The desire for an epic site to set up camp is always the same whether you’ve been a hundred times or it’s your first. You want the best spot in a great campground. But it doesn’t always turn out that way. Maybe you’re an avid camper who has a few hidden gems you always hit, but what if someone else has staked a claim to your secret spot? Maybe it’s your first time at a campground and, lucky you, you managed to pick the only campsite next to the garbage dumpsters. With a little planning and know-how, you can be sure you’ll get the campsite you really want, every time.
- Book your spot early! Most National and State Park campgrounds fill up really quickly so start scoping out your spot early. Some campgrounds allow you to book anywhere from 3-18 months in advance so mark your calendars for when you should start looking for a site.
- Google Earth needs to be your new best friend. Most campground reservation sites will have a campground map and pictures of each site. However, these limited views of the site don’t always tell the whole story. How close are you to other campers? How close is your tent pad to the road? Are there street lights, bathrooms, garbages, etc. that will disturb your peace? Anytime I plan on booking a campsite, I pull up both the campground map and the entire area on Google Earth. This way, I can get a better perspective on the site and my potential surroundings. Google Earth is free and very user-friendly. Check it out here.
- Have a back-up plan. You will undoubtedly come across campgrounds that don’t allow reservations. When attempting to camp at a walk-in only campground, there’s always the potential of driving three hours and showing up to the dreaded “Campground Full” sign. My best advise here, is to give yourself some options. For example, If campground A is full, I know I can still check out B and C that are nearby and, if all else fails, I am okay with spending “so bucks” on a hotel or sleeping in my car.
- Be open to alternatives. Going along with having a backup plan, is being open to a little compromise. Sure, you want that epic spot right in Arches National Park with all the views, trails, and such. But, the great thing about these amazing places we want to visit is there is always more than one way to visit them. If the campground you want is full or booked, you need to widen your search. If you’re willing to camp outside of the area your intending on visiting, you might find that your trip only gets better. Instead of staying in one amazing spot, you get to experience multiple areas that are just as great.
- Look at reviews. These days there are tons of resources for finding a great campground. Sites like Campendium can help you find a great campground that checks all the boxes. And, you can get insight from people who’ve stayed there to help pick the best spot, find things to do in the area, and even get feedback about the campground hosts.
- Time of year matters. This may be obvious, but I’m saying it anyway. Booking a campsite in the desert in the middle of summer may not yield the best experience – even if you have a trailer with AC. Booking a campground at Zion National Park during peak season may give you some great people watching but could seriously detract from your outdoor experience. The more research you do on an area the better. Weather, bugs, visitation, lake levels, and even pollution levels can all play a major role in how much you enjoy your experience.
- Scope out the amenities and know what you’re comfortable with. When looking at a campground, there’s more to consider than aesthetics. If your a newbie with a trailer, take some time to learn the lingo (full hookups, partial hookups, etc.) and what you really need while camping. Sure you can go a weekend with a shower, but can you also go without your gourmet toaster, or wifi, or netflix? Don’t feel like you have to completely rough it just because you’re camping – especially if you’re new to the game.
- Book your site with your camping motive in mind. This may seem silly, but there is a reason you’re booking a campsite and heading out on your adventure. What is it? To hike a new area, to star-gaze, to play at the lake? Whatever your reason(s), keep them top of mind when looking for a site. If you want to see some epic stars try finding a campsite with an International Dark Sky designation and be sure to go on a moonless night. If you want to paddle board across a mirror-like surface, shoot for camping at a lake that doesn’t allow motorized boats.
At the end of the day, remember you are planning a trip just like any other. Whether you’re sleeping outside or in a hotel, the trips should be approached similarly. Don’t feel like a little planning takes the whimsy out of camping or detracts from the point of your adventure.
See you by the campfire!