Resources For Family Camping Vacations

An enthusiastic camper, let me share some resources for family camping vacations to help in planning your next big U.S. camping trip. My tips should help whether you prefer a tent, RV or cabin, at any time of year and in or outside the national parks.

Grounds crew at a camping cabin
Even rustic cabins, like this one at Jellystone Camp Resort at Birchwood Acres, undergo extensive cleaning and maintenance.

Note that camping today is a little different than what I grew up with. You’ll find many fewer organized group activities like Bingo and S’mores making. Newcomers are able to rent trusted gear from companies like REI. Trust me, renting your gear is a big savings. Check REI pricing on rental tents, sleeping bags and other essentials.

Despite the changes, that love of the outdoors that camping develops in all of us may be stronger than ever before.

According to Kampgrounds of America’s annual North American Camping Report, camping accounted for 11% of all leisure trips in the U.S. before we’d even heard of coronovirus. After so many months spent in lockdown indoors, family interest in camping exploded. Camping trips now comprise 32% of all planned vacations. That makes it a $52 billion dollar market.

Are Family Camping Vacations Right for You?

camping tents in the woods
Tent camping is the simplest form of sleeping in the outdoors, but it requires the right equipment.

When I was growing up, summer meant going camping on our annual family reunions. Of course, there were things I hated. I hated the smell of insect repellant, my mom’s spit baths, and the feel of rocks in the depths of my shoes. That is why, by the end of our many camping trips, I would usually end up bug-bitten and shoe-less.

Things have changed: insect repellent comes in neutral scents. Mom has discovered hand sanitizer and moist towelettes. I can take care of my own hygiene needs and well, the rocks they still stay stuck in my shoes. But camping still means family.

The following tips, guides and websites should help you decide if you’re up for camping near your home or driving to an area of interest. If you’re ready to go, I have tips for where and when you should go camping.

FTF Picks for Top Family Camping Resources

tents and RVs along a lake shoreline.
Some campgrounds, like Keen Lake in Pennsylvania, have lakeside sites for both tents and RVs.

There are literally thousands of websites with general or very specific advice about camping and campgrounds. These are the ones I use.

ReserveAmerica allows you to browse for campsite locations and make reservations all in one place. You can specify what kind of campsite you are looking for (RV, cabin, tent, etc), and browse these sites by camp or region. Or, just use their regional directories to explore destinations.

Association of RV Parks and Camping website,, is a useful resource hosted by an association of nearly 3,000 independent RV park and campground owners. It provides basic information about a plethora of independent camping destinations, some of which are also affiliated with the big camping brands.

We can’t ignore, the official U.S. government travel planning platform and reservation system for 13 federal agencies. They’ve pulled together lots of info in a user-friendly format packed with tips, tools and links to new destinations and activities. Many items are sortable by zip code do you can use it for a close-to-home staycation too.

If you’re an RV owners, you’re probably familiar with Harvest Hosts. The membership program gives RVers access to unique and offbeat RV camping options, such as backyards and big lawns. Their latest too, CampScanner, is pretty cool. For a base price of $39 per year, they claim to scan more than 200,000 campsite listings at 12,500 campgrounds in 4,900 parks to be notified when a camping spot becomes available. Now that’s a real time-saver.

Other online resources abound. For understanding how to pull off the perfect backyard camping adventure with little ones, follow Andrew Der’s advice or check our our FTF Camping Library here. Social sites like Pinterest have a wealth of tried and true recipes for cooking over a campfire or barbecue grill.

KOA is Another Trusted Family Camping Vacation Brand

Canvas glamping tent at Keen Lake, Pennsylvania
Large, comfortable canvas tents on fixed platforms are part of the glamping options at Keen Lake Resort in the Poconos.

KOA is one of the best known companies in the camping business, with more than 500 campgrounds in North America. Most KOA “Kampground” operators also own their campgrounds. That’s why they try to maintain a family atmosphere by offering hay rides, outdoor waterslides in season, free WiFi and pancake breakfasts.

Many of them have branched out into “glamping” (glamorous camping) that really appeals to first-time campers. You might find deluxe cabins with beds, linens and kitchens. Or, request parked Airstreams, cabooses, traditional circular yurts, teepees and fixed tents that are elegantly furnished like those seen on African safaris.

