Natural Selection - Choosing your Campsite
It's really a matter of personal preference - but here's what I look for in a campsite
Pictured: Yes you BET Site #66 is reserved! For meeee! This is in Seaquest State Park.
I browse the Washington State Parks Camps Reservation site like some folks browse Amazon. Whether looking ahead in January to book July and August, or hopping on spontaneously in June and seeing if I can nab a cancellation, I love to look and dream and make notes about where I want to GoSoloCamp next!
My preferences have developed over time and trips, and I see that process continuing. I am constantly learning and growing with each camp. Sometimes I want to go back to a favorite spot, anticipating what I've enjoyed in the past; other times I want to try a new campground, a new campsite. I am pretty much always able to appreciate a site and enjoy it, regardless; but I like to especially note the ones I love, or the ones that I'll pass on a second time and seek out a different adventure. Keeping yourself open to the experience that presents itself is key.
On the site, you will get to see a pic of the site, sometimes even two or three shots. Keep in mind, even with multiple pictures, the site will feel different when you get there; it is 360 degrees, there are other sites with other occupants. So the picture is *great* and yet just a sliver of the "big picture."
If I am reserving ahead, or checking quickly on a cancellation to try and snap it up, I first look at the campground map, and see where the site is relative to the other sites, amenities, trails and paths, intersections and larger elements like nearby roads or gathering facilities. Here's what I like - and again, I can't stress enough - what makes the trip for you may well be different!
Check the site you're considering on the Campground Map:
Proximity to restrooms
I like to be no more than a 5 minute walk from the restroom, but not RIGHT near it. The restrooms are lit at night, and I prefer a darker evening experience. And of course there is a lot of coming and going, and I prefer to be set apart from that.
Proximity to a water spigot
I love to have a water spigot across the street from me or on the outskirts of my campsite. Yes, there is increased neighbor traffic as others fill dishpans, cooking pots or water bottles. I've found it to be pretty peripheral, and I've been able to interact if I felt like it, or be immersed in my own experience if I prefer. I haven't yet had anyone get talky due to water consumption.
Proximity to garbage dumpsters
I like to be *away* from the dumpsters. I don't mind collecting my trash and recycling in separate bags at my site, and dumping them at the end of my trip or on my way to the restroom or a walk; so I prefer to be away from it. They typically do a good job of keeping it monitored, but again, there's traffic, also a bit of noise and the potential of scents.
Proximity to larger roads
This isn't always a big deal or possible to avoid, but there can be road noise from a nearby busy road or highway that can overlay the birds and the wind in the pines.
Proximity to trails/paths
I just want to be aware if my site will be next to (for example) a main path to the lake, or a main restroom path; I like to be a bit apart from that, ideally.
Proximity to group campsite
The group site, by it's very nature, tends to be a very social campsite... lots of talking often into the night, frequently music played, etc. I go solo camping to relish having peace and quiet; and so being right next to people having a very social experience makes that an unrealistic expectation.
Proximity to (or description as having capacity for) RV site
The RV sites, by their nature as accommodating larger taller vehicles, often have few to no trees and are in more open spaces. I gravitate away from these areas.
Then, click on the site, and check out the site pictures. Try to see if you can discern:
What separates the site from nearby campsites
I love a campground that has greenbelts and strips of bushes and trees between campsites. It is not always the nature of a campground; or there may be sites within a campground that are more on the periphery, or do have more vegetation between you and your neighbors. I look for clues to this in the pictures.
I like to picture my gear in the site. You can't FULLY get a sense, as again, you aren't necessarily sure when reserving a site which way you'll face your tent door, etc. But there ARE things such as the parking spot, the fire pit and the picnic table that are fixed; and sometimes a very specific tent pad, denoted by boards.
Pictured: Site #66 at Seaquest State Park. Small site, great privacy, water spigot is immediately adjacent, garbage across and down the street; a bit of a walk from the restrooms, and a bit close to a noisy busy road. I loved it, it was a cancellation find, and I'd definitely stay there again!
There is a section with more site details that tell you other factors to consider:
Shade vs Sun
Site size and number of tent pads/spaces
Size/number of vehicles the site can accommodate
One of the things I always do is walk around the campground (or even drive slowly around on leaving day, if I didn't get around to a campground stroll before that) and taking pics of (empty - its considered a bit rude to take a pic of an occupied camp) campsites that I want to stay at in the future, and make notes about them. Because I will have a bunch of site pics in my camera, to tell them apart, I first take a pic of the site number; subsequent pics I know then will be of that site.
Notes on special sites:
A "primitive site" means your vehicle will NOT be in proximity. You will need to "pack in" your campsite and and pack your equipment back out. Be aware this is more work than it sounds... there are often not very wide paths or roads from the parking space to the campsite, and you will need to get ALL your gear there. Including that heavy ice chest, and Ohhh many, the Kitchen Bin. If you decide on this experience, be sure you are prepared, think ahead about breaking things down into things you can cart easily for quite some ways, and add an additional hour to 90 minutes to your unpacking and packing up times. You'll also have to be okay with your vehicle being away from you, in terms of vehicle safety.
An ADA site means that you MUST have an ADA parking permit in your possession and that a member of your party must be the person who requires it. Unlike ADA accommodations in a hotel, which can often be released to a non-handicapped party at a certain number of days prior to occupancy if not reserved by a handicapped occupant, ADA campsites may NOT be occupied at any time by a non-disabled party. They are reserved so that at any time, differently-abled adventurers and their companions can enjoy the outdoors as well.
Finding a site, and exploring and experiencing it when you get there, is all part of the adventure. Go planning to be pleased, regardless, and it does wonders for what you discover and how much you enjoy.