing ashore, instead of listening to an iPhone app or a white noise machine.
As far as adventures go, it’s the best of both worlds. You can have a chill experience, while still scratching that self-reliance itch a little. Depending on the beach, you may still have accommodations like hot showers. And just because you’re capable of catching your own dinner, doesn’t mean that you have to. Depending on where you set up, that tourist trap restaurant may still be there if you feel like treating yourself.
TIPS FOR CAMPING ON THE BEACH
While beach camping does present a few challenges, they tend to be minor hassles instead of insurmountable obstacles. Here are a few things to watch out for, and a few things to bring along, to make sure that your experience is the best it can be.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A CAMPSITE
Finding a place to camp on the beach is easier in some places (and some states) than others. Some states are pretty open about camping on the shore. Others may require that campsites be removed from the beach itself, off of the sand and on the other side of the dunes. That means that the beach is usually in view, and a quick walk away, but you may not exactly be on the beach itself.
There are good reasons for that! Most of Washington doesn’t allow beach camping largely due to weather-related hazards, and Florida doesn’t allow it because of the number of endangered and at-risk species who nest on Florida’s beaches. And that’s okay! If camping is about experiencing nature, you certainly don’t want to do anything to harm it while you’re there.
For best results, make sure that you know ahead of time what your desired destination allows and requires. You may be able to pull up on the sand, first-come, first-serve. You may need to reserve a spot. Or you may need to camp near the beach, instead of on it. Whatever your campsite looks like, you can still have a wonderful time.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A BEACH TENT
One of the biggest things to think about is your tent. The easier a tent is to set up and take down, the better. The sand is going to make it hard to get your tent staked down, so it’s best to streamline every other part of the tent setup that you can.
Other important factors are sun protection and breathability. Most beaches don’t have a ton of shade, and you’re going to be spending a lot of time out there, enjoying the sun and the surf. You want your tent to protect you from UV light, and you want it to breathe well enough that you don’t feel like you’re baking.
The Midori 2-person tent is a great option. Clips and color-coded poles make setup quick and easy, and the mesh walls are engineered for high-low heat exchange, keeping the temperature comfortable. For similarly beach-friendly features but more elbow room, you may want the Space Camp 4-person tent.
As for setup, there are ways of working around the issues that sand causes. One solution is to simply use longer tent stakes. Another is to use sandbags. Dig holes in the sand, and fill some plastic bags with it. Tie your stakes to the sandbags to weigh them down, and put the stakes down in the holes. You may want to fill the holes back up with sand for extra stability. Setting a tent up in sand can be tricky, but it’s not impossible.
BEACH CAMPING PREPARATION AND SAFETY
As you set out on your adventure, there are a few things you may need to consider. One of the biggest is making sure you’re actually allowed to camp at a given beach. You may need permission, or even fees and permits, in order to set up shop.
You may also need to take care when selecting a place to set up your tent. For instance, many places don’t allow you to camp on dunes. (And you may not want to, since you’re more likely to encounter animals and ticks there.) Be sure to get details when you ask about permits, and pay attention to any signage that may be up.
Another thing to think about is your campfire setup. You may need to work a little harder to find wood for a fire (consider bringing your own), and when you do, the lack of wind protection may make it difficult to get a good fire going. For an easier time lighting your fire, dig a hole in the sand to use as a fire pit. This can also help make sure that the fire doesn’t inadvertently spread. Circle it with rocks so that other people walking by know to stay away, even when the fire is low.
Your fire’s end is just as important as its beginning. You can’t simply cover a fire with sand and expect it to be extinguished. That just sets a hot trap for the next person to walk near. Douse your fire with water (there shouldn’t be any shortage of that), or stick around until the last embers have died down.
Those aren’t the only important fire tips. Another big one is not to throw garbage into your campfire. While some people make a habit of it, it just spreads your garbage around the environment. On a beach, that means your trash-ash mixing into the sand, and often being carried out into the water. Only burn wood in your fire, and take trash with you when you leave.
