How to Choose the Right Campground for Your Next Trip

Lake Lurleen State Park near Tuscaloosa, AL

How do you select the parks where you camp?  Do you prefer quiet, low key trips around the campfire?  Or do you need lots of activities and excitement to keep everyone entertained?  You might enjoy a mixture of both.  There is a campground for everyone.  Today I am sharing part one of a two part series on camping facilities.

I break camping facilities into three categories state/national parks, private campgrounds, and free camping/boondocking.  All three of these offer different experiences to campers.  There is a price point and set of amenities for everyone.  Starting with the right campground is key to a successful camping trip.

State/National Parks

I love state parks more than any other location for camping.  Many are rustic, quiet and offer the type of get away that our family enjoys.  Depending on the geographic location, state parks offer amenities from swimming, hiking, and more.  While there are lots of positives about state parks, they also can have negatives too.

Enjoying a picnic lunch at Choctaw Lake on a day trip

Depending on funds, facilities may be well maintained or very run down.  We have experienced both.  Read the reviews about the campground online before booking.  If you have a camper with full bathing and toilet, facilities may be less of a problem.  However, for tent campers and small camping units, facilities are something to consider.

I find that state/national parks are safe and secure.  There is park staff there around the clock.  I often see park security riding throughout and feel good about camping in a location where there is someone watching out for our safety.

Private Campgrounds

Private campgrounds seem to be rising in popularity.  In 2017, over 13 million households are anticipated to hit the road for camping.  (North American Camping Report, 2017)  Millennials are leading the charge for increased time spent outdoors.

Private camping facilities rely on their own merits to be successful.  Some locations may cost as much as a hotel room.  And, these facilities are often more resort like and offer premium amenities.  Again, read the reviews of the locations that you want to camp at.  Some private camp grounds are great.  Others are not.  It is like any other business that you may patronize.

Private campgrounds determine their own rules for camping, security and more.  KOA and Jellystone Park Campgrounds are examples of private camping.  These are franchises that have a reputation for being well maintained.

Jackson Hole/Snake River KOA Facilities

Some private campgrounds are clubs that offer camping sites to members.  Members pay an annual membership fee.  These campgrounds have boards, rules, and regulations and govern their campground.  Campground clubs are a great option for campers that are looking for a seasonal spot to camp and don't mind camping in the same location for longer periods of time.

Other private campgrounds are not affiliated with any franchise and are maintained by a sole proprietor.  This type of private campground tends to have the most mixed reviews.  Again, go online, seek reviews.  If there is little to find online, call and speak with someone by phone.  Even though email is a great way to communicate, talking to the staff over the phone can give you a much better idea of a private campground than electronic communication.

Free Camping and Boon Docking

If you are equipped to camp without hookups, you may additional options that others do not have.  Free camping is available throughout the US with lots of options.  You may even know someone with beautiful land where you would like to set up camp.  These are definitely options and would provide a unique and cost effective way to camp.  Some call this dry camping.  You could certainly do this in a tent.  I have even talked with some that have sleeping hammocks and backpack to a location and sleep in their hammocks.

Free camping can be either in a tent or in a camper.
Again, read reviews.  I cannot stress this enough.  Some free camping sites have reviews of beautiful untouched wildlife and nature.  Others report of dangerous situations where free camping has attracted homeless persons that seem scary and uncertain.

When you are seeking out camping locations, consider the following:

  1. Are you looking to explore new locations and enjoy nature?  State and national parks may be the way to go.  There are many out there and you can try a new one each time.  State and national parks offer everything from mountains to beaches.  
  2. Do you want to take your camper to one location and camp there throughout the year?  A seasonal spot at a camping club is the way to go for campers that like a more controlled camping environment.  Camping clubs are a way to get away from it all with less work but may be more expensive.
  3. Is budget a factor in camping?  Try your hand at free camping or boon docking.
  4. Do you want lots of activities and entertainment?  Try a resort type camping experience at something like a Jellystone Park or private facility that caters to lots of activities.  
If you are looking for the best of everything, consider your campsite as your base for all of the activities the area where you are has to offer.  Just because you are camping doesn't mean you can't take local day trips for dining, shopping and more.  Think beyond the campsite to take in lots more.  This may be the happy medium to provide something for everyone.  Camping is a flexible way to take your home on the road.  

Next, I'll be sharing about campsite feedback.  I believe that camping feedback and reviews are the driving force behind improving camping facilities and services.  In the meantime....