The right site in a campground can be the difference between a crappy experience and an awesome one.
What makes a site great for you, will likely differ than what makes a site great for us.
We personally love sites with great views and maximum privacy – we prefer to see a field, trees or water out our window, instead of neighboring RVs. We like to step out of our RV into our own defined space and not feel like we’re stepping out on a stage.
Some people prefer concrete pads to reduce what they track into their RV, and some prefer gravel so they can stake down their awning.
Some folks like the shade of trees to help keep temps cooler, and some want no trees around for optimal satellite aiming.
This post is about finding your right campsite within a campground, and optimizing those sites even more!
Curious how we go about finding great campgrounds?
Our Guide to Finding RV Parks, Campgrounds and Boondocking
Last week we hosted our monthly live broadcast and the archived video is available (~36 minutes). But if you prefer text, you’ll find the highlights of what we shared below too.
Investigate Before Hand
I love online booking, and quite frankly – if a campground doesn’t take reservations online – we’re unlikely to make any further effort.
We also have a strong preference for public campgrounds – state parks, Army Corp of Engineers, county parks, national parks, etc. We prefer being more out in nature and having larger sites. And they’re usually cheaper than RV Park equivalents in many markets.
So most of our research is all online or using mobile apps to find camping options available in an area we want to go. So let’s assume we’ve already found the campground, here are some tips we use for scouting out virtually in advance to choosing the actual site we reserve:
Check Campground Reviews
Many bloggers and vloggers share about their campground experiences – and they can be an excellent resource for intel. (My personal go-to resource is of course Nina & Paul’s at WheelingIt.US.)
No one can visit all 20,000+ campgrounds in the country however – and that’s where campground review sites become an invaluable resource to tap into the experience of a wide variety of folks.
We currently use both Campendium (our favorite) and RVParkReviews (they have more reviews) to do a quick check on the campground itself. We look for mentions of site separation, the good loop, the primo sites and any other tips we might be able to pick up. This has saved us in the past from booking an extremely unlevel site or one that might otherwise disappoint.
(We of course also leave our own reviews with similar tips to help others in the future.)
These review sites also allow reviewers to upload photos, which can give you a good sense of the location (just be careful of glamor shots that really don’t give you a sense of reality). The founders of Campendium in particular are making extraordinary efforts to visit as many campgrounds in their own travels to photograph.
A Google Search for the campground name can usually bring up tons of additional information.
Check the Campground’s Website or Reservation System
Most campgrounds and RV Parks these days have their own websites, and few have done a great job of photographing their individual sites.
Since we lean towards public parks, we spend a lot of time on ReserveAmerica.com and Recreation.gov. Their photos are rather tiny however, and not all campgrounds do a great job with documenting their sites.
I look not only at the photos of the site I’m considering, but also of surrounding sites to see if I can gain any extra perspective.
Google Satellite Earth View & Street Maps
Nothing beats visiting the campsite in person to scope it out – which isn’t always possible. So the next best thing is using technology for a virtual visit.
I use good ole Google Maps. I’ll search for the campground while having the campground’s own map open in a browser tab.
I then switch to Google Earth mode (aka. satellite view) by clicking the ‘Earth’ preview image in the bottom left hand corner of the map. I then try to orient myself to the campground’s layout. The satellite imagery gives me a lot of clues as to site separation, vegetation, maneuverability, proximity to roads and just how the campground might feel.
If you zoom ALL they way in on the Google Earth mode that may engage Street View where you can virtually walk around the campground (not all locations have this). This allows you to learn even more, including how level the site might be, any dips or obstacles that could make arrival a challenge and just what the view might be.
Or course, we LOVE first come first serve campgrounds where you don’t have to pre-select your campsite. No amount of research in advance is going to give you a heads up to being neighbors with a large reunion, rambunctious weekenders, a flooded-out site or any other such campground calamity.
Adjustments After You’re There
Once you get to your site, you have some opportunities to adjust your experience even further. Here’s some ideas we keep in mind:
Ask For a Different Site
If your site totally disappoints, and it looks like there’s other open sites – don’t hesitate to ask the park office if you can switch sites. Sometimes, it’s just worth the hassle of moving. We particularly love campgrounds that assign sites upon arrival. We’ll be keeping an eye out for campers packing up in a desired site and ask the campground if we can move after they’ve vacated.
You don’t have to park exactly straight in your spot. Don’t be afraid to angle your RV into your site as much as you can while still keeping within campground guidelines. If there’s an asphalt or gravel pad campgrounds generally require you stay on them.
But we find that angling ourselves cattywampus while still keeping all the tires on the driveway, can make our view a bit better, keep a window or two a little more obscured from the street and even keep the sun out of our windows.
Back-In? Nah… Drive-In!
With a motorhome we can usually choose which way we go into a site. We’re not restricted to back-in sites necessarily meaning our rear has to be at the back. Having a high quality heavy duty extension cords gives us a lot of flexibility to still reach the power pedestal if we’re not dry-camping.
This allows us to optimize our views and privacy.
Obviously, that’s not usually an option with most trailers and 5th wheels.
We also only do this if we’re not hooking up to sewer anyway, as we’d end up having our sewer hose crossing our outdoor living space (ick).
Make sure the campground allows this (some don’t) and that you’re not encroaching on the privacy of a neighbor. No one likes an uninvited awning-to-awning shared porch.
Sun Shades and Tinting
There are multiple ways you can treat your windows so that you have great views out, while keeping privacy. Window shading can also help regulate temperature. All of our side windows are darkly tinted, which gives us a great amount of privacy during the day with all the windows open.
During our Summer 2015 renovations, we installed MCD Day/Night shades on all of our windows for increased privacy. We had a power day shade for our front windshield installed (we use a pull curtain at night due to Kiki’s love of sitting on the front dash). This helps a lot with heat and privacy, and they’re so simple to deploy.
Prior to our MCD Shades, we used much more affordable RV Quick Shades – we cut them to fit our windows and used suction cups to attach them from the inside. Another popular option is covers for the outside of your windows, such as MagneShade. You have to manually deploy those and store them when not in use.
Know your Visibility
Take some time peering into your RV through windows at different times of days, different lighting conditions and different angles. Know how visible you are, and adjust for that if privacy is a concern.
Don’t forget about any mirrors or reflective surfaces you might have inside that reflect views you don’t intend.
Day Shade Tip: If you have day shades, remember – they’re pretty private during the day. But once it’s dark out and light inside – they’re totally see-thru! Be dressed for the occasion!
Clean your Windows
It’s amazing how you don’t notice how dirty your windows are until you give them a good cleaning!
We carry an Unger Squeegee window washer and a telescoping pole to give all our windows a regular cleaning inside and out. Well worth the few moments it takes for the improved views and cleanliness.
And of course, a clean windshield is essential for driving safety. Part of getting ready for a driving day is cleaning the front windshield to remove bugs, dirt, spots and anything else we picked up along the way.
Taking the time to maximize our view and privacy at each stop is so worth the effort. Every little bit helps add happiness to our travels and makes each stop feel more like home.