Step 3. Pick a Spot
For many people, national parks come first to mind when considering where to camp. This is understandable, since these protected lands contain America's most famous landmarks, offer much in the way of activities and sightseeing, maintain secure and comfortable campgrounds, and can be booked well in advance. On the other hand, national parks can be crowded, and reservations can be expensive and tough to get.
State parks are similar in that the scenery is likely to be remarkable, sites can be reserved ahead of time, and there are plenty of amenities, including—frequently— electricity at RV sites. However, if you’re looking for a quiet, off-the-grid feel, you may not find this at state parks, which attract many admirers.
Craving a more rugged experience? Consider federal lands like national forests and areas that are under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. BLM land is isolated and uncrowded—great if you’re looking to unplug and be self-reliant. These off-the-beaten-path places tend to be wild and beautiful, fee-free, with plenty of availability. However, campsites are primitive, with few to no amenities offered. Those who camp on federal land should have plenty of know-how, their own time-tested gear, and a clear sense of where they’re going; novices, however, can start off with a night or two and work their way up. (Reservations can be made at recreation.gov; be sure to check with the National Forest or BLM offices to make sure you find the right location.)
On the other end of the spectrum, glamping resorts provide all the comforts of home while immersing you in the great outdoors. Staffers serve hot meals and offer organized events like hikes, games, and day trips, which might include activities like zip lining or whitewater rafting. Be ready to pay plenty more than your typical camping site, and book well in advance, since they fill up fast.
Smart Tip: You can search AAA-approved campsites and use websites like Reserve America and Hipcamp to book your site as soon as you know you’re going camping since campsites book up quickly. If you’re going without reservations, arrive as early as possible to nab a site, and have a backup plan ready, just in case.
Wherever you go, confirm in advance which amenities you’ll have available—running water, toilets, showers, firewood, electrical outlets, wifi?—and pack accordingly.
Consider, too, that you may not have cell coverage or electrical outlets, so download maps onto your phone, and bring paper maps just in case. Visit your local AAA branch for free maps and TourBook Guides, plus customized TripTik planners that chart out your camping journey. Do plan ahead: Depending on the branch, some TripTik maps may take two weeks to be delivered.