Currently, it is 90 degrees and humid in Jacksonville, Florida. However, it is about 70 degrees and quite comfortable in the AC controlled space of our 24 foot camper, RAIF, which is parked in a state park about a half mile from the beach. So, how do you find the best camp spot?
We never used to camp like this; we were tent campers. And we loved every minute of the time spent outdoors including blizzard cold, rain soaked, and heat blistering times. Now we live in an RV, and that changes everything…
Ok, not everything. We still have to find that perfect spot regardless of if we are in a tent, an RV, a camper van, or whatever you take with you to camp, and regardless of whether you live in an RV or camper van or tent or whether it’s just a camping trip. We all want to find that perfect spot.
So what is the best way to find the best camp spot?
We came from Colorado, so boondocking was always our first choice, although when we tent camped we had never heard of this term. To us it was dispersed camping. In other words, we didn’t pay for campgrounds; we simply found spots in the mountains with established fire rings (some didn’t even have those), a place to park our car, and a place to set up a tent. Then we enjoyed a beautiful nature-filled weekend of hiking, drinking, eating, and escaping from the city until we had to drag our asses back on Sunday afternoon waiting for the next weekend to do it all again.
Thankfully, we have changed that scenario; we get to camp whenever we want now, albeit with a few more needed necessities.
STEP ONE in finding the best camp spot:
Are you tent camping with a car and everything but the kitchen sink, including pets? On that note, have you ever wanted to travel with pets but were unsure of how to do so? How about a pet friendly RV rental?
Do you want an actual flushing toilet, or is an outhouse, or even the woods ok with you?
Do you want a shower facility, or are you one with nature?
Do you want electricity? Consider this answer carefully, especially if you are mountain biking in the deserts of Utah or on the beach in southern Florida in July, or the peaks of Colorado in late October.
And while the weather isn’t really something you can choose, you should definitely consider it. Can you handle the rain, wind, sleet, snow, or whatever Mother Nature decides to throw at you last minute?
STEP TWO in finding the best camp spot:
How far do you want to drive and what do you want to do when you get there?
When we lived in Denver, we always wanted to camp in the mountains, so that meant generally a 90 minute drive. Now that we live and travel in an RV, we could drive more, but that also means more gas, less work time, and less time to enjoy a new area.
When we were weekend warriors, we set up camp for three or four days, maybe did a bit of hiking or biking in the area, but basically we didn’t move. We sat around with friends, drinking, eating, laughing, and completely forgetting about the real world.
Now that we live in our RV and traveling and camping are the real world, we don’t normally just pick a spot to veg out. So, ask yourself the following questions and go from there.
What is your goal when camping? To simply sleep for a night on the way to somewhere else, or to spend a couple of weeks or so in one spot allowing you to get to know the place, the people, the land, or somewhere in between?
Are you camping because it is an inexpensive way to travel and visit new places?
Are you looking for a quiet place to relax or get work done?
Do you want adventure? Are you looking for trails to hike or mountain bike? Do you want to play with toys, like an ATV or a boat?
Do you want to play in the snow or the water?
For example, we camped outside of DC in a state park, but it had easy access to the subway for us to get to know the DC area more without having to spend hundreds of dollars a night on a hotel room. Other times, we have planted ourselves in the middle of nowhere to simply enjoy nature, and we didn’t meander far from our site, ever. We have camped for a week both in the mountains and next to the ocean, giving us time to work and play. And of course, we have camped to find the best places for a beer!
STEP THREE in finding the best camp spot:
How much are you willing to pay?
Free camping in the west is pretty easy to find, but you generally won’t have any amenities except what you bring with you. As you travel east, these spots become few and far between, especially closer to the big cities.
Camping in less populated regions will generally cost less than touristy regions. Breckenridge, Colorado, a popular mountain town both in winter and summer, offers a galore of camping spots ranging from free in the nearby mountains to $100 night RV parks. Beach spots in the Carolinas and Florida, for example, can range anywhere from $15 (free sometimes if you don’t need much or have much to bring with you) to well over $100 a night. Keep in mind the free spots and cheaper spots that take reservations can be booked up to a year in advance.
