Ah, camping. Each and every summer people from all over the nation leave the comfort of their homes, pack up their bags and head out to enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a fun way to get back to basics, connect with nature and spend quality time with friends and family, but finding the perfect camping destination is easier said than done.
Here is how to find the perfect campground and avoid potential pitfalls (or at least prepare for them!).
When it comes to camping everyone seems to have their own opinions, so the first decision to be made is determining what type of camping best suits your style. Some of the more popular choices include:
- Back-Packing: A great choice for hikers, boaters or bikers, the versatile backpack carries all of your supplies. Backpacking allows the greatest freedom as well as adventure. Plan to experience all that nature has to offer as you weather the elements and carry your own load. For experienced campers only!
- Tent Camping: Inexpensive and convenient, tents come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Kids will enjoy the excitement of sleeping in a tent while adults will appreciate the protection and privacy tents provide. It’s a good idea to know how to assemble the tent before reaching your destination. After all, the last thing you want is your children turning into cranky campers as you try to set up camp after a long day of travel.
- RV Camping: A favorite among retirees, RV camping gives you a scaled-down version of everything you love (and a few things you don’t) about home. For some, the ability to sleep in a bed, cook, shower and rest in air-conditioned comfort is offset by the need for cleaning and dealing with something called a drain hose. Need we say more?
- Cabins: Considered the ultimate camping method by some, critics consider cabins cheating. Whatever your opinion, cabin camping is a cross between a hotel and nature. Cabin types are as variable as the campgrounds themselves with some providing little more than a cot while others offer full-featured, luxury accommodations that rival the best five star hotels.
Most people take the time to book airplane flights and hotel rooms well in advance but fail to make similar preparations when camping. Don’t make the same mistake! Popular campgrounds are often filled to overflowing during special events or holidays, leaving would-be campers rushing to make other arrangements.
- Make Reservations: Be sure to book your reservation in advance — especially if your trip is planned for a holiday or long weekend.
- Check Local Events: Even if you are not traveling during a long weekend or holiday, campgrounds located near major concert, sporting or other events fill up quickly. Contact the local chamber of commerce to request an event schedule, then plan accordingly.
- Communicate: Always leave a copy of your schedule, route and destination with friends and family, especially if you’re planning any off-road hiking, biking or boating. In the event of an emergency or accident it just might save your life!
Whether you are an old-timer or are new to the camping scene, it is important to remain realistic about the different abilities of the group. Special consideration for young children, the elderly and others go a long way to making sure everyone has fun. Before making reservations, take time to create a camper personal inventory, listing any special needs, then select a campground based upon the requirements of the most fragile or inexperienced camper.
- First-Time Campers: Most first-time campers should take it slow and experience a few camping trips before embarking on the more extreme or adventurous versions. While it might sound like fun to get “up close and personal” with nature, not everyone is equally prepared for the actual reality of sleeping on cots (or on the ground), cold showers and campfires.
- Campers with Chronic Health Conditions or Disabilities: Pay special attention to the needs of those with chronic health problems or disabilities when selecting a camping destination. For example, children with asthma or allergies may experience a worsening of symptoms during pollen season at a heavily-forested campground but be perfectly happy and healthy at a campground by the beach. Persons using a wheelchair may require accessible showers and other accommodations to fully enjoy the experience.
- Children: Camping with children is great fun, but it requires special planning and a little sensitivity. Young children often have little experience sleeping away from home and may be frightened by unusual sounds or situations.
- Prepare children for what to expect when camping by reading books or renting a movie about camping.
- It’s also a good idea to bring along a favorite teddy bear or blanket that makes them feel safe while they are away from home.
- Another important consideration is to explain the rules related to camping and make sure each child understands what is — or isn’t — allowed; for example, the dangers of wandering away from the campsite or playing too close to a campfire are good lessons to learn in advance.
- Finally, practice makes perfect! If you aren’t sure how your child will respond then set up a tent in the backyard before the big trip. It’s a great way to teach children about camping safety.
Man’s Best Friend
One of the benefits of camping is the ability to bring the entire family — including Fido! Nothing ruins a vacation faster than having to track down a kennel rather than having your four-legged companion romping through the wooded hills at your side.
- Be sure to search for pet-friendly campgrounds — not just those with onsite kennels.
- Make sure vaccinations, tags and records are up-to-date.
- Keep at least two forms of identification on your pet at all times.
- Double-check state requirements for all stop areas prior to leaving.
- Have a back-up plan just in case your pet becomes ill on the trip (don’t forget to pack your vet’s phone number).
Personal Preferences: Campground Types
Once you’ve figured out your camping style, precautions and other needs, it is time to select the type of campground.
- Off-Road or Primitive Camping: Not for the faint of heart, primitive camping is just what it sounds like . . . primitive. Make no mistake about it, some campgrounds consist of little more than a level surface with an outhouse and a source of water in the general vicinity. Not recommended for beginning campers, those with a flair for adventure will appreciate the challenge and simplicity afforded by primitive camping.
- Family Campgrounds: Commercial family campgrounds are often located on the outskirts of town near major attractions or other destinations. Amenities such as pools, playgrounds, media and game rooms provide plenty to keep the children occupied, while adults will appreciate laundry facilities and the ability to rest in comfort after a long day of play.
- Luxury Campgrounds: From hot tubs to fine dining, even the most discriminating camper will enjoy the amenities provided by some of America’s luxury campgrounds. While nature may be the main attraction, golf, boating and other pleasures replete with full-service staff are at your disposal.
- State and Federal Parks: No mention of campgrounds would be complete without discussing the wide variety of state and federal parks scattered throughout the country. Typically staffed by government employees, these campgrounds range from primitive to luxurious while featuring some of the most impressive parks and scenery in the nation!
Mix It Up
If you can’t bring yourself to go all-out in one direction, try mixing up your choices of the considerations above. Mix and match to suit your style: for example, you may want to set up an RV or camper at some primitive camp sites (and use a generator for electricity) in order to experience maximum privacy; or you may want to enjoy a hot shower or other amenities after backpacking in a state park system.
Before booking your final reservations be sure to ask about discounts, special offers, promotions or memberships that may reduce the cost of camping, boating, attractions and other fees.
The United States government has several discount programs including the ever-popular National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This annual pass is only $80 and admits the pass-holder and up to four others to national parks across the nation. Seniors can purchase a $10 lifetime pass to federal recreation sites throughout the United States and volunteers or disabled citizens are eligible for a free lifetime pass!
For more information about federal discounts call 1-888-ASK USGS, Ext. 1, or visit https://pwrcms.nps.gov/pwr/fees_passes.htm.
Other popular discount programs include membership affiliations, senior discounts, state and local government discounts, military and much more. It’s a great way to afford that extra special attraction or event.