So you’ve decided you want to go camping. You can just imagine the fun you’ll have getting back to nature, making memories, and capturing some awesome photos. Are you ready to plan your trip but have no idea where to go camping?
If you are a beginner camper, certain campgrounds provide amenities and options that make your first camping adventure easier. Are you a seasoned camper? Keep reading – I think you’ll agree that these are some of the best campgrounds for beginner campers.
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Camping at State Parks
State parks are a wonderful choice for first time campers. Georgia State Parks even has a First Time Camper program complete with tent/equipment loan for your first camping stay.
Tip: Looking for your first tent? Check out this best-selling, affordable tent. It is great for new and experienced campers!
Most state parks are closer to home than other options and convenient for a weekend getaway. A fun camping trip doesn’t have to be a long vacation. Honestly, it will be easier to start with just a night or two.
Many state parks offer extra activities and ranger programs, classes, and events. This is a great introduction to outdoor activities and a wonderful way to discover if a new hobby is worth pursuing.
Popular activities include canoe/kayak/paddle board rentals, fishing, nature hikes, bike trails, swimming, archery, history demos and more!
Park rangers and campground hosts are often available to answer questions, provide assistance and offer recommendations for hikes and activities during your stay.
In my experience, most state parks provide at least a picnic table and fire ring/grill at each campsite. Some have posts to hang a lantern, water spigot, and electricity access at each site. If a water spigot is not a each site, several are usually throughout the campground.
Many state parks have real bathrooms with toilets that flush and showers, sometimes referred to as comfort stations. Others have toilets and sinks but no showers. I know access to a real bathroom and shower are deal breakers for some people!
If you select a primitive campsite amenities will vary. Picnic tables may not be available and the bathroom may be a pit toilet or the woods. Some primitive sites require a hike or walk to and others have parking for your vehicle at each site.
We love Tennessee’s Hiwassee Ocoee State Park. It is a small campground and all the sites are considered primitive since there isn’t water and electric at each site, but they do have bathrooms with showers and you can park at your campsite.
State Park Camping Reservations and Fees
Many state parks have a nominal entrance fee. Five dollars per vehicle or a couple dollars per person is common. Some parks, like Tennessee State Parks, have no entrance fee. Visit Georgia Public Libraries to “check out” a pass for free Georgia State Park admission. Check your state park for specials.
Campsites range from $10.00 -$40.00 a night. An average is usually around $30.00 a night. A primitive site will usually be the cheapest and a site with water and electric will cost more.
Reservation systems vary. Some parks don’t offer reservations (first come, first serve), some allow you to reserve but not choose your specific site, and others allow you to select your site when reserving. Reservations are usually made online or by phone.
State Parks are Perfect Campgrounds for Beginners
State parks are funded on a state level and amenities and upkeep of the parks can vary greatly. Their locations, affordability, access to rangers and programs make state parks one of the best campgrounds for beginner campers. State parks are often sadly overlooked compared to epic National Parks. Just consider the famous Appalachian Trail’s approach trail begins in a Georgia State Park, Amicalola Falls, and ends in Maine’s Baxter State Park.
Camping at National Parks
People have been camping at National Parks for years and even non campers have heard of Grand Canyon National Park, Yellowstone, and the National Park Service’s most visited park – The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It is no surprise that National Parks are many bucket list camping destinations.
Even though there are hundreds of NPS campgrounds to choose from, they may not be as close to home as state parks. So location and proximity may make planning your National Park camping trip a little tougher.
Like state parks, many National Parks offer ranger programs, activities and events. Concessioners ( private companies that work with the NPS ) offer services and activities like horse back riding, canoe rental/marina operations, guide services etc. for an extra fee.
Rangers, park employees, and campground hosts are usually available for assistance and recommendations. Look for the iconic ranger hat!
Some campgrounds still sport their 1950s era design and offer a rustic camping experience. Most campsites do NOT have electricity and water at the sites. Although bathrooms are available, not all have showers. Some National Park campgrounds that have showers charge a fee for their use.
National Parks Camping Fees
Many national parks charge an entrance fee that ranges from $5.00 to $20.00 per individual or $10.00 to $35.00 per vehicle. Depending on the number of people in your party, it is usually cheaper to pay per vehicle. For a list of entrance fees by park, check out the NPS website.
