Selecting a Car Camping Campsite

Car campers in Anasazi country have lots of choices for campsites. There are many developed campgrounds that offer a variety of campsites but there are also countless dispersed camping sites that are yours to select. If you are an experienced camper you already know what you prefer but it’s always worth thinking about these things.

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Who is in your group? If you are alone you only need to satisfy yourself. However, if you are camping with others you need to discuss the options with the group. You might find that they have very different opinions on what makes a good campsite.

Plan ahead to secure a good campsite

Failure to plan may leave you with no choice of a campsite. Many of the most popular campgrounds fill up during the busy season. Consequently, you need to plan ahead to make sure you get a site. That planning begins with Selecting a Good Campground. There are choices to make so learn about the differences to get the one best for you.

Campground in Canyonlands National PArk
This photo from the National Park Service shows a campsite in Canyonlands National Park is typical of many developed campground sites. It has a picnic table and a fire ring with vault toilets and water available in the campground.

Some of the campgrounds (public & private) near Anasazi attractions take advance reservations. You can often learn more about a campsite by looking at the reservation website. There is a lot of variability in how descriptive the reservation website might be. However, if you are planning to camp in a popular campground during its busy season you may have to select based on little information.

If you don’t have a reserved site you should try to reach the campground as early in the day as possible. While this isn’t always possible, it can make a big difference. It’s best to secure your site early then go exploring. If you wait until late in the day to seek out a campsite you may find very little available.

Considerations when selecting a campsite in a campground

The factors you should consider when selecting a campsite in a campground are almost the same as for a dispersed site. I’ve noted a few differences below.

Bathrooms and water — the location of the facilities, bathrooms, and water, are very important to your selection of a campsite. Some find it important to be as close as possible to these facilities while others prefer a site that’s located further away. Note the locations of bathrooms and think about that as you select your site

Water is critical so pay attention. Most campgrounds have potable water but a few don’t. If there is no water you need to plan ahead and bring what you need. Plan on at least a gallon per person per day.

 Sun and Shade — pay attention to the physical layout of the campsites. Typically within a campground different sites will be oriented in different ways. This results in each site having its own unique shading. A little bit of thought about where the sun will be at the times when you’re in the camp makes a big difference. Most campers find shade to be critical so look for maximum shade if you are visiting during hot months.

Campsite at Utah State Park Campground
Campgrounds vary in the facilities they provide. This campground provides shaded picnic tables. Shade is important as the blazing sun can make a campsite nearly uninhabitable during the summer months. It’s really miserable to be in a campsite with no shade.

A good tent site — one of the most important things is to select a site that has a good tent site. If you don’t have a good place to start from you can’t set up a tent that you will sleep well in. Look for a site that is level and flat make sure there are no roots or rocks poking up because you will notice them at night. Check to make sure the site you select is not on a main pathway or trail. Some campgrounds have designated tent sites that are usually smooth and level.

Campsite layout — most campsites include similar things – a picnic table, a fire ring, and usually a tent site. However, the way these are laid out makes a big difference in how you will enjoy your camp. Do you enjoy sitting around the campfire? If so, a primary concern should be the fire area and seating, and fire pit. If there are prevailing winds at the campsite, be sure to account for them. Before selecting a site think about where you will set up your cook stove and where you will put your cooler. Will you be stringing a clothesline? Do you have kids who need access routes through various camp areas, etc? All of these things combine to determine whether the physical layout of the campsite is best for you.

Neighbors — Neighbors can be the best or worst part of a camping trip. Do you like to visit with others or do you prefer to be left alone? As you look for a good campsite look at the nearby campsites and notice what kind of neighbors are there right now. Also, be sure to look for major foot trails. In many campgrounds, footpaths are well-traveled between sites. Often you have little choice but in some campgrounds, there are sites that are better sheltered or isolated from others.

Searching for a great campsite is often not an option. If you are in a crowded campground or arrive after dark you will likely have to take whatever is available. However, when you have time and the luxury of choices spend a few minutes making your selection. It is well worth the time it takes.

Considerations when selecting a dispersed camping campsite

Most BLM and Forest Service land in Anasazi country are open to dispersed camping which allows you to set up camp anywhere you like as long as there are no specific bans for the area. This means that there are hundreds of dispersed campsites scattered throughout the Four Corners area. While it is legal and permitted to camp almost anywhere, many excellent sites have been previously used and it’s always best to reuse a site rather than create a new one.

Here are some things to look for in a dispersed campsite:

  • Shade – I put this at the top of the list because it can be critical. The blazing sun can be a real problem and if you can find a site that has afternoon shade you will be glad you did.
  • Trees – The best way to get shade is to have trees. While this is no problem in some places, in other locations trees are almost non-existent. Besides providing shade, trees are useful for hanging a water bag, stringing a clothesline, securing a canopy, attracting birdlife, and more.
  • A tent site – Always look at the potential tent site in a campsite before you settle in. Often there is a choice of good locations but some campsites don’t have good locations for your tent. Learn about Selecting a Tent Site from our friends at
  • A kitchen site – When you are at a dispersed campsite you won’t have the picnic table and fire pit that you get in a campground. You need to make sure your campsite has an area that will work for you as a kitchen area. Many dispersed sites have a camper-built fire ring. If yours does use it and don’t build a new one.
  • Privacy – some dispersed sites sit alongside roads that may have significant traffic. A little searching will often yield a site that is much more private.
  • Scenery – this is spectacular country so try to select a site that will give you scenic views.

This is fragile land and it’s important to minimize your impact as much as possible. Always try to use the spaces that have been previously used especially the campsite, tent site, and fire ring. Always patrol the site before you leave to make sure that you have not left any trash of any sort. If you can, try to find something left by a previous camper to take with you when you leave.