What to Avoid
With the rise of online booking, you can’t always survey the land to pick your prime locale. Whenever that’s the case, read reviews and look at photos on sites like Reserve America, Hipcamp, and the Dyrt for specific campsite recommendations. You can also call the campground for insider information before reserving.
Some online reservations are for general space at the campground, and you select your actual campsite on a first-come, first-served basis when you get there. In this situation, it’s best to arrive mid- to late-morning—when the previous night’s campers are likely to be leaving—to scout out your spot.
If picking your site in-person, don’t choose a site on a slope or one that’s scattered with rocks and roots. Assess potential neighbors too. “You can tell a lot about how people are going to behave if you look closely at how they set up their campsite,” says Heather Wicksted, an outdoor-travel blogger who runs Reason2Roam.com. “Is their campsite filled with garbage or unattended food? Do they have power cords leading to a large stereo or generator? [If so,] steer clear.”
Those looking for peace and quiet should also give group sites a wide berth: “Maybe you’re OK if the Boy Scout troop next door plays the bugle at dawn, but most people would prefer to forgo that,” says Silberberg.
Sidestep spots that seem to intrude on wildlife, including those near creeks or standing water. “Make sure you’re not in a gully or ravine, in case it rains,” says Jeff Wilson, a PBS travel show host who spends at least 75 nights camping and backpacking each year. “Even a small, shallow dip can become a lake in a downpour."
Finally, make sure that there are no iffy trees or boulders within your site’s “fall zone.” Check for dead trees and dangling branches, as well as large rocks that may be unstable uphill from the site you’re considering.