An oceanfront campsite at San Onofre Recreation Beach, Camp Pendleton, Calif. (Robert Benson)
Military campgrounds are famous for RV camping, but few people know that many offer great tent camping, too.
"I routinely hear that people don't realize tents are welcome at many military campgrounds," says Larry Farquhar, an Air Force retiree who travels from campground to campground with his wife and maintains the popular http://MilitaryCampgrounds.us">MilitaryCampgrounds.us website.
Farquhar's records show 122 military campgrounds in the U.S. with areas set aside for tent camping.
And some fill up quickly.
"We still have plenty of room on the weekdays, but the weekends are booking up fast, and we're already filling up for the holiday weekends," says Steve Zach, who manages the Jim Creek Wilderness Recreation Area campground that shares 4,900 acres with a Navy communications station in Washington state.
Jim Creek is among Farquhar's picks for great military tent campgrounds that fill up fast.
It and others, including campgrounds voted camper favorites and Farquhar's favorite off-the-beaten-path locations:
Camp Atterbury Campground
Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind.
This campground is great for families because of the nice outdoor play area with horseshoe pits, comprehensive facilities — and free firewood! Primitive tent sites are few, but that's OK because the RV sites are cheap. Fishing pond behind the campground area.
• Sites: 33 RV sites with hookups, $15; six primitive tent sites, $10; rent an entire camper, $35.
• Extras: High-speed Internet, laundry.
• Reservations: Accepted, 812-526-1298.
Desert Eagle RV Park
Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
Even in summer, the nights are cool at this camp, only a 25-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip.
• Sites: 116 RV sites with full hookups, $20; 32 RV sites with water and electric only, $16; six tent sites, $7.
• Extras: Free wireless Internet throughout the park, laundry.
• Reservations: Recommended, taken up to six months in advance by mail, phone or e-mail, 702-643-3060.
Peregrine Pines FamCamp
Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Especially busy in May because of academy graduation, this large, well-equipped facility is ideal for vacations and extended stays. New bathhouse built in 2005. Nearby attractions include Manitou Springs and Rocky Mountain National Park.
• Sites: Eight tent sites, $10; 105 gravel RV sites, $20.
• Extras: Wireless Internet in areas, playground, laundry.
• Reservations: Highly recommended May 1 to Sept. 30, taken 90 days in advance for active duty, 60 days for others; none taken Oct. 1 to April 30. 719-333-4980.
Fort Sam Houston Recreation Area at Canyon Lake
New Braunfels, Texas
Situated on Army Corps of Engineers-managed Canyon Lake about an hour's drive north of San Antonio, the lake provides a local water supply, flood management and water recreation, with picnicking, trails, boating, fishing and swimming at the recreation area.
• Sites: Unlimited tent camping, $10; 30 RV sites with hookups, $15; 10 cabanas, $25-$35; 35 cottages, $60-$125.
• Extras: Playground, laundry.
• Reservations: Not accepted for tent or RV sites; accepted up to six months in advance for cabanas and cottages, 830-226-5357 or 888-882-9878.
Fourth Cliff Family Recreation Area
On Massachusetts' South Shore about an hour from Hanscom Air Force Base, this ocean-lover's favorite sits high on a peninsula-cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the North River.
• Sites: 40-plus tent sites, $12; 11 RV sites, $21; 21 cottages, $60-$115.
• Extras: Internet access available.
• Reservations: Recommended, accepted up to 120 days in advance, 800-468-9547 or 781-837-9269.
Oak Grove RV Park and Cottages
Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.
This beach campground is within walking distance of the National Museum of Naval Aviation and Pensacola Lighthouse, so it's no wonder spaces are in demand. The Navy's Flight Demonstration Team, better known as the Blue Angels, sometimes practices in the area.
• Sites: Six waterfront sites with hookups, $27; 46 RV sites with hookups, $23; eight tent sites, $6; 12 one-bedroom cottages, $90; eight two-bedroom cottages, $110.
• Rentals: Camping equipment.
• Extras: Wireless Internet ($7.95 per day), laundry, marina.
• Reservations: Recommended, 850-452-2535.
