How to Camp: Where Should You Camp if You Have Never Gone Camping Before?

 

two people set up a tent for camping for the first time

So you want to start camping! Great! Camping is a great way to get outside and explore your home state. One of the first things you need to get started is choose where you want to camp. The location you choose will affect what equipment you need as a first time camper. Furthermore different types of camping locations might be better for one party, and less appropriate for another group. Here are three types of camping locations I recommend for first time campers.

  1. Camping for the First Time in Your Backyard

If you are camping with people who might be hesitant, if weather is going to be unpredictable, or if you will be camping with children who have never slept outside, this is a great option. If you don’t have a yard, or live in an apartment, you might have a friend or family member who would be willing to help. Camping in a yard means there will always be an opportunity to bail if things go sour, and bathrooms will be private and predictable. You will also be prepared for the local environment, whether that is temperatures, wind, sun, insects, or haze. Finally, a great benefit of camping in your own backyard is that you won’t have to call for a reservation, or hope for an empty spot on arrival. 

  1. Camping for the First Time In a State Park

If camping in your backyard is too juvenile, or you feel prepared to advance to something else, state parks are a fantastic option. 

State parks are a great option for two main reasons. First, they offer a lot of things to do, so you won’t get bored if you need activities. Most have fire pits at each campsite. Many state parks also offer hiking trails, beaches, creekstoping, caves, interpretive centers, fishing piers, educational programs, and kayak rentals. There may also be a shop that sells firewood, ice or souvenirs. Secondly, state parks offer a lot of convenient things, such as bathrooms with showers, water pumps, electricity, and hosts and rangers who can help you with questions. Having these resources can make camping a lot more worry free. If you will be using an RV with plumbing systems, state parks usually also have dump stations and a limited number of  hookup sites. Always check ahead of time if you think you will need it! 


Iowa state parks list and camping information

Minnesota state parks website

Wisconsin state parks website

Location, location, location! 


I recommend selecting your first campsite carefully, and make sure there is a store nearby in case you need it. If this is your first time camping out of town, you might forget something, or realize you need something you didn't know you needed. For example, in Iowa, George Wyth State Park is a great place to camp for the first time. It offers trails and rentals, and it is on the outskirts of a minor urban center. However, as beautiful as Backbone State Park is, it is not a place I would recommend to first time overnight campers. It is not near any major cities, so the closest stores are gas stations and convenience centers which might not have what you need. Growing up my parents loved taking us to Lebanon hills in Apple Valley, Minnesota for our first trip of the summer season. It was a 20 minute drive of Target if we forgot a critical item or if something needed to be replaced. 

  1. Camping for the First Time in a Resort Style Campground. 

Privately owned campgrounds can be great! Many offer robust camp stores, paddle board or kayak rentals, nature areas, fishing bait, playgrounds and kids activities. I have even been to privately owned campgrounds with a waterpark, restaurants, giant slides, obstacle courses and all kinds of fun activities that aren't offered by state parks. The offerings are going to vary depending on what kind of landscape you will be in, and the size of the park. In my experience, private campgrounds with a lot of features are going to cost more than simple campgrounds, including state parks. 


Backpacking is not a good way to camp for the first time


Where Not to Go Camping on Your First Camping Trip


There are plenty of places I wouldn’t recommend beginners go on their first trip. First of all, never camp somewhere where you aren't allowed to camp. Only camp in designated camping areas, unless you have properly researched dispersed camping (a kind of first come first serve camping deep in nature on specified public land). If you do dispersed camping, bring maps to make sure you don’t accidentally end up in private property. However, I also wouldn’t recommend dispersed camping for the average beginner. Dispersed camping means you won’t have a camp host, no fire pit, it's easier to get lost, you won't have toilets or running water, and you will have to pack ALL your trash out with you. Similarly, I don’t recommend overnight backpacking for beginners. Backpacking comes with the same downsides as dispersed camping, plus you must carry everything with you, possibly at a long distance to reach your campsite. If backpacking sounds fun, start by daypacking, and build up to overnight outings. Backpacking also requires very specialized and expensive equipment, so you should make sure you like camping and hiking before you dive in. I highly recommend sticking with a traditional campground at first, especially one with modern bathrooms and showers. Even more so if you or someone in your party is a bonified homebody.


Go Camp!


I hope this information helps you take the leap into the great outdoors. Camping is a great hobby that everyone can enjoy! Make sure you also check with your local government for any special rules, restrictions, or policies about camping, including the transport of firewood and burn bans that might be active.


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