Now that the weather is starting to break and the coolness of Fall is upon us, there’s no better time to go camping.
It’s a great way to unplug, get some fresh air, and reconnect with nature. There’s something about falling asleep to the sounds of crickets and tree frogs that is so soothing.
My first camping experience was when I was a Girl Scout. My memories are spotty, but I DO remember a few things:
- Putting up our tent, which was quite a feat back before the easy pop-up tents we have today.
- Baking a cake in a “forest oven” – a cardboard box lined with foil and filled with hot coals; a very practical skill…NOT! ( I mean, who needs to know how to bake a cake in the forest?!)
- Sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows (I like mine really burned on the outside so they’re gooey on the inside), making S’Mores, and telling ghost stories.
- Returning to the tent to go to sleep and FREAKING OUT over the thousands of Daddy Long Legs spiders that seemed to cover the outside of our tent (ok, there were 10, but it seemed like thousands at the time).
Luckily, I lived to tell about it and I’m not too traumatized. LOL. Anyway…
With the hurried pace of everyday life, getting away for a quick overnight, weekend, or longer is good from time-to-time. I know I get antsy if I don’t.
Although spiders still freak me out, everything else about camping has become more appealing to me as I’ve gotten older, especially the price.
Camping is a budget-friendly lodging alternative to a hotel room.
= BUDGET-FRIENDLY CAMPING OPTIONS =
There are several types of camping and costs will vary depending on the amenities you want. Another factor that affects the cost is the time of year.
If you’re looking for a true camping experience away from noise and people, consider “dispersed” camping.
This type of camping takes place outside of a designated campground. It doesn’t usually cost anything, making it very attractive to budget travelers who love the outdoors.
However, since it’s free, amenities such as restrooms, showers, water, or trash cans are not provided. It’s the true definition of “roughing it.”
If you opt for this type of camping, there are some rules you must follow:
- You can have no more than 10 people in your group
- You can stay up to 21 consecutive days
- Your campsite must be located at least 200 feet from any stream or other water sources
- You must follow the “Leave No Trace” rules:
- Camp on bare soil if possible, to avoid damage or killing plants and grass.
- Do not camp in the middle of a clearing or meadow.
- If you are going to an area where others have camped before, pick a site that has been used before.
- Clean up all trash and take it and all belongings with you.
- Use existing sites and fire rings for your fires. Completely extinguish your fire before you leave.
- You must be aware of the possible threat of bears (no joke!)
To find a camping area like this near you, Google “dispersed camping in [geographic area].”
Recently I went camping in the Little Fort Campground within the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in Virginia. The campsite is referred to as “primitive” in their literature and it offered a flat area for our tents, an area with a fire ring and room around the fire ring for chairs, and 2 picnic tables. There were no water, restroom, or shower facilities. (COST: FREE!)
Sometimes, the term “primitive” campsite will be used. Although in some instances they may be free like the one mentioned above, they may cost money depending on the location.
When I went camping at the Outlanders River Camp just outside Luray, VA, I rented a primitive campsite along the Shenandoah River. It was a walk-in site, meaning I couldn’t park near the campsite; I had to use a cart the campground provided to transport my gear from the parking lot to my campsite.
Although the campsite itself was primitive, the campground also offered sites for campers and RVs, a bathhouse with hot showers, and a camp store with some food and basic provisions available for purchase. (COST: $40/night but it was worth it to be able to camp by the water and still have bathroom and show facilities)
One of my favorite campgrounds in terms of the view is Camp Merrylande near Piney Point, MD on the Chesapeake Bay. They offer a limited number of campsites right by the water as well as cabin rentals.
There are also bathroom and shower facilities, a camp store with some food and basic necessities available, a fishing dock, and bicycles for guests to ride. I love being by the water, so this campsite really appealed to me for that reason. (COST: $60/night)
♦ NOTE: I haven’t gone back in a long time because the last time I was there, the beach was really dirty and there was trash all over the grounds. However, there are some good TripAdvisor reviews that seem positive and fairly recent. Maybe they’ve cleaned up the place. I’m not sure.
CAMPSITES WITH WATER & ELECTRIC HOOKUPS
These type of campsites are usually for regular campers or RVs, but you can opt for a site like this if you are camping in a tent, too.
It costs a little more than a basic campsite. However, having water and electric readily available can make your camping trip a little easier.
Although dispersed or primitive camping can be fun, I have to admit that sometimes I prefer a comfy cabin to a rustic tent.
Most places that offer camping usually offer cabin and lodge rentals in addition to regular campsites. Cabins can be just a little building with a bed and a few other pieces of furniture or they can offer a lot more. But remember the more amenities you opt for, the higher the price.
A while back, I camped at a KOA Campground in Fredericksburg, VA. The cabin I rented had a double bed (I had to bring pillows and linens), a ceiling fan, AC/heat, an overhead light, a small flatscreen TV with cable TV, and WiFi. Although they offered cabins with bathrooms, I opted for one without since it was cheaper and the campground had bathroom/shower facilities about 50 feet from my cabin. The KOA also had a store, a playground area, a pool, bike rentals, and laundry facilities.
⇒ COST FOR MY KOA CABIN: $55 (from what I remember; it was a while back).
I know, camping in a cabin isn’t “roughing it” but the type of camping you do depends on your comfort level and just how rustic you want to get.
One of my favorite places to rent a cabin is within Shenandoah National Park. In addition to the rustic cabins, there are amazing trails (some with waterfalls!) and lodges where you can grab a delicious meal.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (yes, glamping is now an official word), glamping is “outdoor camping with amenities and comforts (such as beds, electricity, and access to indoor plumbing) not usually used when camping.”
I’d like to try it but haven’t yet but from what I’ve seen, it can be a little pricey. If I find an affordable option, I’ll try it out and share my thoughts with you.
- Guide to Free & Low-Cost Campgrounds (Book) – Includes information about campgrounds that cost $12/night or less ($18.65)
- KOA Campgrounds – Nearly 500 campgrounds in North America
- Reserve America – National campground directory & reservations
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