Choosing a campsite

One of the first big steps prior to a successfull camping trip is to pick the right campsite.  This decision could mean the difference between a good camping trip and a great one!  Here are the things to consider when looking for that perfect campsite:

Location

For your first few camping trips I would highly recommend staying close to home!  This will make it much easier to go back to get the things you will inevitably forget.  Also this gives you the benefit of being able to go home in the middle of the night if needed.  I can still remember the camping trip we took our three kids on over Thanksgiving when they were all under 6 years old.  We had put the kids to bed and were enjoying time out by the fire.  Our oldest son was sleeping on our bed and when we came inside we discovered that he had thrown up all over our bed and then fell back asleep.  It sure was nice to only be 15 minutes away from home on that camping trip!  Even today, some of our favorite campgrounds are close to home…just remember, camping is just as fun 15 minutes away as it is 5 hours away.  In either case you are away from the distractions at home and that is the important part.  When we lived in Mississippi our favorite campground was only 15 minutes from our house. As you get more experienced you will have plenty of time to venture out farther.

Activities

Look into what kind of activities are available at or near the campground. Having grown up in Minnesota, camping on a lake or near some other body of water is important to the activities we like to do. Other types of camping activities can include biking, hiking, fishing, swimming, splashpads, playgrounds, lawn games, river tubing, mini golf, and the list goes on and on.

Utilities – electrical

Utilities are typically what you will care about most when finding a campsite.  You will find a range of campsites from the primitive sites with no connections at all, to the nice sites with 50 & 30 amp electrical connections, water hookup, sewer hookup, patios, and the list goes on.  What utilities you need depends on your camper’s requirements, the season, and the length of your stay.

For electrical connections, the most common service available to you is either 20, 30, or 50 amp connections.  20 amp service is going to look like a standard household electrical plug.  That will be good enough for a few fans and a coffee maker, making it a great option for tents but not ideal for campers.  Most campers require at least a 30 amp connection.  That will allow you to run your air conditioner, fridge, microwave, and maybe your electrical water heater (but those four things together will still likely trip a 30 amp breaker).  A 50 amp connection is typically found on the large motorhomes and fifth wheels.  Those units typically have a second air conditioner and have a higher electrical load.  Other things to keep in mind with electrical connections is that there are always adapters that will allow you to go from any type of connector (20/30/50) to any type of supply (20/30/50).  If you are connecting to a larger supply than your camper requires, there should be no issues as long as you have an appropriately matched master breaker (i.e. if your 30 amp camper is hooked up to 50 amp service, just make sure your camper has a working 30 amp breaker to ensure your supply line does not pass too much current through it).  If you are connecting to a lower amount of service, you need to be careful with how many electrical appliances you have on at the same time.  Here are the common high amp draw items in a camper with an approximate amount of amps they use:

  • Air conditioner (13 amps)
  • Electric water heater (12 amps)
  • Microwave (10 amps)
  • Refrigerator (3 Amps)
Typical 50 amp service box

Typical 30 amp service box

If you go over the limit for the type of service you have it may trip the breaker.  There is a breaker located at every single campsite and it is there to protect your wires from overheating due to too high of an amp draw.

Other things to keep on mind is that if there is not an electrical connection at your campsite you can still camp comfortably.  One option is to use the electrical generator built into your camper if it has one.  If you don’t have a generator, you can always buy a portable generator and use that for power, just check to see if the campground has any restrictions on generators operating during quiet hours.  Additionally it is much easier to camp without electricity when it is cold outside.  As long as you don’t need to use your AC, most RV refrigerators can run off propane, and there is usually a 12 volt battery installed on the camper that can run the lights, run the pump for your water, and control your propane powered furnace and water heater.

