Posted by Oliver Meredew on July 15th, 2016.
With the season of summer now well and truly upon us, temperatures are climbing and school’s out (for now). At this time of year, the desire to get away from work and flock to the countryside to go camping is high.
While the UK can certainly offer a wide range of gorgeous campsites, from the classic appeal of the Lake District to the rugged beauty of Scotland’s glens and lochs, there’s a whole world of other camping opportunities out there to be explored.
Camping doesn’t have to involve getting lost in the wilderness or wrestling with tents anymore, with the latest camping gear and technologies making setting camp a doddle and helping campers get the most enjoyment out of any trip into the unknown.
So why not take a journey into the unfamiliar with friends and family, pitching your tents in some of the most incredible camping spots across the globe?
First on our list of the world’s best camping destinations is a short skip across the Channel, mainland Europe. There’s almost too much to choose from with the vast number of national parks and campgrounds found on the continent, but in the interests of fitting the rest of the entries in, we’ve narrowed the list down to three.
Closest to the UK is France’s contribution, Écrins National Park, which can be found tucked away in the Dauphiné Alps in the southeast of the country, on the border with Italy.
While it’s located ‘out of the way’ of major cities, this only heightens the isolated beauty of the park, which offers vast mountain ranges as far as the eye can see as well as alpine forests to explore, before you work your way back to the campsite for a well-earned rest.
Swinging northeast from Écrins (relatively speaking) across France’s mountain ranges will get you to the next nation on the list, Switzerland.
In a similarly remote spot, the Swiss National Parc is far removed from most aspects of civilisation, with the picturesque village of Zernez being the closest major settlement.
Camping in the Parc itself while unattended is not generally permitted, but for those looking for a ‘glamping’ experience, there is a campground, hotel and spacious log cabin to choose from – the preferred options when it comes to getting some serious shut-eye.
In addition to having the obvious attraction of towering mountain ranges and vast forests, the Parc has a diverse array of wildlife to keep an eye out for, including Red Deer, Ibex and Golden Eagles.
Heading back to the western extremities of Europe, Spain’s southern coastal region of Andalusia holds Sierra Nevada National Park, another of Europe’s monopoly of mountain-based natural beauty spots.
With campsites and camping grounds dotted all over the park, setting up a home base for exploration shouldn’t be too difficult. The park has a number of hidden treats to discover; as well as trails to walk and peaks to scale, the landscape also conceals a number of remote villages, a spa and a Tibetan monastery.
Travelling west across the pond, we reach the United States, which has countless national parks well-suited for camping spread across its 50 states.
In the far northwest of the US and also (comparatively!) close to the UK is the coastal state of Maine, which is famed for its lobsters and rock-strewn coastlines. To the south of the state is the first US camping spot to recommend, Mount Desert Island, the southern half of which is covered by Acadia National Park.
The park boasts the tallest mountain on the US Atlantic coast, as well as a dense network of hiking trails. There are also a number of campsites spread across Mount Desert Island on the whole, and trekking the entirety of the scenic coast is a good way to get the full experience out of a visit to the island.
Heading as far away as possible from Maine to the northwest coast of the US will put you in the state of Washington, which has on its coastal border with the Pacific Ocean the Olympic National Park.
As it covers an extremely large area, maps are a must when visiting the park, which has a rough ring of pathways around the huge focal point of the park, Mount Olympus. The park has a diverse range of environments, including coastal areas, rain forests and soaring uplands around the prominent mountains.
Olympic National Park is an extremely popular one both nationally and internationally, although with an area of nearly one million acres, there’s little chance of getting caught in the crowds.
Heading south and west through Oregon and Nevada gets you to the state of Utah, which has in its south-westernmost corner the last US entry on the list, Zion National Park.
While this doesn’t feature as broad a range of landscapes as Olympic, Zion still shines in its own way thanks to the distinctive sandstone cliffs that rise up and form countless canyons and ravines across the park.
