Family Car Camping 101
What makes a good campground?
For me, it's lots of privacy, no noisy neighbors, and proximity to good hiking.
For others, it's a flush toilet and hot showers a stone's throw away. For others, it's hookups for their RVs. Or a swimming pool. Even nightly movies or train rides at more resort-like, less outdoors-oriented campgrounds.
Make a list of features you're looking for, then start surfing to find a site (See Campground Favorites & Finds).
Once you've decided where to go, you also need to figure out when. Keep in mind the weather forecast (See Weather or Not to Go) and bug seasons.
I strongly recommend reservations for any family camping trip. There's nothing worse than packing up all that gear (it's quite a job), loading everyone up, and arriving to find an evil sign saying: "Campground Full."
Our own reservation strategy varies. Sometimes we make reservations months in advance, particularly for popular campgrounds. We just bite the bullet and say, okay, on the weekend of say, July 4, we want to be camping.
For more casual weekend getaways, we call for reservations anywhere from a week or two to within a few days in advance. For such a trip, it's great if you can reserve a site on Wednesday, say, for a Friday night arrival. Within such a close time frame you can get a decent idea of the weather, and decide whether good camping is likely.
What's in a Campground?
A Few Words and Phrases You Should Know
* Public campgrounds: Those run by a variety of public agencies, including state and national park and forest campgrounds. The range of facilities available varies widely, from virtually nothing to modern toilets, showers, and even restaurants, Laundromats, and shuttle buses at national parks, which often constitute a complete camping village. If you like natural beauty, head for these — the views, trails, and lakes can be superb.
* Private campgrounds: The quality can range tremendously. Some are RV parks, where sites are tiny, sardine-like plots. Others are lovely and low-key. Check them out carefully.
* Primitive: This adjective describes campgrounds featuring pit toilets and a picnic table, maybe nothing more. Don't look for a shower, and you may not even find drinking water, sometimes just a stream from which water must be purified. However, such a campground may be private and scenic, so don't rule it out. Primitive certainly doesn't mean bad.
* Hookups: How RVs get their amenities such as electricity, water, sewage, even cable TV.
* Showers: Take plenty of quarters, because if they're available, they're likely to cost money.
* Toilets: To flush or visit the outhouse, these are your options.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication