How to Camp on the Beach

Sand dunes, tidepools, and the rolling waves right at the shoreline await campers who enjoy partaking in beach vacations and camping trips and want to combine the two together into an oceanside camping getaway. Beach camping abounds with characteristic nuances and particulars that are easy to grasp for as-yet uninitiated campers and great rewarding fun for seasoned beach campers who are familiar with camping on the beach. The best beaches are generally in national parks and state parks, at least in the United States.

In Southern California, Florida, Oregon, and North Carolina, earnest campers can find national parks, state parks, and national seashores that offer cheap or free beach campgrounds tucked in between sand dunes or stretched along beautiful scenic sandy beaches. The best beaches allow campers to wake up and roll out of their sleeping bag mere feet from the oceanside and amuse themselves with grand natural activities like snorkeling, swimming, fishing, kayaking, and exploring in tide pools at low-tide. 

 

Person in a blue coat standing by the beach.

Camping on the beach in the summer months can offer great views and a huge variety of activities like kayaking and swimming.

 

Camping on the beach is generally much simpler than camping in extreme conditions like cold weather or in the mountains in a remote location. For a more relaxing style of camping where campers can take in views from around the campfire without unneeded exertion, camping on the beach cannot be beaten. The principle rule about beach camping is that every piece of camping gear you have is going to get sandy. As we all know, sand gets everywhere. The best rule of thumb is to try and elevate everything you can up above the sand to minimize sand infiltration. 

Bear in mind as well that you’re likely to have to carry your gear to the campsite in your rucksack, so try to pack light. We’ve written this guide to camping on the beach so interested campers can get some idea of the particular challenges and immense payoff associated with camping on the beach. Read on to get the full rundown so you can prepare to lie on a tropical beach somewhere underneath a tropical sun on your own oceanside beach camping getaway.

 

Campsite selection at the oceanside

Just as important when you’re beach camping as when you’re camping anywhere else is the careful consideration and selection of your campsite. Depending on campers’ personal taste, perhaps the best campsite is right on the shore. Perhaps it’s more important to be near a water source and restrooms than to be right on a sandy beach by the ocean. Ultralight campers may prefer to forego a sleeping bag and sleep in a hammock, which means they’ll be looking for palm trees to string their hammock up. RV campers will want to be near hookups unless they’re willing to try dry camping on a sandy beach. Either way, there are some considerations that every kind of camper will want to consider no matter what their exact aims are on a camping trip to a sand beach.

There are a few types of mites and other insects like sand fleas that can sometimes live on sandy beaches, so campers should always keep a careful eye out for them. Some campers prefer to pack a tarp with them to make a DIY tent footprint. This can help protect against insects somewhat, but be aware that the tarp is going to get really, really sandy, so you should remember to give it a good shake out before you come in from the beach. Study tide charts of the general area before you reach your campsite so you won’t be surprised by a sudden high tide flooding your tent and possibly damaging electronic camping gear. If you won’t be near a water source, remember to pack tons of drinking water. You’ll definitely work up a thirst under a beaming beach sun. 

If you plan on kayaking, some beach campgrounds include boat ramps and it’s possible to paddle right up to your desired campsite. If you prefer a hobby with lighter equipment like snorkeling or swimming, you can probably trek through sand dunes and reach your desired campsite without any issue. A campfire or a bonfire are classic hallmarks of beach camping, but remember that there isn’t much wood for fire fuel beyond the odd piece of driftwood in most national parks, state parks, or national seashores. Some beach campgrounds, especially those national seashores, state parks, and national parks, forbid the gathering of local firewood, so campers who are going to indulge in a campfire for heating or cooking purposes will want to make sure they bring their own along. A fire pit is also an elegant solution, and prefab models are widely available if campers want to avoid digging in the sand. 

 

Person cooking meat on a bonfire near the shoreline.

A fire pit is a hassle-free way to have access to heat and a cooking source while you’re out beach camping.