DON’T FORGET YOUR SOLAR SHADE!
Avoiding the sun is one of the biggest issues you may face. There are fewer shade options at the beach than you might find at a typical, wooded campsite. With fewer options for escaping the sun, protection is all the more important.
Your best bet for sun protection is sunscreen. To get the full benefits of sunscreen, use an appropriate strength, apply it generously, and re-apply it often per the directions on the bottle. Since you’ll be spending more time in the sun, with less shade, you’ll likely want to add protection on top of your sunscreen to stay safe. Come equipped with t-shirts, hats and more. And don’t be afraid to stay covered if you’re not in the water.
You'll also want to consider shade during the day. That may mean your tent, but you may want other options. Beach umbrellas are a popular go-to choice. Another is a solar shade--a small, airy structure that helps keep the sun out but lets fresh air in. Our solar shades are light, breathable cabanas that are perfect for a day (or two) at the beach. A medium and large are both available.
Whatever choices you make, they should absolutely include sunscreen, and they should be carefully thought out. Sun protection is important.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO BRING AND DO
So you should bring sun protection, and an easy-to-set-up tent, with sandbags and possibly longer stakes, and possibly firewood. What else might you need?
Well, that depends on what you want to get into. A good pair of swim trunks is a solid start. A football or a frisbee can provide a respite from that good book you’ve already got picked out. And, certainly you can’t forget the cooler with food and drinks. You may also want to think about bringing along snorkeling gear, or a kayak. Maybe you’re into fishing, or scuba shore dives, or just long walks on the beach at night. That’s the beauty of beach camping. Whatever it is you go to the beach for, it’s right there!
BEACH CAMPING NEAR YOU
Wherever you are in the U.S., odds are there’s some kind of shore close enough that a nice weekend trip would be worth it. Obviously the East, West, and Gulf Coasts are prime real estate for beach camping enthusiasts. But if you’re landlocked, you still have plenty of options.
WEST COAST BEACH CAMPGROUNDS
Crystal Cove State Park, California
Crystal Cove sits along the city border of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach, and the park includes three miles of beautiful SoCal coast. Depending on the tide, you may be able to walk the whole stretch at once, or you may have to approach the water from various access points across the park. There are plenty of backcountry trails and bike paths, as well.
Mattole River Beach, California
This is a secluded spot at the mouth of the Mattole River and the beginning of the Lost Coast Trail. This isn’t a completely primitive campsite—you can find restrooms and water at the campground entrance—but the remoteness of the beach may mean a little more privacy.
Nehalem Bay State Park, Oregon
First off, let’s be clear: Overnight camping on the beach itself is illegal in any park in Oregon, and in nearly every beach in a municipal area across the state. That said, there are plenty of opportunities to camp close by, including the gorgeous Nehalem Bay State Park. The shore is just one dune away from the campground, and it won’t be long at all before you enjoy the 4-mile sandspit between the ocean and the bay.
Pacific Beach State Park, Washington
This 10-acre park is specifically made for camping, and it has 2,300 feet of shoreline for it. There are campsites for RVs and tents, and even a couple of yurts! 22 of the campsites are on the waterfront, and it’s a great place to enjoy the water, or dig for clams. The park doesn’t have a lot in the way of non-oceanic activities. But as long as you’re focused on the ocean and not looking for a hiking trail with an aquatic view, this is a fantastic place to be.
GULF COAST BEACH CAMPGROUNDS
Mustang Island State Park, Texas
You may not think “beach” when you think Texas. But the Lone Star State has more beachfront camping than any state other than Florida. A great example is Mustang Island’s five miles of gorgeous, undeveloped beach. If you need an electrical hookup, you can set up shop over the dunes, 400 yards away from the water. But there are also 50 primitive campsites right on the sand, looking out over the Gulf of Mexico. Nearby are hiking trails, and the site has readily available drinking water and showers. If you want something more isolated and primitive than Mustang Island, head to Padre Island. If you want your camp experience to include a little night life, head to Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula.
