|Site 42, somewhere in New Jersey|
Where to camp, where to camp?
If you're like us, you're looking for something simple in a campsite - just a shady, little lot to call home for a few days. To pick one, we look around on the internet, call up a bunch of campgrounds and then we reserve a site without seeing it, except on an aerial map. (Check out reserveamerica.com, or google "state parks camping" and you'll find what you need. Sometimes we camp in private campgrounds, too. Try gocampingamerica.com or KOA, or just google "private campgrounds" and you'll turn them up.) We like a campground with features for kids, like nature trails, a playground and a lake or pool to swim in. Most campgrounds have ice in the front office and many have a snack bar or ice cream stand, too. That works for us.
After you look around for a while, you'll find a campground that you like. Maybe a friend recommended it or maybe there were a lot of pictures on the website, or you got a good feeling from the people who run the place. Yes, you need to talk to the people in the front office of the campground - that's probably the most important tip! Because not all campsites are created equally. Some have more privacy, some have a better layout (where you can park your car off to one side, for example), and some are bigger. So after you've looked at the maps and the photos and turned your laptop upside down to try to figure out which way the ocean is, talk to the people who run the place. Tell them what your needs are and ask their opinion. Try not to be too annoying about it and they will probably help you out.
Make sure your site has trees and shade. A little grass is nice, too, but don't camp in a meadow, or you'll get ticks. The site should be level, but raised up a little bit so it doesn't flood when it rains. (And if you're like us, it will rain every time you go camping.)
A view is nice. In fact, any view! We had a campsite once with a view of a big meadow with cows in it. That was nice. Of course there was an electric fence surrounding the whole thing. We found that out the hard way.
Avoid platform campsites - that means they've built a platform on a hillside to make a level area for your tent. The rest of the campsite will be on a slant. That means your kids will go tumbling down the hill every five minutes, like Jack and Jill.
If you're tent camping, get a site with the other tents, not the RVs. It's kind of unsettling to be sandwiched between two giant RVs in your humble, little tent. Especially when they get to watch The Biggest Loser and you don't.
Some people like to be closer to or further away from the bathrooms (depending on how often and when you need to go) but it's always good to be close to a water source to fill up your jugs with free water. You can usually see the water spigots on a map. We also try to choose a site not too far from whatever amenity we think the kids are going to like the most, like the beach, pool or playground. Avoid campsites near the dump.
Get to the campground on the early side. If you get there in a timely manner and you hate your campsite, you might be able to change it. But at 6pm, probably not. (And just so you know, we never get anywhere early. But don't be like us.) Oh, and I know this is obvious, but be nice to the nice campground people. They don't have to give you a different site, but they probably will.
I think our best campsite yet was at the Recompense campground in Freeport, Maine. It was a nice campground but what made it so great is that our friends up there went to the campground and scouted it out for us. They chose a site that was large and set back from the road, so we had lots of room and some privacy, too. I know you probably won't have local friends where you go camping, but it's great if you can you scout out a site beforehand.
While you're camping, check out the other sites in the campground for future trips. And when you're on the highway and you see a sign for a campground, take the exit and check it out. Drive the whole loop of the campground and write down the numbers of the sites you like. Sure, you may never go back there ... or you may! Like, next weekend.
And remember, there probably is no perfect campsite, so just pick one that feels right, set up your tent and have fun. And don't touch the fence!