TYPE OF CAMPGROUND
When you boil it down, there are four basic types of campgrounds you can choose from:
National Park – There are 63 National Parks in the United States and each one holds so many wonderful things to see and do! They are a HUGE attraction for so many different people from all over the world. Planning a trip to a National Park is a feat in itself sometimes depending on how many visitors they get in a year. Planning ahead and reserving a camping spot within the park may need to happen up to a year in advance, so plan wisely.
National Forest, State Park, Recreation Area, Conservation Area, etc… – These are other protected wilderness areas within the US that are not normally as busy as the National Parks, so a lot of the time it is easier to make reservations for a camping spot. Normally you can reserve online, call, or there are “first come, first serve” spots. Those are a hot commodity though and unless you are there first thing in the morning it is difficult to get a spot in a busy location. This is the same for the National Parks.
City – Many cities will offer a local campground and sometimes they are even free to stay at. It is worth doing some research on where to stay before you leave home, or on your cell phone while on the road. When we travel, we never really know how far we plan to go down the road in a day when we road trip.
Private – These campgrounds are going to be the most expensive as they are run by a private party. They range from a small Mom and Pop facility to a huge resort that has all the amenities under the sun!
After you have decided on the type of campground you are looking for you can narrow your search by location.
Convenience towards local attractions – How far is the campground from the water park, hiking trails, lake, cave, etc? This is a big factor if you don’t want to have to get in the car and drive to the main attraction you came to see. You may end up paying a little more to be closer to the main attraction you came to see, but if it saves you a trip in the car, finding parking, paying for parking, and loading/unloading, then it is normally worth it for providing a less stressful trip.
Easy access to major roadways – This is a huge one for us because we hate hearing road traffic. But if you are traveling across three states and need to get somewhere quickly you really don’t want to be an hour from the interstate. Normally we can find a free campground about 15-20 minutes from the highway or interstate we are using to go to our next destination. That is always one of our goals when road tripping – getting a good night sleep in a quiet area. Now if you plan to stay for a week at one location, driving an hour from the main road/interstate wouldn’t be a big deal at all. It really just depends on what the goal of your trip is.
Privacy – This is another big one for us. We are all about safety so if we park overnight in a Walmart or Cracker Barrel, though they normally allow overnight parking, we don’t like the noise and don’t feel all that safe due to the amount of vehicle and foot traffic. Always make sure to ask before staying overnight in a business parking lot as you don’t want to get ticketed or have a cop knock on your door in the middle of the night. On the other hand, being at a super remote campground when no-one is around is kind of creepy and what if the vehicle won’t start in the morning and you have no cell service? There are pros and cons to all different set-ups, it really just depends on what you are looking for, how far you want to travel off your main route, and how comfortable you are with boondocking or back road travel.
When we spent a year traveling around the US, we were very conscious about our finances since we were living off of our savings during that time frame. We learned very quickly where to find free and very affordable campgrounds that had cool stuff to see while we were there! Luckily, there are campgrounds that cater to all sorts of people, no matter their financial situation, so whether you want to go glamping in Bodega Bay, California or a quick overnight stay at a free wildlife preserve in Louisiana, you can take your pick!
Free – If you are looking for extreme costs savings for your lodging check out freecampsites.net or thedryt.com. These are our two favorite websites to check out when we are looking for free campgrounds. Tons of travelers contribute to the websites and leave reviews about places they have stayed that are free. They will post pictures and share what the sites were like, amenities, road conditions and even if there is cell service. We have contributed quite a bit to these websites as well. It is fun to look back and see where we have been and what our experience was, as well as offer our two sense to others. Normally these sites have no amenities, as in, no water and bathroom facilities at all.
Cheap – The next step up from free is cheap or economically priced campgrounds. Normally these are National Forests and other publicly protected areas they will be around $15-$20 per night. They normally have a vault toilet and some sort of potable water source.
Average – The average campground that has been decently maintained and normally has a shower house and water/electric sites will run you around $40-$60 per night. Sometimes they will have a dump station or sewer connection at the campsite. Also, they will most likely have a laundry service of some kind. We have found these types of campgrounds to be nothing to write home about and it is disappointing to spend that kind of money to stay at a semi run-down location. But sometimes that’s all that is available and you make due.
High End (resort) – These can be the most fun to stay at, have a ton of amenities, and are immaculately well kept and maintained. These types of campgrounds normally have at least 100 sites or more and are huge locations. They will run about $70- $90 per night (or higher) and be such a pleasure to stay at. I always feel so luxurious when we splurge and stay at a super night place! Then we absolutely make sure to use the pool and whatever other fun stuff they have to try out!
Something to consider when deciding on how much to spend for a campsite is are there any events happening when you will be there? A music concert, car show, or during a holiday weekend. These events can really jack up the price. If you try to travel during the off season or not when events are taking place you will get much better rates. Also, staying during the week night is normally cheaper than a weekend. You can also ask if they offer weekly or monthly discounts. And if you have an extended period of time on your hands and want to stay in an area longer, ask the owners if they offer work camping. This is where you work for them in exchange for free lodging. Check out workampers.com or happyvagabonds.com if you are interested in seeing what work camping entails.
When you are paying for a place to camp it is important to know what amenities they offer so you can make sure they meet your needs or desires. A few things to consider are:
Sell fire wood
All of these are just some of the amenities available. Make sure to check out their website before you book or speak with them on the phone when you make a reservation so you can make sure their pool is actually open for the season. We have run into that at smaller campgrounds where they didn’t have enough traffic to make it worth it for them to have the pool available. So, if you just look on the website you think you are getting a pool but in fact you paid more to stay at a place that didn’t actually offer what they said. It happens all the time.
You have finally decided which campground you are going to stay at so now you can make your reservation. Shouldn’t you just let the computer decide where you are going to stay or the person who is making the reservation for you? Absolutely not! Go online and look at the site map to make sure you are getting the best spot for your needs. Are you staying in a tent and have to get up to pee three times in the night? Well how far do you want to be from the bathroom? A one-minute walk or ten? I don’t know about you but I am not a fan of walking very far in the middle of the night when it is pitch black out at a National Forest. To be honest, I would just pee semi-near the tent, but not all people would do that. So, again, you have to choose what works best for you!
When looking at a site map some things to consider are:
Gravel vs concrete pads for parking
Distance to neighbors
How far to shower house?
How far to pool/lake or other activities?
Are you at a spot that is high traffic?
If you are traveling somewhere that has a ton of mosquitoes you most likely want to be on the lake shore to get the breeze and not in the thick tree cover where no air is moving. Or if you are in the desert and there are only three spots that have a tree or shade of any kind, you would obviously want to get one of those spots. It is great reserving online because a lot of websites have a picture of what each site looks like so you know exactly what you are paying for.
KEY RESERVATION QUESTIONS
Lastly, when making a reservation over the phone or online make sure to ask/check:
Minimum night stay requirement
Check in/checkout times
Trees on site
Price difference for the hookups options
Show house available
Discount available - military, AARP, Good Sam, AAA, etc
You would be surprised how many websites for private campgrounds are out of date. And a lot of the time you cannot make a reservation online, you have to call them. It is important to call and ask so there is no confusion. And always, always look at the pictures to make sure it's safe looking and as described.
Hopefully this guide provides some insight to the new explorer and camper! Happy trails to you!
Post written by:
Amy and Jacob Karras
For the love of travel and new adventures, we live our lives for the next dream fulfilled!