« Monarch Pass | Main | Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP »

Where to camp?

A blog reader who shall remain only partially anonymous (Brad A) wrote me today to ask:

Do you use the Passport America discount on your trip? I'm just starting to check it out for our route, and it looks like it'll pay for itself pretty quickly, like a the national parks pass. It's one of those things that seems like such a good deal, it must be a trap- maybe they coax you into a box, and you wake up drugged and are forced to sew Nikes somewhere in the Phillipines.

We just started using Passport America in northern California, when Rich C dragged us to a place in Klamath that offered the PA discount. We bought a PA membership on the spot and the first two days discount paid for about half the cost of the membership.

What we've found is that those places that offer PA tend to be the ones at the edge of town or in the less-desirable spots. That doesn't make them bad, but because of their locations we end up only using PA places once every few stops. I think at this point we have spent about 10 nights in PA camps and 7 or so of those were eligible for the discount rate. That easily paid for the membership, since most nights are discounted to about half the regular rate.

When we are looking for a place to stay, we go down this list:

1) National Parks
2) State Parks
3) Courtesy parking
4) Boondocking in remote area
5) County parks/ BLM camps/ Corp of Engr camps
6) Commercial campgrounds w/ PA discount or KOA discount
7) Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, Camping World, casinos, etc. (if staying only one night)
8) Gas stations, empty parking lots, etc.
9) Commercial campgrounds with no discount
10) Highway rest areas (extreme desperation)

Keep in mind that this list is oriented to our interest in natural areas, socializing, and cheap camping. We don't feel the needs for full hookups unless we are going to be staying for longer than four days. Other people feel differently, so you may not agree with the order we use. Still, with this policy we have managed to keep our campground expenses generally under $300 per month.

Of course, the order of the list can change if weather is extremely hot (A/C needed) or we need to be in cell phone or Internet range. That's why today we are at the KOA in Gunnison rather than at some very beautiful campsites a few miles west of town near the lake. Cell phones don't work over there, and I have work to do this week.

I think PA is a good deal if you camp a lot. Keep in mind that not every place offers the discount every day. Some are restricted to 2 nights, or weekdays only, etc. It works best if you have flexibility in where you want to stay.

We keep the PA guidebook under the front seat with the atlas and the KOA book. I'm planning to add books on Corps of Engrs campgrounds and BLM campgrounds to the pile. Rich C swears by "Don Wright's Guide to Free Campgrounds" as well.

If anyone has a guidebook that they recommend, post a comment here and share it with everyone!

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Please enter the security code you see here