As much as I love backpacking in the wilderness, I’ve made some amazing memories over the years on car camping adventures. Packing a cooler full of great food that I can cook over a double-burner grill instead of a tiny camping stove? Rolling into camp to find my friends are already there with a fire burning and a game of bean bag going? Stretching out in my comfy camping chair after a long day of playing outdoors? Yes please. Frontcountry camping in developed campgrounds means you might have toilets and running water and you can bring your cushiest sleeping pad and sleeping bag, but it can have some drawbacks, too. Namely, other people.
What’s worse than that guy that keeps traipsing straight through your campsite because it’s the most direct route to the toilets, or the group that blasts music from a portable speaker from dawn to well past dusk? Camping neighbors can be great, but they can also be unfriendly, over friendly, or just plain disrespectful. And if you’re not schooled on camping etiquette, that annoying neighbor could be you. When you go camping anywhere, you’ll want to follow the principles of Leave No Trace of course to respect the natural environment, but you should also know these seven rules of campground etiquette to make sure everybody has a good time.
1. Know the rules
Each campground will have its own set of rules and restrictions. These can pertain to fires, trash, noise and of course when you need to check out. Either before you book or when you arrive, familiarize yourself with the rules and follow them so the camp manager or park ranger doesn’t have to come and give you a lecture.
2. Drive with care
Try to arrive during the day so you’re not driving around the campground with your headlights shining into other camper’s tents while they’re trying to sleep. When you arrive and are driving into your designated tent site, keep your speed down to 5mph in case there are kids and dogs running around, and turn your engine off as soon as you park so it’s not piping fumes into everyone’s kitchens and bedrooms. Don’t leave your car running at any point during your stay.
3. Keep it down
Different campgrounds have different rules regarding noise. Some are family-friendly and insist on quiet after 10pm while others are a little more accommodating of a festive vibe. Make sure you know what the rules are, and generally speaking it’s just good etiquette not to try and dominate the nearby airwaves with your own party. Few campers will expect total silence at night, but most would probably like a peaceful night’s sleep. Avoid amplified music or blaring portable TVs or tablets altogether, and keep your noise to simple chatting around the campfire after 10pm.
4. Be friendly
Get to know your neighbors at the campground. I’ve had some amazing chats with campground neighbors, most memorably a couple I met in Utah who were starting an alpaca farm in southern Colorado to make cheese – we got through several bottles of wine, and I often wonder if they fulfilled their dream. You don’t have to all buddy up – though you might – but if you realize you forgot a corkscrew and need to borrow a multitool, it’s easier if you haven’t already annoyed your neighbors by playing loud music and ignoring them.
5. Give others space
Friendly is great, but people also enjoy their own space and might not want you encroaching on their area too much. Make sure you park and pitch your tent in the designated areas so you’re not spilling over onto the next site, and avoid walking across other people’s sites to get to the toilets or move around – use the road or path. Don’t haul your chair over to their campfire unless invited, and only use your designated picnic table and firepit.
6. Keep it clean
Even if you’re not camping in bear country where you’ll naturally be extra cautious about putting trash in bins and using bear canisters for food, please keep your campsite clean while you’re staying there. Trash and mess can spoil the view and attract other unwanted visitors, like ants, coyotes, birds and raccoons, that can really impact your neighbors’ experience.
7. Respect the facilities
Campgrounds may have shared facilities such as toilets and showers. Use these respectfully because they’re for all campers. Don’t leave reams of toilet paper on the floor, don’t hog the showers, and please, please don’t use the sinks in the toilets to wash your dishes.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.