Maybe it is because we really would love to be camping every day if we could…but we are finding that when a weekend comes where we are “home-bound” we get antsy and all we seem to want to do is watch travel video’s, You Tubers who are living the full time life (oh we are so jealous!!!)…and plan for projects, trips AND CAMPGROUNDS that we want to bring our Pewter Palace to!
Some of these campgrounds are literally in our backyard. We are fortunate to live just outside of NY’s Adirondack Park. A public/private land mass of 6 million acres. Much of it is designated Forever Wild, Wilderness Land and also there are vast tracks of beautiful woodlands, mountains, rivers, lakes and ponds. Sounds heavenly? it is!!
So this past weekend we hopped in the car (it was supposed to be rainy on Saturday anyway) and took off to explore about 2 hours north of us-some of the NY State Campgrounds to see what potential they may hold for our camping getaways…that are not too taxing on the budget or with limited time off.
Here is our check list to help you when deciding to check out campsites and campgrounds for future reference:
Before you start hunting for the PERFECT site in a campground scoping mission:
- When to Scope? Do not go off season….go peak season so you can see what the campground is like in full swing! If you are going to be there in slow or off season then it only gets better….not worse! (more on specifics to watch for later in this blog)
- Bring your camping guide book (I like to write directly in the margins what sites and comments we want to remember) and printed maps. We have learned that there is very limited, if any cell coverage in the ADK areas where campgrounds are located so your GPS and ability to access their websites when on site is nil.
- Bring a pad and pen to jot down notes on things you observe along the way, restaurants that look good or that you stopped at for a meal and enjoyed. Note interesting side trips or shops (for me its Antiques and Local Crafts!) along the way that you were unaware of.
- Note things like very steep inclines/declines getting into some places. (Far easier to monitor this buzzing around in just your car than when towing your rig!)
- Bring a Tape Measure if you want. Does not hurt to even bring a 50′ or longer (depending on your rig size) retractable tape measure if you really want to be sure you can fit your rig and park your tow vehicle in a site you have fallen in love with (of course, please do not do this if the site is taken when you visit—you might get some wild looks!)
- Stop at the ranger station, explain you are there to do a pre-camping check of sites to select a few that you would want to book in future. Let them know what size/length rig you have so they can forewarn you if some areas are not for you.
- Pick up the site map at the ranger station, double check on their daily and weekly rates, length of max stay, and how far in advance you can book sites. I say this because not all websites are always up to date. NYS is pretty good and in fact they are doing some reconstruction of specific sites in every campground and have a list online as well as have them marked in the campgrounds–so you don’t get your heart set to find out its unavailable!
- REALLY IMPORTANT NOTE: you really cannot do this MISSION by yourself. I have tried and it is really unsafe and not easy and far more time consuming. So grab a buddy and one of you drives and watches out for pedestrians, bike riders and pot holes and the other one of you read the map, jot down site numbers and orients the driver on where to turn next!
So we planned strategically, using the point to point method and we were going to follow a continuous path in a northerly direction checking out any and all state campgrounds along the way on our path. We had two specific ones we had checked out online and they were the main target. But we like free wheeling a bit too so we also planned for a few stops at shops, for dining and for any other private campgrounds along our way that seemed interesting. For this trip, we were checking out specifically Lake Eaton and Fish Creek.
PREVIEW TIP- VLOGS, BLOGS AND PHOTO MONTAGES:
Many campgrounds, even state campgrounds have video’s on line now done by either amateur You Tube camping folks or in some cases by somewhat professional folks who have done a great job noting campsites themselves within parks. Here are a few of our very favorite ones that we always preview ahead of doing any “Scope Mission”. It is definitely worth the time to do!
VLOGGERS: These Full Time RVers do great campground reviews and incorporate a terrific bike ride with Go-Pro style narrated tour of the campgrounds that they visit. They travel all over the USA.
WheelingIt (online and on YouTube) Paul & Nina have now moved to Europe to begin RV adventures there, but their website remains an excellent resource of Vlog posts and videos from all over the USA. They even did a review on Sampson State Park in NYS where our Tin Can Tourist Rally is each September! Cheers!!
