in Camping / by Roofnest Team

Camping on a beach is a majestic experience where the beauty and splendor of our natural surroundings are easy to enjoy in their most hospitable form. Among all the ways we have fun at the beach, it’s easy to forget just how fragile an ecosystem we’re in. 

Campsites near beaches are few and far between, and when you find one you can for sure celebrate, but it’s also critical to be mindful about your impact.

To help make it easier to enjoy the truly exquisite experience of camping on a beach, here is a collection of campsites all across the United States where you can beach camp with your Roofnest roof top tent, as well as a series of best practices to make sure beaches are here to enjoy for decades to come.

Let’s Set Some Ground Rules

When you are camping anywhere, there are some pretty basic rules to follow. 

  1. Watch your noise levels so you don’t disturb other campers. 
  2. Pack out everything you pack in. 
  3. Do everything you can to reduce your impact on the environment around you. 

These same rules apply for beach camping, but there are even more things to consider if you want to be a respectful camper of our beach regions.

  1. Watch your borders. This is the biggest one that new campers need to be aware of. Beaches are extremely susceptible to erosion and pollution. If your campsite has designated borders, do not trespass beyond them. All manner of small seagrass and sand dunes of all sizes are easily damaged by people and pets. It can seem annoying to walk around a campsite to reach the boardwalk to the waters edge when you can just hop a small fence, but those barriers exist for a reason. Please respect them.
  2. Be careful of marked signs and be mindful of plant and animal areas. This is a bit of a continuation of the borders theme. If you are on the beach and see signs around your campsite warning you to stay away from certain areas or plants, please follow the signs. Many of these plants and animals are actually endangered, and it has proven very difficult to rescue species in these small habitats.
  3. Leave no loose garbage anywhere. We all know that we should pack out everything we pack in, but this is more important when camping on the beach. The shores of our oceans can be subjected to rapidly changing wind directions and speed. Do not leave any garbage or loose items out in the open where they can be blown into the sea or into the dunes. And please, don’t bury your garbage halfway in the sand to keep it from blowing away. You are likely to forget it, and then a rapidly changing tide can sweep it out into the water before you even realize it.
  4. Turn off those camp lights. If you are camping anywhere sea turtles are known to lay eggs, please keep all your camp lights turned off unless you need them. When baby sea turtles hatch they need to make their way to the ocean. The way this typically works is they instinctively follow the reflection of moonlight off the surface of the ocean water. If you have a bright lamp in your campsite, the turtles can get confused and crawl towards your camp instead of the ocean. This basically dooms them to death. So please, turn those lights off.
  5. Finally, please be cautious with fires. A bonfire on the beach can be a truly transcendent experience, but not all beaches are fire safe. Despite being on the edge of the ocean, some plants in the dunes can still be very dry during periods of drought. Fire can and will spread if you aren’t careful. That fire, ash residue and smoke can also be harmful to certain wildlife that may inhabit the beach. So, just like any normal campsite, check with the local rangers or camp owners to make sure it is safe to start a fire before you break out those matches.

Where To Stay

Now that we got the boring part with all the rules out of the way, let’s talk about some of the places where you can actually drive your rig and camp on the beach with your Roofnest rooftop tent.

Homer Spit Alaska

Let’s start things off with one of the most interesting and unique beaches you can camp on in the United States. On an outstretched peninsula in the Kachemak Bay near(ish) Anchorage Alaska, you can find a small campground called the Homer Spit Campground. While every campsite is within 100 yards of the beach, the prime real estate is the selection of beachfront sites. These are “primitive” sites with no power or water hookups, but you get to park yourself right on the water’s edge.

Your view across the bay includes the landscape of Kachemak Bay State Park in the distance, complete with snow covered mountain tops and rocky outcrops. Laid as a backdrop against the wild roiling seas that surround the region, it is a rugged beauty you will be hard pressed to match anywhere else on earth.

