You want to go camping eh?
Believe it or not, there are many ways to define camping and you’ll have to do that before you decide on a destination.
I don’t think I’m high maintenance, but my version of camping is a flush toilet within reach, a hard-bodied camper surrounding my bed, and a refrigerator so I don’t have to deal with an ice filled cooler. Others require much less to make them smile. Tenting isn’t for everyone but those that do, are made from stronger stock than me!
The basic camping choices you’ll have are; RVing, tent trailers or pop-ups, tents, cabins, back country lean to’s, and a tilted tarp over your sleeping area. Once you decide how fancy or rustic you want your camping experience to be, you can then think about what your definition of an awesome campsite looks like to you and begin thinking about a destination.
I have done, and had amazing adventures doing all different kinds of camping – did I mention I love RV’s?
The next step is to decide what kind of campsite would make you smile from ear to ear just seeing it. It could be a flat piece of earth next to a lazy, babbling brook, a super-duper KOA campsite (going cross country I stayed in lots of them), a parking space out back of a Walmart, or a Mom and Pop campground with lots of country charm.
There is a world of choices when it comes to campsites and campgrounds. Consider what your camping compadres would love too. Kids? They wouldn’t be thrilled staying in a parking lot. Some might like being near water of some kind and others need to feel close to nature and hiking.
Lots of choices but don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re doing something that you have no experience with. Even if you don’t pick perfectly, you’ll still have a blast.
Camping on the Cheap to Glamping-ish
Here are some options of where you can go camping for free to glamping, and everything in between.
Camping for free is really a thing! It’s called different things by different people. It’s called boondocking, dispersed camping, coyote camping, wild camping and more.
They all mean the same thing. You don’t have to fork over anywhere from $30 to over $100 a night!
There are plenty of places in this country to camp for free… some even travel across country and don’t pay for even one night’s stay.
We need your help to keep camping free for all – adhere to “Carry In Carry Out” (sometimes called Leave No Trace) policies everywhere you hike or camp.
Think about places like nature conservancy’s, national forests, Walmart, Bureau of Land Management, truck stops, casinos, and rest areas.
Nature Conservancy’s - Some Nature Conservacy’s allow camping. Check before you head out and if they allow it, what a coup! You’ll be vacationing for FREE at some of the most spots in the country!
National Forests and Grasslands – At most National Forests and Grasslands can camp for free. Watch for postings advising you otherwise. If camping is allowed, it’s FREE outside a designated, pay per site, campground. Freebie camping is free but comes with a price, there are no services like tables, fire pits (check the fire regulations and whether you need a permit), trash removal or toilets.
Walmart – There a lots of Walmarts that do not allow overnight parking but many do. The Walmart store manager and local regulations must give you the green light to park. Many will ask you to park in the lesser used spaces to allow for quick in and out shoppers easy access to the more convenient spaces. There are not amenities but it’s a great time to stock up on food and any incidentals you might have left at home by accident.
Bureau of Land Management – Free camping is available at select BLM sites. Check out the site you’re headed to find out their free camping policies. Most of the BLM land is out west and desert like topography. The free camping is not at assigned campsites, you can use pullovers, find a secluded spot to park along one of the BLM roads or you can hike into the woods a ways and set up camp. No amenities like fire pits, picnic tables or restrooms are included. Check fire restrictions before lighting a fire.
Truck Stops – There are not many in New England but just about everywhere else I’ve traveled, they pop up on the freeways about every 4 or 5 exits! I’ve overnighted at trucks stops often. The downside to this opportunity to camp for free is the noise of the trucks idling or coming and going AND the stink that gets into your camper from their exhaust. The upside is you can gas up and get coffee and a breakfast sandwich before continuing your journey!
You might want to contact the truck stop to find out what amenities (like showers) you can pay to use. Check out their frequent buyer cards that give you discounts on gas and food.
a. Flying J b. Travel America (TA) c. Pilot Travel Centers
Casinos – If you keep a low profile, you can park at a casino. Be sure to take a 10-spot and try out your luck at the slots. Maybe, just maybe you can win enough to extend your vacation!
Rest Stops – Most are clearly posted if overnight parking is NOT allowed. Trust me, you don’t want to camp at one that’s posted. If you do, you’ll most certainly be woken up at 2 AM and told to move.
Here’s a guide to states that have banned sleeping overnight in rest areas.
Medium Priced Camping Suggestions
National Park Service / National Forests / Grasslands / State Parks / Conservancies – All of these wonderful organizations and government agencies have affordably priced organized campgrounds where you’ll be assigned a campsite. I’ve done my share of freebie camping and have to say that I really enjoy the quiet and amenities at these spots. The price of admission is worth it to me!
The Top of the Camping Food Chain
Privately owned and operated and camping chains like KOA – They are in a class by themselves. Teeming with activities and amenities, these are the cream of the crop of camping choices. I still own an active KOA discount card – guess that makes me a card carrying member! I used to choose to stay at KOA’s if we were going to stay put for a few days. It’s so nice to know that you will have a clean shower, bathroom, fully stocked country store, laundry, activities galore, probably a pool, and a spacious and clean campsite awaiting you after a long day of driving.
