If you’re car camping
Take a good look at the online campground map. Don’t want to haul your water jugs far? Find one near the marked taps. Families might want to be within shouting distance of the playground or close to the shower building. Check how far it is to the beach – do you really want to drive down every day? “Radio free” areas mean you don’t have listen to other people’s music and, hopefully, parks will open “pot-smoke free" campsites in the future.
In the back country – look down
Lie down and see if the ground is level. You don’t want to roll into your partner or the tent wall all night. If you’re stuck with a slope, ensure your head is higher than your feet. Pick a spot that’s far enough away from the campfire/cooking area, too, because creatures will come scrounging at night. Stay above high-water marks and try not to pitch your tent beside a marsh, as the bugs will be legendary. If there’s no outdoor toilet, keep at least 30 metres from the water’s edge to avoid contamination. And never pitch your tent in a dry river bed: flash floods happen.
Also in the back country – look up
You’ll need weather and wind protection – is there a boulder you can pitch beside? Healthy trees can help but look out for dead limbs that may come crashing down. Campsites near rocky slopes may mean rocks could fall on you. Is there shade you can use? Or would you rather be woken up by the sun warming your tent? And in bear country, you’ll have to find a tree with a sturdy branch 100 metres away to hang your food barrel.
Do your research
If you’re visiting a park for the first time, search out online reviews. Someone somewhere has already done your homework and posted travelogues, YouTube videos and detailed reviews of the best spots on the best lakes. Study the official park website, but also find its local non-profit “friends of” group; these useful websites offer a less corporate, more collegial and informative look at the area.
When you’re in a pinch
Sometimes, you just need a flat piece of ground on the road trip to that back country access point. Camping on crown land is free, but where it’s allowed varies from province to province. Plus, don’t overlook RV campgrounds – there’s typically a decent patch of grass for tents at a much cheaper rate than the RV spots. And at least there’s a flush toilet nearby.
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