What you need to know about camping in the USA – tips and tricks.

I have never camped before. I had no idea how to pitch a tent and I could hardly describe a stake. But is there anything more American than going out in the wild camping? Maybe just riding a mechanical bull… 🙂

I’ve spent most of my trip in the USA camping, not only for an American experience but also for economic reasons. The prices of private rooms in average hostels usually start from 60$ and it’s usually quite far from national parks. A campsite costs around three times less and the campgrounds are often located in or very close to the national parks.

Camping in the USA – how does it work?

Types of campgrounds:


Federal campgrounds can be found on http://www.recreation.gov/, you can also book your place there. You have your campsite number, you come there, pitch a tent and enjoy your holiday 🙂 In some places you have to register. I highly recommend you to book your place early – places disappear very fast, especially on the best located campgrounds  in busy time of the year or week. If you don’t anage to book a place – don’t panic. There are other options. But let’s talk money first 🙂

Prices and conditions on federal campground in the USA:

The price of a campsite on federal camping is 20$ on average. Prices for RVs are higher but I don’t know the details. It’s cheaper in some places – but you also should expect worse conditions there. For example, an ecological toilet (i.e. a hole in the ground 🙂 ). Each campground provides potable water but not all of them have showers or laundries. The cost of the shower is usually 2$ for a certain amount of minutes (8-15)  but we also paid 5$. The internet is available on some campgrounds but most of them is completely disconnected. Some campgrounds have additional safety rules because of the bears. All the food, toiletries and everything that can smell tasty for a bear must be stored in a bear-proof box.


camping in the USA


camping in the USA

camping in the USA


First come-first served campgrounds – how does it work?

As I mentioned before, if you didn’t manage to book a campsite before, there’s another option. Some campgrounds don’t accept any reservations and they accept guests based on first come-first served rule. From the very morning the line of cars appears near the campground entrance. When the first guest leaves – the first person in line is accepted.

If you want to hunt for such campsite, arrive early, before the registration of new guests open. This way you will take a place in front of the queue and you will for sure get a place for your mobile home 🙂 And you won’t have to wait too long for it. We used this kind of campground in Zion National Park. The registration started at 7, we arrived there at 6:50. There was around twenty cars in front of us. We were waiting for our place for one hour and a half. If it had been a weekend we would have probably arrived at 6.

Prices and conditions are similar to the federal campgrounds where you can book a place.


Private campgrounds

Private campground is another option to consider. You won’t find them on recreation.gov, they can be found separately. We used two private campgrounds – Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas close to Antylope Canyon and Ruby’s Inn near Bryce Canyon. We didn’t have any problems with reservations here – we booked the places a few days before arrival.

Prices and conditions on private campgrounds in the USA:

The prices are higher – campground near Lake Powell cost 26$ / night and Ruby’s Inn – 30$. On the other hand, the conditions are much better. Nice bathrooms, sometimes even with hot water (that’s such a luxury!). Unlimited access to free showers, laundry, good wifi. They are in great location. The first campground was near the beach by Lake Powell and Ruby’s Inn was near the very entrance to Bryce Canyon, next to a free shuttle stop. Ruby’s Inn even had a swimming pool! 🙂 Five stars in the category.

camping in the USA

camping in the USA

You can also try to look for a free camping spot. One option is camping at Walmart – most of these stores allow overnight parking 🙂

General tips and tricks:

– I’ll repeat – if you can, book your place in advance even a few months in advance. Then you will be able to get a place on the best campground the closest to your point of interest. Just in case, the reservation can be cancelled.

– if all is booked, check recreation.gov anyway. We were lucky enough to find a place on North Rim Campground, just a few steps from the rim two days before arrival. Someone cancelled the reservation and we took the place! 🙂

– think about renting a Jucy RV. It’s a mini camper which has everything you need and a cost of renting it is not too high. I’ve heard that you can find even better deals on Groupon. I didn’t know about this option before but I think it’s worth considering.

– we didn’t camp in the wild but as far as I know it’s allowed outside of the national parks. I’ve heard that you can even ask a park ranger for advice where to camp in the wild safely and they will tell you.

– make sure you take all the essentials with you – take a look at these lightweight sleeping bags if you don’t have one yet and check this camping packing list for easier reference

Do you want to make great coffee while you camp? Choose your best travel coffe maker here and you’ll never have to drink a terrible one during your trip again 🙂

Camping is very popular in the USA and I must say that I like it a lot. Thanks to camping we were spending our evenings with Adam talking by the fire, instead of watching a series on the laptop. It’s a good reminder that we should forget about civilization sometimes and just drink wine and talk – about the meaning of life or if we enjoyed our dinner that night.

I think that with those tips you can take your tent and go out in the wild for your American experience and your evenings by the fire. All I have left is to find a mechanical bull… 🙂

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