Ask every backpacker to recall their favorite backcountry campsite and I bet that none of them can name just one. Each campsite has its own highlights that make it special; a wicked sunrise, a great view-point, the sound of the babbling brook, the dark nights sky… That being said, what makes a great campsite is also in the eye of the backpacker and will likely differ from one person to the next. For me, the makings of a great campsite are a sweeping view, or being lakeside for a morning dip. I’ve spent my fair share of nights in the backcountry over the last few years, enough to experience a wealth of sites and locations in Canada, the US and across the globe. There have been several that fell flat, and several that blew my mind; each for a different reason during a different season. I’m always on the hunt to find the best campsite. I will drop my pack and scope out a mile or two of sites before settling on the perfect spot. I hope that my list not only sparks your interest in checking out a new trail or park, but also helps fuel your wanderlust to scope out these sites to enjoy for yourself. I would love if my fellow readers would share their favorite and most loved campsites with me as well ! Here they are, in no particular order, my favorite backcountry campsites !!!
1. Timico Lakes Area – Wind River Range, Bridger Wilderness, Wyoming.
Camp next to a small unnamed lake at the intersection of Fremont Trail and Bell Lakes Trail or continue further on a spur trail to Timico Lakes. Camp in the open fields of wildflowers and watch the sun setting on the mountains in the lake’s reflection. Mountains surround you in all directions. Fall asleep to the sound to the lone wolf howl, and be sure to wake up at night to enjoy the most incredible starry sky.
2. Topaz Lake – La Cloche Silhouette Trail – Killarney National Park, Ontario, Canada.
Ontario Parks does backcountry sites right. Head out on the La Cloche, but plan ahead to reserve this site and you will be the only campers on the lake, with no one else in sight for miles. Get a great vantage point of the lake from the towering rocks surrounding Topaz lake. Make camp by the topaz green waters and enjoy an evening swim. The sun illuminates the still, sparkling water like the light of a million gems.
3. Floe Lake- The Rockwall Trail – Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada.
A single photo could never capture the insane beauty of this place, but it sure does a great job trying. If you survive the hard climb in from the Floe Lake Parking lot, you deserve to earn this view. Get there super early (and not on a weekend) to try to snag a campsite close to the lake. Be rewarded with glacier painted mountains, the infamous rock of the Rockwall face and a perfect blue lake of frigid, crystal-clear water. I could wake up to that everyday.
4. Peak Lakes – The Wind River Range, Bridger Wilderness, Wyoming.
Find these glacial lakes by either climbing up and over Cube Pass or climbing up and over Shannon Pass, depending on the direction you come. Either way you have to work to get here. Follow a few more switchbacks on a path that leads down to nowhere, but this amazing site. Down by the lake, make camp in secluded meadow between the lake and the base of the mountains. Stroud and Sulphur Peaks watch over camp. Peak Lake calls you in for a dip to cool off after a rugged hike to get here. The water is icy but soothes aching feet. Even in the peak of summer, our group had this lake all to ourselves.
5. Star Gap Arch Spur Trail-Red River Gorge, Kentucky.
I don’t know if I could re-find this site today if I tried, but I luckily happened to stumble upon it while on a search for Star Gap Arch on a trail spur off the Double Arch/Auxier Ridge Trail loop. There are plenty of narrow ridge lines to find if you take one of many unofficial spur trails. Some, like this one, jut out over the gorge and have expansive 360 views. From this outlook, I was lucky enough to see both sunrise and sunset from my campsite. Make sure you pack in water as there are no available sources nearby.
6. Lake Og-Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
You can’t reserve these sites and they are obviously mighty popular, so get here early to snag a gem. Luxurious tent pads on the banks of Lake Og also have pretty greats views directly of Mt Assiniboine herself. All while being far enough from Assiniboine lodge and the hustle and bustle of the central area, that you can feel some wilderness peace here but still have a great jump off point to explore the park.
7. Storm Haven- Bruce Trail, Bruce National Park, Ontario, Canada.
The Tobermory and Bruce Peninsula sections of the Bruce Trail have no shortage of views like this one. Storm haven is aptly named as it has a few wooden tent pads tucked far enough in the trees to avoid the thrash of a storm blowing in off the lake (and boy did it ever the night I stayed here). From your tent, it’s a short path to this lovely stone beach set on the turquoise waters of the Georgian Bay.
8. Mamie Creek- Boulder Mail Trail, Grand Staircase Escalante, Utah.
This is a special one for me because it was one of sites from my first real backpacking trek. The high desert of southern Utah is a magnificent and surreal landscape. To find a creek and some vegetation is a rarity on the cold, rugged, moon-like terrain. This quiet oasis next to Mamie creek is perfection. High enough to see the brilliant colors of sunrise but hidden under the towering canyon walls. If you follow the creek from camp, you will be lucky enough to find the rather splendid Natural Bridge Arch. I nicknamed this site “Echo Point” because the canyon walls echoed back the cries of the coyotes in the night.
9. Deer Park Campground-Deer Ridge Trail – Olympic National Park, Washington.
Technically this isn’t a “backcountry” campsite… unless you visit in the dead of Winter. In the summer, when the snow has melted, there is road access (albeit narrow and scary) to the campground. In the winter, strap on your snowshoes and make the trek. The Deer Ridge trail leading to Deer Park Campground has no shortage of mountain views but is a heck of a hike to get there. The campground has outhouses, bear boxes, 3 sided shelters with tables… oh did I mention the views? It’s the perfect access point to many other trails and summits. It’s also the only campground near treeline where fires are permitted in the provided pits…perfect for a cold winter night.
10. Burnt Island Lake -Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada.
It was a hard pick to decide on just one Algonquin backcountry canoe campsite. Each lake I’ve camped on in this park has been pretty spectacular. What I love about the sites around Burnt Island Lake, is that each one is pretty far away from the next, so you feel like your neighbours are a long way away. The lake itself is HUGE. This means that the views to the sky were wide open. Laying on shore, enjoying the water lapping on the rocks and staring into a night sky, untouched by ambient light; the stars shine so bright and cast their reflection on the lake. It’s perfection.
What are you favorite backcountry campsites and why ! Please Share 🙂
Great list! I’ve only been to one! Burnt island 😊 but I’m seeing kilarney for the first time next month!
I stayed on David Lake in Killarney and it was fabulous. Some great lakeside campsites there as well with perfect access to Silver Peak Trail 🙂 Enjoy !
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