Choosing the perfect campsite can make your camping experience one of the best you’ve ever had, while a bad campsite can turn a pleasant trip into a nightmare. Noisy neighbors, pesky wildlife, rain, and many other factors can contribute to a bad camping trip, so it is important to choose the best site you can find!
The most important feature of a campsite is the ground. Is it hard or soft? Level or sloped? Covered in rocks or sticks? Ideally, a campsite has soft, level dirt that has few rocks. You would be very lucky to find all three of these features, but the most important is that the site be level. This makes it easier to set up tents and decreases the chances that you will get rained out of your site.
All good campsites have a fire pit, preferably with a movable grill-piece. While most parks provide fire pits, not every site will necessarily have one, so choose wisely! Some may have a grill but no fire pit. This is great if you want burgers, but it won’t keep you warm. Making your own pit or making a fire on the ground is generally not suggested and is probably not permitted by the park.
Ideally, there is lots of wood around your site that you can use to make a fire. Pick a site that has trees and underbrush so you can find small sticks to start your fire. Cutting down trees for wood is never allowed at parks, and the wood is still green anyway. What you need is big logs that you have purchased and a site with lots of small fallen branches.
If you are camping somewhere where animals are a problem, you will need a way of keeping your food out of reach. In the western United States, where bears are a serious issue for campers, you cannot keep food in your car or in the tent. While some places provide bear-boxes, not all do, and in any case it is safer to put your food in a tree. Hang it high up, on a limb that a bear cannot reach or climb to. This is another reason to pick a wooded site, with mature trees that have fairly low branches.
If you have children, being close to the bathrooms is a huge positive. Making 3 long treks every night is annoying, especially when you are half-asleep, so choose a site that puts you in easy walking distance to the restrooms. If you are too close, however, you will be subjected to the constant noise of conversation, showers, doors slamming, and the bright lights. Choose carefully!
Noisy neighbors can ruin your camping trip. Some types to watch out for: anyone with kids, anyone whom you can hear before you have even picked a site, anyone with more than two cars (means a large number of people), motorcyclists, people in RVs, and people with dogs. If you can, find out if there are reservations for the spots near the sites that you like. Choose one that won’t have people moving in soon, so you won’t be disrupted. The more trees in between sites, the better. That way, if you have neighbors, you have a natural screen between you.