Picking the right campsite is an art, not a science. Sure, you can plan ahead and book a campsite with all the bells and whistles months in advance, or you can be like me and show up at the campground around 3 p.m., look at all your options, then hope for the best. Either way, there are some things you should keep in mind when picking a campsite. Here are my top tips for finding—and reserving—the perfect spot:
Assess Your Needs
The first step in picking a campsite is to assess your needs. Are you looking for a short stay or an extended one? Do you want to be close to nature, or are you more interested in the conveniences of civilization? Do your friends and family enjoy roughing it, or do they need creature comforts like WiFi and cell service? How many people will be sleeping at the site, and how long will they be there?
To get started with this process, think about what kind of experience you’re trying to create for yourself and others: is it more important for everyone to feel safe and secure—or does getting away from it all matter more than anything else? Once we know our priorities, we can start researching specific locations that offer what we want from our camping adventures.
Amenities are the things that make camping more manageable and more comfortable, like showers, toilets, laundry facilities, and so on. If you’re roughing it for more than a few days in hot weather or cold weather with no way to clean off your clothes or bathe regularly, it might be worth paying extra for access to amenities. However, not all campsites have these items available, and they can add up quickly if you need them throughout your stay. If you decide to pay for them (and remember: some of them are outhouses!), ask ahead how much extra they cost per night or per use if there is a fee.
Location, location, location
Location is the first thing to consider when looking for a campsite. Location is the most crucial factor to consider when choosing a camp. The most important thing to know about picking a campsite is location, location, location!
There are indeed many other factors that will affect your camping experience: availability of amenities, proximity to hiking trails or lakes, price—and yet none of these things matter as much as where you're going!
Call the campground in advance and ask the right questions.
Calling the campground in advance is always a good idea, even if you're planning to go there for a weekend. You can find out about their amenities and policies and get an idea of what the facility will be like before driving there. It's also helpful to ask questions about the campground's location, how far it is from other attractions or places you want to visit during your stay, etc.
If you're looking at a website with photos of different campsites and don't have any pictures of their bathrooms or laundry rooms, that might be something worth asking about when calling them. Asking how many people stay in each room will help determine whether it'll be too crowded or not crowded enough when deciding where to stay.
Be flexible with your dates.
If a campground is complete, don't give up. In most places, reservations are made months in advance, and it's not uncommon for specific popular campsites to fill up quickly. If your favorite spot turns out to be unavailable, try calling back in a few days or even weeks. Sometimes the campgrounds will clear as people change their plans or cancel reservations due to weather issues (which can also happen during your stay). If all else fails and you still can't seem to find anything that works for you, consider looking at other locations near where you want to go: maybe there's another small town with some less-crowded options nearby that might work better for what you're looking for?
If all else fails—and if this isn't just a one-time trip—consider trying something different. There are countless hotels across America where rates tend to be more affordable and provide more space than many traditional camping sites could provide on their best day (plus, they'll probably have free Wi-Fi!).
Check for animals and insects.
If you're camping in the woods, there's no way to avoid the wildlife. Some of them are harmless, while others can be dangerous. You should check for the presence of poison ivy, ticks, snakes (including venomous species), bees and wasps, and any spiders or ants that might inhabit your campsite. If you're spending time around water sources or other moist areas, make sure there aren't any mosquitoes lurking about!
Make a reservation . . . online.
If you want to be sure of getting a campsite, make reservations. If you don't make reservations, there's no guarantee that you'll get one. Also, if you make them at all, it will probably be complex and not free (unless conditions are exceptional).
Reservations are usually relatively easy to make online—often with an app or website provided by the campground itself. You can also call ahead of time or stop in person if necessary. Some campgrounds require that users reserve sites at least several days in advance; others don't have any set minimums but will call when they're packed up so it's best to keep checking back regularly until your desired day comes up!
Review photos and Google Maps, but don't rely on them.
There are a few things to keep in mind, however:
Photos don't always show the complete picture of a campsite. You may need to make sure to see where the grounds are located and how they're laid out before you book. A photo might not show that there's a steep hill between your tent and the lake or river where you want to swim, or that there's no shade from trees at all at some sites.
Google Maps isn't always accurate either! If it seems like a place sounds too good to be true, it probably is—though sometimes Google can get things right (or close), so don't completely discount it just yet!
Reviews can be helpful for getting an idea about what other people think about this place, but bear in mind that everyone has different standards for what makes them happy when camping—so even if someone else says something was great doesn't mean it will work for every single person reading these tips today!
Seek out official reviews from ranger stations and national park websites (and don't forget to leave your own).
Seek out official reviews from ranger stations and national park websites.
Don't forget to leave your own review, especially if you have a unique perspective. It's easy to find the contact information for campsites on sites like the National Park Service or Great Outdoors: Just look for their "Contact Us" section, or use the search function to see if they have any phone numbers or emails listed. If you're having trouble getting in touch with someone directly, let us know what kind of feedback you'd like us to share with them—and we'll do our best!
Look for helpful information about campsites before booking anything online. It doesn't matter how great something looks in pictures; if it was not up to your expectations when you got there, then it wasn't worth paying money for in the first place! Take some time each day while planning your trip so that when everyone shows up at camp ready-to-go (which will probably happen), they'll still want more than just one night at this place because their needs were met during earlier stages of planning where possible prior knowledge would've been helpful enough just by checking into things via internet alone."
Weather conditions can make all the difference!
Weather conditions can make all the difference to your campground experience. You might not think about it at first, but if you're going to be out in nature for a few days, you'll want to plan for some variables:
Heat and humidity
Cold temperatures with snow or ice on the ground (or as we like to call it, "spring")
Bugs! Mosquitoes have been known to come out at night when it's warm and humid. If this happens while you're sleeping near a lake or water source, they will most definitely find their way into your tent. And they won't leave until sunrise—so don't expect any sleep that night! Safely storing food away from bugs is very important too!
Animals - including bears and rattlesnakes!
Use these tips to make sure you're picking the best campsite for you.
To make sure you're picking the right campsite, consider these tips:
Location is key. When looking at campground locations, think about what’s nearby. Are there hiking trails? Swimming holes? Activities like canoeing or biking that might be fun to do during your stay? How far are they from the nearest town or city, and how accessible is it by car or bike? If a campsite has convenient access to trails but isn’t close enough for hiking in its own backyard, that's an indicator that it might not be worth checking out further.
Make sure the amenities are up to par. Check out whether there are showers or bathrooms on-site—everyone needs those! Are there electrical outlets available for charging up devices (if you're just using them as an excuse to watch Netflix)? Can you bring pets with you? Do they charge extra fees if so? How many people can be accommodated per site—and will there be enough space between sites so nobody feels crowded while they're trying their best not to listen in on other people's conversations (and failing miserably)?
I hope that this article has given you some tips to help you find a campsite that suits your needs. If there's one thing I've learned from camping, it's this: No matter what type of camper you are or where you like to camp, there’s a spot out there for everyone!