 

Campsite set up on a beach camping trip

Unless you happen to be on a particularly windy beach, the central difficulty in pitching a tent on sand beaches is making sure the tent stakes are properly anchored in the sand. One of the best ways for campers to achieve this aim is to them to use sandbags, which can be purchased and packed in a rucksack empty to maintain a lightweight bag. At the campsite, campers can then fill them with the surrounding sand.

Anchor the guylines with tent stakes that are buried in the sand and then cover the buried tent stakes with the sandbags for a durable and staying tent anchoring set up. Campers might also consider looping the guyline around the sandbag before placing the sandbag down. If there is no wind at all, a pretty rare set of circumstances while camping at the oceanside, then campers can forego the tent stakes and just wrap an extra amount of guyline around the sandbags and then simply place those down on the sand. 

The tarp should go down before the tent if you choose to build a tent footprint. When camping on the beach, it’s probably advisable to pitch your tent a good distance away from the oceanside, where vegetation is growing if there is any. High tide can really sneak up fast and some sandy beaches are completely covered when high tide comes in. If you’re going to go exploring for exotic animals, try to select a campsite close to tidepools. Most beach campgrounds in national and state parks ask campers not to set up campsites on sand dunes, as the ecosystem on sand dunes can be very sensitive. Read on the find out more about the Leave No Trace guidelines. 

 

Building a campfire at a beach campground

Before you set out on your beach camping trip, make sure the campsite where you plan to stay allows campers to build fires. National parks, state parks, and national seashores often have rules against building campfires or against gathering your own firewood on the beach itself. Beach campgrounds don’t always sell fuel for campfires either, so if gathering firewood is prohibited you’ll want to make sure you bring plenty along with you so you can keep your campfire roaring at your campsite. If the campsite is so remote that it will be too big a hassle to lug heavy firewood for campfire building, consider firestarters or an alcohol stove. It certainly won’t be the same as having a roaring bonfire-sized campfire, but you’ll at least be able to cook with a small alcohol stove in your rucksack. 

Always remember that covering your campfire with sand is not enough to put it out. It will keep burning underneath the sand and the next person to walk by could be seriously injured if they step into the fire bed you left behind. In campsites that are far away from where high tide reaches, conditions can be very dry and campers must look out very carefully over their campfires and campfire etiquette to make sure an inadvertent brush fire isn’t started due to their ignorance. The best rule of thumb is to dig a small hole or make a ring of stones to prevent the campfire from spreading to surrounding brush or grasses. Even though there’s plenty of water at the oceanside to put a fire out, it would be a huge hassle to do so and there’s no guarantee that it will be possible if the campfire spreads, so special care is the best attitude vis-à-vis campfires while you’re beach camping.

 

Drinking water on sand beaches

As you likely know already, water from the ocean is not a potable water source. Desalinization is possible with the right equipment, but campers traversing sandy beaches to reach their chosen campsites in vehicles of some kind might find it to be less of a hassle to just bring all their drinking water along with them. Some beach campgrounds that aren’t right at the oceanside usually have restrooms and drinking water, which is a huge relief for many campers, especially those planning on continuing their beach camping trip for several days or weeks. Regardless of how you plan to secure your drinking water, make sure you can get plenty of it. The sun is really severe on sandy beaches, which is one of the reasons we all like them so much. But between that sun and the saltwater, campers can work up a real thirst and may risk dehydration if they haven’t planned a reliable water source ahead of time. 

 

White truck carrying a black tent across the beach.

Beach campgrounds are some of the best beaches for campers, RVs, and car camping.

