Public vs. Private Campgrounds and more - Our Year in Camping 2018

Buccaneer State Park in Bay St. Louis, MS

Its that time of the year that I'm reflecting on our annual camping trips.  We traveled across multiple states and learned so much along the way.  This year, we explored both private and public campgrounds.  What did we learn from our camping adventures?  And how will this year impact next year's journey?

Private vs. Public

This was our first year to camp in a private campground.  While more expensive, private campgrounds can definitely be worth the extra money.  We rented a glamping tent at Inn Town Campground in northern California.  Amenities at Inn Town Campground include a pool, outdoor movie nights, communal kitchen with really nice common areas, excellent shower facilities, craft nights and more.  The extra money provides the perks and amenities.  Our experience was well worth the price, and I'd do it again!

Inn Town Campground's Glamping Tent complete with a queen size bed and night stands.  It was a really comfy stay!

Public campgrounds, like state parks, rely on the natural beauty to draw in campers.  While the list of amenities at state parks may be shorter than resort-style campgrounds, the cost is also one half to a fourth of private camping.  When camping at state parks, we enjoy riding our bikes, taking hikes and finding simple pleasures to entertain ourselves.

Private camping is the best of both worlds.  You get resort amenities in a campground setting.  I recommend doing some of both!  This also stretches your budget and variety of experiences.

But remember not all campgrounds are created equal - public or private.  Read reviews.  Ask questions before you book.  It is helpful to know when the last time the facilities were updated if it is an older campground.  Reviews can tell you about the staff and more.  And if you really want to know more than an electronic review, pick up the phone and call.

State Parks

State Parks are our favorite places to camp.  They are affordable for starters.  State parks can be found throughout any of our 50 states in a variety of settings.  For campers that enjoy simple hikes, bike rides or even basic water activities, these campgrounds may be all your family ever needs.

Desoto State Park near Fort Payne, Alabama

We camp at state parks in both Mississippi and Alabama that provide full hookups at only $27 a night.  For tent campers, the cost is even less.  State parks can offer some of the most affordable and beautiful camping spots putting this activity within anyone's budget.

We discovered this summer that not all state parks offer full hookups.  In Illinois, state parks only offer electric and water but no sewage.  So, if you are familiar with parks offering full hookups, make sure that you understand what all your campsite includes.  Camping without sewer hookups can drive everyone to the bathhouses to use the showers and create long lines on holiday weekends.

To make the most of state parks, find the best ones that you easily travel to and make the most of the amenities that they offer.  If you do the research, state parks can really suit your camping needs.  We have visited state parks that offer everything from horseback riding to canoeing and paddle boarding.

Horseback riding at Giant City State Park in Southern Illinois.

Facilities and Amenities

Look for campgrounds that offer the services you want and need.  We wanted to camp in California this year, but we weren't taking our camper and gear.  Therefore we sought out a place to camp that rented glamping tents.  Other campgrounds may over cabins and lodges.  If you want to camp but don't own an RV, then seek out the places that offer tents, cabins or lodges.  Private campgrounds that rent out renovated campers is also a popular trend.  Anyone can participate in outdoor excursions given the right campground.

Glamping Tents at Inn Town Campground, Nevada City, California
At our stage in life, fun activities for us include swimming in warm weather months, hiking, biking and just being outdoors.  I don't really feel the need to include jumping pads and amusement park settings for us to camp.  Occasionally this may be fun, but laid back and relaxed is what we are going for.

Swimming in the South Yuba River near Nevada City, California

Because we camp in a pop-up, bathhouse facilities are important to us.  We camped at two locations this year that had less than favorable situations for showering.  If you camp somewhere that turns out to have disappointing facilities, contact the park directly or ask the park who you can contact.  I feel it is really important to voice your opinion.

Stick to the situation and say what you liked about the campground first.  Then tell what needs improvement.  Don't use sweeping statements like "this is the worst campground ever".  Just tell that the wait time was sometimes over 30 minutes to shower and only 3 showers for a full campground on a holiday weekend is not enough.  (This is actually what I stated in one email).

Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Alabama
Reviews and follow up to campground stays many times is welcome.  You can find out what plans are for making upgrades.  One more voice also makes a stronger case for needed improvements.  And good work being praised is always a great thing!  I make sure to always look for something good!

Local and Area Attractions

No matter where you go, take the time to research your local area.  Find out about local restaurants, shops or other area attractions.  Sometimes we prefer to stay in the park where we are camping, but there are times we like to venture out.  This year, we have visited seafood dives, afternoons at the beach, covered bridges, and a cave tour.  No matter where you go there is an adventure to be had.  We have made some of the best memories this year by taking a road off the beaten path.

Covered bridges in Blount County, Alabama while camping at Rickwood Caverns State Park
This year, we had three top camping trips.  I rate each campground after we return based on the overall campground, amenities, staff, facilities, and actual campsite.  For this year, our top three were:
  1. Inn Town Campground, Nevada City, California
  2. DeSoto State Park, Dekalb County (Fort Payne) Alabama
  3. Buccaneer State Park, Bay-Waveland, Mississippi
As you make plans for the new year, make some deliberate ones that lead to new places.  If you are just getting started camping, I encourage you to keep a record of your journeys to help you make decisions in planning and to reflect on your trip planning.  When you are planning for the new year, consider the following:
  • Make a list of the amenities and activities you would like to take advantage of while camping.
  • Determine how far you are willing to travel to camp.
  • Seek out parks within that radius and that provide some or all of the activities you enjoy.
  • Research the area where you will be camping to discover other local attractions and restaurants.  
Where did you love camping in 2018?  I'd love for you to share your favorite campground in the comments below.  And find out more about the parks where we have camped over the past couple of years on our Camping Map.  Until next time...

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