Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Car Camping for Beginners, Part I: Where to Camp

Car camping guide with campfire and table

Having really gotten into backpacking over the past couple of years, I tend to forget that simple car camping is not necessarily a self-explanatory endeavor. Because I didn't grow up in a family that did any camping, I had to learn the ropes as an adult by myself and with the help of more experienced friends. The beauty of car camping is that it is a fairly low pressure, low risk way to enjoy spending the night under the stars. Unlike backpacking, you can load down your automobile with creature comforts such as camp chairs, pre-purchased firewood, bigger and heavier tents, bigger and heavier sleeping bags, blow up mattresses, cookware, coolers, and more. If you're new to camping, however, you probably still want some pointers before heading out for your first strip. Let's start with some tips about where to find a good spot.

Where To Camp
You might be lucky enough to know someone with private property suitable for camping. Or, your area might have a number of nice private campgrounds that are actually rustic and wouldn't be mistaken for a truckstop with tents (like many KOA or other commercial campgrounds.) For this post, however, I'm going to stick with public lands as a good place to enjoy a more traditional camping experience. Below are a few places to find a good spot for camping. If you find something that looks appealing, be sure to google the park or area and try to find user reviews or guides.

Types of Campsites
Depending on the park or area you choose, you might discover different types of sites at different fee levels. Don't be shy to ask the ranger, camp host, or whomever about the differences in camp sites such as whether they have a water source, a bathroom close by, etc. Here are the typical categories for drive-up camping
  • RV Sites. These sites are designated for big Recreational Vehicles with all of the electrical and water hookups used by those land barges. These are usually more expensive and unnecessary for car camping (and I like to stay as far away from RVs as possible, because they sometimes bring with them screaming kids, loud televisions, loud electrical generators, and bright lights. 
  • Tent Sites. These campsites usually have room to park a car and setup one or two tents. They are cheaper than RV sites. Traditional tents sites often have a water spigot, picnic table, fire ring, and, sometimes, a dedicated grill. Usually, these sites are within campgrounds that have a public bathroom and showers close by, and they are usually adjacent to RV camping.
  • Primitive Campsites. As the name would suggest, these sites are more stripped down and spartan. They are usually a few bucks cheaper than the They might not have a dedicated parking spot for you car (though you can usually park very close), and many will NOT have a dedicated water source for each site. They may or may not have a picnic table, grill, or fire ring. Frequently, primitive campsites are clustered in their own campground away from the RV and other car/tent sites. Bathrooms may or may not be close by. I often prefer the privacy of primitive sites, but don't be shy to ask questions before making a reservation, especially regarding water and restroom facilities.
  • NOTE: Some campsites are built on wooden platforms. This might have some bearing on the type of tent or shelter you use. These sites might require bringing some nails or screws to tie down or "guy out" your tent because stakes cannot be used. Most campsites will be dirt or gravel, but these rare wooden platforms do exist. 
There's a very quick overview that should help get you started in finding a solid camping spot. In my next post, I'll discuss what type of gear and clothing to bring for your first trip.

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