Location, Location: Public Campground Savvy For Adventuring Seniors
It’s getting late. Time to put in for the night. Where exactly? So many public campgrounds, so little time. Some are too expensive for limited-budgeters, some are closed for the winter, some are gloomy, some have way too many campers, some are a leeeeetle bit scary, some have the wrong “element”. So, you’ve got the afternoon fidgets and you’re 62+: where to camp?
We’ll winnow down the options in general terms, but let’s be clear that Muddy Boots doesn’t set the rules regarding campground prices, options, and amenities. Note, too, that—contrary to general impression—Muddy Boots has not slept in every public campground.
So… you’ll want to check current hours, facilities, and costs at the site you’re interested in.
Here are 10 generalizations that impact seniors at public campgrounds.
#1 What is a “public campground”?
It’s the kind that belongs to a government of some sort, like a nation, state, county, or town. Everyone got that?
Example below: New York State campground at Meacham Lake in the Adirondacks.
#2 Attractions of an NPS Senior/Disabled Pass
Generally, federal campgrounds have advantageous fees for NPS Senior and Disabled Pass holders. This includes US Forest Service, US National Seashores, US National Monuments, Bureau of Reclamation, Tennessee Valley Authority, BLM……
#3 Price variations for different agencies
There’s a pecking order of prices. State campgrounds are often a steep challenge to budget-pinchers (Muddy Boots has seen as high as $35 per night per spot), and the NPS Senior Pass has no special advantage in state-run facilities. In the few state campgrounds where the Pass does apply (in collaboration with the NPS in Redwoods National and State Parks, for example), the reduced rate is still gulp-inducing.
Buuuuuttttt ding ding ding……Before your plans to stay in a state campground get ditched entirely, explore rate exceptions in the state where you wish to camp. You may qualify. Click right here to get a full list of special passes, state by state.
State campground example below: a Massachussetts State Park campground with camp spots right on top of one other and approximately zero privacy.
#4 Municipal campgrounds
Some municipal entities have campgrounds that may or may not be appealing to 62 plussers and their limited-or-not-budgets. They are not known to honor NPS Senior Passes, but may have low prices “just because”.
#5 Free or very low-cost spots at public campgrounds
There are sometimes free camp spots organized by national agencies such as the BLM. These are often referred to as “dispersed camping.” In a separate category, BLM spots at Quartzsite AZ and other locations have low, low, low prices during winter-ish months for hundreds of thousands of snowbirds. Quartzsite is extremely popular with seniors who can cope with “dry camping”. Far be it for Muddy Boots to exaggerate: try this link for the Quartzsite Chamber of Commerce.
Example below: Quartzsite AZ in winter.
#6 Tiny campground spots
Many state and National Park Campgrounds are crowded, with spots quite smashed together. If you look closely at a campsite map, you can sometimes predict in advance how close you’re likely to be to your neighbors. There’s almost never a relationship between price and proximity.
#7 Campground amenities
State campgrounds usually have such niceties as showers. Since this attracts families with kids like bees to honey, there are often playgrounds, beaches, crowds, and squeals into the night.
Example below: public campground in Florida.
#8 Bathroom facilities
National Park campgrounds also attract families, but rarely have showers. Behavior codes are monitored and enforced.
Except for the top-tier national campgrounds such as National Parks, National Monuments, and National Seashores, don’t assume there’ll be flush toilets at federal campgrounds. However, newer technologies have brought composting toilets to fairly wide use, and they are very acceptable if the campground host does a good job. Nonetheless, latrines (disguised as “vault” toilets) are not rare.
Because they aren’t as popular, federal campgrounds with no flush toilets are sometimes the most attractive options because the spots are large.
Example below: a USFS campground on the Metolius River OR with vault toilets, but spectacular and roomy spots.
Never bring your own firewood. At many public campgrounds, it’s illegal to do so, since forest pests can get transferred from one geographic location to another.
A computer can help….
This is not an endorsement, but a “just sayin'” 110% positive review. Muddy Boots uses a Macintosh app called the Ultimate Public Campground Project that shows a pin on a map for every single public campground, along with a pop-up box of vital information including prices for most.
These posts will give you a feel for the kind of information offered:
Not sure about how to get started in car camping?
Photo credits for public campgrounds: Featured image…Big Meadows Campground, Shenandoah National Park: Public Domain/NPS. Top… Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park TX: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Gerry Brush via Flickr. Meacham Lake State Park Campground NY: Presumed Public Domain by New York State Parks. Salisbury Beach State Reservation MA: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Seth Tisue via Flickr. Quartzsite in winter: by grace of Quartzsite Chamber of Commerce. Public campground in Florida (looks like a state-run campground):CC BY 2.0 by Ryan Faerman via Flickr. USFS campground on the Metolius River OR: CC BY 2.0 by David Berry via Flickr.