Call me ignorant, but before I became a proper camper, I had no idea there are so many places to camp. I didn’t know there are so many wonderful places I had never even heard of, and that so many of them are three hours or less from our front door. I grew up in California, but now I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more of the state during the last two and a half years than I have in my entire life.
There are obvious places where one can pitch a tent, the National Park system being one of them. But for every national park, there are probably 10 other hidden gems waiting to be discovered by you.
How do you even begin to go about finding them? Sometimes you need to do some homework, but unlike your math homework, this has real-world applications (Boom! Math just got burned. Okay, not really, because what I said made no sense.).
Ask your camper friends
Your best resources for finding campgrounds are those who have bravely gone before you. They’ll tell you what’s what, where to go, where to avoid and anything else you want to know.
Steve and Regina were (and still are!) awesome resources for us. Not only do they have tons of experience, but we have similar camping sensibilities and appreciate the same things – beauty, solitude, disconnecting, mild weather, being lazy, and peace and quiet. That’s important, too; if your friend loves Arctic conditions while you prefer a more moderate clime, your friend may not steer you in the direction you’d like to go.
Talk to your coworkers (many of mine grew up camping in California, so I’ve gotten a ton of recommendations from them), your fellow campers at the campgrounds you visit, the campground host and the staff at the visitor’s center. You’ll come away with a laundry list, guaranteed.
If there’s one thing campers have in common, it’s a love of sharing information and helping others. Never be shy about asking them for their recommendations! You’ll be able to pay it forward someday yourself. The c-i-i-i-i-r-c-l-l-l-l-l-e of l-i-i-i-i-f-f-f-f-f-e!
Ask that series of tubes, the interwebs
Sites such as Yelp can be a helpful resource when looking for good campgrounds. I’ve found that while reviewers don’t always give the kind of information I want to know, it’s always a good starting point for more research.
When reading reviews, look for information that campground websites themselves may not necessarily tell you, such as:
- How the campground is run. Is the host a dictator, totally absent or something in between?
- What types of campers the campground attracts. Some campgrounds attract big, rowdy groups. If you want peace and quiet, it may not be for you.
- What’s the overall condition of the campground? Is it near a noisy road or tucked away with lots of shade?
- The best time to visit. Should the campground be avoided on holiday weekends? Does it book up by Friday afternoons?
- Which sites are the best ones? Which are the worst?
This one’s my personal favorite. Recreation.gov is where you can find campgrounds and reserve them.
On Recreation.gov, you can look for all campgrounds in your area within a specified date range. In fact, that was how we found Chilao after Boulder Basin was closed because of wildfires. Once you find a campground, each campground has a map of its sites so you can choose more wisely. The site also gives you other relevant information about campgrounds, such as fees, amenities and policies.
Take a drive
If you’re not in a huge hurry to get home after a camping trip, take a side trip and look at other campgrounds in the area. You might stumble across a gem, such as McGill Campground! Just be sure to note down which sites look like the best ones so you know which to book when you’re ready.
Ask a ranger
If you know which campground you’re going to camp in, call the visitor’s center before your trip and ask the rangers which sites they’d recommend. If you want to find out about other campgrounds to explore, ask them that, too. Rangers are great resources who are full of valuable information, recommendations and safety tips. Take advantage!