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What Is ‘Car Camping?’

People camp on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska.

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We get this question a lot — what is “car camping?”

Car camping is, quite simply, just that: camping via your car. People use the term to differentiate between camping with your car, backpacking, backcountry camping or RVing.

Unlike RVing, car camping typically involves a tent. Car camping allows you to bring a whole hill of stuff with you that you wouldn’t ever bring if you had to carry it on your back. But because you’re driving up to your campsite in a campground, you can bring whatever fits in your vehicle.

Giant tent? Air mattress or cots? Your pillow? A favorite blanket? Firewood? Great food? A huge cooler? Sure! Why not?

Backpacking, on the other hand, is a different kind of camping. When backpacking you stuff everything you need into a backpack, often one specifically made for the job, and head out to your campsite. Some people backpack just a little ways, walking into a campsite off the road. Others make a whole adventure out of it, backpacking miles into the wilderness. It’s all about what is best or most enjoyable for you.

What are the pros and cons of car camping?

Why you should go car camping

Car camping is really convenient. It’s hard to argue with the ease of driving to your campsite with everything you need in your trunk or truck bed.

Campgrounds available by car tend to have nicer amenities. If flushing toilets and access to water are important to you during a camping trip, car camping is the best option for you. Always research the amenities offered by the campground you plan to visit if you want to make sure certain ones are available.

Campgrounds designed for cars and RVs often have camp hosts. Camp hosts, often volunteers, keep an eye on the campground, making sure the rules are obeyed, the bathrooms are clean and reservations are not ignored.

Why you should not go car camping

Car camping can be really noisy. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, a campground for car campers and RVs may not fit your needs. Such campgrounds tend to be crowded since they are so easy to get to. You’re likely to have neighbors, and their definition of a good time may be different, and a lot noisier, than yours.

You might be able to hear the road. Again, the tradeoff for convenience could be a campground so near the highway that you can hear it all night long. We can sometimes hear sirens from our favorite car camping spots. That’s not ideal.

Who should go car camping

People who don’t have time for an elaborate trip. We love the simplicity of car camping. We know what we need, we stick it in the car and we go. The end.

Have small kids and want to try camping? Car camping is the ticket. Backpacking with little kids isn’t practical for most people. That makes car camping or RVing the perfect solution for a fun family getaway outside.

New campers. If you’ve never camped before but want to give tent camping a try, car camping is a great way to do it without getting in over your head. Your fellow campers are likely friendly people and if you need help with something, they will likely be willing to give you a hand.

Where to go car camping

We love car camping near our home. I know that sounds crazy, but most of our camping weekends are spent at a State Park campground just a few miles from where we live. It’s the perfect staycation.

Look for a campground that fits your needs. You know what makes a pleasant experience for you. Look for a campground that meets that. When we first started camping, a flushing toilet and running water were really important to me, and we camped where that was available. If that’s you, too, research what the campground offers, and consider camping at private campgrounds. You’ll pay more per night, but the amenities will be a lot nicer and the campground is likely to be less crowded.

Go on an adventure. One of the things we love about car camping is that the availability of campgrounds means we can go on an adventure pretty much anywhere and have a great time without worrying about booking a hotel. Get out there and explore!

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