Know What You Want
When it comes to camping, the term "roughing it" is relative. There are campgrounds with rough sites where water must be carried from a central location, pit toilets, no showers, and no electricity. There are campgrounds with plush bathhouses, Wi-Fi, cable TV hookups, game rooms, heated pools and fake grass. There are campgrounds in the woods, and there are campgrounds with no trees – or shade – in sight.
And then there's ... everything in between.
Costs vary widely. You can find a tent campsite for $10 or less a night. At the height of vacation season in tourist areas, you can pay $70 or more for a tent site and even more for an RV.
What do want to do on your trip? If you're tent camping with the idea of communing with nature, a pricey RV resort is not your best bet. Tent sites at parks that cater to RVs often are little more than grassy or dirt plots with fire rings.
Scout out public campgrounds as well as private. Prices are often better at state or municipal parks, national parks and National Forest areas than in private campgrounds. Note the amenities and choose what's important for your family. You'll pay more at public campgrounds that have bathhouses and electricity and water at every site than at more basic ones. Are flushable toilets a must for you? How about hot showers? Do your homework in advance. Many of the public parks fill up quickly -- and you can't simply call up and make a hotel-style reservation.
Private campground amenities and costs vary as well -- even at chains such as KOA and Good Sam parks. If possible, scout out a campground before deciding to stay there. Are there retirees relaxing in lounge chairs, or groups of children running around with abandon? Take a look around the tent sites and facilities. Is there any nature to be enjoyed?