The only true downside to Home Spit Campground, besides the whole driving to Alaska thing, is that due to the short summers, the campsite is only open for four months every year. If you want to add this Alaskan destination to your camping list, you can secure a site from the start of May until the beginning of September. Reservations open up on January 1st every year.

Bahia Honda

Let’s move from one of the most interesting, to one of our favorites, Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys. If you want to experience camping in a tropical paradise, Bahia Honda is as close as you can get in the United States. Situated just south of the legendary Seven Mile Bridge, Bahia Honda is a perfect central location to explore the Florida Keys. The park features multiple bathhouses with running water and hot showers, and it is situated near one of the main traversal canals in the Keys. If you enjoy boat watching, this is a prime area.

On top of the great central location, Bahia Honda boasts an incredible selection of wildlife that can be seen in the crystal clear waters right from your campsite. Over the years of visiting we have seen dolphins, manatees, several species of sea turtles, and an innumerable quantity of tropical fish.

If you come towards the end of summer, you can also enjoy the lobster season. Because the reef shelf and beaches are so shallow in the area, you can find lobster in water as shallow as eight to ten feet, meaning you can free dive to catch your dinner. Just be sure to secure your lobster license first, and don’t go over your bag limit. Leave some lobster for the rest of us.

Because the Florida Keys is such a hotspot for sea turtle nesting, the islands are very dark at night. This makes Bahia Honda a prime area for stargazers as well. There is something extra special about gazing up at the milky way as you listen to the ocean waves crash against the beach just feet away from your campsite.

Sonoma Coast

If you are in California and are looking to spend some time camping on the beach with your Roofnest tent, we suggest Sonoma Coast State Park. Situated north of San Francisco along Highway 1, Sonoma Coast State Park combines rugged beauty, one of the greatest driving roads in the world, and great camping on the beach at several different locations.

The park is also animal friendly, allowing you to bring dogs — and even horses — to certain areas.

Being a northern California park, Sonoma features beaches with large craggy rocks and outcroppings, rather than long open swathes of sand. We like this because it can make the area feel more wild and it can give you a better sense of privacy as well.

Being a north coast beach, it also bears mentioning that this is not a great location if your favorite activity is swimming. The ocean current in this region is fast and aggressive. It can be dangerous to attempt swimming, so we recommend sitting back in your Roofnest rooftop tent and just enjoying the sights, smells, and sounds.

Portsmouth Island

If you want a truly private and rugged beach camping experience, you need to head to the east coast, specifically the outer banks of North Carolina. Portsmouth Island is unlike anything else you can experience here in the United States, once a bustling island town that existed before the United States was officially a country, the island is now a mostly barren swath of sand and wildlife. Reclaimed by nature, as rugged and beautiful as ever.

The only way to reach the island is by ferry, and you need to come with a proper off-road rig. As much as we love all our Roofnest owners who use small cars and crossovers, the sand on Portsmouth is thick and loose. It is proper dune driving, and you need to come with a rig prepared to handle that.

What you get in return for making the trek through the undulating sands is a private paradise devoid of the noise and stress of modern existence. There are no amenities on the island. There is no real cell service. There are almost no people outside some park rangers. Just wildlife, the smell of the sea, and a special sense of freedom.

Padre Island National Seashore

For our final recommendation, let’s head on down to Texas and explore the gulf beach of Padre Island National Seashore. While most people know South Padre Island as a bustling spring break destination, there is North Padre Island, a massive 130k acres of protected lands.

Camping is a bit of a free for all in two areas of the park, North Beach and South Beach. Here you can just pull up and set up camp directly on the beach. That does come with its own risks, so we recommend you check with the ranger station to get a tide chart before parking up and taking a snooze in your Roofnest. Nothing will ruin a vacation faster than waking up to your car half buried in the ocean.

For maximum privacy, head to North Beach. It is much smaller and not as visited. If you want maximum space, then South Beach is the best bet. There are more than 60-miles of beach for you to park up and make camp. 

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