I love to camp with my wife and two little boys, ages 3 and 5. I’d say that 75-80 percent of the campers we’ve encountered over the years have been good people who understand the need to be considerate while sleeping with fellow travelers in the great outdoors. But it only takes one dud to ruin your camping experience.
A bad camping trip can make the pleasures of home seem awfully enticing. A great one can remind you of how magical camping can be--given the right circumstances and neighbors.
I prefer to camp at state and national parks because the tent sites tend to be cheaper and more spacious than private campgrounds, where you can sometimes feel like you are stacked on top of your fellow campers. But if you don’t plan far ahead, getting a coveted site at a state or national park on a summer weekend can be extremely difficult.
No matter where you pop your tent, here are seven things not to do a campground.
1. Check-in late at night
What’s it like to be near someone who decides to check in late at night? Last summer, on a rainy night at a state park in Vermont, we heard noises very close to our tent after midnight. We were alarmed because it was a Monday night and the place had totally cleared out after the weekend, with just one family left in our vicinity. Our paranoia grew when a bright, blinding light illuminated our tent. When we had checked in, a park ranger had mentioned that there had been some bear sightings and we feared that the rangers were tracking a bear near our campsite. Eventually, we fell asleep without further incident. The next morning, we found out that the noises we heard were late arriving campers who used their high beams, pointed right into our tent, as they set up their tent in the rain. Some campgrounds police arrival times, but many don't. There is no graceful way to set up camp in the middle of the night, so please, just don’t do it.
2. Get drunk
For every one person who becomes quiet and introspective when intoxicated, there are a dozen who get loud and obnoxious. If you stay reasonably coherent, you’ll be less likely to annoy your neighbors.
3. Bring a yappy dog
No one thinks that their dog is annoying, but we all know that some pets are better off left home. The only thing worse than a camper who stands by idly as their dog barks at passersby, squirrels or for no reason at all, is one who leaves their dog or dogs chained up, unattended at their campsite while they go off for the day. If you have a dog that likes to bark, buy them a citronella collar or leave them at home.
4. Ignore quiet hours rules
This is the most important and often ignored camping etiquette rule in the book. Nearly every campground has rules prohibiting noise late at night and early in the morning, but most places also don’t have the staff to enforce them. At a Kampgrounds of America campground near St. Joseph, Michigan, in July, we wound up next to a trio of women who woke us up at 5 a.m. (4 a.m. in our time zone) with loud chatter, right outside our tent, slamming their car door repeatedly, and allowing their dog to bark incessantly. When I got dressed and walked out in the darkness to confront them, they made no apologies. “We have a race to get to,” one said, as though that justified waking others up in the pre-dawn hours on a Sunday morning.
5. Leave behind your bar of used soap, especially if it's hairy
You might justify leaving your bar of soap thinking that someone might have forgotten to bring theirs, but I can assure you that no one wants to use your leftover soap, so please take it with you.
6. Bring your boom box
I don’t care how good you think your taste in music is -- the truth is that no one wants to hear it except for you. Headphones are a glorious invention, but since too many campers fail to pack them, don’t forget your earplugs.
7. The other obvious stuff
One would think that campers would know not to snap the branches off of trees for firewood, drive fast around the campground, litter, and leave a fire unattended, but I’ve seen people do all of these things. Everyone slips up occasionally but a little common courtesy goes a long way, especially in the great outdoors.