10 (or more) Tips for Camping in National Parks
by Richard and Laura Pawlowski
Are you considering camping in one or more of our wonderful National Parks? If so, here are 10 tips from a pair of “seasoned” tent campers that can make your adventure much easier and enjoyable.
Tents are better in National Parks and you don’t need an expensive RV to enjoy your National Parks. Tenting is so much cheaper and environmentally safer as well. In many ways, tenting with a regular car or mini-van is much better than going in an RV. As a matter of fact, some roads leading to some parks actually limit the length of RVs allowed because most parks were originally designed for and by tenters. Tent camping is MUCH cheaper for sure (site fees, gas, insurance and maintenance) and in many National Parks, the best campsites are for “tents only.”
Go for more than a just a few weeks – if you can – and go to more than one NP – they are all wonderful places (and our personal plan is to see them all). Regular or typical vacations are OK, but you’ll miss so much if you don’t stay as along as possible at each one. Most folks just go for two days on a week-end but see only the highlights and often miss the real essence of the place. Laura and I spent two full years of camping with our tent – and we got to 55 different campgrounds and 15 National Parks in 10 states. Some places we stayed for more than a month we paid only $3 a night. We also met a lot of other full-timers and made many new friends this way. In our book, we suggest you take a full year out of your life and give it as a grand gift to yourself. Just quit paying rent and go.
Choose the tent wisely not cheaply. Wind and rain will happen – count on it. Unpredictable weather requires you to consider the types of seams and zippers (very important) and how close to the ground the rain-fly goes. If it is above 8 inches, a strong wind event might shred it for you. Big metal zippers are better than small plastic zippers and metal poles are better (in some cases) than fiberglass poles. The type of connection of the poles – to each other and the ground – also matter.
The shape of the tent really matters too and the taller it is the more wind it will catch. We used a two-door, mini-yurt model (after going thru 3 others that failed) and the hexagon shape was best for us. We used a 11×11 footer and it was just tall enough to standup in and just the right size for two adults. BTW, we went thru a near hurricane in Padre Island National Seashore (Texas) and were the only tent standing after 60 mph winds. A very exciting night for sure. You should have heard it from inside our tent and the sky was incredible – wow! 🙂
Get get off the ground. We’ve been camping for over 40 years (we’re in our 70s) and in our extended sojourns – we’ve come to appreciate the value of a good, foldable cot (about $55). For extended tenting, this is a must. Choose wisely here too because some cots have a very uncomfortable bar in the center. Test it at home first.
And BTW, air mattresses are a total waste of time and money.
Showers – Go Solar. Most National Park campgrounds do NOT have showers. Some do but don’t count on it. Some parks have pay showers that are operated by a concessionaire and they can soak you (pun intended) to use them. We bought a solar heated water bag (about $20) and a shower-tent (about $50) and it was one of the best things we used. Saved us a lot of money and when the sun didn’t cooperate, we used our 2 burner propane stove to heat the water.
As an aside, many campers had never seen tent-shower like ours and when they asked what it was, we told them we used it only when we wanted to sleep standing up. 🙂
**** I’ll post the next 5 next week. So please check back or email me if you need them right away. Thanks..