Campground etiquette


I will never forget Memorial Day weekend 5 years ago. We were camping next to a family on their first camping trip. They made several major mistakes, but the one that bothered me the most was the generator they brought. We were in tent-only sites without electricity, which I love because of the distance from the RVs (which tend to be a little noisier). The first evening, our neighbors cranked up their generator, and I thought for sure they would turn it off when quiet hours started. Nope, they ran that thing all night. I woke up frequently during the night (fortunately this was pre-children!), and each time I tried to think of some scenarios that made taking a generator tent camping an absolute necessity. The next day while they weren’t around, I peeked over at their tent while we were walking by. (That’s a no-no, by the way! Don’t do that.) The generator was hooked up to a big box fan. I was definitely annoyed – yes, it was end of May in Georgia, it was hot… but not worth running a noisy generator all night! We complained to the ranger, who said he would come by that evening and remind them of quiet hours, but we needn’t have worried. In the later afternoon, they packed up and left.

Perhaps they didn’t realize the unspoken etiquette shared between campers. I thought I’d share them here, so you know to leave your generator at home the next time you head out for a camping trip.

Be conscious of noise levels and respect quiet hours

Tents are great for sheltering you from the elements, but they do almost nothing for noise control. Keep that in mind when you’re in your campsite, even during the day. Avoid unnecessary noises, like running a generator or playing a radio. If you must have electricity, look for a campground that offers electrical at their campsites. (Sometimes that means you’ll be near the RVs, but some have tent-only sites with electrical outlets available.) Keep voices to a normal tone, and encourage your kids to do the same – happy screams and shouts should be reserved for the playground! Most campgrounds have quiet hours, so be especially conscious of those. At night, sound travels even further – just remember that when you start baring your deepest darkest secrets around the campfire at night.

If you are setting up or tearing down your campsite during hours when your neighbors are still asleep, try to be as quiet as possible. One of the loudest things is car doors opening and closing, so try to avoid that repetitive noise. If you plan to tear down in the wee hours of the morning, pack up as much as possible the night before.

Respect the boundaries of the campsites

While you are camping, the campsite you are staying in is your home. Respect the boundaries of your neighbors. Do not walk through occupied campsites, even if it does shave 3 minutes off the trip to the bathroom. Do not peek into other tents or walk into the campsite uninvited, even if the campers are not there. (I broke this rule in my story in the first paragraph. Don’t do that, though I secretly am glad I solved the mystery of “Why the heck were they running a generator?”)

Make sure your kids understand this as well. Keep to the posted roads and trails when walking around the campground, and especially if your kids are riding bikes.

Be friendly

I have found most campers are pretty friendly. Greet your neighbors as you pass by them, and don’t be shy to engage in friendly conversation if they reciprocate. There are many interesting people out there, and part of the fun of camping can be listening to their stories. My older daughter loves to make new friends on the playground, so she often helps me break the ice.

As always, though, some people prefer solitude. Respect their wishes if they would rather not talk. It probably isn’t personal, so don’t take it that way.

Leave no trace

Leave No Trace is a movement for enjoying the outdoors responsibly. You are a guest of Nature, so treat your space as such. Your other campers will appreciate your consideration! Keep your campsite clean and tidy while you are there. Make sure all trash is in the appropriate receptacle. Keep to designated areas for pitching tents and building fires. Follow campground rules for collecting wood – usually they don’t allow you to collect wood from the area around the campsite. Be VERY cautious with your food – don’t leave open packages lying around, keep your food close to you while being cooked and packed away when not. (I usually keep all food in the trunk of my car, though you may want to call the campground and ask their recommendation as I believe it changes from region to region.) I think this rule is easier to break when you have kids dropping their crackers as they run around the campsite. It’s important, though, because you don’t want to do anything to attract unwanted wildlife – especially bears and raccoons.

When you pack out, leave the campsite cleaner than you found it. Stack any extra wood near the fire pit for future campers to use. The next camper to use the site will appreciate your efforts!

Respect public areas

The campgrounds I frequent are the ones with bathrooms available to all the campers. Keep that in mind when you are using the facilities, especially the showers. Be aware of people who may be waiting on you, and hurry along if possible. Clean up the area when you are done. Don’t use the bathroom sink to rinse out your dirty dishes. Think twice about where you are lighting up the cigarette – I know many campgrounds have designated areas for smoking, and please do not toss the cigarette butt on the ground. If your dog is along for the trip, be sure to clean up after him or her.

