The first step toward assuring a great tent camping trip
is to select a safe and comfortable campground.
To assure safe and enjoyable camping experiences, families should learn how to identify the best campgrounds in regions of the country they may have never visited before.
Everybody has a different definition of "a good campground." Backpackers prefer wilderness areas where they can hike 5 to 10 miles into the backcountry and set up camp where they cannot see or hear other people. Bushcraft enthusiasts prefer private property where they can cut trees to make their shelter, beds, and campfires. Canoe campers prefer primitive river or lake shore camp sites that can only be accessed by water. Equestrian campers prefer campgrounds located near equestrian trails. Fishermen like lake or riverside campgrounds that have places to launch their boat and buy gas. RV owners like wide-open campgrounds with paved roads, drive-through campsites, 50 Amp electrical service and either sewer connections or nice dump stations. And rabble rousers prefer small, remote, unsupervised campgrounds where they can drink, cuss, argue and engage in other vulgar and obnoxious behaviors all night long without interference.
But, the majority of tent camping families, prefer safe and comfortable developed campgrounds where they can pull their car up to their campsite, set up camp just a few feet away, take showers, cook good-tasting meals, and find a variety of family and children's activities nearby. To assist these tent camping families find the best campgrounds in unfamiliar regions of the country, I have compiled a list of features to look for when searching for a good tent camping destination.
Features of Good Tent Camping Destinations
When searching for a good tent camping destination, ignore amenities offered for the convenience of RV owners and look for amenities that would make your family tent camping vacation safer, more comfortable, and more enjoyable. In particular, consider the following features.
1. Safety: Entrance control station; locked gate at night; frequent security patrols; enforced rules prohibiting unleashed dogs, speeding, noise & disorderly behavior; at least one host or resident manager for every 50 campsites; at least 20 other families in the campground; posted after hours emergency phone numbers; and strong cell phone signal strength or a pay phone in the campground. To assess safety, look for large (more than 50 campsites) and popular state and federal campgrounds. To assess popularity, visit the park's reservation page and determine the number of campsites that have been reserved for an upcomming summer weekend - and also an upcomming holiday weekend. Also read reviews and view photos posted on the web. Although a few county, municipal, and private campgrounds are safe, investigate carefully before spending the night in them. Avoid small and remote campgrounds that do not accept reservations and campgrounds that have few reserved campsites.
2. Location: Campgrounds located near popular vacation/tourist attractions make great base camp destinations. Campgrounds located near major highway routes offer economical places to spend the night enroute to your final destination. If your final destination is more than 400 miles from your home, use maps and internet sites to find large popular campgrounds located 300 to 400 miles along your travel route. Just set up the few essentials needed for a comfortable night's sleep so you can pack quickly the next morning and get an early start.
3. Campground Amenities: Spacious bathrooms with hot water, sinks with adjacent countertops, flush toilets, & showers; potable water spigots located near each campsite; electrical outlets located near each campsite; grey water disposal stations, convenient garbage/recycle disposal area; camp/convenience store, Laundromat, WiFi area, TV viewing room.
4. Maintenance: Bathrooms are painted, in good repair & cleaned frequently; grass is cut every week; understory vegetation is trimmed at least 3 feet back from campsites, roads & trails to reduce habitat for rodents, animal scavengers & snakes; leaves and other debris are blown away from campsites, trails & public use areas; procedures are used to control mosquitoes, ticks, spiders, wasps & other insects; garbage is picked up every week and disposal areas are clean; procedures are used to reduce problems caused by potentially dangerous animal scavengers (squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, bears); other buildings are painted and in good repair.
5. Campsite Features: Large, level, shady sites with at least 1500 square feet of grass, dirt, or crushed stone surface. Ideally, each campsite should have an elevated crushed-stone tent pad to avoid flooding in rainy weather. Campsites should have at least 20-foot foot buffer zones between adjacent campsites and several trees for providing afternoon shade and hanging hammocks, tarps, and clotheslines. They should also have sturdy picnic tables that can be moved about the campsite and fire rings with adjustable height cooking grates. Pedestal grills, electrical outlets, and potable water supply would be ideal.
