The first step in planning a family camping vacation is to find a great spot. A wonderful camping site can be the key to whether your family enjoys camping or never wants to go again. There are campgrounds suited to all tastes and lifestyles and many different site choices within each campground, making the decision quite confusing. So how do you go about choosing your perfect camping spot?
1. Choose your geographic location. Do you want to camp near home or fly long-distance and camp? If this is your family’s first camping experience, consider sticking close to home. That way if one family member can’t stand the experience or you forget something crucial, driving home will be an option. Also consider whether you are planning to stay on site most of the time or if you want to camp in an area with lots of nearby attractions, such as national parks or historic sites.
2. Find camping spots near your location. If you want to camp near major attractions, such as a national park, you’ll usually find campground information in your guidebook or at the attraction’s website. In addition, you may want to invest in a camping guidebook. The “Best Tent Camping” series is fantastic if you want that “camping in the most gorgeous spot on earth with lots of privacy and a great view” experience. In each book campgrounds are rated on factors such as quiet and privacy and individual sites are described in detail. Also consider your family’s personal needs when making your choice: Do you want to swim? Hike? Fish? Play loud music? Do you need water and electrical hook-ups? Do you want modern bathrooms with flush toilets and warm showers or can you deal with a pit toilet?
3. Choose a site. Refer to camping guidebooks and campground websites, where you’ll often find a campground map that will give you some idea of where different sites are located. If you can’t find enough information on your campground, consider calling them directly to ask which sites they recommend. Take into account whether you’ll be tent camping or bringing an RV; some campgrounds have dedicated areas for each. With smaller kids you probably won’t want to be too far from the bathroom or water spigots. Also consider any potential dangers at your site. Camping on the edge of a cliff probably won’t be too much fun if you have a toddler with you! If you don’t want to lug your gear far, make sure you can drive your car right into your site. A site specified as “walk-in” could mean your car will be a hundred feet or more from your site.
4. Book early. The best sites at popular campgrounds may fill up 6 months or more in advance. You may be able to book through Reserve America (link listed below) or you may have to call the campground. When booking, be sure to print a copy of the campground rules, which will include information such as how many people are allowed per site and which items you can and can’t bring.