There are three campgrounds located in Zion, which act as perfect spots to depart from when it comes to seeking out some of the park’s spectacular naturally-formed caves.
Image copyright: James Meredew
Passing through the interim nations between North and South America, after crossing the Isthmus of Panama, you’ll reach the first South American camping spot we’ve chosen, Valle de Cocora, in Columbia.
Located in the east of the country, near to the city of Armenia, the Valley is renowned for its mist-wreathed hillsides and hardy wax palm trees, which grow almost straight upwards to around 70m in height all across the area.
Being part of the Central Andes, hiking around the park can be literally breathtaking due to the less oxygenated air at a higher altitude, which is something worth bearing in mind if you want to see the whole site on foot when exploring.
Heading roughly south through Columbia and the states of Acre and Amazonas in Brazil, you’ll find yourself in the mountainous nation Peru, and if you can get hold of a decent guide who knows the way up the Inca Trail, the extraordinary Incan citadel of Macchu Picchu can be reached.
The ancient ruin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so an overnight stay is out of the question, but there are countless companies that offer guided trips up the steep path to the site, which can be explored as a fascinating example of architectural and historical significance.
To reach the final South American location we recommend, it takes a trip to the other end of the continent, to the region of Patagonia and the south-eastern border between Argentina and Chile.
Just on the Argentinian side of the divide, as the Southern Andes approaches its tip, is Los Glaciares National Park, something of an anomaly considering the perception of South America as a humid, jungle-strewn land.
The park is aptly named, consisting of enormous glaciers formed by the snow-capped mountain range on its western edge. Viewing platforms are ideally placed to observe this incredible phenomenon; vast walls of jagged-topped ice that stretch far into the distance, even after the depletive effects of global warming.
Sightseeing is not the only activity on offer, however, as kayaking and hiking across trails is also a popular pastime for visitors who manage to reach this magical corner of South America.
Just as a disclaimer on the South American entries for camping – the Zika Virus is currently an epidemic in this part of the world, so it may be a prudent decision to only visit in winter (June-August) or hold off until the situation is under control.
If you were looking for something a little hotter than the UK in summer when camping, you can’t go far wrong with Africa, which features a number of spectacular camping spots across the vast continent.
Right on Africa’s north-western coast is Morocco, a nation that borders the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Sahara Desert on the other.
Organised camping, or ‘trekking’ is well established in the country, and given the inhospitable nature of the Sahara to the unwary, this method of camping is recommended.
When out on a trek, you can expect to see some of the high range of the Atlas Mountains, get acquainted with the ubiquitous camel and spend the night in tents on the edge of one of the most challenging environments on the planet.
At virtually the opposite end of Africa is the nation of South Africa, which for all its political tensions still has a splendid national park to visit for camping, the Royal Natal National Park.
Right on the edge of the enclosed nation of Lesotho, Royal Natal is known for its ‘Amphitheater’ wall that stretches to around 5km and can be scaled with relative ease by using chain ladders that allow access to the summit of the iconic rock formation.
Heading in a roughly northern direction from Royal Natal will bring you into Botswana, which has on its north-eastern edge Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.
So called because of its vast white salt pans that are formed by the intense heat and aridity of the area, the apparently inhospitable landscape undergoes an astonishing transformation in periods of prolonged rainfall, with an abundance of wildlife springing up as the salt basins are filled with water.
Campsites are present in the Nata Sanctuary, where income gained from visitors is distributed among the nearby African communities that manage the area, as and when they need it.
Taking a camping trip to Asia can be an enlightening and enduring experience, as you encounter new cultures, challenging landscapes and remote spots of beauty in an increasingly crowded world.
The first entry in the Asian leg of our list is located in India, on the northern border with China. The site in question for this rugged region is the Great Himalyan National Park.