These options are ideal for those who can’t cope with setting up a tent or driving an RV. All KOA Kampgrounds have grocery stores stocked with camping staples, and there are pools, laundry rooms and other amenities, at many. Some even offer instruction in pitching tents for novices. And most welcome pets, too. (Here are some camp with pets tips to follow.)

Researching, Exploring & Staying in the National Parks

Camping teepee at Ruby's Inn in Utah
Ruby’s Inn in Utah is a private campground with teepees for rent. Photo c. Ruby’s Inn.

For me, camping always meant visiting a State or National Park. The National Park Service website allows you to search all of the National Parks from its alphabetical listing. Along with background information about each park, including its activities, history and climate, the website provides information about available campsites within the park’s boundaries. Most important, each park’s website indicates which facilities are open and which are closed, due to weather etc. Keep in mind that also databases camping availability at national forests, BLM lands and other government wilderness areas.

Some of the National Parks I most enjoyed visiting were Bryce Canyon (Utah), the Grand Canyon (Arizona), Glacier National Park (Montana), Yosemite (California), Death Valley (California) and Acadia National Park (Maine). At each new place, we would go to the Visitor Center, get maps, then swim, kayak, or hike. We would end the day by playing card games, kick-the-can or sardines, and then we would go to sleep, not in beds, but in sleeping bags. Our overnight stays in the National Parks let us become part of the nature we had come to explore.

While your personal experiences and family traditions may differ from mine, these web links will help you and your family decide what interests you and what you want to explore.

Campsites or RV Parks in or near Favorite National Parks

Campfire outdoors
Making S’mores over an open fire is a big part of growing happy campers.

Many of the national parks have a great collection of distinctive videos, often shot by park rangers. You can share your screen with the kids before you finalize your choice. In each park’s Learn about The Park section you’ll also find information about the park’s significance and history, plus guides for kids and students who hope to visit.

To help you choose, I asked my colleague Jennifer Guterman about her camping choices for national parks, because she knows a lot about RV travel. Here are her favorite virtual resources and some campgrounds her family has enjoyed.

Glacier National Park (Montana)
Apgar Campground, at the southwest tip of Lake McDonald near the West Glacier entrance, is a favorite.

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)
Fishing Bridge RV Park, located in park, is popular.

Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
There are four main CGTNP camping options with different facilities.

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
Ruby’s Inn RV Park and Campground is part of a larger lodging complex ½ mile from the park, shuttles available.

Zion National Park (Utah)
Zion River Resort RV Park and Campground is located in nearby Virgin with shuttles to the park.

Redwood National and State Parks (California)
Jedediah Smith Redwoods, Mill Creek, Elk Prairie and Gold Bluffs Beach are the four developed campgrounds in the parks. There are some backcountry options (free permit required) as well.

Yosemite National Park (California)
Yosemite Pines RV Resort and Family Lodging, where you can glamp in a Conestoga wagon, is about 22 miles from west entrance.

Mt. Rainier National Park (Washington)
Rainbow RV Resort is on the shores of Lake Tanwax in nearby Eatonville.

Have you decided between a campground and hotel?

Yogi Bear's Water Zone is a water park at Jellystone Camp Resorts.
Yogi Bear’s Water Zone is the themed water park at many Jellystone Camp Resorts.

I know that the kind of camping I grew up doing isn’t for every family. Fortunately for your family, campgrounds have invested in comfortable fixed tents with cots. You can also book rustic furnished cabins with bathrooms and kitchens (fully stocked.) These furnished facilities are better able to accommodate family reunions, millennials interested in the outdoors, and large groups that include people who don’t have an RV, are bug averse or hate the idea of sleeping in a tent.

You just have to decide on what your family’s camping style will be.

Major campground chains, such as Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resorts which has more than 75 franchises in the U.S., also cater specifically to families and children. When you book, be sure to look for the AAA, AARP, FMCA, Good Sam and other discounts to keep your adventure affordable.

Overall, you can see that camping has not changed drastically over the years. Camping is still an affordable way for families to spend time in a unique environment together.

But I hope you see that planning for camping has grown easier, making the possibilities seem limitless… as long as you plan ahead.

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