There are three places where you can head for a camping vacation: a public campground, a private campground, or dispersed camping.
These facilities are run by some sort of government entity like the Forest Service, a State or National Park Service, County, etc.
Pros of a Public Campground:
They are usually inexpensive. Nightly camping fees typically run anywhere from a few dollars to around twenty dollars per night. Plus, most public campgrounds offer the same amenities at every single campground, namely a picnic table and fire ring. And if you’re 62 or older, and a US citizen, you can purchase a Senior Pass. It’s a lifetime pass that gives 50% discounts to many public campgrounds.
Cons of a Public Campground:
It’s public. That means that anyone who can pay the fee is allowed to stay. That being said, all campers must obey the posted rules but no one will be turned away because of dogs, small children, or large RVs. You get all types in a public campground! And while some campsites in some campgrounds can be reserved, the majority of campsites are first-come, first-served.
These are owned by a company, franchisee, or individual. The most famous brand of private campground is KOA or Kampgrounds of America.
Pros of a Private Campground:
Because they’re privately owned, private campgrounds can be selective as to who they allow to camp. There are campgrounds that cater to 60+ only and campgrounds that welcome children. There are usually greater amenities than in a public campground. They can usually be rented on a daily, weekly or monthly basis and almost every private campground will offer reservations.
Cons of a Private Campground:
Private campgrounds tend to be more expensive than their public campground counterparts. And many feature campsites that are very close together. It’s a business thing: the more campers you can get per acre, the more money can be made in rent. Lots of private campgrounds cater to huge RVs and some don’t permit tent-camping. Even if you can tent camp there, be prepared to have enormous RVs on every side.
Dispersed camping is camping outside of a campground on public lands.
Pros of a Dispersed Camping:
You can spread out to your heart’s content! In most areas campsites are spread far from neighbors so you can enjoy nature all by yourself. It can be so quiet you’ll feel like you’re the only person on Earth. And if you want to have a rowdy volleyball game there’s no camp host to come tell you to quite down.
Cons of a Dispersed Camping:
But… Because there is no one in charge, there’s no one to stop a neighbor from running ATVs up and down the road all day, blasting music, or generally being obnoxious. And before you pitch your tent, it will be your responsibility to make sure that you’re allowed to camp there, obtain any needed permits, and be familiar with all the local rules, laws, and ordinances. In dispersed camping, it’s just you and what you bring: no bathrooms, no potable water, and no trash service.
Public and private campgrounds also break down into an additional three categories that are used to describe how many amenities they offer.
Primitive campgrounds have limited facilities like restrooms and potable water and very few amenities. You’ll most likely get the bare minimum basics here: a fire ring and a picnic table. Of course, since there are hardly any amenities, the cost is usually kept very low at a primitive campground. Primitive campgrounds are usually public campgrounds as well.
A primitive campground will not have paved roads. They are usually geared towards tent camping only but some may permit small RVs.
Developed campgrounds are friendly to tents and RVs. In addition to offering a fire ring and picnic table, a developed campground will also offer restrooms and potable water. They may also offer trash service and even recycling. Some developed campgrounds have additional amenities like barbeque grates for the fire ring or stand barbeques, leveled gravel tent pads, and maintained paths to water spigots and restrooms.
A developed campground may offer paved roads throughout the campground. If not, then the roads will be well-maintained.
You can find both public and private developed campgrounds. Expect to pay more for campsites than at a primitive campground.
A full-hookup campground caters to RVs. In addition to picnic tables and fire rings, each campsite will offer electricity and potable water; many will also offer sewer connections. There are limited full-hookup public campgrounds; most are privately owned and operated. Before heading to a campground that says they are full-hookup, verify that they allow tent camping.
There are advantages to tent camping in a full-hookup campground, especially in the hot summer months in that you can bring a portable fan and run an extension cord into your tent.
Full-hookup campgrounds usually offer a variety of other amenities like showers, playgrounds, swimming pools, etc. Just be aware that the more amenities there are, the higher the cost! Also, the people who own the huge RVs gravitate towards a full-hookup campground so they can take advantage of the amenities as well.
Readers Weigh In:
- Do you have a favorite type of campground?
- What do you feel about dispersed camping?