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ATTN: Campers...need advice

How easy is it to find/book campgrounds across the states. Do we need reservations in advance?
11 years ago, April 26th 2009 No: 1 Msg: #71061  
So, we're planning a trip across the country and back with intentions of camping.

Isn't there a book of all of the campgrounds in the country with locations and what amenities they offer?
What book do you recommend?

Is it hard to get into campgrounds in September? We'd really like to play the trip by ear and not plan our destinations solid in advance. Do you think we'll have trouble getting in?

Do you have any website suggestions for camping across the country 101, tips and tricks, or anything like that?

Is a tent, a tent, a tent? Do you have suggestions for "must haves" when it comes to a tent?
Certain material for the rain? Anything like that? We have one, but it's to small so we have to get a new one, but I'd like to be smart about it.

I certainly would appreciate any feedback you may have!! Reply to this

11 years ago, April 28th 2009 No: 2 Msg: #71314  
It should not be too difficult finding campsites in September, provided you are trying to camp on days other than Labor Day weekend. Places like Yellowstone and Yosemite (two places I read in a previous thread you wanted to go) have some great first-come first-serve campsites that don't take reservations anyways. To get those though, you will want to arrive earlier in the day - probably before 10am. Show up at 5pm and they will likely be booked, but we drove right into Yellowstone in peak season (July) and found a spot when we showed up around 10:30am. Also it helps to arrive on weekdays, rather than weekend mornings.

A tent is not a tent is not just a tent. The type of tent you want will depend on the type of camping you wish to do. If you're car camping, I recommend getting a great big tent that allows you to stand up and move around. We camped in an 8-person trailhead tent (just the two of us) for 10 weeks on summer. We called it the "Tent Mahal" because it was so enormous.

The pros: we could stand up fully and change our clothes and we had a queen size air mattress fitting nicely inside, so it really was our home.

The cons: Very heavy! I think it weighed in at 30lbs, so the furthest we would want into a campsite would be about 200 yards. If you want to backpack and hike into campsites, you'll want something smaller, compact and light-weight.

So just make sure the tent you buy fits your needs. If you plan on using it a lot over the years, paying a little extra for a good quality tent is worth the investment. Make sure whatever tent you get has sealed seams. Nothing worse than water seeping in on you - and poorly designed tents will accumulate water just from morning dew, even if it doesn't rain. Also get some sort of tent footprint or tarp that is roughly the size of your tent base. It will protect against rocks and also water.

When it comes to a book with all the campgrounds, again that depends on what type of campground you're looking for. Most of the "campsite" books have mainly RV campsites and KOAs. Some people like the amenities that are offered (electricity, swimming pools, stuff like that). I don't - I don't like being a lone tent is a sea of RV's, I camp to get into nature, so when it comes to National Park campsites, I swear by Frommer's National Parks of the American West. It was my camping bible and is literally falling apart at the seams. It doesn't have all the campsites (not by a long shot) but it does have campsites for all the National Parks in the western have of the U.S (obviously) as well as others near-by in the gateway cities.

You could contact the ranger station at various National Forests or BLM land too to get a listing of all the campsites in those areas. They usually don't end up in books (that I've found) but they do have little print-outs for the public. Reply to this

11 years ago, April 28th 2009 No: 3 Msg: #71325  
I agree that it will not be difficult to find campsites in September, AFTER Labor day weekend. Most good campgrounds fill up for Labor day, but after that you should have your pick. As far as tent's go, get one that suits yourself. If possible, try to rent or barrow a few models before you leave home & see what you like. We personally prefer the small easy/quick to set up and take down models. Most improtant for me is a comfortable place to sleep. Air matress works well for us, gotta make sure and have some patch material in case of leaks.