America the Beautiful passes can be purchased for $80.00 and offers the pass owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private, noncommercial vehicle entrance to Federally operated recreational sites across the country. Seniors age 62 and older can obtain an annual pass for $20.00 or a lifetime pass for $80.00. Current US military, park volunteers who contribute 250 or more hours, and US 4th grade students are eligible for FREE America the Beautiful passes.
The NPS also offers several entrance fee FREE days throughout year.
Campsite fees for national parks vary depending on the park and campground itself within the park as most parks have several campgrounds. Most fees are $10.00 – $35.00 a night. For example, at Grand Canyon National Park campsites average $12.00.-$24.00 a site with a RV site at Trailer Village approximately $50.00 a night. Sites at Grand Teton National Park average $28.00 – $30.00 a night, with RV sites/campgrounds as much as $74.00 a night.
National Park Camping Reservations
Reservation availability also varies depending on the park. Some sites can be reserved, usually through an online system, but many can not. Some campsites are first come, first served and that often means early morning arrival to the campground and waiting in line for sites to empty. (That process could have its own post!)
If reservations are available, links to the reservation system will be provided. Your best bet is to go the website of the park you plan on visiting, navigate to their Camping page, and obtain the info there. Recreation.gov is another option for finding campsites at and near the national parks. Some campgrounds are operated by concessioners, so reservation would not be available through recreation.gov. Again, check the park’s website for this info.
Tip: If you are planning a trip to a national park, check out Dirt in My Shoes. Ash is a former park ranger, and her awesome site is dedicated to providing information about America’s national parks.
National Parks are a Good Choice for Beginners
There is no doubt that national parks are popular choices for camping. Along with that popularity can come crowds and campsite availability issues. Despite this, I do believe national parks are a good choice for beginner campers with their epic views, bucket list hikes and activities.
Related Post: The Ultimate Guide to Camping in National Forests
Related Post: The Best Tent Buying Guide: How to Choose Your First Tent
Privately Owned Campgrounds
Some of my favorite campgrounds are those privately owned by individuals and families. I enjoy finding new campgrounds, but it is also wonderful to visit the same campground and see a familiar face. The owners are often staff members and are fully invested in making your camping stay an awesome experience. It is also fun to see a family owned campground grow and evolve over the years.
Campground staff and hosts are usually available for assistance, often willing to go the extra mile to help you out. Organized programs and activities vary, but it is not unusual to find events like outdoor church services and campground potlucks.
Amenities vary, but many campgrounds have tent and RV sites, offering primitive to full hook up sites. Most have bathrooms with showers and some even have clubhouses and laundry facilities. The neat thing about privately owned campgrounds is the huge diversity. Some are small and simple and others are large with extra nice amenities.
Campsite fees usually range from $20.00 to $50.00 a site. Some campgrounds have websites and online reservations and others require a phone call.
KOA campgrounds are a franchise and each campground is individually owned. With over 500 campgrounds across the US, it shouldn’t be hard to find a KOA. Just look for the yellow sign! As with any franchise, company standards should be met, along with the personal service of an owner operated campground.
KOA Journey campgrounds are located near the highways of North America and perfect for travelers. KOA Holiday campgrounds are great for exploring a local area and offer plenty of amenities and activities. KOA Resort campgrounds offer staff-led activities, resort style pools and even restaurants/delis on site.
KOA campgrounds are popular with RVers, although most also offer tent sites. KOA is great for families, and we have always enjoyed our stay.
Reservations are offered online and fees vary. Depending on the location, tent sites can be a little pricey – $35.00 to $60.00 a site during peak season. Keep in mind, some of the campgrounds are offering more of an outdoor resort atmosphere and are priced accordingly. A KOA Value Kard can be purchased for $30.00 a year for 10% savings and a free night of camping during Value Kard Rewards Appreciation Weekend, plus other perks.
The Best Campgrounds for Beginners
Whether you choose a state park, national park, or a privately owned campground, your first season camping is sure to be exciting! I hope you have some ideas of where to go camping now. Research online before you go and check for amenities that are important to you. I can’t wait to hear about your first camping trip!