A First-Time Camper In America’s National Parks

Although I’m a city dweller, I’ve always been drawn to the wide-open spaces and peaceful beauty that can be found in America’s National Park Service sites. Last summer I planned a trip to two national parks, and decided to camp out as opposed to staying in a lodge or hotel. Although it was my first solo camping trip, it was easy, economical and a fun way to experience the parks.

Front-Country vs Back-Country Camping

Most National Park sites offer two types of camping facilities: front- and back-country campsites. A front-country site is in an organized campground within a park, and the site can be accessed by car or RV. Back-country sites are generally out in the wilderness and away from roads and service facilities. As a first-time camper, I opted for the safety and convenience of a front-country site.

A First-Time Camper in America's National Parks.

What to Take With You

In retrospect I packed far too much camping equipment for this trip and didn’t use most of it. If I had it to do over, I would have focused on just a few essentials in addition to my clothes and food for the week:

-       A tent of adequate size. If you’re camping solo, look for a 2-3 person tent. If you have more people with you, look for a tent that is rated to hold about double the number of people in your party. You’ll be glad to have the extra space.

-       Extra tent stakes and a rubber mallet. I found that tent stakes are surprisingly easy to bend, and I’m glad I had the foresight to bring a few extra. Unfortunately I forgot a mallet to drive them into the ground, which made tent setup a lot more difficult.

-       A Coleman propane stove for cooking. It’s easier and faster to set up and clean up a propane stove than to start a fire for cooking.

-       An all-purpose cooking pot for making meals. I found I could cook just about anything in the single pot that I brought, which made prep and cleanup a lot easier.

-       A cot or foam mattress and a sleeping bag. My preference is to sleep on something softer than the ground, and so I chose to bring a collapsible cot.

Badlands National Park

I began my trip by heading to the Badlands National Park, located in South Dakota. Badlands NP offers two separate campgrounds – Sage Creek Campground in the northwest part of the park, and Cedar Pass Campground in the southwest part. I chose to stay at the Cedar Pass Campground because it provides additional services that make camping easier. It has running water, flush toilets, paid showers, and covered picnic tables.

Cedar Pass also offered another advantage – a great view of the Badlands formations and of the sunrises and sunsets. The colors were absolutely amazing and vibrant. I was able to capture several great photos from right outside my tent.

After just a couple of exciting and beautiful days in the Badlands, it was time to move toward my ultimate destination: Yellowstone National Park.

A First-Time Camper in America's National Parks

Yellowstone National Park

For the duration of my stay at Yellowstone, I chose to stay at the Canyon Village Campground. Canyon Village is located close to the Yellowstone River and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and is in the southern part of the Grand Loop. The Village also has many restaurants, a full-service gas station, and multiple shops where you can find souvenirs, supplies and groceries. Campers also have access to showers and washing machines…both of which came in handy for me.

The Canyon Village area was an excellent location for me, because I wanted to spend a lot of time exploring the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It’s also very easy to get from the Village to the Norris Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, Lake Yellowstone, and many of the other iconic spots in the park. There are other camping sites in the park, but I’d probably end up staying here again if I ever return.

I had a wonderful trip and learned a lot about camping during my time out west. If I ever get back out that way, I’ll definitely consider camping out again – maybe even in a back-country site this time!

Jim Jones has had a spirit of adventure and a desire to travel for as long as he can remember. Growing up he loved reading books about foreign places and dreamed of seeing them someday. Jim has been fortunate enough to see most of those places in his life, and there’s still more he wants to see. He has a natural curiosity about life, food, languages and customs of other countries, and that fuels his desire to see the world.

If you enjoyed Jim's post about his first-time experience camping, head on over to his blog Travel Stories and Images. You can also keep up to date on his travels on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Have you had any interesting camping experiences? Are you a city dweller or a camping fanatic? Share your stories in the comments below and don't forget to pin this post!

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A First-Time Camper In America's National Parks. Meet Jim from Travel Stories and Images who, being a city dweller, recently made the leap to try camping for the first time. And what better place to do it than America's national parks such as Yellowstone National Park and Badlands National Park. Click here to read about his adventure and some super duper tips for your first time camping!

Sally Cochrane

Sally is a Brisvegas (Brisbane, Australia) born travel blogger and founder of Travel Blog Squad, an online community for travel bloggers. Among many other experiences, she has skied down the Austrian Alps on Christmas day, gone for a ride in an army tank through the mud in Slovakia, woken up before dawn to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat and attended university in Mexico. Hola! Her non-travel-related interests include tea (of any and every kind), TED Talks and running at her local Parkrun.