Campground Notes – What We’d Like to Know Before We Go
In doing research for our trips, we have found that there are some really good resources on the internet for info about campgrounds. Reserve America has some great profiles for each camp they book and they now book and list National Park, State Park and private campgrounds. Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google and RVParkReviews often have reviews available from campers. Occasionally you’ll find an awesome website that has pictures of every campsite at a campground, like CampADK or CampsitePhotos. These can be super helpful when you are trying to figure out which of the 6 open sites are the one you want to book. But in all honesty, sites with reviews often have conflicting information and are populated by opinionated people and can make you seize up with angst, unable to pull the trigger on a booking because you just aren’t sure who to believe.
Of course, everyone has different camping needs. Some people like to camp in groups and have big wild parties across several sites. Others like to camp quietly in tents and get to bed early so they can get out early to hike. Some like to sit around campfires at night and sing. Some need a place where it is safe for kids to roam free and have lots of activities to keep them engaged. People with big rigs often like campgrounds with power and water and flat paved sites. Often the negative reviews are really about a mismatch between the type of camper and the type of campground. Other times the negative reviews may be as much about one circumstance (a bathhouse hot water broken) or about the actions of nearby campers (camping next to an obnoxious group who drew in the state police to break it up can spoil anyone’s impressions).
For a long time we tended to stay at KOA campgrounds. But these days, KOA means there is always a playground, and a pool, and a game room, and overly crowded sites that are appropriate for big trailers- none of these are things we need or want, so it seemed silly for us to pay the big bucks to stay there. It also drove us crazy that they always have a guy in a golf cart escort you to your site and then second guess your ability to park your rig and that they specifically hold crappy sites for people who are overnighting and not staying longer regardless of how far in advance you book. Then we started camping at more private campgrounds- which can be very hit or miss. Sometimes they cater to the seasonal campers so much that they are put out by “transients”. Sometimes they have weird rules that you’ll balk at when you first arrive, but will maybe understand after spending a few nights– or not. Sometimes there is just a weird something that makes you question the place (remember that weird spot in Maine with the silk flowers in hanging baskets on every tree?).
What we’ve found over the last couple of years, is that we tend to prefer State Campgrounds that are operated by state environmental conservation groups. They are pretty rustic, tied to nature and are not overly filled with amenities. Often they have nearby hikes, bikes or kayak locations. They typically have more tents than campers and sites that are tree filled and further apart. Some are great, some are okay and a few are terrible. The fact that you can book them easily online these days through Reserve America is amazing. It lets you pick your place and choose amongst the available sites. There are minimum stays for some busy weekends, but it’s not crazy. And the places are cheap! They are typically about $20 a night for a site with no power or water. We appreciate that giving them this money is supporting their parks, so we rarely feel bad about booking an extra night so that we can leave in the afternoon rather than the morning or ditching the booking altogether if something comes up or someone is sick.
As a result of wanting to remember everything we could about where we have stayed, we started making our own notes for the campgrounds we visit. There are certain things we’d like to remember for the next time like “was that one of the places with the push-button showers?” or “wait, was there actually no connectivity for 20 miles and we couldn’t even find out details when that big storm came in?” or “was that the place that said they had kayaking, but the lake was so mucky that we wouldn’t have even considered it?”. And of course you want to remember what the favorite site was that you spotted and thought “man, if we ever stay here again, that is absolutely the spot I want”. And you need to remember what was weird about that place so you can factor in whether it is something that will affect an upcoming trip or not.
So we built a form and started filling it out and keeping it for each campground we’re visiting. And then we started to realize that if this is stuff we’d like to have handy, so maybe others will also find it helpful.
This section will grow as we get around to putting together notes from previous trips and as we visit more campgrounds each year! Check back!
And if you have a favorite spot you love that you think we should know about, please send it along.