The Complete Guide To Car Camping

Car Camping in the Mountains

Car camping is any type of camping where you can drive your vehicle into your campsite.

Car camping is by far the most popular type of camping in the US. It is perfect for new campers and longtime campers alike. Actually, most campgrounds in state and national parks have vehicle access right up to your campsite.

Car camping allows you to pack in more gear and heavier gear than you would if you were backpacking or canoe camping. Both of which require you to carry all your gear over many miles of terrain.

Since you don’t have to carry your gear, car camping allows you to bring luxuries camping that you wouldn’t otherwise consider bringing such as generators, glamping gear, grills, large tents, coolers and more.

Below, we’ve put together one of our most comprehensive guides to help you get started car camping and have the most enjoyable experience possible.

Index

The Pros and Cons of Car Camping

car camping on a beach on the lake with mountains in the background

Like I said earlier, car camping is really any type of camping where you are able to drive your car right up to the campsite, park your car and set up camp.

This makes camping easier because you don’t have to consider the weight of each item you’re packing. You only have to consider how much you can fit in your car.

When my family of 7 (now 9 after our twin boys were born!) went car camping to the Black Hills in 2016, we pulled a 6×8 aluminum trailer full of our gear. And we used every inch of space!!

The Pros of Car Camping

You Can Bring Luxuries

When I’m backpacking, bike camping, or canoe camping I have to think carefully about every piece of gear I bring.

However, when we’re car camping, I can bring items that I would normally not ever consider. Camping chairs, grills, rugs, and large coolers are all regulars when I go car camping.

You Don’t Have To Unload Your Gear

When you’re car camping, you don’t necessarily have to unload all of your gear from your can into your tent either. You can keep your camping gear organized in your car and get to it when you need it.

You’re Always Close To Your Car

Having your car close by can be incredibly convenient. We’ve cut camping trips short due to weather. We were able to pack the car right up and head out rather than deal with a storm.

I’ve jumped in the car and driven to Walmart for supplies. When kids forget a jacket, you can drive off and get a cheap one.

I’ve even left the campground to go and buy pizza!

You Don’t Have To Be In Great Shape

If you’re looking for a relaxing lazy time enjoying nature, then you don’t want to hike 20 miles carrying 50 lbs. You want to drive in, set up and chill out.

The Cons of Car Camping

While I am mostly in complete favor of car camping, it does have a few drawbacks.

You Will Usually Have Visible Neighbors (you’re not very secluded)

This can be considered a pro or con depending on your personality. Some campgrounds can tend to feel like a parking lot. They give you a small strip to set up camp right in between other campers.

Many state and national parks do a bit better and carve out relatively private spots for car campers.

The Real Gems Require Tavel By Foot Or Water

Ok, maybe not 100% true, but many of those truly unique campsites are not accessible by car but rather by hiking (backpacking), canoe or boat. Of course, there are still many amazing campgrounds that you can drive right up to.

Check out our lists of favorite campgrounds in each state here for amazing campgrounds for car camping in each state.

What To Pack For Car Camping

camping with the sun shinning in the woods.

The beauty of car camping vs other types of camping is that you can be quite generous with your camping gear.

If you want to pack a grill, pack a grill (although I recommend a good camping grill). If you want to pack a big heavy tent, do it. You can also throw in a screened tent, cooking gear, bikes, and anything you can fit in.

We’ve put together a complete car camping packing list (arguably the most thorough on the internet!). Check it out and use it when packing for your trip.

Buying The Right Gear For Car Camping

Family out car camping hanging by the campfire.

When you’re looking to purchase gear for car camping, what you buy entirely depends on a couple of factors. Thankfully, for this type of camping, you don’t need to worry about going ultra-light, thus saving you a lot of money!

How Often Do You Go Camping?

This is really the main deciding factor when people ask me about what gear they should buy (especially tents).

If you take your family out camping once a year, you don’t need to worry about buying extra durable gear. A shopping trip to Walmart or buying cheap gear on Amazon is really all you need to do.

Technically, you don’t even need to buy any gear if you’re not a serious camper, you can rent your gear from places like Outdoors Geek. At Outdoors geek you can rent every piece of camping gear you’ll need, have it delivered to your destination and even send it back from your destination.

Check out Outdoors Geek’s Camping Rental Gear Here.

If you do go camping 2+ times a year, then it makes sense to start investing in some quality gear. The problem is that there are so many options out there and a huge range of prices.

We’ve actually put together buying guides for almost every piece of gear that you’ll need when car camping. Check them out below:

What Weather Will You Be Camping In?

If you plan on camping in different climates, then you are going to need a wider range of gear.

Thankfully when you are car camping, if surprise weather strikes, you always have the option to pack up or wait it out in your car if you are unprepared.

Standard summer camping (60+ degrees) doesn’t require any special gear. But if you plan on camping in the cold weather, you’ll need to do your research.

Here are some helpful guides for cold weather camping gear:

Also, make sure to check out our Complete Guide To Camping in the Winter.

Where To Go On Your Car Camping Trip

Car camping under the stars.

Picking a camping destination can be a challenge, the right campground can literally make or break your camping trip.

Do you like camping at resorts with pools, nice bathrooms, and other amenities? Or, do you like camping in the woods and in nature?

My personal advice is to check out some of the most popular state and national parks in your area to begin with. These are usually a great intro into camping, are well kept, have beautiful nature and still have nice bathrooms (typically).

It’s also a good idea to stay close to home on your first trip or two. You never know how things will go on your first car camping trip. Will you love it or hate it. It’s best not to drive 6 hours away before you know what you’re getting yourself into.

We’ve actually put together our picks for the best places to go camping in every state as well as reviewed hundreds of different campgrounds. You can check out our picks below:

Other Types of Camping to Try

It is my opinion that car camping is the perfect starting point for new campers and a great way for people to enjoy camping and the outdoors for years.

But once you have the camping bug, there are lots of different and adventurous ways to enjoy the outdoors, many of which you can read about here on Beyond The Tent.

Wrapping It Up

Car camping on a lake at sunset.

Hopefully, I’ve helped spark your interest in car camping and given you some useful info.

If you’re planning a car camping trip or just wrapped one up, let us know how it went. We’d love to hear from you!

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