Mom Goes Camping

How to Choose a Campground for Tent Camping: 9 Questions to Ask before You Go

How to choose a campground

I personally prefer wild camping to campgrounds.  However, camping in a campground is certainly easier and can also be more fun – especially if you are new to camping or prefer having some basic amenities – But this is all contingent on finding the right campground. 

Campgrounds vary a lot in what they offer (that’s an understatement). If you want to find the best campground, here are some questions to ask while choosing.

 

1. What Sort of Experience Do You Want?

This is the most important question to ask yourself before you choose a campground.  Campgrounds now cater to specific experiences, and this can make or break your trip.

Do you want…

  • As close to wild as possible: Campgrounds in National or State Parks are best for this. Or look for very small campgrounds in remote areas with few amenities. Avoid campgrounds which allow RVs.
  • Recreational experience: If you want to have lots of activities to keep the family entertained and don’t want to bother with things like cooking every meal, then look for a larger campground which is centrally located. You’ll be able to drive to attractions and restaurants and use the campground facilities for fun.
  • Something in between: If you want to feel like you are in nature but still want some fun activities and decent amenities, look for a private campground near a National or State Park. You’ll be close enough to the park to go on nice hikes, but can also have fun doing things at the campground like swimming or sports.
Cut bank campground glacier

Cut Bank Campground in Glacier Park is only accessible by dirt road, doesn’t have water (you’ll need a water filter) or flush toilets  — but has amazing views in a secluded environment!

 

2. Where Is the Campground Located?

This also has to do with the experience you want to have.

If you want to have a wild experience, then look for a campground which is a bit off the beaten path.  It won’t be as crowded.  Bonus: Look for a campground with a good view!

If you are more of a recreational camper, then choose a campground which is centrally located.  You’ll be able to take day trips to sights easily.

***Pay attention to whether the campground is located right off a freeway or other major motorway.  These are sources of noise pollution!

 

3. How Big Is the Campground?

Big and small campgrounds each have their own pros and cons.  When choosing a campground, keep these in mind:

Big Campgrounds:

+ You’ll have other campers to socialize with, which is especially nice if you have kids
+ There will probably be more amenities and things to do
– Can be very crowded
– All the amenities can detract from the nature experience
– May be loud!

Small Campgrounds:

+ May provide a very natural experience
+ Are quieter
+ Less likely to be bothered by other campers
– Fewer amenities and activities
– The good ones get booked quickly

 

4. Size of Campsites?

This is NOT the same as the size of the campground.  Rather, you need to see how large the actual campsites are.

A large campground can have tiny campsites, and vice versa.

Some campgrounds only give really small plots, so there is hardly any space between you and the neighbors.  This is terrible if you want to have privacy.  Or simply don’t want to be bothered by the camping neighbor’s annoying kids whining all day.

crowded campground

Above is a campsite at Capitol KOA campground in Maryland. Obviously not much privacy or a natural experience – but there are lots of activities to do. 

 

small campsites

Here’s an example of a crowded campground with small sites in California

 

grand canyon campsite

Mather campground (above) on the rim of the Grand Canyon offers decent-sized campsites so you get some privacy.

 

Can You Pick Your Spot?

Some campgrounds let you choose your campsite.  They provide a map of the plots and you pick which one you want during booking.

Advice: Choose a campsite close enough to the bathroom so you don’t have to make a journey to pee in the middle of the night (especially if you have small children), but not so close to the bathrooms that you have lots of foot traffic going by.

Stony Creek campground NY

This is a map of Stony Creek campground in NY, one of my favorite camping spots growing up. We’d always reserve the spot right next to the creek and would play in it all day. The campground also has a playground and other amenities.

 

5. What Are the Campground Fire Rules?

For me, the best part of camping is making a campfire. Unfortunately, this isn’t allowed at every campground – especially in places where there’s a risk of forest fires.  So check this carefully before you go!

Even if campfires are allowed, consider how you will get wood.  In many large campgrounds, the sites don’t have many trees and any fallen branches are cleared quickly.  So, you’ll have to bring your own firewood or buy it from them.  It’s an annoying extra expense!

 

6. What Are the Bathrooms and Showers Like?

Campground bathrooms are notoriously bad.  So, don’t expect anything great even at the best campgrounds which advertise lots of amenities.  Make sure you bring some flip flops to wear in the shower.

It helps to read reviews, searching specifically for “bathroom”.  This will give you a clue to how clean/dirty the bathrooms really are.

bathroom in campground

The bathroom in Camp Curry in Yosemite

 

7.  Are There Any Other Amenities and Services?

Depending on the experience you want to have, you may want (or not want!) any of these amenities.  For example, I actually try to avoid campgrounds with WiFi because I don’t want to be annoyed by campers watching videos on their laptops or talking incessantly on their phones.

  • Sports equipment rental
  • Pool
  • Restaurant
  • Store
  • Tours
  • Playground
  • Laundry
  • WiFi
  • Electricity hookups
  • Fire rings
  • Grills
  • Picnic tables
  • Outdoor games (horseshoe, badminton, etc.)
  • Game room

 

8. What Are the Campground Rules?

Don’t forget to read the rules before booking a campground.  There might be some rules which make or break your stay.  Particularly these rules…

  • Check-in/checkout times
  • Whether pets are allowed (and if they are required to stay on a leash)
  • Noise curfew
  • Guest policy
  • Sleeping in your car allowed or not
  • Riding bikes at the campground (might be required to wear a helmet if it is allowed)
  • Food storage rules (might be required to keep food in a bear canister or one of the campground’s food lockers)
  • Firewood collection
  • Hammocks, slacklines, and clotheslines
  • Wastewater disposal

 

9.  How Much Does the Campground Cost?

In the United States, a basic site at a campground for 2 adults plus children will probably cost around $30 per night. (I currently live in Eastern Europe, where typical campgrounds cost about 5 euros per person/per night).

To give you an idea, basic tent campsites cost $26 to $31 per night at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia. At Falcon Meadow RV Campground in Colorado, a basic tent campsite costs $24 or $33 for water and electric – add $2 for each additional person. The Four Seasons Resort Campground in New Jersey costs $40.

At State and National Parks, the fees vary.  First, you usually have to pay for park access (which can be per person or per vehicle).  Then you pay about $15 to $30 per night for the campsite.  You may also need to pay a booking fee when making the reservation.

When calculating the cost of camping in a campground, make sure you calculate all costs. These probably include:

  • Cost per vehicle
  • Cost per site (pay attention to the maximum number of people or tents allowed per site)
  • Extra person fee
  • Pet fee
  • Electricity hookup fee
  • High-season/holiday rates

Even with extra fees, camping will probably still be a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel.  Read this post to get a full breakdown on how much it costs to go camping.


How to choose a campground

Image credits:
Esther Lake Campground, Minnesota” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Tony Webster,
D0422 Grand Canyon_Campsite at Mather Ca” (CC BY 2.0) by Grand Canyon NPS,
CIMG3007” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by number657,
Cut Bank Campground” (CC BY 2.0) by jonathanw100,
Writing postcards …” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by wallygrom,
Camp Curry / Half Dome Village Bathrooms” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by osiristhe
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Diane Vukovic is an avid traveler, outdoor enthusiast, beetle lover, sometimes sculptress, couchsurfer, and loves finding ways to explain complex topics to her 6-year old daughter. Follow MomGoesCamping on Facebook and Twitter @MomGoesCamping to stay in touch!

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