A successful camping trip depends on more than just having the right gear and knowing how to use it.
Planning it can feel a little overwhelming if you have never done it before, but never fear!
Here are some tips to make sure that you consider all the important factors before you head out, from finding the best location to securing your reservations.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s camp!
Who To Bring: Your Best Companions
Camping with your most favorite people in the world is a wonderful adventure, but you might be limited in which places you can choose, depending on who they are.
If you plan to bring kids along, remember that some camping locations will be more kid-friendly than others, so you should consider their needs.
Kids can need places to run and play, but they also tend to go to sleep earlier in the evenings, so a campground known for loud late-night parties might frustrate everyone.
If you plan to bring your furry friend, make sure that dogs are allowed, since pets are not welcome everywhere. You should also note whether a dog must be on a leash at all times.
If you plan to bring your horse, make sure that horse camping is allowed.
Most campgrounds have separate campgrounds for horse camping, so prepare to be separated from the main campground.
Consider your own accessibility needs, too.
Does anyone in your group need accessible showers and toilets?
If the campsites are walk-in, are the trails level?
How far from the parking area are the campsites?
The answers to these questions will rule out many campgrounds, but they are important to keep in mind before you begin your search.
Additionally, some campgrounds have limits on the number of people or the number of tents that can occupy a site, so make sure your group is an appropriate size.
Where To Go: Finding the Perfect Location
The ideal campground does not have to be far from your home to be a great fit for you! In fact, some of the most interesting places to explore are the woods, lakes, rivers, and hills that are close to home.
When choosing the type of camping you are interested in, keep in mind that there are public campgrounds, which include state and national parks, as well as private campgrounds.
Hipcamp offers a way to explore a wide variety of camping options, including private camping options and specialty camping experiences (like backyards and farms).
If you are planning a long camping trip that includes driving, The Dyrt is helpful in every aspect of that planning, including calculating the miles between campgrounds.
You will also want to consider the amenities that a potential campground offers.
Some campgrounds have campground hosts available to answer questions and help you solve problems that might arise, or a staffed office with limited hours.
Other questions about amenities that you might consider include:
- Is there access to running water close to the campsites?
- Are there flush toilets? Pit latrines?
- Is there electricity available at the campsite?
- Are there shower facilities, and are they coin operated, or are they included in the cost of the campsite?
- Are there groomed hiking trails, and how long are they? Are they strenuous or easy, or a mix of both?
- Is there a swimming beach or playground?
- Are there paved bike paths or mountain biking trails?
- Can you purchase firewood at the campground?
- Is there a store to purchase necessary items at the campground? If not, how far away is the nearest store?
- Does the campground offer programs like nature talks or guided hikes?
- Can you rent recreation equipment like canoes, kayaks, bicycles, or fishing gear?
Remember that campgrounds are competing for your patronage, so they want to offer you a great experience.
If one campground does not have the amenities you are looking for, there is a good chance that the campground down the road from it does, so do not be afraid to keep searching.
When To Leave: Picking the Best Time For Your Trip
Since you will be spending all of your time outdoors, much of your camping experience will depend on what those outdoors are like.
If you are limited in your availability to choose your camping dates by a work schedule, you will just have to deal with the weather that is happening.
If you have more flexibility about when your camping trip will happen, it is important to consider the weather.
Avoiding heavy rain when possible will make your trip much more pleasant!
You can make some estimates about what you will encounter based on the climate of the place you are camping, since climate tells you what temperature range you might expect.
If you are camping in the summertime in some places, you might expect the occasional pop-up rain shower no matter what the forecast is, so plan accordingly.
It is always a good idea to bring rain gear and to expect that rain is a possibility.
Likewise, if the climate you are camping in has very high or low average temperatures, you should bring clothing to prepare for those temperatures.
Weather is a much shorter-term and more specific prediction of temperatures, wind speeds, and precipitation.
If you are able to make your camping reservations within a week of leaving for your camping trip, you should have a very good idea of what kind of weather you will need to prepare for.
Keep in mind that weather forecasts greater than ten days out tend to not be very accurate.
The length of your camping trip is up to you, but remember that campgrounds might have limits on the number of days you can stay.
If you cook with fresh food when you camp, you will want to make sure that there is a store near the campground to replenish ice in your cooler and buy fresh supplies.
If you decide to cut your trip short, be aware that your payment might not be refundable, so plan accordingly.
How To Book: Making Sure Your Spot is Waiting
Once you find the perfect campsite, you will want to make a reservation. There are several ways that campgrounds reserve campsites.
Online reservations are quick and easy, usually showing available campsites and often even including photos of the campsites to make your selection easier.
Most online reservation sites require a credit card for payment.
Reservations by phone are less common now, but are still an option for many campgrounds.
You will have to call to make a reservation during the campground’s office hours.
Non-reservable sites at campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis and do not allow reservations prior to arrival.
This can be a riskier way to camp because the campground may be full when you arrive!
A mix of any of these reservation options is also possible at some campgrounds.
Some campgrounds utilize online reservations for some sites while leaving others non-reservable, which allow people to arrive without making a reservation.
Very popular campsites in desirable locations will be booked very quickly.
In fact, some of the most popular campgrounds will be booked solid for the entire year on the first day they are made available, so if you have your heart set on a specific campsite, you may have to plan ahead for a long time.
Campsites that are near water features (like lakes, rivers, or the ocean) also tend to be extremely popular, so know that you might be facing some serious competition for these.
Campgrounds with a spectacular view in a national park might be snapped up moments after they are available, so if you have your heart set on a specific site, be prepared to reserve it as early as possible.
Campgrounds have policies regarding how many nights you can stay.
Some offer full refunds in the case of a cancelation, but others charge a fee.
If the weather takes a turn for the worse and you decide to change your dates, you will need to modify your reservation so be aware that there may be a fee for this as well.
Bonus: Avoiding Crowded Campgrounds
If avoiding a crowded campground is important to you, there are a few general guidelines to keep in mind.
Holiday weekends in the summer will without exception be very busy times at campgrounds.
During warm summer months, camping on any night from Monday through Thursday usually results in a much quieter campground experience.
The cooler months of autumn are less busy in many areas, and winter through early spring will guarantee a very quiet camping experience in a cold climate!
If you would prefer to not be in close proximity to other people at the campground, the campsite you choose makes a big difference.
When you are making your reservation, look on the map for campsites that are separated from other campsites by a stand of trees, a ravine, or other natural features.
Hike-in or cart-in sites offer even more privacy, but they require you to carry all your camping gear a distance from your car.
If you choose a hike-in or drive-in campsite, make sure you know how long the hike is so you do not have an unpleasantly long surprise when you arrive!
Even the Best-Laid Plans Sometimes Fail
Sometimes, despite your careful planning, something will go wrong on your camping trip.
Perhaps an unexpected thunderstorm leads to a soaking sleeping bag, or you end up with more bug bites than you can count, or maybe inconsiderate neighbors keep you awake all night with their loud campfire conversation.
There are many things that are out of your control when you are camping – like weather, insects, and other campers – but those are often the things that will make the best stories later on!
Remember that with camping, like every life experience, there will be good times and bad times, so the most important things to bring with you will always be your flexibility and your sense of humor.