 

The Leave No Trace Guidelines while beach camping

Leave No Trace is an initiative begun in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s the standard for recreation ecology all around the world today. There are 7 principles comprising the Leave No Trace ethos, which are:

 

  • Plan ahead & prepare
  • Travel & camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

 

Campers who have been going on camping trips for a long time doubtless find these 7 principles to be common sense. Novice campers and those new to beach camping might be having a hard time forming some ideation as regards the application of the 7 principles to beach camping specifically. We’ve already touched on the first, second, fourth, and fifth principles. The rest have ready solutions on the best beaches for beach camping. To dispose of waste properly while beach camping, some campers prefer to simply go to a beach campground with trash cans available. Others decide to build a campsite at the oceanside but are careful to collect everything they don’t use to toss after their beach camping trip is over. The most important thing to remember is that when you go beach camping, you can’t bury the organic garbage the same way you can in the forest. It’s best to collect everything and locate disposal sites before you head to the campsite. 

The final two principles are not much different when beach camping than they are camping in any other locale. Respecting wildlife whilst beach camping can be a little bit more of a hassle because the ecosystem consists of very sensitive organisms, especially in a tidepool. But most national parks and state beaches have rules in place to make sure campers are able to leave the wildlife as undisturbed as possible. The best way to leave fellow campers undisturbed is to look for a reasonably remote campsite and opt-out of blasting music from a BlueTooth speaker or doing any other inconsiderate act that will perturb other people trying to make the best of their beach camping trip. 

 

Common leisure activities while beach camping

As we discussed earlier on in this guide, setting up a campsite right at the oceanside enables campers to participate in all sorts of fun hobbyist activities. Some of them require lots of specific know-how and others can be enjoyed by practically anyone. Most often, anyone can do them but it’s more interesting with some context. Tidepool exploration, for example, is great fun for anyone who wants to catch a glimpse of colorful sea life. But it’s even more fun to search through the tidepools near your beach camping campsite if you know a little bit about the animals you might find, which ones are potentially harmful, and hoe to explore tidepools without causing permanent damage to the ecosystems there. Pay close attention to tide charts so you can go to the tidepools when the tide is out and explore the crevices left behind by the receding tide to see what kinds of interesting sea life you can find. 

Many campers will be interested in snorkeling and kayaking on their beach camping getaway. These two activities are common for campers in different locales as well, but something about kayaking across the open ocean or snorkeling in a coral reef or the underside of an ocean wave really entices campers to partake during a beach camping trip. Either activity can be done by relatively inexperienced campers, but it will be more fun and safer if campers are aware of the proper techniques and possible dangers, such a rip tides in the ocean. Many campsites in Florida and Southern California offer kayaks for rent so campers won’t have to worry about lugging a heavy kayak over sand dunes to their desired campsite. There are plenty of other activities as well, such as fishing and sports like sandy beach volleyball, that campers can enjoy as part of the unique atmosphere of beach camping. 

 

A person fishing on the beach.

Beaches on barrier islands such as the Outer Banks in North Carolina offer some of the best beaches with camping areas and lifeguards.

 

Final Verdict:

Beach camping is a best-of-both-worlds scenario for campers who like the laid-back breezy experience of hanging out on a sandy beach watching the tide roll in and also appreciate the DIY, self-reliant nature of camping trips in general. There aren’t as many technical differences between beach camping and camping in other types of locations and there are many rewards unique to camping at a beach campground. The oceanside is a pleasant and interesting place to roll out the sleeping bag or set up the hammock. The best beaches will have tons of additional attractions, but campers who want to be out in nature or a bit more isolated won’t have trouble finding wonderful quiet beach campground all over the coastal United States. 

Campers who want to change things up or enjoy a hedonistic camping trip in paradise will love how easy it is to accomplish a beach camping trip. The normal essentials should be looked after, especially drinking water, waste disposal, and campfire safety. Short of dangerous ocean wildlife like sharks, campers probably won’t encounter anything overly dangerous on a beach camping trip. If you can put up with sand infiltrating every last piece of gear you own, and you’re savvy enough to prepare coolers and plenty of drinking water, then beach camping is for you. Grab the sunscreen if you’re fair-skinned and hit the coast now that you know all these important guidelines for how to camp on the beach. 

 

Bonus tip: Check out this guide to beach camping in Florida’s Gulf Islands National Seashore!

 

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Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.