These folks are just one of many who do campground reviews, so just search You Tube for the campground you are thinking about and check out what shows up.
PHOTOS COLLECTIONS of campground actual # camp sites from around the country close up and by number for easy reference are awesome. This site below is by far THE BEST resource to get a feel for campsites and to armchair surf specific campsites by Site # before you even go through the gate! They categorize by public and private campgrounds, have numerous links, etc. and it is our GO TO site before we travel to anywhere with our camper.
Campsitephotos.com (online and on You Tube)
Once You Are In the Campground:
- What to look for…leave no rock un-turned!
- What to avoid….
- How to know what is best for you, your preferred camping experience
- Trust your gut!
Again, be sure you have a buddy doing this with you so one can drive and the other is navigator.
What to Look For- Positives and Negatives–BE OBSERVANT!
- How friendly is the person staffing the entrance booth?
- What is the physical condition of buildings, pavilions, bath and shower houses? If they are not maintained well, then chances are the campsites are not either.
- Is the signage directing you around the campground adequate? one way roads to lessen traffic is always preferred.
- Check out the public spaces like beach, pavilions, communal fire pit, playgrounds. Are they in good repair? being used? Dip your toe in the water, or at least look to see if it is a sandy beach or slimy.
- Is there a boat or kayak access area? Can you find a campsite waters edge and be able to launch your kayak right from there? Boat rentals? Do they have life preservers available or do you have to bring your own? Place to park your boat trailer if you are bringing one? Fishing dock?
- Do they sell fishing licenses at office (NYS they do not so you have to purchase at a local store…how far away is that??)
- Visit at least ONE of the camper bath houses with toilets. Are the flushable? pit? condition? smell? hot and cold water? soap or at least sanitizer? Bugs/spiders, critters? ditto for the shower buildings- do they have lockable doors? separate showers for each person? or one room with stalls with curtains. (Lake Eaton, Fish Creek, Luzerne Campground and Scaroon Manor all had very nice to very decent facilities)
- Other campers…do they wave hello or at least a nod when you drive by them walking or in their sites? no one wants an unfriendly campground—at least we do not.
- State campgrounds do not have planned activities for the most part but some will have specific scheduled nature talks or history walks by a camp host or ranger. Check into that.
- Dump Station. Is it working? easy to access with length of your rig? away from where your campsite is….(wafting fumes is not our idea of a pleasant weekend!)
- Garbage Dumpster Area. Is is cleaned up? accessible? do they recycle? Some note in their rules they REQUIRE Clear bags! remember to bring them!
What to AVOID!
Rig Length and Width: We have a 28 foot bumper pull travel trailer. Add to that our 3/4 Ton Pick Up Truck and we are over 50 feet in total length. We are narrower than many modern rigs…only 8’5″ wide. The size of your rig and total length needs to be an important consideration.
Campsite roadways and sites themselves: As you drive through the campground, be very mindful of sharp turns, narrow roadways. How are people parked? Are tow vehicles left to park on side of the road because the sites are too shallow? Are visitors cars to spend the day with camping friends making getting around the campground difficult? Low hanging tree limbs?? (again we are far lower than most modern rigs so we always feel sorry for Class A’s and 5Vers because they are so tall and a ripped rubber roof is a real bummer!
LOOK FOR THESE CAMPSITE SPECIFICS:
A site that is on a bend in the road. This site will be easier to back into because the angle of the road creates an automatic angle for backing in rather than having to angle your rid and tow vehicle. You therefore can drive just past your site and then put her into reverse and back in nearly straight back. We prefer sites on the right with the roadway bearing a curve to the left. That’s just us and what we prefer. Remember that angling may not always be possible due to trees, neighbors vehicles or a large rig parked in a site opposite yours. MOST of the campsites we saw at four state campgrounds this weekend were back in sites with very narrow roadways. Fifth wheels and motor homes have it a little easier with this, but at 50 feet in length for us and a bumper pull, maneuverability is key to getting into a site without pulling your hair out before you even get started camping!
