What makes a great campfire song? There has to be a timelessness about it, to start. It requires a memorable, recognizable melody, lyrics that are easy to remember and sing, and themes that resonate with friends and family gathered around a campfire.
The songs below—which range across styles, regions of the U.S., and centuries—hit all those notes, making them ideal for your next campfire session under the stars.
20. “500 Miles” by Hedy West (1963)
A classic of the folk revival, West’s 500 Miles tells the story of a traveler who’s a long way from home, and with its melancholic picking and easy-to-follow lyrics, it hits just right beside an evening campfire on an open prairie.
19. “Home on the Range” (1873)
This classic folk song celebrates the beauty of the American prairies. It was written in 1873 by a violin player named Daniel Kelly and Dr. Brewster Higley, an ear, nose, and throat doctor. Originally called “My Western Home,” the song quickly caught on as America expanded westward, and it became an absolute campfire banger. Early 20th-century recordings by country music pioneer Vernon Dalhart (1927) were followed by Bing Crosby in 1933 and Gene Autry and Frank Sinatra in the ’40s.
18. “Country Roads, Take Me Home” by John Denver (1971)
Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert wrote this song with Denver, and they worked in several Virginia place names, but even if you’ve never been to West Virginia or seen the Blue Ridge Mountains or Shenandoah River, you can still join in on this camp classic beside a late-night campfire.
17. “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond (1969)
Whether you’re sitting around a campfire or at a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” is a certified singalong gem.
16. “Ends of the Earth” by Lord Huron (2012)
An ode to a life lived with adventure by the L.A.-based band Lord Huron, this is one to play right before gathering in close and moving into the great campfire stories portion of the evening.
15. “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson (2008)
There are at least an album’s worth of Jack Johnson songs to play around the campfire. Many of his songs are singalongs, and several of those work for all ages, but “Banana Pancakes” around the morning campfire will have everyone ready for, well, banana pancakes—on the cast-iron griddle, of course.
14. “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson (1980)
You don’t need to have wheels in motion for this classic campfire song to be a hit, although it’s especially a fit for the RV-camping crowd.
13. “You Are My Sunshine” by Jimmie Davis (1939)
There are some complications around who wrote this one, but Davis gets the credit as a co-writer. This one is the epitome of a 1930s campfire song, and the sunny day, heartfelt lyrics makes it perfect for the breakfast campfire. Rise and shine, campers.
12. “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie (1940)
Break this one out around a campfire and all the animals will gather and sing along. Gurthrie’s timeless song speaks to the beauty of the American landscape and the idea that it belongs to everyone. The simple chorus and strumable tune make it an easy add to a campfire singalong.
11. “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” (1867)
This African-American spiritual has a soothing melody and uplifting lyrics about reaching the Promised Land. Its call-and-response format encourages participation, making it an all-time great campfire song.
10. “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers (1972)
There are campfire songs, and then there are campfire jams. You could put a couple of Withers’ songs into that category and on this list (“Lovely Day,” for one), and this song, an ode to the real ones in your life, has a melody that won’t quit and lyrics that will bring campsites together.
9. “House of the Rising Sun” (1930)
This Appalachian folk song was converted into an epic rock song by the Animals in the 60s. Stripped down, it’s a slow spark that builds to a roar—just like a good campfire.
8. “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King (1961)
“When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we’ll see . . .” You’re already singing along, aren’t you? Echoing through the night air accompanied by the singing and finger snaps of close friends and family—it’s an absolute classic.
7. “Let it Be” by the Beatles (1970)
If you want a more jangly Beatles campfire song, you can swap in “A Hard Day’s Night,” but for that sunset, after-dinner campfire jam, let “Let It Be” be the one you strum.
6. “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks (1989)
Now, it depends on the time of night, but if you start strumming this one (penned by Earl Bud Lee and Dewayne Blackwell), your friends in all places are likely to join in. Although David Wayne Chamberlain first released it, you can be pretty sure that when this one breaks out beside a campfire, it’s the Garth version you’ll hear.
5. “Down By The Riverside” (First recorded in 1918)
This spiritual, which is also known as “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More,” was first recorded in 1918 but predates that by as much as 75 years. The song has been covered by artists like Blind Boys of Alabama, Elvis Presley, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, and many others. If it’s sung near a campfire that is actually down by the riverside, an old-time revival just might break out.
4. “The Weight” by The Band (1968)
Want to harmonize with your pals around the campfire? Can’t beat this absolute Americana classic. Add in the glow, warmth, and slow crackle of a fire under a canopy of stars and trees, and you’ll be singing “Take a load off, Fanny” for hours.
3. “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley (1980)
Marley’s powerful anthem is perfect for a late-night campfire gathering, when the moon shines across the ripples of the lake and the stars shine bright above. A simple melody mixed with powerful lyrics make for a great, thoughtful campfire choice.
2. “American Pie” by Don McLean (1971)
Learn to play this one and break it out at the campsite, and once you get to “So, bye-bye, Miss American Pie,” you can be pretty sure that you won’t be singing alone.
1. “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show (2013)
Written partly by Bob Dylan, completed by Old Crow Medicine Show, and brought fully into the mainstream by Darius Rucker, the infectious chorus and rolling verses in this song make for the perfect campfire jam. Just watch out for the fire when you start dancing along.
What’s your favorite campfire song? Let us know in the comments below.