Camping is a fun summertime activity; but can often seem overwhelming! Don’t get overwhelmed, instead check out these useful tips on how to plan a successful camping trip!
My parents instilled in me a love and appreciation of the great outdoors at a very young age. From exploring our “backyard” – aka the parks and countryside in and around our hometown – to taking summer vacations to national parks and the beach; the world was our playground and we savored every single moment.
To this day, I’d rather spend a week’s vacation in a cabin on a lake, hiking the Rocky Mountains, or sinking my feet in the sand of a crystal clear beach. As an adult, I have loved sharing my passion for the great outdoors with friends and family, and have even planned camping trips with friends, that if it weren’t for me, would have never had that experience.
Since we go on at least 2-3 camping trips a year, with one coming up the end of this month and one planned for September, I thought I would share some tips and tricks for How To Plan a Successful Camping Trip! I should preface that these tips are for your average 2-3 day family camping trips, NOT for extreme/longer trips, which would require more prep, planning and supplies.
How To Plan a Successful Camping Trip:
1. Choose the best time of year- The spring, summer and fall are generally popular camping times due to the warmer weather. If choosing to go camping during popular holidays, like Spring Break, Memorial Day or 4th of July, book your cabins and camp grounds early and be prepared for crowds.
Also, it is important to be prepared for inclement weather that can come with spring showers and take precautions against the heat during the warm, dry summer months.
2. Research the campgrounds – I have had the pleasure to camp all over the US, from the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, to the Ozarks in Arkansas, to the mega popular Yellowstone National Park; each one unique, beautiful and brought different challenges.
Popular state and national parks can book up to a year in advance, so as soon as you start planning your trip, book that cabin or campground asap! If you choose not to stay on the park grounds, campgrounds and RV parks outside the park can book up quickly too.
Don’t expect to always be able to just show up and get a campground. It pays to do a little research and look into the less popular areas, like the northern side of Yellowstone National Park, and choose to stay there as opposed to other super touristy areas.
Other things to keep in mind when choosing a campground:
-Confirm the check-in times. Unlike hotels, most state/national parks and some campgrounds don’t have access or staff working 24/7; and if you are running late you may not be able to access your campground.
-Check the resources. As you research the best campground for you and your family, check the resources the campground offers. Are there showers and laundry facilities? How close are these to your camp site (close is convenient but also means your campsite could be in a high traffic area)?
Do the campsites have picnic tables, grills or fire pits? Is drinking water free and accessible? Do the cabins have beds and bedding (many cabins do not!)? Do the campgrounds allow RV’s? Pets? How close is a grocery store or gas station, for supply runs for ice, charcoal, food or other forgotten necessities?
-Call a few days ahead. Especially if you booked your campsite months in advance, it is recommended that you call ahead and check on the current weather and fire bans in the area. Recent rainfall can cause flooding and road closures. And with dry, hot weather comes fire bans, which can prevent/limit camp cooking.
3. Plan activities – Being able to “disconnect” from the world is one of the many things that I love about camping. For me, I am personally happy with just hanging out around the fire pit daydreaming, visiting with friends, reading a good book or taking a hike to explore the park or to take a dip in a watering hole or lake.
However, others maybe looking for more entertainment. Packing sports equipment or games, like a Frisbee, waterproof playing cards, football, etc. is a great idea and helps pass the time. When selecting your campground, check to see if there are opportunities to go kayaking or rent tubes to float the river.
If hunting or fishing is on the agenda, check the local laws and acquire the proper permits ahead of time. Many state and national parks have visitors centers or museums on the park grounds and may offer specific programs, like star gazing parties, junior ranger programs, guided bird watching tours, etc. Some of these activities may be free with park/campground fees, or may come at an additional cost.
4. Pack accordingly – There is a TON of camping gear on the market, and while a lot of it is useful, some of it is unnecessary depending on the time of year you plan on camping and the other resources available on the campground. And obviously, if you are camping in a cabin or RV you may not need as much gear as if you are camping in a tent.