Is the firepit/fire place and picnic table in good condition? Not insurmountable but nice to have something useable. We have had to balance our Weber grill on a boulder before because there was no where to put our grill. And our evening fire was on the ground with that same boulder as a spark shield and backing plate.
What is the land like at the site? Sand? soft loamy mulch from leaf and bark rot? What is the drainage pattern? We find that going to look at sites right after there has been some really good rain is a great thing to do! See which ones are in “flood zones” and avoid! Are there a lot of rocks protruding up where you will be constantly going back and forth from your rig to your chair and tables?? that will wear you down, is a trip hazard and could also wreak havoc to your patio mat if you chose to put it down. If sandy or soft, you may wish to bring a few boards to put under your leveling blocks and/or stabilizers. This site below at Jellystone Campground in North Hudson NY was very sandy and after a week there, we had become slightly unlevel because of it despite having boards and levelers, pads.
Sun or Shade? Which do you prefer? We like trees but we also like to get sunlight through each day if the sun is shining. We find that being in too dark of a site with tons of trees brings us into melancholia a bit, and also nothing ever dries out like swim suits, damp cushions or chairs, etc. I also have solar powered fairy lights and other lanterns and without sunlight they will not work. Also, you run the risk of rolling up a damp awning. Not good!
Room for your unhitched vehicle or visitor vehicle to be safely parked? We have a long truck and always are sure to look where we can park our vehicle for easy access but also so that more times than not, it also provides a privacy screen for us from road noise. Especially when we have the grand kids with us, we like to have a bit of a wall between the roadway and our “outdoor living room”.
Where is the Water? Where are the Bathrooms? always important to locate and see how far away they are from the site you are selecting. All of the NYS campgrounds we visited (and most all others) have NO hook ups at all so you will be using a portable water jug to refill water tanks if needed or use from atop your picnic table and using the public toilets for “big business” to cut down on filling your waste water tanks too quickly. You can also get one of those rolling portable honey wagon tanks and take that to the dump station. We are going to look into this because we do plan to camp for a week or more and know that our black tank can only handle about 6 days if we use our camper bathroom exclusively.
Pine Pitch? We try to avoid heavily wooded sites that are covered with pine trees. They leak sap onto your rig and your awning.
Low Hanging Limbs or dead limbs and trees (widow makers)– these may prevent your tall rig from fitting in, or any rig from being able to extend your awning. Dead or rotted limbs or trees could be literally the downfall of your camping experience if they crash into your awning or worse…your rig!
How close is your neighbor? We prefer ours way more than arms length. There is a trend at private campgrounds to pack folks in like sardines. Luckily, most state campgrounds that we have here in the ADK’s at least have very decent space and privacy between sites. But always good practice to really see how close your neighboring sites are. Again, our ideal site backs up to the woods, and has perhaps only one neighbor on our street side of the camper so we get the most privacy. Not that we are not friendly, I just like to have my coffee in my bathrobe when camping! Obviously if you are camping next to already known friends with their own camper then close is nice!
Cell Signal? is that a deal breaker for you? check it out during your Scope Mission from a variety of sites that look good to you. or is there a booster somewhere near the ranger station or public gathering areas- chances are no but worth checking out. Along these lines, telephone?? we saw a good old fashioned telephone booth today at the Luzerne Campground. You need to know how and who to reach in case of emergency.
Fire Wood Restrictions? Bans? in NYS you are only allowed to bring your own wood in from a max of 50 miles from the campground. This has created quite the cottage industry for small time entrepreneurs who you will see dot the roadway leading to the campground entrance. They often are selling a bundle of decent stuff for $3-7. Stock up. You can bring Kiln-dried wood with you from further away but it should say it is on the wrapping. Also, when checking into your site day of your trip, be sure to be aware of any fire bans or restrictions due to dry conditions. They normally have that posted at the gates.
S’Mores…..remember you cannot deface, remove or tamper with any trees in a state campground or most private ones…so bring your own S’More Sticks…and enjoy!
Hope this blog has been useful to you and welcome your tips and tricks to picking great campsites!
Safe Journeys….ONE LIFE…LIVE IT!