What should you know when planning a camping trip?

If you’re just getting into camping, there are a few things you need to know about planning a camping trip. This includes how to plan a trip, when to book your trip, whether or not you need reservations, how to choose a camping spot, what resources are available, and what rules you’ll need to plan ahead for.

How to plan a camping trip?

Below, we’ve made a list of our top tips for preparing for a camping trip.

  • Research your destination
  • Make a reservation
  • Have a ‘Plan B’
  • Create a detailed gear checklist
  • Test out your gear
  • Plan activities
  • Plans snacks and meals
  • Stock up on first aid supplies, camping stove fuel, water, and food
  • Bring rain gear for everyone
  • Pack
  • Check weather forecasts

How far in advance to plan a camping trip?

How far in advance you should start planning a camping depends on where you plan to go. For popular destinations like Yellowstone, Zion, the Grand Canyon, or Big Sur, you’ll have to make campsite reservations six months in advance to secure a spot. After that, you’ll need to sort out travel arrangements (flights?) and then gather your gear and make a meal and activity plan.

If you’re dispersed camping or heading to first-come, first-served sites, then you have the luxury of being able to make a last-minute decision. If the forecast looks good and you have all the gear you need, all you have to do is get packed and hit the road!

Do you need a camping permit?

Most national parks and many state parks require you to have a camping permit for backcountry camping, but some have primitive, first-come first-served sites that are permit-free. You also don’t need a permit to camp on BLM land or in national forests or grasslands.

What basic camping amenities to look for?

The main camping amenities to look for are flush toilets and drinking water. 

What additional camping amenities may there be?

Some extra amenities that will make your camping experience more comfortable and convenient include hot showers, hook-ups, trash/recycling service, communal fire pits and grills, lighting, bear boxes, and a general store.

What camping amenities for kids may there be?

Some campground amenities that will help keep your kids entertained include a pool, games room, basketball court, and a play area.

What activities can you plan for when camping?

Below, we’ve listed some of our favorite camping activities along with what you’ll need to do them on your trip.

  • Hiking (hiking gear, trail research)
  • Fishing (rod, tackle, bait)
  • Bird-watching (binoculars)
  • Geocaching (SWAG and GPS or smartphone)
  • Playing Capture the Flag (flags)
  • A nature scavenger hunt (printout of “scavengable” items)
  • Tag
  • Mountain biking (bikes and helmets, trail ideas)
  • Photography (camera, research locations)
  • Paddleboarding (paddleboard and roof rack)
  • Cornhole (cornhole kit)
  • Whittling (camping knife)
  • Stargazing (telescope and camping chairs, research areas with low light pollution)

How much to pack for camping?

How much gear and food you take camping depends on whether you’re camping at a backcountry (walk-in) or frontcountry (drive-to) campsite. 

With frontcountry campgrounds, you can bring as much as you can squeeze in your vehicle without paying any penalty except poor gas mileage. With backcountry camping, you’re limited to what you can carry on your back, so you’ll have to be selective and discard any non-essentials.

Wherever you’re camping, you should aim to pack enough food (around 2,500 calories’ worth per adult per day) and cover all of the Ten Essentials when choosing gear. 

How to plan for various weather when camping?

Below, we’ve outlined steps you can take for various weather conditions when camping.

  • Wet weather. Pack rain gear, an extra tarp, waterproof shoes or boots, and games/activities/books to keep you entertained while sheltering in the tent.
  • Hot conditions. Pack plenty of water (and a filter), a cooler, bug nets, sunscreen, sun-protective clothing, and sun hats, and seek a camping site in the shade.
  • Windy conditions. Pack extra stakes and pegs and choose a site that’s sheltered by natural features like rocks or trees.

What to know when booking a camping trip?

When you’re booking a camping trip, you should know whether or not you need a permit, what amenities are available, what the campground rules are, what wildlife is in the area, what activities you can do in the area, the size of your site (particularly relevant for RVs and groups), and what conditions you can expect to encounter.

How to choose where to camp?

The main things to consider when choosing where you go camping are listed below.

  • Permit/reservation requirements
  • Weather and temperatures
  • Accessibility
  • Cost
  • Nearby attractions and activities
  • Popularity (crowd potential)
  • Camping style (dispersed, backcountry, or frontcountry)

Where is ideal for first-time camping?

The ideal camping destination for first-time campers is somewhere close to home (in case you choose to bail) and with ample amenities to break you in gently.

What national parks are popular for camping?

Some of the most popular national parks for camping include Joshua Tree NP, Great Smoky Mountains NP, Yellowstone NP, Yosemite NP, and Zion NP.

What are lesser-known national parks for camping?

Some lesser-known national parks where you can enjoy a quieter camping experience are listed below.

  • Congaree NP
  • Isle Royale NP
  • Lassen Volcanic NP
  • Great Basin NP
  • Guadalupe Mountains NP
  • Voyageurs NP
  • Big Bend NP

Do you need to make a campsite reservation?

