Posts Tagged ‘campsites’

Where To Go Camping: Public, Private or Dispersed

There are three places where you can head for a camping vacation: a public campground, a private campground, or dispersed camping.


Public Campground

These facilities are run by some sort of government entity like the Forest Service, a State or National Park Service, County, etc.


Pros of a Public Campground:

They are usually inexpensive. Nightly camping fees typically run anywhere from a few dollars to around twenty dollars per night. Plus, most public campgrounds offer the same amenities at every single campground, namely a picnic table and fire ring. And if you’re 62 or older, and a US citizen, you can purchase a Senior Pass. It’s a lifetime pass that gives 50% discounts to many public campgrounds.


Cons of a Public Campground:

It’s public. That means that anyone who can pay the fee is allowed to stay. That being said, all campers must obey the posted rules but no one will be turned away because of dogs, small children, or large RVs. You get all types in a public campground! And while some campsites in some campgrounds can be reserved, the majority of campsites are first-come, first-served.


Private Campground

These are owned by a company, franchisee, or individual. The most famous brand of private campground is KOA or Kampgrounds of America.


Pros of a Private Campground:

Because they’re privately owned, private campgrounds can be selective as to who they allow to camp. There are campgrounds that cater to 60+ only and campgrounds that welcome children. There are usually greater amenities than in a public campground. They can usually be rented on a daily, weekly or monthly basis and almost every private campground will offer reservations.


Cons of a Private Campground:

Private campgrounds tend to be more expensive than their public campground counterparts. And many feature campsites that are very close together. It’s a business thing: the more campers you can get per acre, the more money can be made in rent. Lots of private campgrounds cater to huge RVs and some don’t permit tent-camping. Even if you can tent camp there, be prepared to have enormous RVs on every side.


Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping is camping outside of a campground on public lands.


Pros of a Dispersed Camping:

You can spread out to your heart’s content! In most areas campsites are spread far from neighbors so you can enjoy nature all by yourself. It can be so quiet you’ll feel like you’re the only person on Earth. And if you want to have a rowdy volleyball game there’s no camp host to come tell you to quite down.


Cons of a Dispersed Camping:

But… Because there is no one in charge, there’s no one to stop a neighbor from running ATVs up and down the road all day, blasting music, or generally being obnoxious. And before you pitch your tent, it will be your responsibility to make sure that you’re allowed to camp there, obtain any needed permits, and be familiar with all the local rules, laws, and ordinances. In dispersed camping, it’s just you and what you bring: no bathrooms, no potable water, and no trash service.


Public and private campgrounds also break down into an additional three categories that are used to describe how many amenities they offer.


Primitive Campgrounds

Primitive campgrounds have limited facilities like restrooms and potable water and very few amenities. You’ll most likely get the bare minimum basics here: a fire ring and a picnic table. Of course, since there are hardly any amenities, the cost is usually kept very low at a primitive campground. Primitive campgrounds are usually public campgrounds as well.


A primitive campground will not have paved roads. They are usually geared towards tent camping only but some may permit small RVs.


Developed Campgrounds

Developed campgrounds are friendly to tents and RVs. In addition to offering a fire ring and picnic table, a developed campground will also offer restrooms and potable water. They may also offer trash service and even recycling. Some developed campgrounds have additional amenities like barbeque grates for the fire ring or stand barbeques, leveled gravel tent pads, and maintained paths to water spigots and restrooms.


A developed campground may offer paved roads throughout the campground. If not, then the roads will be well-maintained.


You can find both public and private developed campgrounds. Expect to pay more for campsites than at a primitive campground.



A full-hookup campground caters to RVs. In addition to picnic tables and fire rings, each campsite will offer electricity and potable water; many will also offer sewer connections. There are limited full-hookup public campgrounds; most are privately owned and operated. Before heading to a campground that says they are full-hookup, verify that they allow tent camping.


There are advantages to tent camping in a full-hookup campground, especially in the hot summer months in that you can bring a portable fan and run an extension cord into your tent.


Full-hookup campgrounds usually offer a variety of other amenities like showers, playgrounds, swimming pools, etc. Just be aware that the more amenities there are, the higher the cost! Also, the people who own the huge RVs gravitate towards a full-hookup campground so they can take advantage of the amenities as well.


