How to Plan the Perfect Camping Trip in 6 Simple Steps

Do you want to get out in the fresh air and do some camping, but feel a little overwhelmed when it comes time to actually plan a camping trip? If so, you’re in the right place.

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In this post, I’m sharing exactly how I plan my car camping trips.

We cover:

  • how to narrow down where you want to go
  • things to plan months in advance
  • how to find campsites
  • gear and meal planning
  • safety

Prefer to watch? Check out the video below:

How to Plan a Car Camping Trip

First off, when I say ‘car camping’ I mean any camping trip where you’re driving a vehicle up to a campsite. You can pitch a tent, stay in an RV, or sleep in your car.

This is not a blog post about planning a backpacking trip where you hike to a destination to camp.

Step 1: Figure out Where You Want to Go

Obviously, the first thing you need to do is narrow down where you want to camp.

For example, let’s say you live on the east coast and you want to plan a camping trip out west. Where ‘out west’ do you want to go?

Perhaps you decided that you want to visit Utah. (I live here and highly recommend it!)

Now, Utah is a pretty big state with a lot to see and do. In order to help narrow things down, you can look at blog posts and maps to get a sense of what’s available.

In our example, you’ll find that Utah has 5 national parks. After looking at maps, blog posts, and photos, you decide that you want to plan a camping trip out to Utah to see Arches National Park!

cooking over the campfire at a dispersed campsite in Arizona

Step 2: Camping Options and Reservations

Now it’s time to look into camping options in the area that you want to go to.

I like to start with a quick internet search. For example, I search something like ‘camping options near Arches National Park’.

You’ll likely find lots of campgrounds in your search.

Campgrounds vs Dispersed Camping

There’s a big difference between dispersed camping and campground camping:

  • Dispersed camping is when you camp on public lands (national forest or BLM land), usually away from any facilitates. Dispersed campsites are usually just a patch of dirt and no reservations are available.
  • On the other hand, campgrounds are more developed and they tend to have things like fire pits, trash cans, and tent platforms, but you might need reservations way in advance.
  • If you’re a new camper, I recommend staying at a campground. You can find tons more details about dispersed camping vs campgrounds in my blog post on how to find great campsites.

In our example, there’s a campsite in Arches National Park, and you decide that’s where you want to camp!

Now it’s time to secure permits, if necessary, for the place you want to camp.

How far in advance should you plan?

Some campgrounds are first-come, first-serve, others are reservation only, and others are a combination of both.

Sometimes, you might need to make reservations months in advance.

If you have specific dates and a specific place that you want to go camping, then I recommend looking into reservations months in advance.

Amanda fly fishing in Montana

Step 3: Other Activities Nearby

Another thing to think about in advance is some of the activities that you might want to do on your trip.

Sometimes it’s nice to go on a camping trip and just relax at camp all day. I certainly love those trips, but other times I like to go on day hikes, fish, or swim.

Do you need any advanced permits or guides for the activities that you might want to do?

unpacking camping gear from the car

Step 4: Packing and Gear Prep

Now I want to move on to some of the things to be preparing for as your trip gets closer.

What is the weather going to be like for your trip?

This will help you determine what and how many camping clothes to pack.

Keep in mind that the elevation will definitely affect the temperature!

Do you have all the appropriate gear for your trip?

Take inventory of what camping gear you’re going to need and make sure everything actually works.

If you’re camping for the first time, make sure you set up your brand new gear at home and take the time to figure out how it all works before your trip!

If it’s been a while since you camped, make sure all the gear in storage is functional and replace or fix things before your trip.

grilled chicken fajitas while camping

Step 5: Meal Planning

Now we’re on to my favorite topic! If you’ve seen my YouTube channel, you know how much I love camp cooking.

One thing that makes things so much easier at camp is to simply plan out your camping meals at home.

This doesn’t need to be some ridged elaborate plan. Instead, simply write down what you want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day of the camping trip.

You can find a camping meal planner in my free Camp Cooking Starter Kit below:

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Camp Cooking Starter Kit

Printable camping recipes, a gear checklist, and a camping meal planner so you can go camping with confidence (and good food!)

Camping food doesn’t have to be complicated.

On this blog, I have tons of free printable camping recipes, no-cook camping meal ideas, no-cooler camping meal ideas, and so much more!

Lastly, before you head out on your camping trip, it’s always a good idea to check for any local fire restrictions or local food storage regulations.

camping in arches national park Utah

Step 6: Safety Planning

After you planned and prepare for your camping trip, it’s so important that you leave all the who, what, when, and where details with several people back at home.

Give as many details as possible. If you have cell service at camp, you can even send them a pin with your exact location letting them know you arrived.

Lastly, do you know where the closest emergency center is relative to where you’re camping?

Do you have a first aid kit? Are you prepared with the gear and knowledge to be helpful in an emergency?

What wildlife is in the area that you should be aware of?

These are some of the camping safety things to be thinking about before your trip. The more prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to adapt if things don’t go to plan.

tent camping in Utah

Start Planning Your Next Camping Trip!

Hopefully, this guide has you feeling confident, excited, and prepared for your next camping trip.

Make sure to check out some of the other resources below with additional tips for new campers:

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