Pitch Your Tent: Campsites

9 Tips to Pick A Great Campsite

Have you heard that there’s more interest in camping this year that ever before? Due to changes in how people budget for vacations, camping is suddenly ‘in vogue’ and people are heading to the hills.

Look at the slope of that tent! Might not be a very comfortable night's sleep.

So, here’s a question that’s being asked over and over:

How do I pick a great campsite at a public campground?

Good question! Here are 9 tips for you.

First off, decide what you’re looking for:

  1. Do you need trees for shade?
  2. Will it be windy?
  3. Tent or RV?
  4. If you have a tent, do you want a tent pad? Tent pads are usually mostly level and free of rocks and roots to tear the bottom of the tent.
  5. If the campsite doesn’t have a tent pad, is the campsite level enough for you to be comfortable?
  6. If you have an RV, do you need a pull-through spot or are you comfortable backing in? What about slide- or pop-outs; is there enough room?
  7. Can you bring your pets?
  8. What is the placement of the fire ring in relation to your tent or camper? Will the (prevailing) wind blow the fire at your “living” space?
  9. How close do you want to be to your neighbors? The bathroom? The water faucet? The camp host?

Lots of shade, but not much of a tent pad.

Some campgrounds have lights that stay on all night — especially near the camp host or the restrooms.

Obviously, you can’t really tell ANY of this information about a specific campsite from a website. If at all possible, go to the campground that you want to stay at and drive around. A family favorite campground here in Arizona is Pine Grove Campground near Flagstaff Arizona. I know that the sites that are located on top of the hill, while pretty, are subject to wind. The sites just off the hill are much more sheltered. Another campsite is raked by headlights all evening long since it’s on a curve of the road. I really studied the layout of the campground during a pre-trip drive-through.

How to pick a great campsite:

If possible, visit the campground and come up with your first, second and third choices. Most campground hosts have a map of the campground that you can take with you. Make notes on it! Write down sites you’d love to stay at and sites you don’t want to have.

Not a lot of shade here. That might be fine if you don't spend a lot of time in camp.

Ask around. The camp host is the expert about that campground. Tell them what you’re looking for in a perfect site and then have them make site recommendations. If there are people in the spot that you’re thinking of using, ask them how they like the spot.

Reservations can be a good thing! Some public campgrounds offer reservations rather than first-come first-served. Often, not all spots are available for reservations. I recommend reservations when:

  • You’re going for an extended stay and want to make sure you’ve got a spot
  • Your trip is months ahead and you want to be guaranteed a spot
  • You have a favorite campsite
  • You’re going camping over a busy weekend like Memorial Day or Labor Day
  • Book really early if you can; especially over holiday weekends!

Look at all the big trees! But, how close are the neighbors?

If you are going to do a first-come, first-served campsite, then here are some additional tips:

  • Campgrounds are busy on the weekend. If you can, plan to arrive on a Wednesday or Thursday to get your spot.
  • If you can’t get to the campground mid-week, arrange to arrive at check out time. I’ve actually sat on a picnic table as a family was leaving to make sure I got the LAST space in a campground. (Um, I asked the family if they minded first!)
  • Be flexible!

Readers Weigh In:

  • What are your suggestions for finding the perfect campsite?
  • Do you have any funny (or horror) stories about a campsite?
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