You’re excited because the camper is packed. You’ve picked a dream vacation spot. The only thing left to do is find that perfect campsite. But, finding that ideal spot with the hookups, amenities, location, and vibe you want may not be all that easy with so many options out there. Sometimes you have to settle for less than a perfect campground to be in the area you want or give up some amenities to stay within your budget. There is a lot that goes into selecting a campground and we want to help you with some tips and resources that we have learned and used over eight years of traveling fulltime in our RV. A disappointing campground can really ruin a vacation and leave you with a bad impression of an area so we want to help you avoid that.
Types of Campgrounds
It’s best to know what type of campgrounds are available to help you narrow your search and we’ve divided that into three categories of camping – Public, Private/Commercial, and Dry Camping/Boondocking. If you want to camp nested in the grasslands without another camper in sight, search for a boondocking site. Taking the grandkids along and wanting lots of activities within the park to keep them occupied? A private RV park like Jellystone or KOA Destination may be your best bet. Or, maybe you want the tranquility of a state park with hiking trails and evening campfires to let you commune with nature. With over hundreds of thousands of campgrounds there are lots to choose from, keep in mind what experience will best suit you.
These include federal, state, city, and county facilities that vary widely in site condition, hookups, amenities, and cost. Public campgrounds may be a little farther off the beaten path but offer a great respite in a natural setting with an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities. Many of these campgrounds allow you to have campfires and will provide a fire pit and often a food grill over the pit. For seniors, many of these parks offer great discounts that can reduce camping costs up to 50%. Keep in mind that public campgrounds tend to be more rustic with less amenities and smaller campsites and may not fit big-rigs. You may be giving up the luxury of sewer and water to have a quiet campsite nestled under the tall trees, but that may be worth it.
Private and commercial campgrounds are widespread and easy to find. Here you will find a wide-range of amenities and enjoyment for the entire family with hay rides, bouncy pillows, outdoor patio furniture at your site, heated swimming pool, dog park, and much more. But beware, these services usually come with a hefty price. Some of these campgrounds are destinations within themselves and campers can find enough to do within the campground that they never leave the property during their stay.
Dry camping refers to camping without any hookups such as at a casino, Walmart, rest area, Cabela’s/Bass Pro Shop or even a friend’s driveway (commonly referred to as “moochdocking”). Some campgrounds also offer dry camping options and you still get access to all the campground amenities. Boondocking takes things a step farther referring to camping without hookups outside of a developed campground which mostly occurs on public lands (like Bureau of Land Management and National Forests) in remote areas. Boondocking is more common in western states whereas these places are more difficult to find in the eastern U.S. Another option is to join Harvest Hosts which is a fee membership program that lets you park for free overnight at farms, vineyards, breweries, museums, golf courses and more. Trying to save a little money and reduce nightly camping costs? These options may work for you as camping is usually free or at a nominal cost.
Needs versus Wants?
Start your campground search by deciding what it is you need and want out of a campground to have the best experience. These two factors can be quite different and melding them may not always happen at the same campground. Do you need a big-rig accessible site? Is the family pet traveling with you? Then you need a campground that is pet-friendly (make sure you check first, not all campgrounds allow pets). Or do you want lots of amenities to keep you and your family busy with zip lines, disc golf, swimming, and volleyball? If you want to enjoy s’mores around a campfire at night then confirm the campground allows open fires. Amenities vary widely among campgrounds and, in most cases, the more amenities that are offered, the higher the nightly cost for your site. You may want to forgo some of the amenities for a cheaper campsite, especially if you have most of your daily activities planned outside the campground which is merely just a place to sleep.
Resources for Locating the Campground
Now it’s time to go about actually finding that campground. There are so many resources available that you could spend hours and days sorting through all of the information, leaving your head spinning. After getting familiar with these websites, you may find two or three that are your go-to resources. We begin our search simply by going to Google Maps and searching for “campgrounds” or “RV parks” near our desired location. This is a good start to visually see what is available in the area. It’s best to use both terms because sometimes pub