The El Dorado of the great outdoor experience, trying to find the absolute best campsite is the legendary myth that many speak of, but few have found. Although U.S National and State Parks do their best to balance conserving nature, with the millions of visitors that trek through the parks annually, it has been an understandably daunting task resulting in cramped, sometimes overlapping, campsites. This is especially true in the super popular parks like Glacier or Yellowstone, where you would be lucky to get a campsite at all.
Short of going into the backcountry, which is not always feasible for families, your next best option is to try and find the perfect campsite. Granted, although what constitutes the best campsite can be based on purely subjective criteria ranging from scenic views, having plenty of lush trees, or being close to water, I do presume that for most, if not all of us, our reasons to go camping is to get away from the crowds, reconnect with nature and get our Zen on. Unfortunately, nothing shatters your Zen quicker than rowdy obnoxious neighbors bringing the city to the great outdoors.
So in the interest of campers around the world, the focus of this weeks Travel Hack Friday is to give you some actionable tips on how to find the best campsite.
Step 1 – Research The Right National or State Park:
All great trips begin with a bit of research. Go to the National Park website or the respective U.S State Parks sites which you’ll find here, and research things like, when is the busy season, open dates, reservation windows, weather, number of reservation and first-come-first-serve campsites, and the type of nature environment (i.e. trees, desert, or canyon) that appeals to you. Also worth mentioning, is that some Parks are more conducive to short term camping – sort of an in and out experience, whereas others are perfect for long term camping. Depending on what you’re looking for will determine the National or State Park you end up camping at.
Step 2 – Elementary My Dear Watson, Compare & Deduce!
Once you’ve determined the park you plan to visit, find reviews on the campsites or campground located within that Park. Coveted campsites will rarely be shared, but it’s still possible to deduce the rough location by reading between the lines. Things like: if their site had a view of the lake, then you know they were lakeside, or if their tent faced an unobstructed sunset, then they may have been on the west side of the campground. Take this information, and compare their photos with topography maps, Google Earth or other known images of the campground and piece together possible positions and scenery.
Step 3 – Use the Campground Maps
Now using the information from Step 2, compare it with campground maps that list each campsite and its location. Easy way to accomplish this is through Reserveamerica.com or Recreation.gov that both have an online reservations system and interactive maps. Also focus on the campsites on the edges of the campground, so you’ll have at least one side free of neighbors.
Step 4: View the Image of the Campsite
Use campsitephotos.com to view campsite images and to double-check your campsite of choice. Not all parks are represented, but they do have a pretty decent library of campgrounds. Also view images of the adjacent sites, and along with the maps and geographical markings you discovered above, try to visualize the position and location of the campsite and determine if it fits your needs.
Step 5: Reserve Early
Probably the most important step to get the best campsite (and backcountry permits too). After taking all the steps above, it’s time to pull the trigger and reserve as soon as possible. Hopefully with step 1 you’ve discovered when the reservation window opens, marked it on your calendar, set up your alerts, and should now have your cursor ready. The best campsites disappear almost instantly. Make sure you have your campsite discovery completed before the reservation window opens. This will ensure that you’re ready once your alert goes off. Use Reserveamerica.com for State Parks and private campgrounds and use Recreation.gov for National Parks. In some cases you may need to go directly to the States Parks websites.
Step 6: Reserve Adjacent Sites
This step is optional, but if your group happens to be big enough, you can reserve adjacent sites, and then condense most of your activities, like marshmallow roasting, to the furthest back campsite.
Step 7: Learn From Your Mistakes
Finally, as an afterthought, but a great habit to get into, take the opportunity, if already camping, to scout out the campground for the best campsite. The next time you plan your trip, you’ll already have a campsite number, and need only make the reservation.
Knowing how to find the best campsite is just the start. For additional information on preparing for your camping trip, please do read my essential guide to camping. You’ll find more resources and tips to help you prepare for an epic outdoor adventure!
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I absolutely love to be out in the nature but I haven’t done camping enough, only at music festivals to be truly honest which it is a completely different experience. This post encourages me to get more out there at direct contact with nature and there is no better way to do so than camping
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