If your ideal beach experience includes lounging beneath an umbrella on white sands while watching the sunset, we’ve got you covered. If you prefer a rigorous hike that yields expansive views, look no further. If you want to fly a kite, rent a boat, or ride an OHV on the dunes, take a look at one of these spectacular locations. These beach destinations span the country and range from ocean-side to lake-side locations; each one offering unique and quality experiences and amenities.
Find yourself lakeside or by the ocean on these beautiful beaches in nine different states.
From sea to shining sea, your public lands have no shortage of stunning and surprising beaches.
Channel Islands National Park (Stephanie Eng-Namba, Share the Experience)
At Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more scenic and adventurous beach getaway, overflowing with an abundance of sea life. The water is so crystal clear that you can see the massive kelp forests beneath the surface. Whales and dolphins visit the area every year, plus flourishing seabird colonies call this area home. You can also camp on one of the islands in Channel Islands National Park. The atmosphere is wild yet peaceful, with gorgeous white sand beaches. Hike, explore tide pools, dive, snorkel, kayak, or stand-up paddle (an ancient form of surfing)…the activities are boundless.
Los Padres National Forest (Nathaniel Gonzales, Share the Experience)
The vast area of Monterey Bay was designated the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1992, and these waters stretch almost 300 miles (482 km) north to south. It’s your typical central coast shoreline: rocky, grand, and beautiful. People flock here for surfing, diving, snorkeling, and camping. For a family beach day, Del Monte Beach in Monterey or Santa Cruz is your ticket.
If you want to contemplate nature, the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge features sand dunes, pickle weed salt marshes, river lagoons and a saline pond – with only limited facilities including a parking lot and footpaths.
Or try the Los Padres National Forest, with nearly two million acres (809,371 hectares) of coastal mountains – including some of the Big Sur coastline, where you can also camp.
Gulf Islands National Seashore (Jennifer Rasmussen, Share the Experience)
Imagine cotton candy-blue water, sugar-white sand and lots of lemonade-yellow sun and the picture will look a lot like Gulf Islands National Seashore. Spend a day at Perdido Key or overnight at Fort Pickens campground. Other services and accommodations are available in Pensacola. For the icing on the cake, further your education and enjoyment by joining a ranger-guided program like the Fort Barrancas Program. Or consider the “Coastal Curiosities” activity at historic Fort Pickens for a special look at the diversity of wildlife in the national seashore.
Jennifer Rasmussen accurately captioned her Share the Experience contest photo “Not a care in the world when you’re mesmerized by the warm sand between your fingers and toes.”
Indiana Dunes National Park (K. George, National Park Service)
Indiana Dunes National Park hugs 15 miles (24 km) of the southern shore of Lake Michigan and beach-going activities are endless. From hiking to flying kites to a sunset stroll, this lakeshore will continually enchant you. Hikers will enjoy 45 miles (72.4 km) of trails over rugged dunes, mysterious wetlands, sunny prairies, meandering rivers, and peaceful forests. There are eight beach access points along the shoreline and most parking lots are open from 7AM until 30 minutes after sunset.
Cumberland Island National Seashore (Gabriel Friedrich, Share the Experience)
Cumberland Island National Seashore is a legendary East Coast destination. Designated Wilderness, undeveloped beaches, historic sites, cultural ruins, critical habitat and nesting areas, wild horses and thriving plant and animal communities are hallmarks of Georgia’s largest barrier island. The national seashore also offers a wide variety of camping opportunities. While vehicles are not allowed on the island, you can explore all the island has to offer by foot or bike. Sound like a fairytale? You’ll have to see it to believe it!
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Jack Odom, Share the Experience)
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers 65 miles (104.6 km) of sand beach and bluffs that tower 450 feet (137 m) above Lake Michigan. Clear inland lakes, unique flora and fauna, immense sand dunes, lush hardwood and conifer forests, meadows, wetlands, streams, and bogs are all features of this unique area. It is topped off with a huge helping of history – abandoned farm sites, U.S. Life-Saving Service stations, an island lighthouse, and countless shipwrecks to explore.
Sleeping Bear was voted the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC Television’s Good Morning America – and it’s not hard to see why. Book your advance camping reservations at Platte River or remote South Manitou Group Campground, a tent-only, backcountry facility on South Manitou Island reached by a 1.5-hour ferry or boat ride. A visit to Sleeping Bear is bound to make even the most traveled visitor feel the wonder of our natural world.
Lake Red Rock (US Army Corps of Engineers)
Why travel to the ocean when you can visit the largest sandy beach in the state of Iowa? Head to North Overlook Beach Facility at Lake Red Rock, located along the very popular Volksweg Trail (the People’s Trail) for hikers and bicyclists. Beach designers brought in 10,000 tons of sand to create the impression of a spacious ocean beach. Visitors can bicycle to the beach from other Lake Red Rock recreation sites, or even nearby Pella. They can also play volleyball at two courts and rinse off at indoor and outdoor showers. Campers can book sites in advance at four campgrounds on the lake.
Siuslaw National Forest (Matthew Tharp, US Forest Service)
Sand Lake Recreation Area is a popular area for off-road enthusiasts who like to ride the dunes. The dunes span more than 1,000 acres (404.7 hectares) and are surrounded by incredible views of forests and the Pacific Ocean. Before the rubber hits the sand, pick up your off-highway vehicle permit. Sand Lake is located along Oregon’s north coast between Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda. You can make reservations at the Sandbeach Campground to complete the unparalleled experience.
Padre Island National Seashore (Rebecca Latson, Share the Experience)
Padre Island National Seashore is 70 miles (112 km) of pure barrier island coastline, the longest of its kind. There are plenty of activities for the avid beach lover and outdoor enthusiast, whether it’s relaxing in the sun, camping, fishing, or birding. Malaquite Beach and Pavilion offers everything a beachgoer needs complete with observation decks, a visitor center, gift shop, bath house, picnic tables, shaded deck, wheelchair accessible boardwalk, ranger-led activities and more. Camping at Padre Island National Seashore is first-come, first-served, so plan ahead and get there early.
Olympic National Park (Kassidy Blair, Share the Experience)
Mora and Rialto Beach within Olympic National Park offer rocky beaches, giant drift logs, pounding waves and views of offshore islands known as 'seastacks' – a photographer’s dream. Just inland is the Mora area, characterized by towering trees, lush undergrowth, and the omnipresent roar of the Pacific Ocean in the background. Serene, dramatic, and beautiful best describe this northwestern coastal gem.