In this part of the world there’s two classes of public campground. There’s the squeaky-clean state parks where four hundred weekend warriors haul in trailers and RVs, where cicadas and katydids compete with the drone of generators powering air conditioners and Bachelorette reruns. Nature will be presented on plastic interpretive signs or during evening lectures chalked up as outreach by state agencies needing numbers to justify budgetary expenditures. Dogs must remain leashed at all times, no open containers, lights out at ten, please.
The second class encompasses state and federal conservation lands with a broad array of campground configurations. Maybe a campground host, maybe a spigot, maybe a picnic table, maybe a pit toilet. Fewer rules, seldom enforced, which May through September attracts the sort of crowd that populates the county fair. Lots of cheap booze, lots of Top 40 Country. Both can be tolerated to the point they devolve into screaming matches or domestic violence.
Dispersed camping is the last option, often the most preferred, although one wonders who’s at the end of any given gravel road. In college I remember rolling down the window for an older gentleman on an ATV, asking about access further down the road.
“Yeah,” he said. “You don’t want to go down that road.”
“I have four-wheel drive.” I replied.
“Right. But you don’t want to go down that road.” It wasn’t a threat so much as a warning, the same tone my father would’ve used when I wanted to go to a show in a sketchy part of town. Could’ve been anything down that road- a still, a pot field, a meth lab, game cocks. A bear. I didn’t need to find out.
When I want a couple relaxing days, I don’t want to compromise. That leaves few options. I’ve only recently started exploring hipcamp– think AirBnB, but for camping. For me the real value is solitude, campgrounds and private landowners charging a nominal fee ($10-20/night) to set up a tent in their forest or field. Hipcamp offers more plush accommodations too- cabins and “glamping” running to a couple hundred bucks a night, if you’re into that.
Might be worth exploring.