It all boils down to one rule: Respect your fellow campers. Everyone doing their part will make it a more enjoyable experience.


Our first camping trip


April of 2007 was the first camping trip that my husband and I took together. We didn’t have kids yet, but we were joined by our beagle puppy. We decided to go to Cloudland Canyon State Park, which is a nice state park up in the northwest corner of Georgia, near Chattanooga. It’s funny to think about that first trip, and our inexperience. 🙂

The walk-in camping (tent only) section of Cloudland Canyon is still one of the more rustic places we’ve camped. They have 30 sites on one side of the parking lot and off to another side were the bathrooms and the sole water source for all the sites. They were only $6 a night at that time (they’re $16/night now!). In those days, my husband worked on Saturdays, so we arrived early Saturday evening, when most of the sites had already been claimed. We chose one of the few remaining ones – which also happened to be one of the farthest away from the bathrooms and water. We got lost on the way there and added an hour to our trip, so we didn’t have much time to get the tent set up before it got dark.

I camped with my family a lot as a girl, but stopped once we moved overseas when I was 8. My husband had never camped before, but he is fairly outdoorsy and adventurous. We had registered for camping gear for our wedding and I had spent a lot of time researching some of the other things we would need, namely the tent. We had settled on a pretty expensive one from REI because I wanted something that was good and would last. We chose a bigger one because at the time, being able to stand up completely in the tent seemed important. (The next summer, we bought a much smaller tent that fit our needs better.)

So, our first camping trip, we way overpacked. We had this huge tent, and we brought way too much padding for sleeping. We also brought our huge dog crate, which we lugged all the way from the parking lot to the site and set up into the tent. (That was the only time we brought the crate – our dog did much better just sprawled on our sleeping bags, and the crate was a little ridiculous to bring due to its size.)

We weren’t used to setting up the tent so it took us a little while, and was dark by the time we finished. I set about making dinner, while Paul tried to figure out the fire. I don’t remember why, but for whatever reason the fire didn’t happen that night. We also could not get our camp stove turned on – it was one thing we had never tested before our trip, so we thought it was defective. We ended up eating cold baked beans and graham crackers because they were two things that didn’t need to be cooked.

The next morning, our puppy woke us up early. I had a big breakfast planned because that just seemed to be what you do when camping. With the help of the light of day, I realized I had hooked up the stove wrong the night before, so I was glad to see that we would be able to use it to cook. We had a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast.

Paul and I in front of one of the falls

We then spent the morning hiking Cloudland Canyon which is beautiful. Our puppy LOVED the many stairs to get down to the falls. She was a bundle of energy. We really, really enjoyed our day exploring the park. In the early afternoon, we went back to the campsite and the dog and I took a nice, delicious nap in the tent. It wasn’t hot outside, but I was really warm from hiking so I left the doors of the tent open to catch the breeze. Unfortunately, because of that I woke up to several insects flying around inside.

We’ve come a long way from those first few trips. Here are some lessons we took away from it:

  • For the two of us, a big tent was unnecessary. It took up a lot of space in the trunk and was complicated to set up. Also, the expensive Kelty tent was a little overkill for our needs – we found the much cheaper Walmart tent we bought the next year did just fine.
  • We ditched the idea of bringing our dog crate after that trip – it was definitely way too cumbersome and heavy. At that time we thought a tent big enough for also a Pack & Play for any future babies would be important, but once our baby came along that was another item we didn’t even consider. 🙂
  • We abandoned the memory foam bed topper and extra sleeping bags for padding because they took up SO much room. I wrote more about that here.
  • We now test out all new equipment before going camping!
  • We now bring jugs of water with us for cooking (easier to carry and keep the water clean), and we usually carry our dishes to the spigot to wash them instead of lugging buckets of water back to the campsite.
  • We don’t do big breakfasts anymore. Paul hates getting up early, and I felt like we were either eating very late (at like 11am) or I was cooking and eating by myself, which wasn’t much fun.
  • We don’t leave the tent doors wide open due to bugs!
  • I realize I take a lot more pictures now. (You can see all the pictures I did take at this album on Flickr.)

We have yet to camp at Cloudland Canyon since then, but we really need to. It was a great campground and had a lot of activities to keep the whole family occupied. (We did stay in a cabin there a few years later, and got a chance to explore all the playgrounds!)

On the way