Comprised of four distinct valleys, the park has more-than-earned its UNESCO World Heritage Site status, with a plethora of wild animals to observe and a range of idyllic trekking paths that include ‘strenuous’ and ‘gruelling’ classifications of difficulty.
For those who have the will and endurance to travel around the mountainous landscape, the park offers an unforgettable opportunity to see how nature’s beauty can be successfully preserved, and fees to enter the park are also phenomenally low when changing Pounds to Rupees.
Heading east from India across China, Mongolia is the next country in line, which has Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park close to its southern border.
Located on the edge of the Gobi Desert, this national park offers gers (yurt-like tents) for accommodation, vast expanses of flattened grassland and the unusual sight of sand dunes far above the northern hemisphere.
After the rare occurrence of rain in the park, it comes alive with plant and animal life, although some areas are so remote and desolate that only the hardiest of organisms can survive. For those seeking the nomadic existence, this park is close to the top of the list.
Rounding off the Asian extravaganza is a trip to the southwest of Japan, where – in Hiroshima Bay – sits Miyajima Island.
The island is renowned for its beauty and tranquillity, features that are only enhanced by the fact that most of the island isn’t actually populated. This is due to the sacred nature of the island, which has also led to the revered and untouchable deer population becoming used to humans and often seeking them out when looking to get fed.
A campsite is located at the north of the island and provided that visitors respect the meticulously preserved nature of the island, Miyajima can be the site of a harmonious visit to both nature and centuries old Japanese-culture.
Closing off this whistle stop tour of the world’s greatest camping sites, we head across the seas to a trio of island nations that hold expected and unexpected landscapes for camping, starting off with the largest, Australia.
While the general assumption of Australia as an arid, dusty environment prevails among those who haven’t visited, a particular exception is present in Kosciuszko National Park, which can be found in the south western state of New South Wales.
With Australia in the grips of winter from June to August, the park is something of an oasis compared to the heat of the outback, and offers snow-capped mountains and greatly rewarding hiking trails, along with winter sports like skiing and snowboarding.
Heading roughly east across the Tasman Sea will get you to the penultimate nation for camping on the list, New Zealand.
Narrowing down just one place to camp in New Zealand is an almost impossible task, given how breathtaking the North and South Islands are all-round, but if just one spot could be picked, it would be Egmont National Park, which is located in the western Taranaki region of the North Island.
This park shares a trait in common with Kosciuszko, which is mountains, or more precisely, one gigantic one; Mount Taranaki. This mountain provides an ever-present landmark when it comes to navigating the vast wetlands and trails of the park. As New Zealand operates under the same seasonal system as Australia, visiting during the UK’s summer months will require warm clothing and good ‘tramping’ boots, rather than shorts and sandals as you might expect.
To conclude this adventure in outdoor exploration, heading northwest from the UK is all that is required, to reach Iceland.
While to native population is small compared to other European nations, Iceland can nonetheless be proud of its ability to draw in countless visitors all year round, thanks to its desolate yet awe-inspiring landscapes, formed by intense volcanic activity and geological upheavals in ages gone by.
Iceland has three national parks, though Þingvellir National Park (pronounced ‘Thingvellir’) is the only designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park itself is conveniently located, being a relatively short distance east of the capital and largest city of Reykjavik, which is itself fairly close to the country’s international airport, Keflavik.
The park includes Iceland’s largest natural lake, Þingvallavatn, and is characterised by its craggy landscape of jutting rocks and rifts in the ground that have resulted from a tumultuous collision of the Earth’s plates in the distant past.
As with accessing a country itself, it’s always prudent to do a bit of homework on your destination before visiting as, depending on the weather conditions or seasonal policy, some trails or areas of national parks may be off limit for a time.
Fees also vary when accessing these spots of outstanding beauty, and it makes sense to check if you can stay in the park for an extended period during the visit or only a short time.
In the case of the recommendations on this list, most of the national parks have detailed guidance on state or national rules and regulations, as well as what to watch out for in the parks themselves.
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