Choose a Campsite

A good campsite can really help make for a great trip. We have assembled some campsite selection tips to help you make a wise choice. Never forget, good campsites are found, not made.

  • Research camping regulations or permit requirements for the area in which you are camping.
  • Check availability of established campsites and use them when available.
  • If established campsites aren’t available then you will have to choose a site for yourself.
  • Choose a site appropriate for the size of your group.
  • Choose a campsite that will have minimum impact on the environment
  • Practice low-impact camping to protect the environment from harm, and ensure that there will still be quality campsites out there for future campers. Choose previously impacted sites, or pitch your tent on a durable surface like a rock slab or forest duff. Use multiple walking paths to access your water source and cathole areas.
  • If you are camping ‘”on the trail” start your site search well before dark; you have just 30 minutes of good visibility after sunset.
  • Set your tent on a durable surface like rock, bare ground, sand, or gravel to protect fragile areas. Your camping pad will make all of these sites comfortable and you will reduce your impact on the environment.
  • Camp at least 200 feet away from water yet make certain water is accessible for your needs.
  • If fires are permitted keep them small and use only OFFICIAL fire rings or a fire-pan according to area rules.
  • A good campsite will have a clearing for your tent that is on relatively flat, well-drained terrain
  • Place your sleeping bag in the tent so your head is at the highest point in the tent.
  • You want a campsite that has some elevation and not in a depression.
  • Ground that has a slight rise will help to avoid puddles in case of rain.
  • Pick a campsite that will allow you relax.
  • Be aware of regulations regarding how close to trails and scenic areas you can camp.
  • For privacy and to be courteous of others, choose a site away from trails and out of view of other campers.

When choosing your campsite make sure that it is safe.

  • In rocky terrain beware of snake-infested ledges.
  • Avoid areas known for avalanches and rock slides.
  • Don’t camp at the bottom of cliffs with loose or falling rocks.
  • Camp over the high-water mark in dry stream beds or river canyons subject to flash floods.
  • Beware of areas that have lots of poison ivy or oak.
  • Don’t camp under “widow makers” (fallen trees leaning on other trees) or threatening limbs.
  • Use natural wind blocks like large boulders, rock outcroppings, or dense stands of trees protect against high winds.
  • Tall, dominant trees and single trees or small clumps of trees are targets for lightening and should be avoided.
  • Dense stands of trees, all the same height, in a relatively low area, away from water offer the best protection from lightning.

Consider these facts and use them to your advantage depending upon the time of year you are camping.

  • Avoid tall grassy meadows because chiggers, ticks, ants, and other bugs like to live there.
  • Avoid areas heavy with mosquitoes and other insects.
  • Mosquitoes like low marshy places, still water, tall grass, and bracken fern.
  • Breezes can keep down insect numbers. Keep up wind of mosquito holes. Mosquitos travel with the wind not against it.
  • Breezes blow up canyons or mountains during the day, and down at night. Cold air flows downhill, so higher land will be warmer at night.
  • Situate your tent to either help air move through the tent in warm weather or to minimize the effect of air movement in cold temperatures.
  • Hollows and valleys are usually the wettest, coldest, and foggiest spots around.
  • If you camp near a mountain steam, cold air travels down water corridors and settles in these low places.
  • Cold air collects in meadows.
  • When winter camping, don’t set your tent or build a fire under trees that have snow on their branches.
  • Seek shady forests in the summer.
  • Morning sun will dry tents and warm you up. Afternoon shade will shield you from the hot sun.
  • Maximize southern exposure on cold days.
  • Choose a dry, sunlit spot with a steady breeze in mosquito country.

Always have a backup plan and remember proper planning will save you from having to settle for a campsite that is far from ideal. When you are happy and enjoying a trip any good site can become a “perfect campsite”.