Campgrounds will fall into two basic categories: public or private. Public campgrounds are usually run by a government agency and include those found in national parks and forests, Bureau of Land Management areas, Army Corps of Engineer projects, and in state parks and forests. Private campgrounds are typically RV parks and campground resorts owned by private citizens or businesses. Both public and private campgrounds are well represented on the Internet.
Public campgrounds offer the largest choice of campground destinations available to us. These campgrounds, which are mostly funded by tax dollars, are typically found in scenic areas or on lands set aside to preserve some aspect of the natural environment for present and future enjoyment of outdoor recreation. The public campgrounds usually offer the same quality of service and amenities nationwide. If you've ever camped at one national park, you can likely expect the experience to be the same at other national parks. The same can be said of campgrounds in the national forests, Army Corps of Engineer Projects, Bureau of Land Management Areas, and the state parks. Although the state park systems vary from state to state, the other public facilities remain somewhat consistent nationwide.
Unfortunately there is no one Web site that has all the information about every campground available in the US. But there are Web sites that may be considered the definitive source for details about particular types of campgrounds. For the national parks there's Park Net. For USDA Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) there's Reserve USA. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has their state directory. For state parks there's L.L.Bean and my own directory of state camping destinations, which includes links to every state park homepage.
National Parks (NPS)
Within the National Park System there are hundreds of parks, recreation areas, and other facilities; and within these parks are over one hundred campgrounds open to the public. Campsites are usually available on a first come, first serve basis. A few of the campgrounds offer reservations, which can be made online. National Park campgrounds aren't expensive, typically costing $10-20 a night, with a maximum stay of 14 days. Amenities aren't many, but you came here to enjoy the park, not the campground. The campgrounds have clean restrooms and hot showers, some have laundry facilities, and campsites will have picnic tables and fire rings. But remember, the national parks are very popular and tend to get very busy on holidays and during the summer months...read more
National Forests (USFS)
Campers have available ten's of thousands of campsites at over 1,700 locations managed by the USDA Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation. Details of individual campgrounds are available online from ReserveUSA, a great service provided by the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS).
Finding a campground at ReserveUSA is easy. From their Web site, click on the map of the US or from the list of states. Clicking on the map or on a state name displays a localized map, below which is a list of campgrounds in the area. At this point you can either choose a campground from the list or click the map for a smaller map and campground list.
Each campground page will tell you a little bit about the area and show a detailed map of that campground's layout. You can then choose the area of the campground that interests you and read specifics about each campsite to find one that meets your needs. Information about special events, services, and amenities is also provided. Once you have found a campsite you like, just a click of your mouse and you can make a secure online reservation...read more
Army Corps of Engineers (ACE)
The Army Corps of Engineers are familiar to most of us from their involvement in dam construction to control river flows, build lake reservoirs, and produce hydroelectric power. Part of their charter is to also open up these river and lakeside areas to the public and provide recreation opportunities for fishing, boating, and camping.
With over 4,300 recreation areas at 450+ lakes managed by ACE, there certainly are many choices. As with the campgrounds provided by the US Forest Service, all your searching is simplified by ReserveUSA.
The campgrounds at ACE facilities are clean and well maintained and offer the basic amenities: showers, restrooms, water, picnic tables, and fire rings. The areas are otherwise somewhat primitive, but will usually offer services for boaters and fishermen, like marinas, boat launches, and tackle shops...read more