6. Recreational Opportunities: Consider opportunities inside and within a few miles of the park. A swimming area (pool or beach) is important in the hot summer months. Other desirable recreational opportunities include boat/canoe rentals, dirt or gravel trails for hiking and mountain biking, smooth surface trails for biking, large recreation fields, volleyball courts, horse shoe pits, playgrounds for children, nature centers, interpretative programs, children's activities, fishing piers, disc golf courses, zip lines, amusement parks, museums, concerts, festivals, sporting venues, charter fishing guides, golf courses, live theater, antique stores, shopping areas, and restaurants.
7. Friendly Atmosphere: Staff should greet you when you enter the contact area, efficiently work to help you, and call you by name; hosts and park employees should be visible in the campground, speak to you often, and be willing to assist you as needed; social events such as morning coffee, book exchanges, board games, and evening marshmallow roasts should be offered; programs for children should be offered frequently; other campers frequently stroll around the campground and are friendly and helpful.
Some of the best family-centered tent camping destinations in the eastern United States are listed below with links to their web pages. These destinations are safe and secure campgrounds that offer lots of comfortable amenities and recreational opportunities. They are also some of the most popular camping destinations in the eastern states and so advance reservations are strongly recommended for summer weekends. I have personally visited most of these campgrounds but the few that I have not visited are very popular, highly praised by other family campers, and high on my list of campgrounds to visit in the future.
Lake Michigan States
Peninsula SP (471 sites). Five campgrounds; I prefer S Nicolet Bay CG but many tenters prefer Welcker's Point CG.
Devils' Lake SP (423 sites). Three campgrounds; Tent sites in all three but Ice Age CG seems to be the best.
Kettle Moraine SF-Southern Unit (265 sites). Four campgrounds; I prefer Ottawa Lake CG.
Northern Highland-American Legion SF (871 sites). Four developed campgrounds and dozens of primitive camping areas.
Governor Dodge SP (270 sites). Two campgrounds; I prefer sites 1 - 44 in Cox Hollow CG.
Ludington SP (373 sites). Three CGs; Most popular camping destination in Michigan; beach & many programs.
Platte River NPS CG in the Sleeping Bear Dunes NLS (179 sites). Great walk-in sites with tent pads but many tenters prefer DH Day rustic CG (87 sites).
South Higgins Lake SP (400 sites). Very popular CG with beach and water activities.
Holland SP (309 sites). Tenters should avoid the Beach CG because is a RV park. Lake Macatawa CG has the best tent sites.
Charles Mears SP (175 sites). Beautiful beach and quaint beach town. CG is a RV park with a few tent sites.
Waterloo SRA (350 sites). Both Portage Lake CG and Sugarloaf Lake CG are good for tents.
Straits SP (270 sites). Great CG in UP under Mackinaw Bridge and near ferries to Mackinaw Island.
Tahquamenon Falls SP (296 sites). Best in the UP; 3 CGs; child and family friendly atmosphere; near Lake Superior & Hemmingway sites.
Lake Gogebic SP (127 sites). Beautiful lake side sites in the western north woods but mosquitoes & flies; Great fishing!
Illinois Beach SP (241 sites). Very popular, reservations highly recommended.
Rock Cut SP (269 sites). Reservations are required. Rustic lakeside sites at the back of the campground have nice views.
Mississippi Palisades SP (241 sites). Beautiful views of the Mississippi River.
Shabbona Lake SP (150 sites). Most sites shady; Canvasback Cove loop is close to lakeshore.
Sangchris Lake SP (185 sites). Large grassy sites; near Springfield and Lincoln sites.
Coles Creek COE CG on Carlyle Lake (148 sites).
South Marcum COE CG on Rend Lake (160 sites).
Fort Massac SP (50 vehicular sites plus nice tent camping area). Historic exhibits.
Lincoln State Park (237 sites). Family centered campground, small lake, historic sites, live theatre.
O'Bannon Woods State Park (263 sites). Pool, bridle trails, canoeing, caves.
Brown County State Park (404 sites). Near Nashville Indiana and Indiana University.