Readers Weigh In:

  • Do you have a favorite type of campground?
  • What do you feel about dispersed camping?

9 Must-Know Things About Fall Camping

Yeah for fall! Any long-time reader of the newsletter would know, I LOVE fall camping. Why? Because there are fewer crowds, most insects have died off or have reduced their activity, fewer people, the crisp fall weather, good fishing with fewer biting bugs, fantastic nature hikes with changing vegetation, oh, and fewer people!

Ah! Fall.

(Okay, so maybe that can get boiled down to: less people and biting bugs & good fishing…)

This year, I’ll be heading camping in September rather than October. I’ve got a trip planned the last weekend in September for my birthday. We’re going earlier this year since fall is appearing across Arizona’s High Country with a vengeance this year AND because I don’t really want to chance snow in a tent!

Of course, fall camping doesn’t come without risks. People die each year when they get caught in weather they weren’t ready for. (Do you remember ESP Boss’ “fall” hunting trip in October 2006? He got snowed out!)

1. Don’t get caught in the snow. In most mountainous areas of the United States a light dusting of snow can be expected in the fall (thinking places above 7,000 feet.) If you are going to be camping at altitude be very aware of the weather forecast. A chance of rain in the low-country may mean dangerous conditions at higher elevations. Getting snowed on in the backcountry can collapse your tent, soak your gear, and can cause a number of risks and dangers.

2. Watch what you’re packing. Keep in mind that warmer clothing is going to mean added weight which means more stress on your body (if you’re backpacking or hiking.) Don’t go crazy packing for every emergency, but be prepared for what nature has to offer and cut back on how far you can travel in a day. Always bring a space blanket no matter the weather! You should keep one in each car, in your backpack, in your RV… They don’t weigh much, take up much room, or are very expensive, but they can save your life.

3. Don’t get left shivering. Make sure that your sleeping bag is temperature appropriate for the conditions — it should be written on the tag. And, don’t think that you’re close to town is any excuse! We typically go fall camping at Pine Grove Campground near Flagstaff, Arizona and are literally just half an hour from town. But, trying to make that drive in poor conditions, or suffering from hypothermia, is NOT my idea of a good time.

I'll be bringing sleeping bags AND flannel liners just in case.

If you don’t have a mummy style sleeping bag sleep with a hat on, 50% of body heat is lost through your head. Use a closed-cell foam sleeping pad under your sleeping bag — foam based pads will provide better insulation than an air mattress.

4. Cooking time! Try to keep your meals simple. You already know that elevation adds time to cooking, but also remember that colder temperatures mean longer cooking times. You’re going to consume more fuel trying to get a pot of water to boil or cooking meals. Keep a lid on the pots when you are cooking to maximize heat retention.

Oh, and pick up a good recipe book that is specifically for camp cooking. I recommend “Camp Cooking from the Pitch Your Tent/Set Your Hook Newsletter”

5. Look out for bears. Bears can spend as much as 20 hours a day foraging for food during the last weeks of fall. Keeping a clean campsite is critical this time of the year. And, if you don’t know if there are bears in your area, assume there are! Call the local Forest Service office for recommendations about safe camping in bear country where you are.

6. Be ready for the wind. Fall brings strong cold fronts across the United States which can mean cold temperatures, crystal clear skies, and a lot of wind. Your tent might be great in the summer, but could have a hard time in the wind. Make sure you stake your tent securely; they have been known to blow away even with gear and people inside of them! And, take a tip from Barry B. — check the weather. If it’s going to be windy, you might want to stay home rather than have a lousy trip!

7. Stay dry. Don’t underestimate the power of hypothermia. With daytime highs reaching only into the 50s and 60s in the fall, treat getting wet as an emergency. In air, most heat is lost through the head so hypothermia can thus be most effectively prevented by covering the head. Having appropriate clothing for the environment is another important prevention. For outdoor exercise on a cold day, it is advisable to wear fabrics which can “wick” away sweat moisture.

8. Don’t end up in the dark. Remember that not only will the weather get cooler and more unpredictable, the days are getting shorter as summer ends and we’re heading into winter. Give yourself enough time to arrive at your campsite during daylight hours so you don’t end up hiking (or setting up!) in the dark.

