Think camping is old-fashioned? Think again. An astonishing 78.8 million US households pack up their bags and head out to spend a night or two in nature. And over the five-year period from 2014-2019, the number of people who camped 3 or more times a year increased by 72%!
As you can see, camping is far from a lost art. The great thing about it is there are so many options. From tent camping in the middle of nowhere to staying in a luxurious RV in a ritzy campground, there’s something to suit everyone’s comfort level.
Ready to join the camping crowd? Well, this isn’t the Wild West, you can’t just pitch a tent where you please and start camping. You’ll need to know what types of campgrounds are out there, how to find them, and what you can expect when you get there. Read on, fearless camper!
First, understand that there are two very broad types of camping — dispersed vs designated sites.
A designated site is an area that is set up for camping. Depending on the campground, you’ll find plots designated for tents and others designated for RVs. There will usually be a range of amenities including toilets, showers, fire pits, BBQs, picnic tables, and more.
Access is typically pretty easy. You might have to head down a gravel road to get there, but you should be able to get there in almost any car.
Dispersed camping is the real deal. This is where you trek out into the middle of nowhere and legit sleep under the stars. You’ll probably need a 4x4 to get there and the diehards will go on foot. There are no bathrooms, showers, or picnic tables. You should plan to bring your own water, about 2 gallons per person per day.
Also, be sure to follow all the rules of “pack it in, pack it out”. Don’t leave any trash or junk behind to mar nature’s beauty.
Again, you can’t just camp anywhere, you have to make sure that the land you choose is approved for camping. Different lands will have different rules associated with camping as well, so be sure to find out what they are and follow them.
Let’s take a look at the most common types of land for camping.
Public campgrounds are the most plentiful type (as opposed to private campgrounds). They also tend to be cheaper as the rates are set with public use in mind. Public campgrounds can be further divided into these subtypes.
National park campgrounds tend to be popular spots and you may have to book early to get a spot. They are located near a gorgeous natural attraction like Yellowstone or Yosemite, which is why people are clamoring to visit.
Many allow you to book ahead of time, but others work on a first-come, first-served basis. Checkout time is around 11 a.m. so try to hit the park around this time when people will be vacating their spots. Once it fills up, you’re out of luck.
State parks are also popular but to a lesser degree. Like at a national park some allow you to book ahead of time and others don’t. However, it is generally easier to get a spot at one of these parks.
If you’re looking for dispersed camping, check out land owned by the Bureau of Land Management or the national forests. Both offer excellent opportunities for dispersed camping, as well as some locations may offer designated spots.
Each forest or BLM unit has its own rules about camping within their borders, so be sure to check out their website before you go.
National forests tend to have lots of greenery and trees while BLM lands are often more open with rocky, windy plots of land.
Tribal lands are available for camping in some areas. Finding out the details can be a little more difficult as not all the tribes offer information on a website — or even answer the phone consistently. However, you can find some hidden gems by camping on tribal lands.
Private campgrounds run the gamut as far as what they offer, where they are located, and how big they are. They are privately owned by individuals or companies so the price can also vary dramatically, though it is typically based on the number and type of amenities offered. Some can be very simple with minimal amenities and others can be downright luxurious.
They are often located near beaches, mountains, deserts, and other natural attractions. It’s common to see them near busy national parks that often have overflow visitors. You can even find camping on working farms or vineyards for an extra special twist!
There are also some privately-owned chain campgrounds, like KOA. These are nice because once you’ve stayed in one, you have a good idea of what to expect from another one.
There’s also the most basic type of camping on private land. Simply ask a landowner for permission to set up a tent on a little piece of their land.
The Internet is an excellent resource for finding a campground. This blog offers some great resources for finding and booking camp spots online at locations all across the US.
Big campgrounds and national parks are often the easiest to find. However, resources like Hipcamp, nicknamed the Airbnb of camping, help private landowners and small campgrounds get their name out there. A small campground can be a nice intermediate step between being out in the middle of nowhere by yourself and cramming into a busy designated campground at a national park.
Get Out and Explore!
There’s a whole world to get out and explore and camping is a fantastic way to do it. Spending some time in nature is healthy and invigorating. And the fabulous sites you’ll see are absolutely breathtaking. Don’t believe us? Head out and see for yourself!