Here is the most important thing I have to add to the excellent advice above: DON'T FORGET STATE PARKS.
I don't know of any books that list all State Parks in the US, but copying a list from the internet for that states you will be going thru would be worthwhile. State Parks usually have much smaller crowds than National Parks, are often located in beautiful and interesting locations & cost less than National parks. Usually have great showers too! Have fun! Reply to this

11 years ago, April 28th 2009 No: 4 Msg: #71328  
Ah! Excellent addition Tommee & Patty. How could I forget about state parks!? They really are overlooked (and I concur with your statement about the showers - best we found to be sure).

Easiest/cheapest way I know to locate the state parks - when you cross the border into another state, stop off at the Welcome Center or rest-stop and pick up a free state highway map. All the state parks will be located there, usually with a little symbol if camping is available. Reply to this

11 years ago, April 29th 2009 No: 5 Msg: #71344  
You two are great! Huge, huge help!

I'm so glad we didn't just pack up and go because this information and planning ahead, I think, is going to make the trip really great. 😊 Reply to this

11 years ago, May 10th 2009 No: 6 Msg: #72457  
B Posts: 9
All I had was one of those big booklet of roadmaps for all 50 states with maps for Canada as well (not as detailed of course) (around $10~20 I think) and I was just going to places randomly and find the "closest" campground using those map and check where are those "little triangles", and yes there is a book for all campgrounds in the US that I remember seeing in B&N.

If you're planning to go to most of the national parks, I would recommend you to get the national parks pass. It is good for one year for all the national you can go to. It is cheaper this way, even if you only go to 2 of them.

I had a very light weight tent that sleep one person and it was great, you would want to get one that is 3 season, not those that are just for summer, a 4 season would be too much for this trip =)

I would also bring a tarpaulin (I think that’s what they are call), it would be great for covering the rain or the ground to sit or just about anything else =)

I would agree with them that camp grounds are not that hard to find, as most of the people would return to school or work by then, plus even if sometimes they are out of campsite, go inside and see if there are any space left that are for the big camping group and sometimes they wouldn't mind letting you stay for a night and chill with them (I did it and it was great and fun) =).

If you planning to camp up in the mountain make sure you bring a good sleeping bag, it can get very cold up there. I like camping and hiking, so I always bring my tent and sleep up in the mountains whenever I can.
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11 years ago, May 10th 2009 No: 7 Msg: #72467  
I had the Rand McNalley atlas of the USA, and combined with each state map picked up from Visitor's information centres, we had a fair idea of where the campgrounds were located. Our atlas had a little green tent sign or a red tent sign to indicate camping or day-use only areas.
Some info centres also carry detailed booklets that include all the state park contact info, so you can phone ahead as you travel to see what's available.

If you don't mind roughing it for a night or two, state or national forests and preserves often have free or very low-cost campgrounds. Because the forests or preserves often don't have showers and just pit toilets, they tend to be overlooked as places to camp, but that means to get it to yourself! It's gorgeous!
The added plus is that the Forests are often located near the Parks. Also if you're traveling out west in the desert areas, the Bureau of Land Management has no-facility, free campgrounds available, but you do have to bring in your own water and it's pack-in/pack-out.
National Park or State Park info centres often have the details on these types of campgrounds, certainly ask around.

Definitely agree on the National Parks Pass. We found it got us into places we didn't even know were covered by the Parks system and it saved us loads of money.

Highly recommend a tent with a full fly that you can pull away from the tent in case of rain. In heavy downpours, you want to make sure you can direct the water away from the tent, so a full fly will ensure the water falls away from the tent. Also ventilation is important to prevent excess condensation inside the tent. And a tarp underneath to prevent ground moisture from seeping up. Stores like REI or Campmore have staff well trained to help you choose the right tent. And bring a pair of thermals just in case it gets too cold if you're camping at high altitude!

Have fun!!
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11 years ago, May 10th 2009 No: 8 Msg: #72474  
The type of free campsite that the swissmaple is referencing are called "dispersed campsites" by the rangers.

