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The best Utah campgrounds aren't necessarily the ones with the greatest view, the sturdiest picnic table or the cleanest pit toilet.
The best Utah campgrounds are often the ones that make the most personal connection with the campers. TripAdvisor says the campground in Arches National Park is the top-rated place in Moab to roll out your sleeping bag, but that campsite may not mean as much to you as that Bureau of Land Management campground along the Colorado River where you and your family passed the Frisbee and fell asleep to the sound of water rolling past.
Or maybe you didn't stay at an organized campground at all. Instead, you drove to a dispersed camping spot or hiked to a backcountry campground.
We asked The Salt Lake Tribune's outdoor journalists to discuss their favorite Utah campgrounds. Choosing them is a little like asking a parent to choose favorite children. But how many of your kids have ever given you a place to build a fire, roast some marshmallows and tell some stories with a picturesque backdrop?
• Sand Cove Primitive Campground, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve; free, but permit required. Nearest town: Leeds.
There are no bathrooms or picnic tables, but the rocky fins of Sand Cove provide a windbreak and a gorgeous backdrop for desert camping. While a permit system controls crowds, expect neighbors.
I visited in April and awoke to choir music echoing around the rock walls. At first I thought maybe I had died, but soon realized it was another camper's stereo playing the broadcast of LDS General Conference.
With the surrounding mazes of swirling orange stone and colorful wildflowers popping out of sand dunes, you might think you're in heaven. I saw children sledding on the sand and climbing the rock formations. There is an anchor for top rope climbing, and rangers say the area is a prime spot for viewing the rare desert tortoise. Go to https://on.doi.gov/2r1pu5O to apply for a permit. Click here for a hike to Babylon Arch. Erin Alberty
• Riverview Campground, Ashley National Forest; $10 per night. Nearest town: Altamont.
After a long hike up to Deer Lake in Yellowstone Canyon, I walked back to my car and began looking for a campsite. No one else was at Riverview Campground. It was the rest of society's loss. This is a great, well-maintained campground. Yellowstone River meanders along the west and south campsites. Tall pines dot the campground and provide great shade. The Uinta Mountains surround you. Nate Carlisle
• Singletree Campground, Fishlake National Forest; $12 per night. Nearest town: Torrey.
When the summer weather is hot at Capitol Reef National Park or at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, this Boulder Mountain campground along Highway 12 is the perfect place to spend a night. The campground offers great views of the park, Waterpocket Fold and Henry Mountains as well as a 1-mile hike to falls. Fishing is available at nearby Lower Bowns Reservoir. Aspens and pines provide shade for two group areas and 30 individual sites. Water is available. The thing that makes this great is that it is close to the national park and monument as well as Anasazi State Park and Torrey. Yet, at 8,200 feet, this campground provides a cool alternative to the desert. Tom Wharton
A map to our favorite campgrounds
• White Pine Lake backpacking campground, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest; $6 daily parking fee at Tony Grove trailhead. Nearest town: Garden City.
A campsite at White Pine Lake during wildflower season (late July and early August) is one of the most sought-after backpacking destinations in the state. The flower display is considered by many to be Utah's finest, and you could not find a more postcard-perfect backdrop than White Pine Lake and the surrounding peaks. The hike is about 4 miles and not difficult. Camping at the lake is dispersed, but there are a number of well-established sites. Stay more than 200 feet from any water source and designated trails. Expect to share the area with lots of other campers; go midweek for smaller crowds. Erin Alberty
• Hovenweep National Monument, National Park Service; $10 per night. Nearest town: Aneth.
If I had been sleeping in a tent, I might not have liked this campground. The 31 campsites have concrete slabs and gravel that could make for a hard or lumpy night. But I rolled my sleeping bag out in the back of an SUV and had a fantastic experience at Hovenweep.
Slotted shades have been erected above the picnic tables to provide relief from the late afternoon sun. There are running water and flush toilets in the restrooms. Most of all, there are tremendous views of Sleeping Ute Mountain to the southeast. The monument's remote southeast Utah location means amazing stargazing and that a lot of those 31 campsites sit empty. Nate Carlisle
• Hamburger Rock Campground, Bureau of Land Management; $6 per night or free dispersed camping nearby. Nearest town: Monticello.
It can be a little nerve-racking to drive hours on end to a first-come, first-served campground with only seven sites. The great part about Hamburger Rock is if you don't get a spot tucked into the squatty, round rock formation we didn't there's still plenty of BLM land to explore along the road with dispersed campsites.
After driving about 20 minutes past Hamburger Rock, we found a spot big enough for our large group which was close to a river, and about five minutes away from a pit toilet. There was so much exploring to do in the surrounding red rocks, we never even made it to nearby Canyonlands National Park. Jessica Miller
• Sunglow Campground, Fishlake National Forest, $12 per night, Nearest town: Bicknell
Scenic and relatively obscure, Sunglow is a small campground snuggled up against red rock about 13 miles from Capitol Reef National Park. Sunglow is hidden a mile away from U-24, and red and yellow slopes and juniper trees frame the view back toward the plain.
The campground is surrounded by a natural playground of hills and at the north end of the site is access to its own trail; a short, moderate and magnificent hike into Sunglow Canyon. There are only nine individual sites and two group sites, but it's a quiet escape from the larger, bustling campgrounds. Tiffany Frandsen
• Gold Bar Group Sites, Bureau of Land Management; $4 per person per night with $60 minimum. Nearest town: Moab.
There are only four sites here, but they are big enough to accommodate any camping crowd. Gold Bar is the preferred campground for my family and me on our annual Memorial Day weekend trips. One year, in a neighboring site, there was an LDS singles ward camping. Another year, a there was a wedding with the bride in her wedding dress standing with her groom and the officiant on a flat boulder overlooking the Colorado River.
Click here for a photo gallery of the campgrounds.