How to Avoid the Crowds at Busy Campgrounds

How to Avoid the Crowds at Busy Campgrounds

When we daydream of camping with our families, we often conjure up an image of our tent tucked into the shade of a couple of towering pine trees. There might be a lazy stream running nearby or possibly the shoreline of a placid lake where the waves softly lap upon the shoreline.

We rarely envision some other family pounding in their tent stakes just feet from ours or the sounds of an all-out campground party raging until the sun comes up. Camping experiences are as variable as the campgrounds themselves, and the first step to peaceful camping is figuring out just how many people you’ll be around.

For some, the party is the reason for the season. For others, peace is only achieved through some distancing.

More People, More Noise

This is obvious, but the more people in your vicinity, the noisier it’ll be. Even respectful campers make noise, and so do their dogs when they bark at random nighttime sounds, their kids when they are playing tag, and their SUV doors when they’re searching for bug spray at midnight.

If you want peace, plan to isolate yourself as best you can. Look at the campground's layout and try to identify areas away from main access points and travel routes. While you’re doing that, check out the facilities. Is there a restroom somewhere, probably with some communal garbage dumpsters next to it?

How about a place to feed and water horses? Any extra facility will draw usage from all over the camp. While it might seem convenient to be close to the toilets or showers, it might not be so convenient to listen to everyone else use those facilities. Plus, high-use areas are often the most well-lit parts of a campground, meaning you’ll probably deal with some light pollution as well.

Find a spot tucked into a corner or along a spur that juts off the main loop. You’ll be happy you did.

Timing Is Everything

Everyone wants to camp on July 4th to celebrate. The problem with that is, well, everyone wants to camp then. If you want a quiet, less busy weekend, use common sense. Major holiday weekends bring out the campers, and it’s often chaos.

It’s also possible some random event will be happening. A few years ago, while camping in central Iowa, there was a group trail ride meet-up right where I’d set my whitetail hunting base camp for the weekend. The campground was full of people and their horses. It was the nosiest campground experience I’ve ever had. Lesson learned.

Pay attention not only to big-picture dates that might draw crowds but also to anything else that might be going on. I realize this isn’t possible for everyone, but it’s also a true eye-opener to camp during the week versus on the weekend. Showing up Sunday to stay until Tuesday will provide a vastly different camping experience than showing up Friday to stay until Sunday.

Beware The Big Group

This is purely anecdotal, but if you want to enjoy a decent night’s sleep on a cot, with only a layer of fabric between you and the outside, be aware of big groups. If I pull into a campground to find a site and see someone setting up a volleyball net, lawn darts, and there’s general chaos, I’m going to keep going.

The people who go super big with gear and extra stuff often have a lot of kids, a lot of dogs, and a lot of booze. I know this isn’t always true, but I’d rather not risk it if I don’t have to. Another camper red flag is an enormous RV with a few dog crates outside. If the owner doesn’t want the dogs in the RV with them, there probably is a good reason, and that reason is likely that their dogs are super vocal.

Of course, you can’t always roll into a campground, size up the competition, and then pick the farthest away site. Sometimes, you have to register ahead of time, which brings us right back to reading the layout and looking for the most secluded spots.


Camping can suck so much, but it doesn’t have to. A lot of what really makes or breaks a trip happens in the hours between the sun setting and rising. If you’re too close to the action, or the action is just inescapable because it’s too busy, it’s going to be rough. Try to steer clear however you can, and you just might get that dreamy camping trip that you thought about all winter long.

Sign In or Create a Free Account

Access the newest seasons of MeatEater, save content, and join in discussions with the Crew and others in the MeatEater community.
Save this article