Find Great Campsites Online

Private campgrounds can be crowded

Private campgrounds can be crowded

There are thousands of campgrounds across the United States, and they generally breakdown into two major categories, public and private.  Public campgrounds comprise the vast majority of available sites and include the big national parks and forests, individual state lands, and even your local city or county parks. Private campgrounds range from large national chains, like Kampgrounds of America (KOA), to individually owned sites. Some private campgrounds, like Thousand Trails, are open to members only and not the general public.

Public vs. private campgrounds

Making broad generalizations about campgrounds, even those within the same system, is dangerous, but there are some observations that are generally true:

  • Public campgrounds tend to offer larger and more secluded campsites than private campgrounds
  • Private campgrounds tend of offer more modern conveniences, like electricity, stores and laundry facilities, than public campgrounds

Private campgrounds tend to cater more to the traveler, than the weekend camper. When you are coming off six to eight hours on the road, it is certainly nice to be able to plug your RV into AC power and hook up to a sewer connection. If a private campground offers any kind of secluded area for tents, they will be sure to highlight this feature in their marketing material; otherwise, they tend to be parking lots for RV’s. Private campgrounds offer widely varying degrees of family activities, such as swimming, fishing, or miniature golf, but these are all features that significantly highlighted in their marketing literature.

Catering more to the destination camper, public campgrounds rarely provide RV sewer connections at individual campsites, but many do have a dumping station located near the entrance of the park. Electricity at the campsite is also rare, though many public campgrounds will have several restroom and shower facilities around the site that have electricity. Some public campgrounds, particularly the smaller ones do not offer shower facilities or electricity, so be sure to check the description well. Public campgrounds tend to be located where there is something to see, or do. It might be hiking trails, big trees, waterfalls, or the Yosemite Valley floor, but there is usually a reason that the government decided to build a campground there.

Finding a campground

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, Montana (Photo courtesy

There is no single, definitive online resource for locating all of the campgrounds available in a particular area. The best place to start, since camping is always preferable to driving, is with your local county website. If your county manages any campgrounds, you will be able to find information on them under the “Parks and Recreation” department. To locate public campgrounds at the state level, the best resource is the online reservations site; Reserve America. In a similar fashion, federally managed public campgrounds can be located on Recreation.Gov. Both of these sites are easy to use and provide a good deal of information about the campgrounds. Unfortunately, they only include campgrounds that accept reservations. There are a number of public campgrounds that are available on a first-come, first-served basis and none of these campgrounds will show-up on Reserve America or

The best single online resource for locating private campgrounds is Google™ Maps. Once you pull-up a map of the area, just type “campground” in the search field, and Google Maps will display a list of private campgrounds. Google Maps may also show some state campgrounds, but it is not nearly as comprehensive as Reserve America.

This leaves us with the problem of locating campgrounds that do not accept reservations, since they will not show-up on the two major reservation sites, nor Google Maps. First-come, first served campsites could be state parks, US Forest Service campgrounds, Bureau of Land Management campgrounds, or Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds. Google (regular search, not Google Maps) is the quickest way to locate the state campgrounds;  just type your state’s name into the search field, followed by the words “campgrounds first come first served” (without quotes). You will either receive a link to your state parks page that lists all first-come, first-served campgrounds available or, if your state does not support such a list, you will receive a number of links to various campgrounds located throughout the state. To locate first-come, first-served campgrounds on federal lands, you will have to visit each of the three federal websites (USFS, BLM and COE) for a list of campgrounds in your region.