9. Other fall camping considerations

  • After Labor Day, many campgrounds reduce their fees, so one fall camping advantage is reduced costs. Some campgrounds are also free, but that usually means that there are no amenities like water, toilets, and garbage service. Be sure to call ahead and make sure that the campground is open!
  • Make campground reservations. Popular campgrounds will still fill up on weekends, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Most campgrounds don’t require reservations in the fall, but even if you should call and find that you don’t need a reservation, you’ve at least saved yourself the worry.
  • Plan to arrive early. At Pine Grove, they close entire loops of the campground so reservations wouldn’t be a help (they’re only accepted on the areas that are closed in the fall!) so you want to arrive early in the day to get the spot you want.

I’ve already started making my camping lists for my trip. The friend I’m taking has only been camping once before (EVER!) so I’m doing everything I can to make sure this is a fun experience. To that end, I decided to go to the more developed Pine Grove Campground (my old standby) rather than a more primitive area. Trust me, when you’re new to camping, real flush toilets make a huge difference!

Readers Weigh In:

  • What are your favorite fall outdoor adventures?
  • At what point do you pack away your camping gear for the winter?
  • What would you do to make sure a net-to-camping friend has a great experience?

9 Tips to Pick A Great Campsite

Have you heard that there’s more interest in camping this year that ever before? Due to changes in how people budget for vacations, camping is suddenly ‘in vogue’ and people are heading to the hills.

Look at the slope of that tent! Might not be a very comfortable night's sleep.

So, here’s a question that’s being asked over and over:

How do I pick a great campsite at a public campground?

Good question! Here are 9 tips for you.

First off, decide what you’re looking for:

  1. Do you need trees for shade?
  2. Will it be windy?
  3. Tent or RV?
  4. If you have a tent, do you want a tent pad? Tent pads are usually mostly level and free of rocks and roots to tear the bottom of the tent.
  5. If the campsite doesn’t have a tent pad, is the campsite level enough for you to be comfortable?
  6. If you have an RV, do you need a pull-through spot or are you comfortable backing in? What about slide- or pop-outs; is there enough room?
  7. Can you bring your pets?
  8. What is the placement of the fire ring in relation to your tent or camper? Will the (prevailing) wind blow the fire at your “living” space?
  9. How close do you want to be to your neighbors? The bathroom? The water faucet? The camp host?

Lots of shade, but not much of a tent pad.

Some campgrounds have lights that stay on all night — especially near the camp host or the restrooms.

Obviously, you can’t really tell ANY of this information about a specific campsite from a website. If at all possible, go to the campground that you want to stay at and drive around. A family favorite campground here in Arizona is Pine Grove Campground near Flagstaff Arizona. I know that the sites that are located on top of the hill, while pretty, are subject to wind. The sites just off the hill are much more sheltered. Another campsite is raked by headlights all evening long since it’s on a curve of the road. I really studied the layout of the campground during a pre-trip drive-through.

How to pick a great campsite:

If possible, visit the campground and come up with your first, second and third choices. Most campground hosts have a map of the campground that you can take with you. Make notes on it! Write down sites you’d love to stay at and sites you don’t want to have.

Not a lot of shade here. That might be fine if you don't spend a lot of time in camp.

Ask around. The camp host is the expert about that campground. Tell them what you’re looking for in a perfect site and then have them make site recommendations. If there are people in the spot that you’re thinking of using, ask them how they like the spot.

Reservations can be a good thing! Some public campgrounds offer reservations rather than first-come first-served. Often, not all spots are available for reservations. I recommend reservations when:

  • You’re going for an extended stay and want to make sure you’ve got a spot
  • Your trip is months ahead and you want to be guaranteed a spot
  • You have a favorite campsite
  • You’re going camping over a busy weekend like Memorial Day or Labor Day
  • Book really early if you can; especially over holiday weekends!

Look at all the big trees! But, how close are the neighbors?

If you are going to do a first-come, first-served campsite, then here are some additional tips:

  • Campgrounds are busy on the weekend. If you can, plan to arrive on a Wednesday or Thursday to get your spot.
  • If you can’t get to the campground mid-week, arrange to arrive at check out time. I’ve actually sat on a picnic table as a family was leaving to make sure I got the LAST space in a campground. (Um, I asked the family if they minded first!)
  • Be flexible!

Readers Weigh In:

  • What are your suggestions for finding the perfect campsite?
  • Do you have any funny (or horror) stories about a campsite?