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Carly Eisley

There are many different types of campgrounds and campsites throughout the United States, and it can be very confusing to navigate the differences between them when trying to plan an Escape Campervans trip. Because of that, we created a quick and simple United States camping guide to help you along the way! 

Here is a breakdown of the most common types of camping available in the US, along with a summary of their common amenities (or lack thereof).  From quiet isolated campsites to poolside lounging near a city, there is a campsite out there for every Escape camper!

South Campground Zion

Check Out The US National Parks!

One of the highlights of US recreation areas is the National Parks.  Parks like Yosemite, Zion, Yellowstone, and Arches (just to name a few) have some of the most unique and stunning landscapes in the country, if not the world.  Most national parks have several camping options within the park’s borders, accommodating everything from large RVs to hiking in tent-only sites.  

These campgrounds are by far the most convenient way to access the parks, often bypassing the need to drive once you are within the park by offering easy access to trailheads and shuttles.  Typical amenities include access to water, a bathroom, and a picnic table/fire ring at your campsite.  Showers are usually available somewhere close by, but often not right in the campground itself.   

There are a few tradeoffs for convenience.  These campgrounds often fill up very quickly during the parks’ busy seasons (usually booking starts 6 months out), requiring a fair amount of advanced planning if you are set on staying in a particular area.  There are often cancellations as dates get closer, so with some diligence, you can score a last-minute site.  

These campgrounds are usually quite crowded with minimal privacy, as they are in high demand due to their locations.   If the park and campground are open year-round, sites are often first come first serve, and much easier to come by in the off-season.  

  • Where to book:  www.recreation.gov, with links to each campground within the respective national park website as well.  Some parks have first come first serve campgrounds and campsites for those who prefer more last-minute or spontaneous trips.
  • When to book: Availability for most sites opens on a rolling basis 6 months in advance.  Flexibility helps – if you miss the initial booking window check back frequently, as sites will also open up through cancellations closer to your travel dates.
  • Cost: Average $20-$30 per night, depending on site type (i.e., tent vs RV with hookup)

Campground in Dillion Colorado

Do Not Skip Over The Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is found predominantly throughout the western portion of the United States.  BLM is federally managed recreation land, open for activities like camping, hiking, biking, and hunting.  There are two types of BLM camping – developed campgrounds and dispersed camping.  

Developed campground areas charge a fee and include basic amenities such as pit toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables at your site.  Some campgrounds may offer additional perks like restrooms, potable water, electrical hookups, picnic areas, garbage cans, tent pads, and group shelters.  Many of these are first come first serve, with some reservable options.  

Dispersed camping is free and no-frills.  These camping areas are typically pull-offs on the side of secondary or forest roads within BLM land boundaries.  It is recommended to try to utilize pre-existing sites to minimize the impact on the land.  There are no facilities, no trash receptacles, no restrooms.  They can range anywhere from a cluster of sites just outside of busier populated areas or parks to remote vistas with no one in sight.  

You can find areas open for dispersed camping by looking at your road atlas (areas marked in shaded green are usually delineated on the map as open BLM land);  This website is also a great resource for finding camping and recreation information in specific areas, as well as the field office associated with the area.  Check out this guide for more information on dispersed camping in an Escape van!  

Where to book:  www.recreation.gov for group sites and sites with options to reserve.  

  • How to find:  The BLM map delineates land with campgrounds, recreation areas, and dispersed camping areas. 
  • When to book:  varies, often first come first serve, more popular sites near attractions may book months in advance
  • Cost:  Dispersed camping is free.  Developed campground sites range roughly $5-$20 range (average) dependent on location and available amenities (i.e. restrooms, running water)

Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona

US Forest Service Manages Many of The Dispersed Camping Area

The United States Forest Service (USFS) is also a branch of federally managed public recreation land, with the majority being forested land and grasslands.  Much like the BLM, the USFS campsites are both dispersed (free roadside or backcountry campsites) and developed campground sites.  Sites vary in available amenities; the best information about specific campgrounds can be found on the forest service website for that national forest.  

  • Where to book:  www.recreation.gov for group sites and sites with options to reserve.  
  • How to find:  Check the USFS site to explore Forest Service land in the state and region you are traveling;  each National Forest site has a breakdown of camping areas and types with links to reserve if available. 
  • When to book:  varies, often first come first serve, more popular sites near attractions may book months in advance
  • Cost:  Dispersed/backcountry camping is free.  Developed campground sires range roughly $5-$25 range (average) dependent on location and available amenities (i.e. restrooms, running water)

There Is A Lot To Be Found At State Parks And State Forests

State parks and forests are public lands managed by (you guessed it) individual states.  These parks usually have relatively large developed campgrounds centered around additional park features like a trail system or lake.  The campsites usually offer tent pads, picnic tables, and fire rings.  These parks typically have more amenities than the above federally managed land areas, so you may have access to drinking water, flush toilets, playgrounds, or hot showers.  

Not all state parks are on this site; we recommend a quick google search of the state parks site specific to your destination for direct links to park maps, amenities, and campsite reservations.   As a rule of thumb, state forests tend to be a bit more remote and primitive than state park camping areas.

  • Where to book:  Most state parks can be found on www.reserveamerica.com  for sites with options to reserve.  Search for state parks in the state you are headed to get a listing with links to reserve; some states use their own online reservation service and may not be on Reserve America.
  • When to book:  varies, often first come first serve, more popular sites near attractions may book months in advance
  • Cost:  Around $15-$30 range (average) dependent on location and available amenities (i.e., restrooms, running water)

Pine Grove campground in Arizona

The United States Also Has Many Private Campgrounds

Privately run campgrounds can be found throughout the country.  These vary widely, from small family-run wooded tent sites on a smaller parcel of private land to large RV parks with wide-open parking pads and swimming pools, and everything in between.  Site prices are usually more expensive when compared with public parks.  There is no real centralized site for finding and booking private campgrounds, so these can take a little research to find.   Reserveamerica.com has a directory of private campgrounds by state.  

Websites and apps like TheDyrt.com and Hipcamp are good sources of information and reviews for private campgrounds.  

  • RV Parks

RV parks are privately run campgrounds designed for larger campers.  These usually have access to electrical and water hookups as well as dump stations for wastewater and RV sewage tanks.  The sites are often very large and wide open (easy to maneuver a large RV into) with level parking pads and minimal privacy.  Some RV campgrounds do not allow smaller vehicles like campervans, so its best to check with the park if you are headed that way.   Campendium.com and Allstays.com are good resources for campsite searches that can filter by the type of site and have robust information about RV park settings.

  • KOA

Kampgrounds of America (KOA) is a large network of private campgrounds, with over 500 locations around the United States and Canada.  These campgrounds are usually a mix of cabins, RV sites, and tent sites with additional amenities such as organized recreation, playgrounds, and pools.  The amenities come at a cost, however; most of these sites start in the ~$40-$50/night range depending on location and season.  

Use This United States Camping Guide And Book Your Trip!

We hope our United States camping guide and a brief synopsis of where to camp, help get you on the road to your ideal Escape Campervan getaway!  What type of camping do you prefer?  Book your campervan and find out, there truly is something for everyone so happy camping!

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