Prophetstown State Park (55 sites). Aquatic center, family activities, historic sites, Purdue University.
Turkey Run State Park (209 sites). Scenic hiking trails and river.
Tippecanoe River State Park (112 sites). Very large, shady, grassy sites.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (79 sites). Large, private, rustic sites.
Indiana Dunes State Park (140 sites). Sand dunes, Lake Michigan.
Big Meadows CG in the Shenandoah NP (217 sites). 53 walk-in tent sites; most reservable; few walk-ups.
Loft Mountain CG in the Shenandoah NP (219 sites). 50 walk-in tent sites; most walk-ups.
Mathews Arm CG in the Shenandoah NP (179 sites). Generator free area.
Oak Ridge CG in Prince William Forest Park (100 sites). 20 m S of DC
Sherando Lake RA in the George Washington NF (63 sites).
Westmorland SP (138 sites).
North Bend COE CG on John H Kerr Lake (150 sites).
First Landing SP (222 sites).
Kiptopeke SP (133 sites).
Pocahontas SP (111 sites).
Wilderness Road CG in the Cumberland Gap NHP (160 sites).
Peaks of Otter CG on the Blue Ridge Parkway (141 sites).
Grindstone CG in the Jefferson NF (87 sites).
Beartree CG in the Jefferson NF (73 sites).
Douthat SP (87 sites).
Clator Lake SP (105 sites).
Grayson Highlands SP (69 sites plus equestrian sites).
Hungry Mother SP (81 sites).
Kentucky Dam Village SP (219 sites).
Hillman Ferry CG in the Land Between the Lakes NRA (380 sites).
Green River Lake SP (157 sites).
Lake Cumberland SP (129 sites).
Otter Creek Outdoor FWA (250 sites). Currently closed for renovation.
Headquarters CG in the Mammoth Cave NP (105 campsites). Best tent sites are in the back loop.
Holly Bay CG in the Daniel Boone NF (88 sites).
Twin Knobs CG in the Daniel Boone NF (216 sites).
Zilpo CG in the Daniel Boone NF (172 sites).
Baileys Point COE CG on Barren River Lake (215 sites).
Holmes Bend COE CG on Green River Lake (124 sites).
Fort Boonesborough SP (197 sites).
Levi Jackson SP (146 sites).
Cumberland Falls SP (50 sites).
Carter Caves SP (119 sites).
Elkmont CG in the Great Smoky Mountains NP (220 sites). All sites have elevated tent pads.
Cades Cove CG in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (159 sites). All sites have tent pads.
Fall Creek Falls SP (222 sites). Many crushed stone sites plus 16 primitive tent sites.
Tims Ford SP (132 sites). All sites in old campground have elevated tent pads.
Cedars of Lebanon SP (87 crushed stone sites).
Natchez Trace SP (146 crushed stone sites).
Indian Boundary CG in the Cherokee NF (92 sites). Tent pads.
Chilhowee CG in the Cherokee NF. (76 large crush stone sites plus nice tent only sites near bathroom.
Reelfoot Lake SP (118 sites). 29 tent only sites.
Pickwick Landing SP (84 sites). 36 primitive lakeside tent sites.
Pickwick Dam TVA CG (88 sites). 8 waterfront tent sites.
Defeated Creek CG in the Cordell Hull Lake COE Project (155 crushed stone sites).
Piney CG in the Land-Between-the Lakes NRA (283 crushed stone sites).
Harrison Bay SP (128 sites).
Deep Creek CG in the Great Smoky Mountains NP (45 tent only sites plus 47 crushed stone tent/RV sites).
Smokemont CG in the Great Smoky Mountains NP (142 tent/RV sites).
Standing Indian CG in the Nantahala NF (81 crushed stone tent/RV sites).
Jackrabbit Mountain CG in the Nantahala NF (92 crushed stone tent/RV sites).
Lake Powhatan CG in the Pisgah NF (98 crushed stone tent/RV sites).
Davidson River CG in the Pisgah NF (132 crushed stone tent/RV sites).
Doughton Park CG on the Blue Ridge Parkway (125 sites).
