First, the Internet makes people’s behavior more predictable. When looking for a place to camp, most people apparently do an internet search. The places that appear on lists are crowded. In fact, by the time my son and I were looking, all of the “official” campsites had signs saying they were full. Second, during any holiday weekend or weekend, in general, the campsites are going to be more crowded. So how do you avoid going to these overly-crowded campsites?

Go to Lesser-Known Campsites

The most popular campsites are going to be the ones that pop up first when you search on Google. This is where everyone is going to go. It has what they want and usually takes reservations since so many people are trying to stay here. Lesser known campsites can have all the same amenities, can be cheaper, and does not take reservations. The main differences are that you may need to move some rocks to make a fire circle, and you may not have an “official” place for your vehicle and tent. It’s best to contact the national or state park beforehand, and ask about “dispersed camping.” But I’ve gone camping plenty of times without prior authorization. Just be respectful of the land. Please follow a Zero Impact policy. In other words, don’t leave litter behind that would indicate you had been there.

Camp During the Week

Camping on the weekend may seem like the easiest option since you have off work and the kids have off school. But that’s what everybody is thinking. If you really want to take the opportunity to experience camping with the family take off a couple days of work and sign the kids out of school. There are great learning experiences that both parents and children can encounter when you are out in the wild. Even during the summertime weekdays are usually the better option.

Camp While School is Still in Session

Again, everybody is thinking to hold off on their camping trip until school gets out. It’s easier because parents only have to take off and don’t have to pull the kids out of school. But when you get to the campsites and they are all reserved, you start to think maybe you should’ve waited until school was back in session. Parents don’t typically take their kids out of school and the odds that a lot of people take them out in the same week you are deciding to go is very slim. This makes it easier to find spots even in the first campsite that pops up on Google.

Avoid Peak Times and Holidays

Peak times will most definitely have no occupancy at the campsites. These include Labor Day and 4th of July. Even the lesser-known campsites will fill up due to the number of people who want to experience the great outdoors. During the nice long weekend, families will congregate for fishing, hiking, and being immersed in the wildlife. But at some point, there are just too many people to enjoy the experience of camping and it does become overcrowded.

Make sure you don’t miss out on great family camping trips because you can’t find somewhere to set up camp. Look for off-season times, weekdays, and check out some of the campsites you don’t find on Google’s first page of results. I suggest looking at a map of the area you want to camp in. Find a national or state park in that area. Then call the park office and ask about “dispersed camping.” Also, if you aren’t familiar with how to camp, read a book. As a former Eagle Scout, I had years of training on how to camp safely. REI offers classes on camping, and other sporting stores may also offer the same.