Now Finally, the Destination
Camping allows you to get close to nature in a big way. Of course there are asphalt campgrounds like Circus Circus RV Park in Las Vegas (stayed there several times and I highly recommend it if your a/c works great!) but most are tucked in the trees, in wilderness areas, near or on the beach, lake or mountains and many have fantastic views.
The following United States government agencies comprise the collective Wilderness Areas; National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife, and Bureau of Land Management.
I could talk all day about the wonder or all of the agencies but I’ll save you the time and just list a few of my favorites.
- Acadia National Park, Maine – I have camped there many times in the equestrian campground. It’s amazing and cheap! The stone bridges, the breathtaking views, the fantastic bridle paths, and the close proximity to Bar Harbor make it a biennial trek for me. Don’t forget to ride, walk, bike to the top of Cadillac Mountain to catch the sunrise. It’s breathtaking.
- White Mountains National Forest, NH – Full disclosure here, my home abuts this National Forest so I’m partial. Experienced hikes will say that our mountains are more rugged than any others in the Appalachian Trail. I have to say that they cannot be THAT bad because I’ve ridden my horses on many of the hiking trails. The trails are especially gorgeous in fall. The northeast is known for our amazing foliage and the Kancamagus Highway is noted as the best foliage viewing in the country. Just by chance, it passes right through the White Mountain National Forest! Give me a shout if you’re heading to North Conway, I’d love to help you out with planning your vacation fun.
- Green Mountain National Forest – There’s nothing not cool about Vermont. The lay of the land is so different than any other place I’ve been in this country (to me, it resembles Italy but that’s a different blog ). If I have to describe Vermont in two words, they would be rolling and green. Prepare yourselves for the prettiest serene vistas you’ve ever seen. Keep in mind that box stores in Vermont are few and far between. Do what you can to support small business.
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – The coolest part about this park is that it’s a mere 75 mile drive from Washington, DC! Urban dwellers can enjoy over 500 miles of trails in about an hour and a half drive (if you leave at 3 AM to miss the traffic). Enjoy the quiet change or pace and the superb view from the top of Old Rag Mountain.
- Badlands National Park, South Dakota – My favorite memory of this park was sitting in a traffic jam in the park. Seriously, we had not moved in about an hour. I dreamily stated that my trip would be complete if I saw even one wild buffalo. I got my wish when we rounded the bend and found out the traffic jam was caused by a herd of buffalo sleeping in the road. It’s one of my favorite parks partially because it’s so gorgeous and has so much wildlife plus, it’s not a bad drive to Crazy Horse and Mt Rushmore!
- Denali National Park, Alaska – Prepare yourself for an expensive trip if you’re headed to Denali. I am so glad I went but my timing must have been off. We hiked, and drove and took a tour and the only wildlife we saw were a robin and a goat. The scenery made up for the lack of wildlife though.
- Yosemite National Park, California – The coolest part of Yosemite is that almost 95% of the land is designated wilderness. For you, this means there are no cars, no buildings, no road, no electricity, no anything but nature! Make sure you take in Glacier Point, Half Dome, and the High Sierra’s.
- Sequoia National Park, California – Giant sequoias, nuff said. A trip here is a trip into the past. The trees are ancient and will make you feel almost inconsequential with their grandeur. I left with a new perspective on the word tall.
- Glacier National Park, Colorado – If hiking in meadows and forests with the occasional mountain, pick Glacier. It’s a dream come true for hikers like me. You can choose to stay on flat ground and still have your breath taken away with the scenery.
- Arches National Park, Utah – One thing I have not harped on yet is to check out all the rules and limitations of the parks. I was driving my RV in Arches and had to turn around because of a low “arch”. The rock formation was gorgeous but it added about 100 miles to my campground destination. Arches is one campground I wish I had hiked more. It’s just gorgeous.
- Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – I never thought I’d love looking at, hiking around and flying over a hole in the ground so very much! Any pictures you’ve seen don’t do it justice. Go see for yourself. Plan ahead, tours, campgrounds and donkey rides to the bottom book up a year in advance.
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico – If you don’t go for any other reason, go for the bats. I’m sure there’s a ton written about the experience so I’ll just say that it is unforgettable. </ul> Your camping days will be spent getting wow’d with spectacular views, meandering through woods bushwhacking or hiking on trails, splashing around in a woodland stream, and making memories that will last a lifetime. Some of my best memories are getting back to camp, making a fire after supper, kicking back and letting my shoulder relax away from my earlobes, smelling that clean, fresh air, and gazing amazingly at the lit up sky. I’m always touched by the notion that we are just one blip in the entire universe. Relax, enjoy, make memories.
Photo by Bethanie The Wookie on Reshot