Mount Pisgah CG on the Blue Ridge Parkway (65 tent only sites plus 61 RV sites).
Stone Mountain SP (96 sites).
Falls Lake SRA (300 sites).
Jordan Lake SRA (1,000 sites).
Morrow Mountain SP (106 sites).
Frisco CG in the Cape Hatteras NSS (127 sites).
Ocracoke CG in the Cape Hatteras NSS (136 sites).
Cape Point CG in the Cape Hatteras NSS (202 sites).
Carolina Beach SP (83 sites)
Lake Catherine SP, Arkansas
Kincaid Campground, Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana
Gulf SP (496 sites). The Gulf beach is the primary attraction. Campground has many sunny, crowded RV sites but has a few decent tent sites especially back along Possum Road.
Monte Sano SP (77 sites). Large level, shady crushed stone sites with water & electricity. 18 large level shady sites in primitive area.
Oak Mountain SP (145 sites). 70 walk-in tent sites, a few with electricity & water.
Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park (300 sites). Some primitive sites have water & electricity but no bathrooms nearby.
White Oak Creek COE RA on Walter F. George Lake (130 sites). Very popular and friendly campground. Paved driveway with crushed stone auxiliary area.
Deerlick Creek COE CG on Holt Lake (46 sites). Very nice tent sites.
Pickensville COE CG on Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway (176 sites). Large waterfront sites.
Gunter Hill COE CG on R.E. Bob Woodruff Lake (146 sites).
Wind Creek SP (586 sites). Many small crowded RV sites but a few good tent sites and many recreational opportunities.
Chewacla SP (46 sites). 10 nice tent sites.
Amity COE RA on West Point Lake (93 sites).
Bluff Creek COE CG on Walter F. George Lake (88 sites).
Hardridge Creek COE CG on Walter F. George Lake (77 sites).
Open Pond USFS CG in the Conecuh NF (73 sites). Large level shady sites.
Unicoi SP (105 sites). Medium-sized crushed stone sites plus 31 walk-in sites with a nice bathroom.
Vogel SP (103 crushed stone sites). Large sites plus 18 walk-in sites.
Cloudland Canyon SP (72 gravel sites plus 30 walk-in tent sites.
Rabun Beach CG in the Chattahoochee NF (80 crushed stone sites) Large, shady, dispersed sites.
Red Top Mountain SP (92 sites)
McKinney CG in Allatoona Lake COE Project (150 sites).
Sweetwater CG in Allatoona Lake COE Project (118 sites). Large asphalt & river gravel sites. Best tent sites are in back loop.
Stone Mountain Park (431 sites). Large shady grass/dirt sites.
F.D. Roosevelt SP (109 sites). Large level grass/dirt sites.
R.Shaefer Heard CG in West Point Lake COE Project (117 sites).
Elijah Clark SP (165 crushed stone sites).
Petersburg CG in Clarks Hill Lake COE Project (85 crushed stone sites).
Seminole SP (50 sites). Best large level shady tent sites are in back loop.
Cotton Hill CG in Walter F. George COE Project (94 sites).
Skidaway Island SP (87 crushed stone sites).
Fort McAlister SP (66 crushed stone sites).
St Andrews SP (176 sites).
St Joseph Peninsula SP (119 sites).
Henderson Beach SP (60 large crushed stone sites).
Fort Pickens CG in the Gulf Islands National Seashore (200 campsites). Sections B & D have nice tent sites but no electricity and poor bathrooms. A few good tent sites in other sections.
Hillsborough River SP (112 sites). All sites have sand surface, most have shade.
Anastasia SP (139 sites).
Manatee Springs SP (106 sites). 20 tent only sites.
Salt Springs RA in the Ocala NF (160 sites). 54 tent only sites.
Juniper Springs RA in the Ocala NF (79 sites).
Highlands Hammock SP (140 sites). 20 tent only sites.
Myakka River SP (90 sites).
Flamingo CG in the Everglades NP (250 sites). 40 tent only sites.
Jonathan Dickinson SP (135 sites).