And the National Park Pass is amazing. It covers the admission fee at all national parks, monuments, landmarks and recreation areas, as well as trail-head fees in national forests and all other land under the National Park Service for a year. Highly worth the investment. If you just go to Yellowstone and Yosemite you practically make your money back. We're now in the habit of getting one every year now.

It does NOT cover the parking fee if you want to go to Mount Rushmore (technically that park has no admission fee, but it's like $8 to park your car) nor does it cover the ferry fee to visit the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz (again, technically there is no admission fee, but you have to pay for the ferry to take you there). Those the only exceptions we've found.

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11 years ago, May 11th 2009 No: 9 Msg: #72496  
Stephanie and Andras...have you thought about writing a book?? 😊

Very good info. I picked up a map of my own state so we can start doing some local camping on the weekends. Has anyone who's replied camped in Michigan? I stopped at our visitors center with this forum suggestion in mind and I cannot believe how much there is to see and do in my own area. We may not have much for jobs, but there is plenty of wilderness.

I've got a menu question for you guys too that I'll make a new topic post for. Reply to this

11 years ago, May 11th 2009 No: 10 Msg: #72498  
Where do you get a quality, water resistant tent? Do you have to order it online or are there particular stores you go to? Or does even Meijer carry decent tents? (....you....may not have a Meijer in your area and I don't know what to compare it to....an upscale Walmart? A place that carries everything from food to camping gear...how's that?)

We'd rather spend more for a quality tent then save money and have a terrible time setting it up, getting wet, and all that. Reply to this

11 years ago, May 11th 2009 No: 11 Msg: #72505  
Suzanne - I'm familiar with Meijer. You can get a decent tent, but not a high quality tent there. I think the best they have is Coleman (okay....not particularly water resistant). GREAT place to go for things like camping chairs and other equipment though. Even decent sleeping bags unless you plan on doing winter-time camping.

REI or other outdoor rec store is where I'd go for a tent - there are a few REIs in Michigan but I'm not sure how big they are (they're headquartered in Seattle which is where we are so the ones here are huge). You can also order online. You could always check the brands they carry at places like REI and compare them to your local stores. Sporting goods stores are hit and miss. Sometimes they don't have anything better than Meijer would.

We've camped at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the upper part of Michigan (is that what you call it? the upper part?) Beautiful! And so many lilac trees! I keep thinking how fragrant it would be this time of year. The weekend camping trips sound like a perfect idea. Isn't it amazing all the places we never go, just because they're in our backyard?!

Thanks for the confidence in my book writing ability. 😊 I do plan on publishing one eventually, but it will be on culinary travel. It is in the pre-draft draft stage. Haha. Than again, who knows! Maybe there is a camping book in my future. Reply to this

11 years ago, May 14th 2009 No: 12 Msg: #72797  
B Posts: 602
How much camping have you done? Reply to this

11 years ago, May 14th 2009 No: 13 Msg: #72812  
Is that question for me, Lee Ann? Not a lot compared to some, but more than most 😊

We camped for three months straight across the U.S two summers ago - we originally joined Travelblog to blog about that trip. It actually felt weird when we starting sleeping "indoors" for a while. Other than that, it's your typical weekend trips here and there. As a matter of fact we're camping this weekend! Mainly car camping - I really love back-country camping but Andras prefers camping with an air-mattress, and we don't have the proper gear to hike in (we borrow some now and again) plus it's much more expensive than what you need for car camping, at least here in Washington because you'll inevitably encounter snow and/or ice unless it's July or August.
Reply to this

11 years ago, May 14th 2009 No: 14 Msg: #72813  
B Posts: 602
Sounds like it was a great trip. I was actually wanting to get a feel for what Suzannes would already know before I started to give advice. I started camping when I was 5 months old - so I have done a fair amount of it and did not want to start to give advice to someone who had done some camping. 😊 Reply to this

11 years ago, May 14th 2009 No: 15 Msg: #72814  
B Posts: 602
Most tents are water resistant. Just don't touch them when they are wet. The oils in your hands will draw the water through the material and cause a leak. Reply to this

11 years ago, May 15th 2009 No: 16 Msg: #72830  
I've camped my whole life, but only locally, with reservations in advance, and I've never had to buy my own gear or book my own site. My parents bought the cheap family tents from Kmart or something similar...we worked with it and it was fine, but since the boyfriend and I have more flexibility with spending money (not having four kids like my parents is helpful, haha) we wanted to research what to look for in quality tents and what to expect when traveling outside of our own state and winging the trip.