Utilities – water

Having a water connection is nice to be able to wash dishes and take a shower, however there are still a few tips that will help you enjoy your camping trip without water hookups.  First of all, most campers have a fresh water tank.  You fill that tank with your garden hose or at the fresh water station at the campground.  That holding tank has an electrical pump that uses your 12v battery power to pump water all throughout your camper just like you were hooked up to water.  It even supplies your water heater so you can take a warm shower.  The obvious hurdle is that you have a limited amount of water and it may run out with heavy use and/or a long camping trip.  You can always hook up your camper and pull it to the dump station to dump your waste water tanks and fill up with fresh water again.  Some campgrounds even offer a service that will empty your waste water and fill your fresh water with vehicles that drive to your site.  Even if your camper does not have a fresh water storage tank or you are on a long camping trip with no water connections, you can make use of the shower house that almost every campground has.  By using the campground restrooms and showers it will allow you to conserve more of the water in your tank.  I have camped with my family of five for 10 days on a single tank of water, so it is definitely manageable.

Utilities – sewer

For those who are not familiar with the waste water tanks on a camper I will briefly explain them. Most campers have two waste water tanks, a black water tank and a grey water tank. The black water tank holds all the wastewater and “objects” that come from your toilet, and the toilet only. Grey water tanks hold the waste water from your sinks and showers. How quickly those tanks fill up can very depending on use but I can tell you that from experience, our black water tank can last almost a week, even with heavy use, but our grey water tank will be completely full if all five of us take a shower. For that reason, we typically shower at the shower house unless we have a sewer connection at our campsite. Having a sewer connection at your campsite is definitely a luxury. If I had to put a ballpark guess on how often we had a sewer connection when we camped I would say that it has been about 50% of the time. Some campgrounds only offer a sewer connection at a limited amount of “premium” sites and others don’t even have sewer connections at all. The biggest benefit is that with a sewer connection, you can use your camper just like you would use the water in your house. You don’t have to worry about filling up the waste water tanks since you can just dump as often as you need to without moving the camper. If your site does not have sewer connections you are still in luck, almost every single campground I have been to has a free dump station near the exit that you can use on the way out…just be ready for a long line if you are leaving midday on a Sunday. Another option if you are staying for a long time at a site without sewer is that you can use a tote tank to haul your waste water to the dump station without having to move your camper. Here is the tote tank I use…it has been awesome to have and I highly recommend it!

Pull through vs back in

The ultimate test to any marriage is to back a camper into a campsite.  More and more campgrounds these days are trying to squeeze in as many sites as they can and it can be tight driving a big rig around.  To aid you early on I would recommend that you look for a pull through site.  Most campgrounds have that as a option you can select when filtering campsites on their online reservation systems.

Season

The time of year that you camp will also determine where you can go. Like I mentioned before it is much easier to camp “off the grid” during the colder months, since you can easily get by with just using propane. Just be careful if it gets too cold outside! Whenever the temperatures get below freezing for too long, it can create some new challenges while camping. The biggest issue is the water supply freezing. I have a friend who was camping in their brand new camper when their water line froze. It was discovered in the morning when they woke up and their daughter turned the faucet on and nothing came out. They decided to leave and go out to breakfast that morning and when they came back they arrived to quite a surprise. Their new camper was completely flooded because the faucet was left on and they didn’t know it since the line was frozen. The line thawed while they were out and the faucet filled up their grey water tank and the rest of the camper. Other things that you need to be prepared for in cold weather is your waste water tanks freezing. If you plan to do a lot of cold weather camping make sure you get heated waste water tanks or add an aftermarket heater pad.

Cost

Obviously the location and ammenities will largely determine the cost of the campsite but in general I have found that state parks tend to be the cheapest, private campgrounds are usually in the middle and commercial campground chains like KOA & Good Sam will be the most expensive. An average cost for an electric only site is typically going to be in the mid to high $20 range per night, while a full hookup site at a state park or private campground will be in the mid to high $30 range. At a KOA or Good Sam campground, you can expect to have very nice pull through sites with full hookups but will pay about $60-70 a night.

How to find campgrounds

There are two main ways that I find campgrounds to stay at. The main way is to just search on google maps for “campground” and look at the reviews and campground website. Another way I find them is through an app called ParkAdvisor.

I am a firm believer that anyone can enjoy camping! If you did not enjoy your first camping trip then you didn’t do it right. By following the advice above it will setup the framework for a successful camping trip!

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