Fort Stockton Area
Balmorhea SP (34 sites), 55 m W, spring water, CCC structures, near I-10
Davis Mountain SP (94 sites), 70 m SW, scenic trails, CCC structures, observatory, historic sites
San Angelo SP (277 sites), 150 m NE, longhorn cattle, fishing tackle loaner program, historic fort
Lake Colorado City SP (112 sites), 170 m NE, lake activities, kayak rental, historic sites, near I-20 & Abilene
Seminole Canyon SP (31 sites), 130 m SE, native American history, Amistad NRA, near Rio Grande
Rio Grande Village (100 sites), 120 m S, Big Bend NP, Rio Grande
Palo Duro SP (114 sites), 20 m SE, live theatre, scenic hiking trails, near I-40 & I-27
Caprock Canyon SP (136 sites), 70 m SE, smooth bike trail, scenic hiking trails
Lubbock KOA (90 sites), 110 m S, pool, museums, Buddy Holley Center, near I-27
Dallas/Fort Worth Area
Cedar Hill SP (385 sites), 10 m SW, Joe Poole Lake, nature programs, near I-20
Ray Roberts Lake SP (369 sites), 40 m N, lake activities, near I-35
Lake Mineral Wells SP (115 sites), 50 m W, bike trail, museums, near I-20
Lake Whitney SP (137 sites), 60 m SW, near Dinosaur Valley SP, near I-35 & Waco
Eisenhower SP (97 sites), 70 m N, Lake Texoma, marina, pontoon boat rental, near US 75
Fairfield Lake SP (181 sites), 80 m SE, lake activities, historic sites, near I-45
Possum Kingdom SP (136 sites), 90 m W, Possum Kingdom Lake, boat rental, CCC structures
Tyler SP (149 sites), 100 m E, CCC structures, shady sites, boat rentals, near I-20
Lake Bob Sandlin SP (97 sites), 110 m NE, lake activities, near I-30
Waxahachie Creek COE RA (76 sites), 30 m S, Lake Bardwell, near I-45
Liberty Hills COE Park (102 sites), 60 m S, Navarro Mills Lake, near I-35, I-45 & Waco
Holiday Park COE RA (105 sites), 70 m SW, Benbrook Lake, historic sites, near I-20
Sanders Cove COE RA (89 sites) 100 m NE, Pat Mayse Lake
Brazos Bend SP (111 sites), 35 m S, observatory, wildlife viewing
Galveston Island SP (150 sites), 50 m SE, Gulf of Mexico, windy weather, near Galveston
Huntsville SP (182 sites), 65 m N, CCC structures, near I-45 & Sam Houston NF
Lake Livingston SP (171 sites), 70 m N, lake activities, fishing tackle loaner program, Sam Houston NF
Rocky Creek COE Park (195 sites), 80 m NW, Somerville Lake
Mill Creek COE Park (100 sites), 140 m NE, Sam Rayburn Lake, Angelina NF
Ratcliff Lake NF CG (77 sites), 120 m N, CCC structures, lake activities, Davy Crocket NF
San Antonio Area
Guadalupe River SP (90 sites), 30 m N, swimming area, near Austin & I-10
Pedernales Falls SP (69 sites), 60 m N, near Austin
Garner SP (407 sites), 75 m W, swimming area, jukebox dances, CCC structures
Goliad SP (58 sites), 90 m SE, historic sites, CCC structures, fishing tackle loaner program, near Corpus Christi
Inks Lake SP (206 sites), 95 m N, swimming area, boat rental, CCC structures, scenic trails
Bastrop SP (127 sites), 95 m NE, pool, near Austin
Lake Corpus Christi SP (133 sites), 100 m S, CCC structures, near I-37 & Corpus Christi
Goose Island SP (127 sites), 130 m SE, wildlife refuge, near Corpus Christi & Gulf of Mexico
Mustang Island SP (348 sites), 150 m S, near Corpus Christi, Gulf of Mexico beaches
Potters Creek COE Park (136 sites), 40 m N, Canyon Lake, well-spaced sites, near Austin & I-10
Pace Bend CP (420 sites), 80 m N, Lake Travis, near Austin