Pelican Roost RV Park
Naval Station Mayport, Fla.
Located at the mouth of the St. Johns River on the Atlantic Ocean, this campground is popular with guests who come to view all the military and commercial ships on the river. Air-conditioned restrooms and showers.
• Sites: 10 tent sites with hookups, $7; 49 RV sites, $18; additional dry campsites, $7.
• Extras: Nearby tennis, archery/skeet ranges, bowling.
• Reservations: Highly recommended, accepted up to 180 days in advance, 904-270-7808.
Jim Creek Wilderness Recreation Area
Jim Creek Naval Radio Station, Arlington, Wash.
This scenic area in the foothills of the North Cascade range is known for boating, fishing and wildlife viewing, its Twin Lakes offering a combined 70 acres of freshwater trout fishing. Visitors bike and picnic, and groups conduct team-building exercises at the 50-foot Alpine Tower.
• Sites: 15 drive-up tent sites, $18; group sites for up to 75 for tent camping, $150; three hike-in campsites about 1.25 miles from the main camping area, $10; 16 RV sites, $25-$28; 25 one- and two-room cabins, $32-$55.
• Rentals: Rowboats, canoes, fishing gear, tents, camping supplies, bikes, sporting equipment.
• Extras: Fitness center, ball fields, playgrounds, game room.
• Reservations: Recommended, 425-304-5315 or 888-463-6697.
San Onofre Recreation Beach
Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Surfers really dig this beach. The robust tent campground costs $30 a night but still fills up fast in the busy summer season. Pendleton's Basilone Gate exchange complex is only a couple of miles away.
• Sites: 46 tent campsites in the sand, $30; 46 asphalt RV sites, $35; 51 dirt RV sites, $30; 37 cottages, $60.
• Extras: Recreation field, playground.
• Reservations: Recommended, accepted up to 12 weeks in advance, 760-763-7873.
Uchee Creek Army Campground and Marina
Fort Benning, Ga.
On the southwestern side of Fort Benning along the Chattahoochee River, this retreat is popular for boating and fishing.
• Sites: Access to the tent area is $10; cabins, $43-$105; campers, $35-$45; RV sites, $18.
• Rentals: Pontoon boats, fishing boats, canoes, golf carts.
• Extras: Marina, meeting room, basketball and volleyball courts, softball field, archery range, paintball, outdoor picnic area with "super cooker" grills.
• Reservations: Accepted for a two-night minimum, 706-685-3060.
San Antonio and Pine Canyon campgrounds
Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Great for solitude, there are no RV hookups at these campgrounds.
• Sites: 25 total tent/camper spaces, $8.
• Reservations: 805-606-8579.
Camp San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Small, very quiet campground.
• Sites: Unlimited tent camping, $5; 12 RV sites with hookups, $14-$19.
• Reservations: Accepted 30 days in advance, 805-594-6500.
Big Bear Recreational Facility
Bear Lake, Calif.
About a three-hour drive from San Diego in the San Bernardino mountains.
• Sites: Five tent sites, $20; five RV sites with electric, $25; eight cabins, $65-$120.
• Reservations: Accepted, 909-866-3965.
Hurlburt Field FamCamp
Hurlburt Field, Fla.
Secluded location a short walk away from a small beach area.
• Sites: 10 tent sites, $7; 50 RV sites, $15.
• Reservations: Not accepted. Find a space, then check in at the marina office about a mile away.
Clarks Hill Training Center
Plum Branch, S.C.
South Carolina National Guard facility on a peninsula on Lake Thurmond.
• Sites: 10 tent/RV sites with hookups, $8.
• Reservations: Accepted up to 30 days in advance, 864-443-2507.
Pine View RV Park
Arizona Navajo Army National Guard campground at Camp Navajo, west of Flagstaff.
• Sites: Tent sites, $8; RV sites, $15.
• Reservations: Not accepted. Call ahead for availability, 928-699-8866.
Onslow Beach campsites and recreation area
Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Shark teeth and shell collecting are popular along the beach, just a sand dune away.
• Sites: Five tent/camper sites, $10; 36 RV sites with hookups, $10-$15.
• Reservations: Accepted, 910-440-7502.