What makes a great campground experience?

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What makes a great campground experience?

Monday, January 18, 2021

Every campground and experience is different, but you are in charge of the experience you have with your crew!

If you are planning for your next camping season, you may be scouting out campgrounds and deciding where to go.  Over the past three years, we have camped at a variety of campgrounds, and the ones that we loved the most are for many different reasons.  Being open to new experiences allows you to explore more!

The Tumble In Marfa was a great place to stay that had just what we needed.  They had a simple self check-in process.  They were close to Marfa and had laundry facilities.

What Makes a Great Campground?

Before you start planning anything, ask yourself what kind of experience you want to have.  Every single trip we plan is a little different.  Obviously, every campground is different.  While resort-style camping can be more expensive and provide more options for campers, I don't always think that expensive RV resorts make the best campgrounds.  RV resorts can be a lot of fun but they can also be loud and crowded.  The "great campground" experience is very objective and will vary based on your personal needs.

If you are traveling to prime locations, start researching the campground early.  We got one of two spots remaining where we stayed near Big Bend at the end of 2020.  And we made those reservations months in advance.


Location

The driving force behind our campground choices is primarily location.  We book campgrounds based on places we want to visit.  The location may have to do with area attractions, amenities within the campground, or even convenience.  Our first trip of 2021 is to a beautiful state park close to home.  We specifically want to take a weekend to enjoy nature and relax.  Other times, we want to travel far away for a longer trip.  One campground we stayed at several times this past year is on a lake where a friend keeps her boat.  Location is at the top of my list of campground selections because it is where we start our search.

The views at this campground are nice on the water, but this isn't our favorite campground.  However, we go to the lake to spend time with friends.



Remember that if you selecting your campground based on location, you may give up a few things for that location.  We recently stayed at an excellent campground just off of Interstate 20 in Texas.  It was near the interstate and did have some road noise.  However, it was clean, offered excellent amenities, easy to get in and out of, and just right for that stay.  I don't know that I would have stayed there for multiple nights stays, but it was perfect for a quick overnight stop. 

Ship Island was a favorite day excursion this past year while camping on the MS Gulf Coast.



Area Attractions

What do you want to do once you arrive at the campground?  If you plan to be doing other things than staying at the campground itself, the campsite becomes secondary to where you are staying.  At the lake, we are there to be on the water and spend time with friends.  We spend little time at the campsite during those weekends.  We took a trip out west at the end of 2020 to visit Big Bend and Marfa.  Our primary concerns were area attractions that we planned to visit.  

Think about how you want to spend your time and if you are going to be within the proximity to do those things.  If you are using your campground as a hub to visit local attractions within a central spot, try to find something that makes sense for what you want to do.  Finding a great central spot might be easier than moving more than once while you are on a longer trip.  

We have a trip planned this spring for DeSoto State Park in Alabama.  There are quite a few hiking trails in that area.  Plus, there is nearby Mentone, Alabama.  While the state park is lovely with excellent sites, we are also interested in the areas surrounding the park.  It makes the perfect spot to do all of these things.

Yogi On The Lake in Mississippi is a lot of fun and has every amenity that we could want.  However, this is not our typical camping experience.


Amenities

Depending on how we plan to spend our time, the amenities can be much more important.  We have camped at a Jelly Stone park in Mississippi that has a fun water park.  Our son loved this experience so much, and we are planning to return in 2021.  Some state parks offer great outdoor amenities such as pools, boating, or biking options that you might enjoy.  

Unless we are doing resort-style camping, the actual campground amenities are far less important to us on our travels.  We have discovered that campground amenities are many times a simple bonus for us because we tend to explore both the campground and all around on almost every trip we take.

Deerlick Creek is a beautiful campground with spacious and well planned sited.  It is a Corp of Engineers campground that we really enjoy!



The Actual Campsite 

If you spend a lot of time at the campsite itself, this may dominate how you feel about the campground.  If I were basing great campgrounds solely on the campsite itself, I like to have a fire pit, grill, and a picnic table, and enough space to spread out.  I don't like being cramped up against our neighbors.  State parks typically provide these experiences every time on point.  Most of the time, my favorite campsites are at state parks.  

Monte Sano State Park is the perfect example of a great campground for us.  It is near Huntsville with lots of area attractions.  But the campground itself offers a Japanese Garden, lots of hiking trails, and beautiful views.  It is a new favorite!



Also, full hookups are a big plus.  We have camped at parks that don't have full hookups.  There are two that we really love, but full hookups make it so much easier during your trip as well as when you are packing up.  I really hate having to go to the dump station to finish cleaning up.  It is not a deal-breaker all of the time.  But, I certainly would select a campground with full hookups over one that doesn't have full hookups.  It is also one reason why I would prefer to camp outside of national parks that have limited full hookups.  Most of the state parks in Mississippi and Alabama where we camp the most have full hookups.  So, we rarely have this issue.  But it is something to consider in terms of convenience when you are booking your sites.

We love Oak Mountain State Park because it is convenient for fall and Thanksgiving camping.  Plus the trails are really beautiful there.  However, the campground itself is not our favorite.



Facilities

We have stayed at campgrounds that aren't as nice but we have enjoyed a fantastic time because of the experiences we had while we were there.  Those experiences are driven by how we spend our time and what we enjoy doing.  Realistically, we love camping and camping as a family.  

Campground facilities had more of an impact on our experiences when we were in our pop up camper.  I hated bathhouses with poor ventilation or poorly maintained showers.  If you are in a pop-up camper or tent, I would encourage you to consider these situations and reviews when planning your trips.  Also, if you are in a travel trailer but don't want to hook up and flush your tanks on an overnight trip, the facilities can impact those trips or stays as well.  You don't have to pay premium prices to stay at a nice campground.  We have found that Good Sam Campgrounds that are privately owned are competitively priced.  These offer good facilities and amenities and can check all of the boxes for many campers.


The starry night sky in Texas was amazing and so incredibly beautiful at the end of the day.


Final Thoughts 

For us, the campground is many times secondary to the location and area attractions.  My main concern is a clean campground that is well spaced with full hookups.  Some may consider this to be a long list.  I feel like my needs and concerns are the basics for us.  If a state park is near the things that I want to do, I am going to select a state park nearly every time.  I just love the secluded experiences state parks provide for peace and quiet.  But, we have stayed at lots of private campgrounds too.  Overall, we just love camping and traveling in our RV.  And, that makes our travel experiences the best!

What matters most to us is being together, and that makes a great camping experience every time!


When you are thinking about what makes the best campground for you, consider these key things:
  1. What matters the most to me and my family or friends when camping?
  2. Look for a campground that meets the criteria and needs that you have to make camping enjoyable and fun.
  3. Take advantage of what that space has to offer and ask yourself if your camping experience lived up to your expectations.
  4. Express your positive or negative feedback politely to the person(s) in charge so that they can implement necessary changes if needed.  Everyone needs to hear positive feedback but constructive feedback can be helpful too.  
How do you select the campgrounds where you are staying?  Everyone has a different process for this.  I would love to hear from you.  Until next time...

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