Camping is a great way to “get away from it all” for a weekend, or even longer. Finding the perfect campground might take a little digging, but the rewards will be a relaxing vacation that is uninterrupted by the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

See also…

19 thoughts on “Find Great Campsites Online

  1. Dear J:

    Above is the link from the Ontario Parks Algonquin Park website… click on the hiking tab where they offer you information on all the trails, including a rating to let you know how hard it is to complete… sorry to hear about your accident… a trail which you might not be up for, but the boys will want to complete is called Lookout Trail… I wont say anything to give away any surprises, but I complete it every year… make sure they take a lunch to enjoy once they have reached the top, and before their descent… its absolutely breathtaking… and at the beginning of every trail, is a book that you can purchase ($1), that points out a whole bunch of interesting facts on the parks history and how it came to be… Spruce Bog Boardwalk is an easy trail which you might like to do… hope you have fun… its one of my favourite places in the world!… if you need more info, feel free to write!

  2. Ross – Pog Lake every year … how very lucky of you. We’ll be heading there this summer. However, this year will be different. I had a car accident this past year, yet still want to go hiking with the family (I’m the only gal with a group of four strong guys). I know they’ll be doing some great trails together, any suggestions for them? AND, any easier trails for me to tag along that you may know of. Meaning = nothing too steep or slippery, but still with a ending with a great finale! Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Thanks – j.

  3. I live in Canada and have visited Alleghany and Letchworth state park in New York, both beautiful locations. If you are every north of the border, try out some of our provincial parks, they are wonderful locations. My family returns once a year to Pog Lake in Algonquin Park. It would take too long to describe the amazing resources, trails, waterfalls and history of the park, so I invite you to see for yourself. Happy camping everyone! Oh, and the provincial park reservation system is so easy to use and provides so much info.

  4. Yes, Google maps is a wonderful thing. I did a lot of traveling in the last year and a half, and one of the things I did was Google “National Parks” near where I was working in any given state, then review the parks site to see what was there. Nearly all National Parks have campgrounds in them and near them, so once you’ve decided on your destination you can do a search for campgrounds near that destination. It really is one of the best ways there is to figure out where you want to go.

  5. I just tried your best reservation site “Reserve America” and it didn’t find one single state park campground in the state of Michigan on the west side of the state, where I was looking. Instead, it found a bunch of Wisconsin campgrounds and tried to say they were 150 miles away. While that’s true, it’s a wet 150 miles!

    MK’s last blog post..Your garbage needed to feed the poor

  6. It a place that accommodates RV’s, pop ups, and tents.
    They have very clean facilities that are position all around the camp sites for easy access, and they have a fairly decent store on site that pretty much provides everything a camper needs (food, supplies, wood, clothing, water toys, fishing gear, etc.) and they have wireless internet, which allows me to have fun with the kids, wife, and still operate my business.

    I also love the fact that it is near North Conway New Hampshire where their are waterfalls, flume gorges, horseback ridings, amusement parks for kids, outlet shopping, great places to eat, and scenic train rides that take you through the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

    Ed Mercer

  7. Sam – thanks, I would love to checkout Scotland someday.

    Ed – that sounds like a great place, 3 pools and 2 lakes would keep my kids busy!

  8. We love to camp all over the United States. However, we seem to find ourselves going back to Danforth Bay in New Hampshire. They have great activities for children, 3 swimming pools, and 2 lakes that we can swim, boat, and fish. Our family loves it, and I guess I’m a bit partial to it.

    Make It A Great Day!

  9. Finding a good campground is exceptionally difficult and i have always relied primarily on peoples recommendations, however since the internet was born it is now getting easier to find exactly what i am looking for.

    Have to say i prefer wild Camping more these days since doing this in Scotland….amazing!

    Love your blog.

    Sam Smith’s last blog post..Torino 200 – Easy Camp 2 Man Tent

  10. I use it a lot, Hank. It doesn’t always show the campsites, if there are a lot of trees, but it still gives you a good feel for the lay of the land.

  11. Thank you so much for your blog! I’ve camped since I was a baby, but I have grown frustrated with the whole online/reservation process that has come to dominate the camping world. You give some really good, basic pointers! Just doing the “first come first served” search helped me out a lot! Thank you again!

  12. You’re right about finding public campgrounds if they DON’T take reservations. My site has public campgrounds for 10 western states — regardless of if they take reservations or not.

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