The desire for an epic site to set up camp is always the same whether you’ve been camping a hundred times or it’s your first. There’s nothing worse than showing up to a campground only to find out that your site is right next to the dumpster. With a little planning and know-how, you can be sure you’ll get the campsite you really want, every time.
TOP THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN TRYING TO FIND A GREAT CAMPGROUND
- You need to book your spot early! Most National and State Park campgrounds fill up really quickly so start scoping out your spot early before camping season even begins. Depending on where you’re going this could mean booking a year in advance!
- Some campgrounds allow you to book anywhere from 3-18 months in advance so mark your calendars for when you should reserve your site. You’ll want to have the site and a few backups in mind that you want so you can reserve quickly when the time comes.
- Campsite reservation sites typically tell you when they will release their availability but you can always call them to be sure.
- Find out if the campground releases their availability at midnight – if they do, grab a cup of coffee and stay up. If a campground is popular enough, sites will fill up by morning especially on weekends and holidays.
- Call the campground to find out how quickly they fill up once availability is released.
- If the campground you want doesn’t allow reservations or has a few first-come-first-served sites, you can always call them to get advice on what months of the year and days of the week fill up quickly to get an idea of your chance of landing a spot. Typically walk-in sites will always fill up on the weekends if the area is popular. If it is really popular, a lot of campers will head out on a Thursday to beat the weekenders, so you can’t bank on there being an open spot.
CONSIDER CAMPING DURING THE OFF-SEASON
Most people camp during prime conditions and mild seasons. Places like Zion National Park see millions of visitors during the summer. Consider visiting popular places during their off-season. You will have an easier time finding a campsite and you’ll have less congestion on hiking trails, and site-seeing.
- Call the campground and ask them when the best time is to visit to beat the crowds.
- If you’re worried about being too cold in a tent, think about renting a trailer. Some trailers are very well equipped to withstand cold nights and will keep you very toasty.
UTILIZE A FEW TOOLS TO HELP YOU FIND A SPOT WITHIN THE CAMPGROUND YOU WANT
- CAMPGROUND MAPS: Almost all campsite reservation sites will have an interactive map of the campground and each site. Look at these maps closely to see which site is the closest to things like the beach, furthest away from things like dumpsters, and proximity to restrooms and showers.
- GOOGLE EARTH: However great the campground maps are 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? 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 satellite view and much better perspective on the site and my potential surroundings. Google Earth is free and very user-friendly. Simply enter your campground address and explore.
- UTILIZE REVIEWS: There are plenty of resources for finding a great campground. Websites like Campendium can help you find a 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.
HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
You will undoubtedly come across campgrounds that you want to stay at but they don’t allow reservations or they are completely booked. 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. The best advice 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 right along with being open to alternatives 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 are always more than one way to visit them. If the campground you want is full, 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’ll get to experience another area that is just as great.
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 without 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 when you’re new to the game. Camping doesn’t have to mean sleeping on the ground and eating a cold can of beans. You can make it as comfortable as you want it to be. See what the campground has to offer. A lot of places offer wifi, hot showers, and special accommodations.
BOOK YOUR CAMPSITE WITH A GOAL AND 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 reasons, 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 that planning a camping trip is just like planning any other vacation. Whether you’re sleeping outside or in a hotel, you can approach your planning similarly. And, planning your outdoor getaway doesn’t take the whimsy out of camping or detract from the point of your adventure. It only makes it better.
See you by the campfire!