#vanlife: Finding the Perfect Camping Spot

After car camping through U.S and Canada, I have gathered a few helpful camping tips and tricks along the way.  Finding a great camping spot is not always easy, but knowing what to look for is always a great start!

Step #1: What Kind of Camper are You?

The first step to picking a camping spot is determining what type of campground would suit you best.  For example, a first-time camper may have a lot of trouble camping in the backcountry campgrounds where there are no amenities.

  • The Newbie: As a first-time camper, you might want to consider developed campsites (one’s with plenty of amenities such as hot showers and potable water) and sites that are only a short drive away from town.
  • Family Camping: Family campers seem to be the most planned and ready.  Look for campsites you can reserve ahead of time and research the ones that have easy hikes and activities close by for the kids.
  • Adventure Camper: You are not the type to look for the crowded campgrounds, but are willing to put some sweat into finding the hidden gems.  Look for the less-popular primitive sites or if you are willing, load up our backpack and head into the backcountry.
  • The Person without a Plan: If you plan more spontaneous trips, avoid trying to book the leftover reservable sites and stick to the first-come, first-served campgrounds.

Step #2: Pick a Location

Where are you wanting to camp? A weekend out in the vast and open landscapes of the desert? Do you want to wake up to the sound of waves? An escape into the mountains? Here are some ideas of where to camp in the U.S and Canada:

Desert Camping:

One of my all-time favorite National Parks is Joshua Tree located in California, USA.  It’s extremely diverse location is perfect for hiking along incredible landscapes and getting an amazing view of the Milky Way at night.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Joshua Tree, California

Some tips for exploring the desert:

  • If it is your first time camping in the desert, stay in an established campground!
  • Bring tarps and other items to create shade and protect yourself from the harsh rays of the sun.  
  • Be prepared and bring more water than you think you will need.  
  • Bring lightweight clothing for the hiking in the day and layers for when the temperatures change when the sun goes down.  

Beach Camping:

Campgrounds like Big Sur in California are amazing finds because you get to wake up to the sounds of waves without paying the price of a posh resort.  Beach camping offers great ways to enjoy the beautiful coastal views and to have relaxing days laying in the sand.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to a Road Trip Along California Highway 1

Some tips for camping at the beach:

  • Beach camping is one of the most popular getaways, especially in California, so try to find free dispersed sites or try to reserve a site ahead of time.
  • The sun is a harsh enemy of the beach, protect yourself with sunscreen and stay hydrated!
  • Try to combat the sand as much as you can, keep shoes, towels, and bathing suits outside the tent. 

Check out my camping essentials:

Step #3: Choose a Campground

The best way to figure out which campground fits you best is to really research them.  If you are undecided between a few and are planning on staying for a few nights, pick one or two that you like. For instance, in Banff National Park in Canada, we stayed at both Johnston Canyon Campground and Two Jack Main Campground.  Not only did it help because we could visit more places around the two different sites, but they offered different amenities that we could take advantage of.

Some questions to ask yourself when deciding on a campground are:

  • What are the amenities? Hot showers, running water, firewood, general stores, and laundry are all amenities you can decide if you need close by for your camping experience.
  • Is it worth the crowd? Some campgrounds offer 100+ sites while others only offer around 20 or less.  Try to avoid sites next to the road or larger campgrounds if you are “noise sensitive.”
  • What is near the campground?  Many campgrounds such as Johnston Canyon are located right next to awesome hikes and activities.  Figure out what you want to do and see and plan you campground around it.

Our Site at Johnston Canyon Campground, Banff National Park, Canada

Step #4: Pick a Site

Determine what amenities (if any) to be near that would help make the camping experience more comfortable. Some features to look for are:


If you have a RV or are needing an extra spot for friends, make sure you pick a campground that permits the type of space your car needs.

Water Source:

Try to figure out the accessibility of water BEFORE arriving at your campground.  Many campgrounds have a water spigot that you can use for potable waters, but there are exceptions.  Make sure you have enough gallons to last a few days before arrival.


Sometimes it really is unavoidable to have close neighbors, put if you are going to a first-come, first-serve campground try to go around check-out time (usually 10-11AM) when you can have more sites to choose from.


Many backcountry sites do not have a bathroom, so if you are not one to do your business in the woods, stick to the developed campgrounds.  I suggest picking a site near the bathroom, but not too close.  It may seem like a plus to be the site right next to it, but that area is prone to increased foot traffic and awful smells.

Flat Ground:

If you are a tent camper, make sure you find a site with the flattest possible spot for your tent. Stay on high ground when the forecast calls for rain and always check for rocks and branches that will make sleeping in your tent an uncomfortable experience.

Spots to Accessorize:

The best part of setting up camp for me is making it feel like home.  Set up lanterns, hammocks, chairs (not the best idea for backcountry campers), anything that lighten up the mood and make the site a little more cheery.

$15 campsite> $100 hotel

A post shared by Leslie 🦋 (@blueskiesopenroads) on


I hope these tips making finding a great campsite a little bit easier.  A campsite can make or break your trip if you are spending your time being regretful about picking the site next to the screaming baby or realizing that your site is miles away from all the activities that brought you to the outdoors in the first place.  I wish you all luck in finding serenity and peace in your outdoor adventures.

Is there anything I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Look out for more #vanlife posts as Andrew and I make our way through the U.S & Canadian National Parks!

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