First, you need to decide what kind of camping you want to do. By that, I mean are you planning on “roughing it”? You know……the hardcore stuff. No toilets, no running water, absolutely no amennities besides mother nature herself. Or do you need a full on resort? Flushing toilets, restaraunts and stores, boat docks and activites. Or hey, maybe you like to fall somewhere in between. I’ve got you covered.
Dispersed Camping. (a.k.a. roughing it!)
In any National Forest, you can pull off the side of the road and camp anywhere your heart desires. Yep. Unless there are notices posted, you are welcome to camp where you want. No reservations, no fancy fire pits, no place to do your business. I suggest this style of camping if you are really into getting in touch with nature. I mean, this can be as secluded as you want! Just be sure to follow any fire restrictions and get a permit. You must have a permit if you aren’t in a campground. Like I mentioned before, those are available for free at the ranger stations along the way. When chosing dispersed camping, make sure you leave no trace that you were ever there. We call that “packin-packout”. It means leave nothing behind.
A step up from roughing it. A basic camp ground will have very limited ammenities. Some may have what’s called a vaulted toilet (the kind that stick up our of the ground, but don’t flush). There’s usually a camp host, but he or she won’t be much in the way of help. They are really just there to keep the peace and collect the cash. They also make sure fires are out after people leave etc. A basic camp ground will usually have fire pits all set up, a nice advantage to having to clear your own. Usually these campgrounds are smaller, with maybe 10-20 sites and have more of a quiet vibe to them. Prices vary, but they are generally the cheapest available and are first come-first served.
Another step up from basic grounds. These may have some running water somewhere on site. If not, there’s usually a spickett (sort of like a well with a hand pump). Some may even have flushing toilets. If you have never been camping, thsi might be a good type of camp ground to start with. Especially with kids! You’ll be able to keep things clean and have some small comforts to make your out door experience enjoyable. Most camp grounds like this are family oriented, and may even have a “curfew”. You don’t have to go to bed, they just ask you keep the noise down. At sites like this, the camp host may even have some fire wood you can buy from him, should you need it. Prices are a bit higher, but still not outrageous. You may even be able to make reservations for sites in some areas.
Resort Style Campgrounds
These are the luxury style campgrounds. They are ususally really large resorts with lots and lots of ammenities to make your stay fun. Some resorts offer as many as 200 camp sites or more and are often near a body of water. They will have running water, that is safe for drinking. They also will have multiple flushing bathrooms all over in easy to get to areas. You will never have to stray far from your site to find a bathroom! They usually all have small markets on site, so you don’t need to worry if you forgot something, or have a midnight snack attack. Resorts will also offer a ton of family friendly activities. One of my favorite places to go here in California is called Pinecrest Lake Resort. They have so many fun activities. Fishing, paddle boats, canoes, horseback riding (for the whole family!), lots of hiking trails, and the best part? Movies under the stars! Yes! They have a large outdoor ampitheater where they show movies on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s always family friendly, but Friday’s are usually more for grown up kids and Saturdays are for kids of all ages. They charge about 3 bucks and there’s a snack stand to get hot chocolate or whatever your heart desires. It’s really a fun place to take kids. Resort style grounds are also in general, family friendly places to go. You will find there’s a curfew that people follow. With 200 camp sites, it’s important to keep it down after dark. Things can get loud really fast in the forest! If you are looking for an “easy” place to camp and a community style environemnt, pick a resort camp ground.
Last but not least, the group camp. These are designated for large parties, usually 10 or more. They can be found as a connection to another campground. Usually, they are kept off the the side and out of the way of smaller sites, so the larger group won’t disturb the smaller groups. In most cases, you will need to make a reservation for a group camp ground. They are great if you are planning a trip with multiple families or a church group!
Ready to search for what’s in your area? Check out the department of forestry’s website to see all the regulated areas near you. You can also find info about permits and weather. Anything you need to know, really!
After you find your favorite campground, head over to Reserve America to see what’s available to make your reservation!
I hope you enjoyed this camping series. If you head out for a camping adventure with the fam, we’d love to hear about it!