My grandma is a girl scout leader (she's 85 now) and has been doing it for about 65 years...so I know a thing or two, but she has a pretty basic pop up camper that she lugs around so I just need to make sure that I've got my bases covered for tent camping. She'd be the prefect resource for this stuff, but recently she's had a lot of health problems and is in and out of the hospital so I don't want to bother her.

WE JUST GOT OUR TENT TONIGHT! It is so bad ass, I'm really excited. We wound up going to Moose Jaw (not sure if you're familiar or not) and they were really helpful, we got to set it up in the store and intend on camping locally before our trip in September so that we'll be pros putting it up and taking it down (there's only two poles, so it's super easy).

SandA - three months?! Wow, I bet that was amazing! I would love to do that sometime. After making this tent investment, I'm hoping we really get into camping a lot more because I absolutely love it, but the summers come and go so quickly. I'm still working on Alex about not taking the Corvette...he's a tough sell. 😞 Oh, and the top part of the glove is "Northern Michigan" (pretty creative, I know) and across the bridge is the U.P. which stands for the Upper Peninsula, but everyone just calls it the U.P.

I am feeling sooooo much more confident about our trip after getting all this input on my topic questions from everyone on here. I think it's going to be a really great trip (if I can talk him out of his car choice). Reply to this

11 years ago, May 18th 2009 No: 17 Msg: #73116  
B Posts: 602
I had a feeling you were being far more humble about this than what is read in your first post.

Best thing you can do is to make a list during the day. What do I use? Nothing is quite so frustrating as to start dinner and go to open a can and there is no can opener. (It is even worse when you go to open a bottle of wine and there's no cork screw.) It will be the little things that will be the hardest to remember. Note everything you touch during the day and ask yourself if it is something you are going to need out camping. Be sure to put in a good first aid kit.

Grew up just south of the Canadian boarder - so yes, Moose Jaw is a familiar name to me. I did have a thread somewhere in here about being left in Regina at age 15. 😊 Reply to this

11 years ago, May 18th 2009 No: 18 Msg: #73134  
Seriously? If you come across the thread you'll have to link me to it. I'd love to read it.

My boyfriend is very minimalist...to the extreme. He doesn't want pictures or shelves on the walls and he doesn't want more than a tooth brush and clean underwear when he travels. I, on the other hand, prefer to be prepared. The input I get on here is priceless. Some of it is new to me that I wouldn't have thought of on my own, some is reassurance, and other info is a sanity check that I'm not being high maintenance and over packing like he sometimes thinks I am. Besides...who does he turn to when he gets a hangnail? His prepared girlfriend who brought the nail clippers of course. 😊 Reply to this

11 years ago, May 18th 2009 No: 19 Msg: #73136  
B Posts: 602
That is the link.

My ex was minimalist too. Until we had children and he thought we could just take off in the car without packing anything for a trip. I allowed it to happen once and he found out how un-fun it was when the children did not have the proper attire to play in the snow. LOL Reply to this

11 years ago, May 18th 2009 No: 20 Msg: #73156  
You are soo right about the can opener/cork-screw/bottle opener! We're at the point now where we have one cheap set that stays in the car, permanently.

Also to keep in that first-aid kit is some OTC allergy medication. Even if you don't have seasonal allergies at home, you'll probably encounter something elsewhere that makes you sniffle and sneeze - and usually it's when your miles away from a drugstore, of course. Reply to this

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