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First Time Camping - Choosing a Campsite

Updated: May 22, 2022

This article is part of the series -"First Time Camping". You can refer to the checklist / list of items needed for Camping at this link - First Time Camping - Checklist

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How and Where to find the campsites?

Location is one of the major ingredient of this successful Camping Recipe :-). Finding the right campsite takes a good amount of planning by reviewing lot of resourceful information. While there are decent number of apps and websites which have consolidated list of campsites, we will provide basic and handful tips to help you secure the perfect campsite which will be of your liking.

Campsites preferences varies based on the location and surroundings. It could be proximity to a Stream, a Lake or on top of a mountain, with lot of shades, less mosquitoes/bugs, away from noise or common places, spotting of wild animals, wide opening to see the star trails, etc... It is all about location and that perfect spot which will awe you the minute you park your car at the campsite.

If you are a beginner, start somewhere close by to your home to get experience and join an experienced group, until you camp on your own or form your own group. You can either borrow or rent Camping Gears and accessories for your first Camping trip. Even few state parks have programs for beginners which provide with all of necessary gears and

equipment for the Camping. All you have to do is, pack your bag like heading to a rustic Cabin :-). If you indeed decide to venture out and have your first camping in the wild, you can find both Public and private campgrounds.

Public Campsites - State and National Parks

National parks and State parks in USA are very well maintained and offer wide variety of campgrounds and stunning locations. With reservations ranging from $10 to $40, its a steal to get that experience which will make you feel close to nature. And, since most of the

National parks and state parks are within a forest, you will encounter wild animals. Visit Park's website and Visitor center to understand precautions needed at your campsite. These two books offer a great insight into the state and national parks. Give it a try. If you have Amazon kindle unlimited, National parks book is FREE. Else, you can buy paperbook as well at marginal price. You can refer to the state parks book as well.

Campgrounds at these parks are a hot cake and gets booked well in advance. At any park, usually there are 2 ways t o get a site.

  • FREE - Daily Use only and its first come first serve basis. You will have to come to the visitor center and do a walk-in if the sites are available and it is FREE. Usually, many campers steal them by noon.

  • Fees with Reservations & Walk-ins. In his case, feel free to make reservations online or phone and choose available campground. Few sites allow walk-ins too if there are cancellations or vacant.

Favorite campsites are booked several months in advance and very difficult to book if it is a long weekend. Hop on to your park websites and block them in advance.

And, besides the public/govt managed campgrounds, there are many private, commercial, family run campgrounds too. KOA is very famous and offer cabins, campgrounds, playgrounds etc... They doo offer Daily/Weekly/monthly with fees - Walk-ins and Reservations. Since these are privately owned, not all may be at a perfect nature spot you may have wanted or encounter wild animals.

There are various types of campgrounds offered at a given park. Please do research thoroughly before doing a walk-in

  1. Drive-in, usually handicap accessible. These Campgrounds are easily accessible wherein you can drive your vehicle (Car/Van) to your site. Unloading your camping gear and moving around the place will be lot easier. Good for newbies and those who have kids or elders in the group

  2. RV only Camping - These campgrounds are restricted only for RVs and need to get special permission and usually have access to electric and dumping.

  3. Electric Accessible - Few campgrounds have access to electric outlets which helps a lot if you plan to cook quick or have camping gears which need high power to operate

  4. Cart-in Campgrounds are bit tricky and fun. They are not accessible for vehicles and usually the parks provide a cart to carry your camping gear and accessories from the parking lot. If necessary and in case you have more items to be carried, its always good to have a pull-on carts. Few sites can really far and uphill. If you have kids who need attention and not camping for more nights, it may not be a right option. On a brighter side, the sites will be secluded from others, offering privacy and less noise.

  5. Backpack - These are for advanced level of campers as it requires a good distance of hiking in woods and reach to the campsites. The toilets are primarily rustic and showers may not be accessible or have to hike to get good showers. Plus point is, with all those hikes, these sites will be far away from usual public and more closer to the nature

  6. Equestrian Campground - Well, if you plan to get your horse for he camping. Then, this is the place :). These are reserved only for those who have horses. Not typically allowed for others to camp

The actual spot of the Campsites in the park is a very important part of Camping experience.

