How to Find the Right Camping/Glamping Site for You

The question I get most often after a weekend trip with Grace and Casper is: how do you find places to camp that are actually nice and not crowded/gross? Today I want to share what we've learned over a few years of getaways at different price points, distances from home, levels of rustic-ness, etc.

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I have found that there are a few key questions you should ask yourself before planning a getaway, whether a year in advance or the day before leaving:

  • How far are you willing to drive?
  • What's the budget? Consider fuel cost here as well; a 6-hour trip each way will likely require at least a couple of tanks of gas
  • Special requirements? Such as: pet friendly; accessible; parking available nearby; kitchen or grill included?
  • How much do you want to rough it? Camping, glamping, or a more traditional hotel/home rental experience?
  • How lucky are you? Do you want to risk a walk-in only campsite, or for peace of mind, do you want to have a reservation in advance?
  • Finally, what gear do you have available? Do you need a tent/sleeping mat, or is that included with the rental?

Below, I am going to talk about my top tips for planning an amazing getaway on a variety of budgets and advance planning time. Overall, I hope this post encourages you that it IS possible to plan a great getaway a week or less in advance, and also inspires you to consider the incredible one-of-a-kind destinations you can experience if you plan a little further out.

 Camping a couple of years ago in California wine country

Camping a couple of years ago in California wine country

Regular Old Tent Camping

This is the first type of camping or getaway that Grace and I did together, and it's still a favorite. Most campsites are government-owned and can be reserved through reserveamerica.com and recreation.gov. Some states (such as Utah, I recently learned) have their own version that's pretty easy to find. The biggest tip and resource I can offer regarding government campsites is to check out campsitephotos.com. On that site, you can see a picture of every campsite at any government campground! So for instance, if you see site #62 on the campground map and you think it looks good, you can go to campsitephotos.com and see whether it's actually nice or offers shade, etc. Also, most campgrounds have a Yelp and/or TripAdvisor review page (a lot of people think it's just hotels and restaurants!). If you're thinking about booking a campsite, I recommend searching within the reviews for the word "site." In my experience, this usually brings up a ton of reviews like "Site #21 is the biggest!" or "Avoid Site #10, it's right beside the restrooms." I have found some great sites within a campground by searching reviews.

Pros of camping at a campground: very cheap (almost always under $50, sometimes as low as $15/night); amenities such as restrooms, water, and firewood are usually provided; rangers and campsite hosts are around if that makes you feel better about safety.

Cons: sometimes crowded and some sites are better than others; you may sacrifice privacy; often fill up fast and it can be nearly impossible to snag a last minute site.

 "Glamping" in a tent cabin in Big Sur

"Glamping" in a tent cabin in Big Sur

"Glamping" Using Private Land and Rentals

This category is the sweet spot that is probably Grace's and my favorite overall. We use two main websites to find private land to camp on and rustic cabins, treehouses, vintage trailers, etc.: Airbnb and Hipcamp. Many people I talk to think that Airbnb offers only houses and apartments to rent, but it actually has a decent amount of private campsites and more rustic accommodations! Tip for finding them: put in your preferred location and dates (along with any other filters such as Pets Allowed) into the Airbnb search function. Then click the box for "entire home/apartment" and lower the maximum price to $100-$200. This tends to pull up more rustic options as well as raw land to camp on. We have found some really cool places using this tool.

Hipcamp is lesser-known and often has last-minute availability. Quick example: a couple of days ago, Grace's friend from work (hi, Norma, if you're reading!) asked Grace for advice on planning a trip to Joshua Tree for Memorial Day weekend, which is only one week away. She would also be bringing her dog on this trip. Joshua Tree is an incredibly popular destination in Southern California, especially for a holiday weekend. Almost everything seemed booked. Enter Hipcamp--there were several places available within a mile or two of the park gates! In my experience, it's always possible to figure out something if you have the desire to get out of town and a willingness to try something non-traditional.

I recently found out about another website called GlampingHub, and I have also been wanting to try VRBO and HomeAway. If anyone has experience with these sites, I'd love to hear about it!

 The adorable living room of an Airbnb we rented a couple of years ago in Joshua Tree.

The adorable living room of an Airbnb we rented a couple of years ago in Joshua Tree.

More Traditional Hotel/Home Rentals

Sometimes you just need the comforts of a hotel and all its amenities. Exhibit A:

 Relaxing at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa was heavenly after several days of camping prior.

Relaxing at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa was heavenly after several days of camping prior.

As much as camping and getting out into nature is our thing, it is nice to treat yourself to something a little more luxurious every once in a while. It's especially fun when you can stay somewhere that combines being close to nature with access to a comfortable bed and all the amenities. For these places, a little more advance planning is usually necessary. Believe it or not, I booked some of the spots for our Alaska road trip a whole year in advance! Below I have listed a few examples of this type of accommodation (both hotels and home rentals) that we have enjoyed in the past or would like to go one day.

A few places we've stayed and enjoyed: Ojai Valley Inn and Spa; Hotel Cote Vert (a little hillside country hotel in Waterloo, Belgium); this home rental in the San Bernardino hills; and this home rental outside Yosemite

Places I have booked and am excited to visit in the coming months: home rentals in Joshua Tree; Helena, Montana; Anchorage, Alaska; Portland, Oregon; and Berkeley, California (my Airbnb upcoming trips list is stacked, haha!); Opus Hotel in Vancouver; and this adorable cabin in the wild Yukon Territory in Canada

Places I dream of staying one day: this Airstream in the Malibu moutains; the Resort at Paws Up in Montana; Double Eagle Resort in June Lake, California; L'Auberge de Sedona in Arizona; and Sundance Resort in Utah (all dog friendly!)

Best of luck planning your next getaway! As always, feel free to leave a comment or use my Contact page--I'd love to hear where you're going next!

Grace and I are going camping in Big Bear, California, this weekend--stay tuned for an update next week :)

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 Heart eyes for these cabin ceilings from one of our recent getaways!

Heart eyes for these cabin ceilings from one of our recent getaways!

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