Falling asleep to the star show over Canyonlands National Park. Waking in Glacier National Park to the mirror-like surface of Swiftcurrent Lake with its embracing mountains towering overhead. Listening to the laughter of children mixing with the pounding surf at the Blackwoods Campground at Acadia National Park. Dashing into the turquoise waters of Cinnamon Bay in Virgin Islands National Park.
These and many other incredible experiences are cherished every day in campgrounds across the National Park System. And yet, ReserveAmerica, the company that manages camping reservations for the National Park Service and other federal agencies, can't seem to find a national park campground it likes. We certainly hope that's not the sort of marketing the Park Service expected from ReserveAmerica.
Granted, we're being sticklers. In listing its Top 100 Family Campgrounds the company doesn't cite a single "national park" campground. Oh, the list does put the Pinnacles Campground at Pinnacles National Monument at No. 32, but surely whoever put the list together could have found a family friendly campground among those in the 58 "national parks."
To better understand their criteria for bringing "your family closer to nature and closer together at these campgrounds across the country," we emailed the company -- which had emailed the Traveler to tout its list -- to ask what exactly it considered when it scouted campgrounds with "children's activities, hiking trails and convenient facilities (that) help make camping with kids easy and fun" and why no national park campgrounds (other than the Pinnacles Campground) made the cut.
The response we received was that "(I)n order to be considered for the lists, campgrounds must submit an application on their own behalf and not all campgrounds choose to participate."
So, there's is really not a list of the "Top 100 Family Campgrounds," but merely a list of the campgrounds that applied to be considered for such status.
While it's obviously too late to alter the list, we nevertheless decided to dash off a list of 10 national park campgrounds that surely should have been within the top 100. Our criteria? Close to nature, access to the surrounding national park, beautiful setting, options to delve deeper into the surrounding natural, cultural, and historic resources.
* Blackwoods Campground, Acadia National Park. Just 5 miles south of Bar Harbor, this 306-site campground lies in a heavily wooded area that is a short walk from Otter Cove with its tidal pools. The trailhead to the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain Trail is right across the road, there are evening campfire programs, and nearby are 45 miles of car-free carriage paths for safe pedaling or horse-drawn carriage rides.
* Cinnamon Bay Campground, Virgin Islands National Park. Swaying palm trees and warm turquoise waters that are barely a hop, skip and jump away from your tent site make this arguably one of the top three campgrounds in the country, let alone the park system. Don't forget your mask, flippers and snorkel for the bay holds colorful reefs, sea turtles, and darting fish such as blue tangs and Sergeant majors. Don't like tenting it? Then you can rent a 15-foot-by-15-foot screen-walled cottage complete with twin beds, electricity, and propane stove. But the main attraction is camping at a tropical paradise.
* Squaw Flats Campground, Canyonlands National Park. With the geological oddity of the Needles District as a backdrop, this 26-space campground offers energetic youngsters sandstone outcrops to explore, red-rock buttes to ponder geology, and hiking trails lined with colorful minarets and, in season, bursts of wildflowers. Historic cowboy camps and prehistoric rock art also are nearby. Come sundown, the lack of nearby cities and towns guarantees galaxy-studded skies.
* Many Glacier Campground, Glacier National Park. Just a short dash from Swiftcurrent Lake, this 110-site campground offers many tree-lined sites. The nearby lake is the main attraction, and at times moose come out of the forests to wade into the waters and browse on the vegetation. With Grinnell Glacier a short boat ride and relatively short hike away, youngsters can see a unique geologic asset of the park, and big horn sheep and bears also can be spotted on occasion.
* Cape Point Campground, Cape Hatteras National Seashore. You can't pitch your tent much closer to the Atlantic Ocean without getting wet. Just behind the dunes on a large grassy field, this 202-site campground lies 1.5 miles from the end of the cape. Swimming, fishing, and beach-combing are daily activities, and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse stands nearby.
* Signal Mountain Campground, Grand Teton National Park. Set on a hillside overlooking Jackson Lake, this 86-site campground is nestled in a pine forest that helps shield the individual sites from each other. A short trail leads down to a swimming beach, and the Signal Mountain Lodge with its restaurant, general store, and marina is nearby. Oh, and you can't overlook that jagged range of mountains that climbs up the western horizon, the Tetons.
* Moraine Park Campground, Rocky Mountain National Park. Not too many national park campgrounds come complete with elk, but on occasion this one has been visited by these stately ungulates. With 247 sites, some that require a short walk in, others that can handle RVs, this campground is set amid a landscape of Ponderosa pines, boulders, and grassy meadows. The Moraine Park Museum is a short walk away, and the park's shuttle buses stop here and can give you a lift either to Bear Lake, down to Estes Park, or over to the Glacier Creek Stables where you can hitch another ride, so to speak.
* Sol Duc Campground, Olympic National Park. Wispy waterfall? Check. Lush, old-growth rain forest that resembles something out of Avatar? Check. Warm springs for soaking and frolicking? Check. Yep, that and more can be found in this 82-site campground on the northern end of the park. A short trail leads to the beautiful Sol Duc Falls, high-country trail access is here as well, some sites front the murmuring Sol Duc River, and the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort can provide any amenities you might have left at home.
* Cades Cove Campground, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are more isolated campgrounds in this park, but this 159-site comes complete with historic homesteads, riding stables, bike rentals, general store, covered amphitheater for nightly ranger talks, frequent deer sightings and occasional black bear spottings, creeks to splash in and search for salamanders, and more than a few trails to explore.
* Lodgepole Campground, Sequoia National Park. Some of the biggest trees you'll ever see up close? Got 'em. A nature center dedicated to broadening children's minds? Yep. Nearby stream for splashing in, both to relieve the high summer heat and to wash off any dust the youngsters collected while playing in the park? Uh-huh. A small village nearby for doing laundry, eating at a table instead of cooking over a campfire, checking out the visitor center, and purchasing tickets to explore Crystal Cave? Yes. Nearby riding stables and scads of hiking trails? Yup.
That's our list. It's not intended to be all-inclusive. Rather, it's just top-of-the-head. Please share your favorites with us, and perhaps ReserveAmerica will put together a new list down the road that includes a few of these incredible places.