7 Incredible Boat-In Campsites in the West

4 Min. Read

Forget cramming into the car and pulling into a busy roadside campground. Boat-in campsites offer remote solitude and overnight wilderness experiences along some of the most beautiful shoreline in the country. Below are just a few of our favorite sites scattered throughout the West.

Emerald Bay Boat Camp, Lake Tahoe, California

Lake Tahoe is world famous for its sparkling blue waters and the bevy of recreational opportunities around the lake. It’s no surprise that the area is home to one of the world’s best boat-in campgrounds. Emerald Bay Boat Camp lies on the north side of the picturesque bay. Reservations can be tough to come by and the field of mooring balls is usually pretty full, but the quiet coves within walking distance of the camp are well worth it. While very primitive, the camp does offer picnic tables and bathrooms, but no showers. You can always jump in the lake to rinse off.

Many campsites on the Main Salmon are only accessible by boat
Warren Creek Camp, Main Salmon River, Idaho

With no shortage of beautiful sandy beaches, the Main Salmon River (and the Lower Salmon River, for that matter) could have several entries on this list. But if we had to pick just one, it’s hard to beat Warren Creek. Fishermen tend to love the place with its deep eddy and creek inlet. The calm stretch of water is a blast for trying out a standup paddle board or just taking a mellow float. And let’s not forget how many electrifying games of beach volleyball these sands have hosted.

Two Harbors, Catalina Island, California

On Catalina’s quiet side, Two Harbors is a tiny settlement with a large campground along the beachside slope. The protected shoreline and beautiful clear water is popular for water sports, including scuba diving, snorkeling, paddling and boating. Accessible via private boat or a ferry that runs from Long Island, Two Harbors is busy through the summer, but calms down in the winter and shoulder seasons. If you’re not interested in the beach, there are plenty of hikes that start on this end of the island. There’s even a small store for fishing tackle or to stock up on s’mores.

Stuart Island, Puget Sound, Washington

The Pacific Northwest has a glut of stunningly beautiful campgrounds, many near or on the water. But the Puget Sound takes the cake for epic boat-in spots. Stuart Island is a popular 14-site campground that’s about as close to the U.S.-Canadian border as one could reasonably paddle. A stop on the Cascadia Marine Trail, the campground reserves three sites for boaters specifically using wind or human power. Similar to many sites in the Puget Sound, campers must pack out everything they pack in. Compost toilets are available, but showers aren’t.

Tacoma Camp, Rogue River, Oregon

Typically reserved for one of the last nights of a Rogue River rafting trip, Camp Tacoma is a cozy riverside site with sandy tent spots surrounded by tall grass. Bear sightings are not uncommon, but don’t worry. The campsite is fitted with bear boxes and the wildlife typically passes nearby peacefully. A nice sandy beach makes landing easy and is a good place for kids to play in the water. The big open sky is an invitation to sleep under the stars.

Bartoo Island Campground, Priest Lake, Idaho

Idaho’s panhandle is full of amazing mountainscapes, rivers and lakes. Priest Lake, near the U.S. border, is dotted with campgrounds and pleasant cabins, none cooler than the boat-in group campsite on Bartoo Island. With a capacity of 30, the campsite can accommodate the whole gang. Smaller groups have several choices on the island. Surrounded by the sparkling blue waters, there’s outstanding fishing, paddling and a silky sand beach for relaxing.

Brown Betty, Cataract Canyon, Utah

Perched just above the first rapid of Cataract Canyon, Brown Betty Camp is a series of dunes that have created a large sandy area perfect for camping. The soft flat is a great place to peel off your river shoes and curl your toes in the warm sand. It also makes a fine bocce ball court with plenty of space for other camp games. The trail for the famous Doll House hike starts nearby and campers can chill in the shallows to cool off.

Photos: Mick Haupt on Unsplash, James Kaiser, David Keegan on Unsplash, Jason Nelson on Unsplash

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