Below drivers play a crucial role in deciding the campsite.

1. Group Size

2. Are you a Beginner or an experienced Camper

3. Fitness level of the group

4. Budget limit for the Camping

5. Kids or Babies being accompanied

Group Size and Group Campsites:

Almost all campsites have a limit of occupants which is usually restricted to 3 - 6 persons per site ( includes kids. Age limit varies for respective State or park ) with a maximum of two tents to be setup and 1 car for parking. And, the Rangers or Site Owners typically do scout once a day to confirm there is no overcrowd. So, do plan accordingly.

If you have group bigger than 6 members, it is always good to camp at a larger site than trying to get two adjacent individual sites. Groups sites usually accommodate 10-50 members and space enough to pitch in 4 -10 Tents. Also, allows 3-5 vehicles for parking. This also allows more privacy to your group as usually they are secluded from other campsites, with multiple picnic tables, firepits/camp grills. Also, more likeliness to find trees to setup Hammock.

Experience level:

Choosing the right campsite is an Art. Also, if you have the right group, any campsite/location will be a memorable event. But, for a beginner, good amount of preparation is needed. For example, trying practicing to setup a tent at home and packing it back, Try sleeping on Air mattress or sleeping bag at home, will you be okay with cell network or internet connection, packing first aid kit or important daily medications, timing the camping to a date which works best for all, making a checklist of items to be packed, any dietary restrictions, Allergy restrictions, etc...

Campsites will be a surprise for many reason even if it is not a first visit. There may be a sudden thunderstorm or tree branches may fall or tent may have not been setup properly to withstand the wind, campfire may be banned due to extreme hot weather, etc... Being prepared for this is very crucial. Wearing right camping clothes/gears is extremely important too. Though we share a generic checklist, experience makes you to have a personalized list.


Being outdoors and want to enjoy the hiking trails, rough terrain with the luxury of not having warm cozy mattress at night, will require us to be fit while camping. If you are beginner, it may not be a great idea to try Backpack or Cart-in Camping. Even the traditional Tent camping with air mattress or even the cushioned mattress may not be comfortable if not practiced.

Budget limits:

Well, this will be a boon considering the experience you get and meagre $10-$20 per night fees been paid. Camping offers the unique experience of outdoors as your mind and body is already prepared to the activities you will be doing for the day. Unlike hotel or cabin, where you get to sleep in the bed or rest in pool or spa, camping helps you to be in the outdoors mode. Your pool will be the lake or the river and hammock being your spa :). Though the campsite cost is around $20 for an individual site, the cost may pile up and be same as a hotel stay when you account firewood, fuel, grill accessories, food materials, pizza

for kids if they don't like grilled food and any wastages of perishable food not consumed.

Camping with kids/babies:

Traveling with kids or babies and having a good time is like winning a Toss. There is a 50:50 possibility of having a memorable exciting experience or an extreme uncomfortable experience to your family and other campers. There are many campers with their toddlers, but most are experienced campers and they know the type of site to choose and be prepared with any emergency situations. Usually kids 5+yrs and above will know what they are upto and will be able to communicate. Any younger kids or babies, it will be a hard choice for the parents. They should be prepared in all aspects - occupying them with toys, video time, nap time, etc... No matter what age, a perfect weather & outdoors will definitely make kids excited and play all day and have a good night sleep at dark by not disturbing any. If for any reason, kids get fuzzy and either end up crying or make noise, it will be a challenging task for parent to ensure the norms are maintained during the quiet hours and it will be hard for the parents and other campers to manage the situation. Its always good to choose your campsite at a drivable distance to be on safer side if you know there are high chances of your kid to be uncomfortable. But, vast majority of kids just enjoy outdoors. As a Parent, they should make a plan well and make right choice.

This article focused more on type of campsites and how to choose them based on various factors. Next article will cover the checklist for the Camping ( list of essentials to be packed for a successful Camping ).

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