Outbound Collective logo

10 Tips For Picking The Best Campsite

By: Ryan Mckinney + Save to a List

If you're like me, then you love to camp. A night spent out in the desert, mountains, or on the beach can be the most amazing experience....or it can be a nightmare. Often times, finding the right campsite for your group can make or break your trip. Here a few tips that should help make your next car camping experience that much more enjoyable.

1. Research

I like to look at a combination of guidebooks and websites. You can find a lot of valuable information on a number of different websites inclduing those from the Forest Service, State Parks, ReserveAmerica, and of course, The Outbound Collective.

2. Ranger Stations

Calling the ranger station before your trip is a great way to get up-to-date information - it's much better to find out about closures or restrictions before you make the trek to your destination. Rangers are super knowledgeable of their district and are always happy to provide more information about the area you are interested in camping at.

3. Weather

Make sure you check the weather before heading out and prepare yourself and your gear for any weather you may encounter. This doesn't mean bring your three layer winter jacket on a trip to the desert in July, but bringing your tent's rain fly, just in case, is always a good idea.

4. Location

Picking your campground is important, but even more important is the actual site. Most campground websites will have a map online - check this out and be sure that last available site isn't available for a reason (like being in between the pit toilets and the dumpster). If you're camping outside of a designated campground, say on BLM land, avoid noise from other hikers and animals by camping at least 100 feet from any trails or roads. It's also wise to camp at least 200 feet from any water source so as not to contaminate it.

5. Read the Landscape

Before setting up your tent, check the immediate area and be sure it's suitable for a good night's sleep. Look for areas where water flows when it rains. You'll want to set up in an area that is elevated in case of rainstorms, that way you don’t wake up in a pool of water. Other things to look out for are large rocks in the soil, insect nests, and slanted ground - you don't want to be sliding to one end of your tent throughout the night.

6. Look Up

Never camp under dead or dying trees. Dry limbs can break off in strong winds and nobody wants a “widow maker” crashing on them in the middle of the night!

7. Wind Protection

Look for areas that have large (living) trees, rocks, or other natural barriers that can protect your site from high winds. Howling winds will definitely keep you up at night.

8. The Sun

To get an early start on your day set your tent up where the morning sun will wake you. You may momentarily regret this when the sun rises, but if you want a full day of exploring the sun is the best alarm clock. If you've planned your day at a more leisurely pace, set up in an area that will be shaded and you'll have no problem sleeping in. If there is no natural shade, string up a tarp or bring a camping awning.

9. Campfire

Make sure the area you are in allows campfires. If it does, use existing fire rings. If there are no fire rings, build a fire ring with rocks. Only burn dry wood so you don’t struggle to keep the fire going and don’t smoke out your camp. Need help starting your fire?

10. Leave No Trace

Pack in and pack out. This rule is one of the easiest rules but a lot of people struggle with it. When you leave, your campsite should look like no one was ever there. Even break down the fire ring that you built the night before and put the rocks back where you found them. If you find trash that isn’t yours, pick it up - leave the place better than you found it.

Check out Ryan's Adventures here.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.


Outdoor-Inspired Cocktails for Every Season

Noël Russell

A golden happy hour on the California coast

Hannah Sibley

Make these camp cocktails on your next adventure

Ellen Clark

A 3-day road trip adventure in Western Rocky Mountain National Park

Nallely Bean