If you plan on camping regularly, investing in an easy to assemble and quality tent is a must! If you ask any die hard camper, a sleeping bag on the ground is all you need, however, if you need a little more cushion, I recommend camping cots for more long term use, since inflatable mattresses can get punctured easily.
Other basic necessities include tarps and rope, a rubber mallet/hammer, one flashlight per person (with spare batteries), a first aid kit, stick lighters, deep woods bug spray, closed toe shoes and water shoes, hand sanitizer and baby wipes. Before heading out, check all gear, even newly purchased equipment, to ensure everything works properly and is free from tears.
5. Thoroughly plan camp meals – Part of the camping fun is gathering around a fire pit, roasting marshmallows and making s’mores. But depending on the length of your camping trip, you may need a little more substance. 🙂 While roasting hot dogs or creating “foil packet” meals are fun, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, nutrition bars and trail mixes, are easy and can be made even if there are fire restrictions.
Other things to keep in mind when camp cooking:
– Research and create a meal plan. As you plan your trip, research your campsite and surrounding areas, taking note of the closest grocery store or gas station for ice refills or forgotten supplies. Call ahead to inquire about burn bans and to confirm on site grills/fire pits. Make a meal plan and grocery list based on your resources. Prep as much food (dicing veggies, preparing hard boiled eggs, etc.) at home and store properly in coolers and food storage containers.
– Store food properly. Perishable food should be stored in a well-sealed cooler and covered completely with ice. Drain old ice and add fresh ice frequently to ensure food is kept cool. Refrigerated items should always remain at 40 degrees F or colder. If refrigerated items reach temperatures above 40 degrees F, don’t risk food borne illness and throw it out.
Be mindful of bears and other animals. Never leave food out and unattended, and make sure all food and coolers are tightly sealed. Heavy duty plastic storage containers are a great way to store dry food and cooking supplies. Ideally food should be stored at least 100 feet and downwind from your sleeping area and be stored in a food locker; not a cabin, tent or car, especially if camping in bear country.
– Gather your supplies and know your cooking method. As you prepare your camping meal plan, gather the supplies and tools needed for preparing your food. Pots, utensils, can openers, aluminum foil, coal, stick lighters, lighter fluid, cleaning and sanitation supplies, ice and a meat thermometer are all items that should be packed.
Propane and charcoal grills, portable stoves, campfires, and even slow cookers are all popular camp cooking techniques, depending on your resources. No matter your preferred cooking technique, practice proper fire safety. Prepare your fire or grill well away from tents, and vegetation, never leave a fire unattended and have plenty of water on hand for emergencies.
6. Get your vehicle road trip ready – To get ready for any camping excursion and road trip, large or small, I have learned it is important to not only plan the route and itinerary, but make sure our cars are road trip ready. Getting an oil change, tire rotation and checking filters, wipers, etc. is always on the road trip/camping check list.
Other helpful car care reminders for camping:
-Pack a car emergency kit (with jumper cables, an empty gas can, etc.) and make sure you have the proper tools to change a flat tire. Since many campgrounds are in remote areas and often require driving on poorly paved roads, it it important to make sure you have the tools needed to do basic vehicle repairs, if needed.
-Note the closest gas stations. Not only is this useful for emergency ice runs, but it is a good idea to fill up your gas tank before reaching your campsite. Many larger state or national parks have areas only accessible by car, however the closest gas station could be 45 minutes away.
-Pack a local map. With technology these days it is easy to rely on our phones for navigation. However, in remote areas cell phone service may be unavailable. Pack maps of not only the area, but specifically the state parks, and reference them as you travel. It is also a good idea to let a friend or loved one know where you are headed and how long you plan to be on the road/camping.
Are you an avid camper? What are your best camping tips and where is your favorite place to pitch a tent? Please share in the comments below!