Gulf Islands National Seashore, Mississippi
Gulf Islands National Seashore has 51 tent and RV campsites, as well as primitive campsites on the mainland and on four islands. You can access Horn Island, Petit Bois Island, East Ship Island, and Cat Island via your own boat, or have one of the seashore’s licensed boat operators take you. Some areas of the seashore are closed for recovery after overcamping, but there are still plenty of places to pitch a tent and enjoy the Gulf.
Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana
Many spots in Louisiana offer waterfront camping for tent campers and RVers alike. One of the most popular is Grand Isle. There are a number of sandy spots to set up on the east side of Grand Isle, facing the mainland. The park does require a reservation and a slight camping fee. If that’s an issue, no worries! Plenty of other beach camping sites in Louisiana don’t.
Bahia Honda State Park, Florida
The Florida Keys are a great place to laze around on the sand. Florida tends not to allow camping on the beaches themselves to protect wild animals like sea turtles and nesting birds. But most of the campsites are only a dune away. That includes the 80 campsites at Bahia Honda, where you can take in Florida’s white sands and clear, tropical waters of the Keys.
EAST COAST BEACH CAMPGROUNDS
Horseneck Beach State Reservation, Massachusetts
The campground here is behind the dunes, but the scenery is worth not being able to sleep right on the sand. Horseneck Beach encompasses 600 acres of barrier beach and salt marsh, and it’s one of the most popular locales in Massachusetts’ park system. The campground amenities include the chance to take a hot shower, which can be a real relief on a cold New England night.
Assateague Island National Seashore
If you were captivated by horses as a kid (or raised a kid who loved horses), you’ve almost certainly heard of Assateague Island’s wild horses. Your chance to admire those legendary horses (from a safe distance) is also a great chance to camp right beside the Atlantic Ocean! Assateague sits in both Maryland and Virginia, and campers on the Maryland side of the island will find plenty of oceanside accommodations at this legendary locale.
Little Tybee Island, Georgia
Little Tybee is an uninhabited barrier island owned by the state of Georgia, with beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also a hotspot for all kinds of birdwatching. You may see a roseate spoonbill or a reddish egret. Osprey and bald eagles have been known to nest on the island. Campers are welcome, as long as they’re willing to boat or kayak out to it. They’re just asked not to disturb posted nesting sites as they take in the ocean views and birdsong.
Even if you’re not near a coast, there are still plenty of chances to pitch a tent on the beach and enjoy the water. There’s no shortage of lakes with beachside camping available. Here are just a few.
Lake Powell, Utah
Lake Powell has a wide variety of accommodations available, but the one we’re interested in is Lone Rock Beach. Camping is allowed all along Lake Powell’s shores (excluding marinas) for anyone willing to take the hike. But Lone Rock is the only spot where you can drive right up to the water’s edge and camp out. It isn’t often you can combine water camping with car camping. If you want to bring a boat to the lake and spend a few days exploring without ever leaving the beach, this is your spot.
Lake Michigan, Michigan
Campgrounds all around the lake will put you a stone’s throw from the beautiful waters of Lake Michigan. But if you want to camp right on the shores, seek out Fisherman’s Island State Park, near Charlevoix. It’s called an island, but it’s really more of a peninsula, which means easier access to its gorgeous views.
Lake McConaughy, Nebraska
Lake McConaughy is Nebraska’s largest reservoir. It’s home to trophy-sized fish, and endangered and threatened birds like the interior least tern and piping plover. Campsites all over offer lodging near or on the beach, so that you can head out early for a day of scuba diving, windsurfing, and more.
Lake Erie, Ohio
Lake Erie has a wealth of campsites that let you set up shop on the shore. One great option is Kelleys Island State Park. This 667-acre park has all sorts of campsites, so if anyone in your party does get tired of tent life, they might check out one of the two yurts. They come decked out with modern conveniences like an efficiency kitchen.