The day my family purchased our camper last year, we had high hopes of taking it out on the open road and seeing the world… well, maybe North America… maybe just the United States. There is so much to see and do, and we thought that taking a camper to see some of the great national parks we have around the U.S. would be the way to do it. Not only that, but it would provide our kids with memories they would talk about for years.
The first year we owned our camper, we only took it out five times. We anticipated taking it out much more than that, but life got in the way as well as a few things that needed to be addressed with the camper itself. While I took a lot of effort to find the right campsite for us, we did run into a few campsites that had us questioning whether we made the right move or not. But we had enough great experiences that outweighed those bad ones that we found out that we really enjoyed the camping life.
I mentioned that I take quite a bit of effort to find the right campsite for our family because there are several things to think about when picking out the site for us. With younger kids, proximity to a playground is important or kid-friendly activities such as a beach. If we are camping in the summer, shade around our site is crucial to escape the sun in the afternoons after exploring. Last year, we did a lot of thinking about how close the campground was to home. We were in a position where we could only travel to a site that was at most an hour and a half or two hours away from Kansas City. This year is different, which we are excited about.
What are the resources I use to plan our family camping trip?
When it comes to planning our family camping trip, I start off by looking at what campsites are available at a location. I use a couple of sites, from Recreation.gov to ReserveAmerica to individual State Department of Parks websites to see what is available. When I see what sites are open, I will do a top-down exploration on Google Maps to see what is around the site and view user-submitted pictures to get an idea of what a campground will look like if we decide to camp there. Then if I like what I see, I’ll head over to The Dyrt and get camper reviews of the campground.
The reason for this approach is that one time we got burned because we made the mistake of booking our Memorial Day Weekend site very late and took whatever was open. When we got to the site, we found how cramped the site was with everyone else, the beach was pretty much non-existent, and beyond that, there was not much in terms of kid-friendly activities. I told myself after that trip that if it ever came down to taking whatever was available, then we wouldn’t go on a trip.
Learning from the experiences we had our first year of camping, here are the resources to plan your next camping trip.
Our first few trips were to state-run parks at some of the local lakes. We weren’t even aware that there were two different campgrounds to choose from when we were camping at our local Army Corps of Engineers lakes. As we drove around the campgrounds to explore and learn more about the camping experience, we discovered some great federally-run sites. If you were to ask us, we felt as though the federally run sites are a slight step above in terms of amenities to the state-run campground and are our first choice whenever we are out camping.
Recreation.gov allows you to view pictures of the individual campsites and see availability throughout the season. Campgrounds are typically available (at least in our area, Kansas) from May to October. Most campgrounds start accepting reservations 6 months out.
State Department of Parks/Reserve America
As mentioned above, many of our first ventures were to campgrounds run by the state. We enjoyed our stays at many of the Kansas State Parks and are looking forward to visiting every state part that is offered at some point. Not all state parks will have a federally run campground, so opting to book a campsite through your local department of parks allows you to explore many of the great areas throughout any state.
Many states will allow you to book a campsite through the state’s department of parks BUT there is a site called Reserve America that allows you to see availability in most states vs. just one state. However, with the following camping resource, this shouldn’t be a problem.
I use Google Maps not only to get directions to our site but to get a top-down view of our campground. This can be helpful because you’ll be able to see how much shade is in the area, how close the swimming beach or bathrooms/showers are, or just to be able to get an idea of how big your particular campsite will be.
Some campgrounds have been lucky enough to have a Google Maps Street View car drive-through so you can virtually drive through and see what your campground will look like. Also, many people have started uploading their 360-degree pictures to Google Maps, so you can get a first-hand look at what your site might look like when you arrive.
Sometimes, you want to see what campgrounds are near you or the location you are going to. The Dyrt gives you a chance to browse a map and see what sites are around, whether they are state-run, federally-run, or private. There is also all the information you need, from what amenities are on a site to how strong a cell connection will be, right there on the individual campground page.
One of the things that I use most as a resource from The Dyrt is the user comments from campers. You can gain valuable information from the comments, such as what are things to look out for or what things you shouldn’t miss doing at a particular camping spot.
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