This is a struggle for us because we wing it most of the time. We are not planners and usually make spur of the moment decisions.
STEP FOUR in finding the best camp spot:
Use the Internet and Apps, but use them wisely.
There are many apps and websites available to help you choose the best spot, but be careful, it can get overwhelming very quickly. Do your research or take advice and recommendations from friends, like us.
We use Campendium, Free Campsites, Allstays, and Harvest Hosts.
Honestly, that’s probably one too many (three choices are usually the best), but we have found that these usually hit most of the available spots from boondocking to glamping.
Our go to is generally Campendium. This free app and website gives a good variety of paid and free camp spots in nature, RV parks, parking lots, and even dump stations for those with RV’s that don’t often use RV parks. It includes reviews from other campers as well as cell service availability. For those trying to get away, this is not a necessity. In fact, I encourage you to find spots that have no accessibility, allowing you to hide from your cell phone. However, for those of us that are living in our RV’s, most of us are still also working and need a signal in order to stay the night or two or more, so this is an extremely valuable tool.
If we can’t find a free or inexpensive spot (or we really want all the glamour of hookups) on Campendium, we will then refer to freecampsites.net. True to its name, it lists free and inexpensive spots usually in nature and not dealing in RV parks. Although we have found a few great spots here that work for our RV, these are often backcountry spots needing high clearance vehicles, but not always. Oh, how I miss my Jeep.
If we only need a spot for a night, then we generally check out a membership site first, called Harvest Hosts. You have to be self contained to use this, so no tent campers, but for only $79 (at the time of this article) a year, you get access to thousands of places to spend the night…for free…at vineyards, breweries, farms, and orchards. While you do not have to pay, we usually end up spending more money just because we want to sample the wine, the beer, the food, and it is oh so good, and so worth it. Talk about a unique camping experience. One of our favorite spots was an Apple Orchard in Maine where we got to pick fresh apples from the orchard and bought fresh apple-fed beef. Yum!
Our last resort is parking lots. Again, these wouldn’t work for tent campers, but for everyone else, they are actually a pretty good option if you just need a place to stay for the night. Campendium will give you a good start on these, but our go to for parking lot stays is Allstays. For only $9.99, this site and app will save you the grief and worry of getting kicked out of a parking lot in the middle of the night. Not all Walmart lots allow parking now, but most still do, along with many Cracker Barrels, sporting goods stores, and many small town parks. Some places will surprise you. We stayed in a Walmart parking lot in New Jersey in the back corner next to a forest of trees. It was actually quite comfortable.
STEP FIVE in finding the best camp spot:
Dismiss Option Overload
Once you have an idea of what you need for your perfect camping spot, don’t let option overload shut you down. Choose a spot, and be as flexible as you can. Be open-minded and not too picky. Enjoy your spot, even if it’s not perfect. It’s the only time you have at that moment. Don’t screw it up by thinking about what you could’ve had when you can make what you have the perfect spot simply by changing your attitude.
If you worry too much about all the other choices out there, you could get option overload, which could cause you to shut down and never make a decision. It’s like trying to choose the best rock or shell on a beach. It won’t work. Avoid the “What if I choose wrong?” mentality, and go for the, “Let’s make it great!” attitude instead.
STEP SIX in finding the best camp spot:
Once I started following my own advice, life got much easier. We have stayed in parking lots, parking garages, city parks, RV parks, state parks, forest roads, and city streets. All of these options have given us the world, ranging from great people watching sites, cozy nights, a few sleepless nights, lakeside views, ocean front, a canopy of palm trees, 14’ers as our neighbors, many neighbors, no neighbors, and the list continues to amaze us.
It doesn’t matter if you are weekend warriors, seasonal travelers, or full time RV’ers, what matters is that whatever spot you find, you make it perfect.