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3 Destination Camping Trips to Take This Year

Get there fast, then take it slow.

By: Sara Sheehy + Save to a List

When's the last time you got on an airplane to go camping? Don't scoff — destination camping trips are a real thing, and so much fun. 

Not familiar with how to camp on a road trip far from home? Don't even worry about it. Our friends at KOA have the largest network of private campgrounds in the United States and Canada, so finding a place to call your own for the night couldn't be easier.

Pack your tenting gear and rent a car from the airport, or test out #vanlife with a rental from a company like Travellers Autobarn (who offers 10% off your KOA stays when you rent with them!).

Here are three destination camping road itineraries from airports that are easy to get to, and absolutely worth the trip.

Los Angeles

You may not think of Los Angeles as a hotspot for camping, but this 400-mile road trip from LAX will have you thinking twice. 

  • When to Go: Beautiful year-round, but especially lovely from January - March
  • Weather: 70s and 80s from January - March

Photo by Clare Healy

Start out by heading due east toward Palm Springs. This haven in the desert is a favorite with the posh crowd, but it has plenty of desert grit and great camping mixed in to satisfy any traveler. Don't miss the change to climb at the Tramway of Mount Jacinto, or for something a bit less extreme, check out the cool vibes at the Sunday polo matches in the Empire Polo Club

Photo by Ryan Longnecker

Next, hit up Joshua Tree National Park and its southern neighbor, the Salton Sea. Both offer up opportunities for hiking, sightseeing, and uncovering some desert oddities (like Slab City, the "last free place in America").

Sleep under the stars near Anza-Borrego State Park, where, if you're lucky enough, you might just catch a super bloom. Even if you don't, there is plenty of great hiking in this wild corner of California.

Photo by Tyler Drake

Depending on how long your trip is, it may be time to set your sights back on Los Angeles. But, if you have a bit more time, head to the coast for a little time in vibrant San Diego.

More: KOA campgrounds in California

Las Vegas

Leave the bright lights of Vegas behind with a camping trip that explores red rocks, the lowest place in the United States, and the beauty of sand dunes.

  • When to Go: February - April for warm winter weather and wildflower blooms
  • Weather: 60s to 90s from February - April

Photo by Spud Groshong

From the Las Vegas airport, it's a quick 30 minute to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, known for its great rock climbing and hiking trails. It's just downright beautiful, too. 

Photo by Shannon Kalahan

From Red Rock Canyon, continue west to Death Valley National Park. Death Valley has enough exploration opportunities for a week or more, but if you only have a day or two, check out Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the United States at 282 feet below sea level), Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Artist's Palette.

Photo by Alex E

If you can pull yourself away from Death Valley, make your way south to the Mojave National Preserve. The Mojave has a reputation for being scorching hot — and it is, in summer — but in late winter, it'll be pleasantly warm and full of adventure. Be sure to hike the Kelso Sand Dune and check out the Lava Tube.

Photo by Moritz Wolf

You may have blown your time budget by this point, but if you haven't, detour to the east of Las Vegas for a stop at the Valley of Fire State Park. The park lives up to its name with waves of hike-able red rock, layers of colorful sandstone, and a neat scenic drive along White Domes Road.

More: KOA campgrounds in Nevada, KOA campgrounds in California

San Francisco

See some of the prettiest coastal scenery in the United States with a trip from San Francisco to Big Sur.

  • When to Go: April - October
  • Weather: 60s and 70s in the summer months

Photo by Brian Heifferon

From the airport, make your way to iconic California State Route 1, which runs all the way down to Orange County. Make your first stop about 1.5 hours down the coast at Santa Cruz, a surfing mecca and an almost impossibly hip town in its own right. Catch a wave if you want, or head inland to hike through the redwoods. Maybe snag a fire pit on the beach for a sunset campfire, too.

Photo by Karissa Frye

Next, drive around the Monterey Bay to the charming towns of Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea. This part of the coast is ruggedly pretty yet still walkable, so take a long stroll along Asilomar State Beach and maybe cycle the gorgeous 17 Mile Drive through ritzy Pebble Beach. Fans of John Steinbeck (and anyone who loves seafood and shopping) will undoubtedly want to check out Cannery Row

Photo by Emily Schrick

With your Monterey explorations complete, it's time for one of the most well-known California destinations — Big Sur. This rugged section of coastline is hemmed in by the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the beautiful Santa Lucia Mountains on the other. There are plenty of beaches and cliffs to see and experience, and miles of hiking trails that wind through the coastal redwoods.

From here, you can make your way back up to San Francisco for your flight home. If you have a few more days, the journey to Yosemite National Park is one that you won't regret.

More: KOA campgrounds in California

Cover photo by Austin Brizgys

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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