If you’re heading to popular areas like Lake Tahoe, Bear Lake, or 90% of the national parks, you’ll need a reservation. A few national park campgrounds, however, are first-come, first-served, and you don’t need a reservation to camp in national forests or on BLM land.

How far in advance to make a camping reservation?

How far in advance you should make a camping reservation depends on where you plan on going. At popular destinations like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, or Big Sur, you’ll likely have to make reservations six months in advance to secure a spot. For other, less popular national parks like New River Gorge, all camping is first-come, first served.

Can you make same-day camping reservations?

Many state parks, private campgrounds, and some national parks work on a first-come, first-served basis, so you don’t have to make reservations in advance (just arrive early!). 

Can you make camping reservations online?

Yes, almost all public and privately owned campgrounds, as well as national parks, allow you to make reservations online. Online bookings can also be made on reserveamerica.com and recreation.gov.

What to consider when selecting a camping spot? 

The following is a list of factors you should consider when choosing a campsite.

  • Accessibility
  • Amenities
  • Noise
  • Exposure – will it be exposed to the sun or prevailing winds?
  • Nearby water source
  • The views
  • Presence of wildlife
  • Tree cover (good for rain or snow, not so good if there are loose branches overhead)

How far from water should a camping spot be?

You should set up camp at least 200 feet away from any water feature (lakes, ponds, rivers, etc.) to prevent contaminating the water or preventing wildlife from reaching the water source.

What are resources for planning a camping trip?

The main resources for planning a camping trip are websites that provide information on the location of the site and the available amenities. Beyond that, you might want to download a camping gear checklist and watch online tutorials on how to deal with camping in different weather conditions, how to set up camp, etc.

What are popular websites for finding campsites?

The best way to find the top US campsites is by either visiting the national park, state park, or national forest website for the area where you plan to camp or searching for camping locations on a specialized campground booking website like ReserveAmerica or Hipcamp.

What websites offer discounts on campsite bookings?

Below, we’ve listed a handful of websites that offer discounts on campground bookings.

  • Harvest Hosts
  • Campnab
  • The Dyrt
  • Passport America
  • Campendium
  • Escapees RV Club

What are some popular camping guides for beginners?

Below, we’ve made a list of the most popular camping guides for newbie campers.

  • Where Should We Camp Next? by Stephanie Puglisi and Jeremy Puglisi
  • The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids by Helen Olsson
  • How to Survive Your First Trip in the Wild by Paul Magnanti
  • The Pendleton Field Guide to Camping by Pendleton Woolen Mills
  • Camping Essentials: A Folding Pocket Guide to Gear and Basics for Rookie Campers by James Kavanagh and Waterford Press

What are some popular camping gear guides?

Our favorite camping gear guides are listed below.

  • The Camper’s Survival Guide: Food Prepping, Gear, First Aid, Etiquette, and More! by Tamsin King
  • Camping Essentials: A Folding Pocket Guide to Gear and Basics for Rookie Campers by James Kavanagh and Waterford Press
  • Backpacker Magazine’s Complete Guide to Outdoor Gear Maintenance and Repair by Kristin Hostetter

What are some popular national park camping guides?

We’ve listed our favorite national park camping guides below.

  • National Parks Bucket List and Journal by Easy Beesy Travelers
  • RV Camping in National Parks by Roundabout Publications
  • National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States by National Geographic
  • 100 Parks, 5,000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do by Joe Yogerst
  • Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the USA: All 63 parks from Maine to American Samoa by Fodor’s Travel Guides

Are there camping rules you need to plan ahead for?

Below, we’ve listed a few basic camping rules you’ll need to plan ahead for. 

  • Keep your campsite clean. Bring trash bags and storage containers.
  • Abide by Leave No Trace principles. Bring everything you need to pack all waste out at the end of your trip.
  • Control pets. Bring a leash and choose a remote site if your dog is a barker.
  • Keep your lighting under control. Bring dimmable lights.
  • Wildlife safety. Be prepared to store all food items in bear boxes.
  • Keep the noise down and respect “quiet time” hours. Bring your best manners!

Do you need a backcountry camping permit?

Most national parks and many state parks require you to have a camping permit for backcountry camping, but some have primitive, first-come first-served sites that are permit-free. You also don’t need a permit to camp on BLM land or in national forests or grasslands.

Do you need to pay for a backcountry camping permit?

All national parks that require a backcountry parking permit charge a fee for the permit. This usually consists of a small application fee plus a per-person per-night fee. 

What are some common camping regulations?

Below, we’ve listed a few common camping regulations. 

  • Respect your neighbors
  • Keep your campsite clean
  • Keep the noise down and respect “quiet time” hours
  • Abide by Leave No Trace principles
  • Don’t cut through other sites
  • Respect the facilities
  • Control pets
  • Keep your lighting under control
  • Camp 200 ft from any water source or hiking trail

What are camping regulations regarding pets?

Regulations regarding pets vary from one campground to another, but most require that dogs be kept leashed at all times on a maximum 6-foot leash. Some campgrounds also permit a maximum of two or three pets. You’ll also have to clean up after your pets, of course, and maybe be asked to leave if barking is disturbing your neighbors.