For millions of Americans seeking relief from everyday life, going camping offers a welcome escape and ample opportunities to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
In the U.S., this outdoor craze can first be traced to a best-selling book by William H. H. Murray, Adventures in the Wilderness: or Camp-Life in the Adirondacks. Written in 1869, it was the first published guidebook instructing readers on the ins and outs of camping. It opened the door to a new form of leisure for Americans who, according to Murray, had grown "weary of the city's din [and who longed] for a breath of mountain air and the free life by field and flood." Soon after, the Adirondacks became a national destination.
Today, there are more than 75 million active camper households in the U.S., according to the 2017 North American Camping Report, with 1 million new households joining the trend each year since 2014. Thanks to a thriving National Parks Service, the U.S. provides many options to experience stunning landscapes, awe-inspiring wildlife and a wealth of activities.
The United States plays host to 58 national parks in 27 states, with 82.8 million visitors in 2016, ensuring that many of these camping enthusiasts can explore their passion within a few hours' drive of home. The first of these, Yellowstone, was declared a national park in 1872. With an estimated 26,542 visitors on a typical July day and 5 million annually, it's one of the most popular as well, surpassed only by Grand Canyon National Park, with 5.9 visitors in 2016, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with an impressive 11 million-plus that year, according to National Geographic.
For those who prefer a more isolated experience, a lesser-known park might fit the bill. How about Congaree National Park in Columbia, S.C., whose 27,000 acres of floodplain attract just over 100,000 visitors annually. Or Michigan's remote Isle Royale National Park, accessible only by boat or seaplane, which gets only about 14,000 visitors per year.
Want to get in on the fun? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Many campsites fill up fast, so be sure to reserve early to make sure you get a prime spot.
- Plan ahead to ensure you have the proper gear for conditions, and don't forget to account for nighttime dips in temperature when packing clothing and extra blankets.
- Be sure to check your gear before you depart to ensure equipment like stoves and flashlights are in working order, and you have all the parts and pieces needed to erect your tent.
- Research common wildlife, insects and hazardous plants at your chosen campground to come prepared with necessary deterrents.
Here's a checklist of items to bring depending on terrain, conditions and the type of camping trip you are planning:
- Sleeping bags, blankets and pillows
- Sleeping pads or cots
- Flashlights, lanterns, batteries
- Camping stove, fuel, pots and pans
- Cooking utensils
- Dishes, cups, flatware
- Paper towels, soap and trash bags
- Portable folding camp chairs
- Matches or lighters
- Cooler, ice, food and plenty of bottled water
- Sunscreen and bug repellant
- First aid kit
Remember to have fun while you enjoy the great outdoors and leave no trace. This means that the campsite will look the same when you leave as when you arrived.