How Much Does Camping Cost

Camping has surged in America. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many have sought the great outdoors in their local region in lieu of resorts and overseas travel. And now, you kind of like the idea yourself. After all, camping can be an affordable option compared to the average vacation.

So how much does camping cost? Pelican breaks down the necessary costs of nightly sites and essential gear – plus, some useful tips for shaving your budget. Let’s dive in!

Average Cost of a Campsite: Private Parks vs. Public Campgrounds

You can pretty much assume that privately owned and operated campgrounds accommodate mostly RVs. Occasionally, some private parks will offer tent-only sites and even small cabins, but RVers bring most of their traffic. The beauty of private-owned campgrounds is that they typically provide all the RV hookups you need like sewage, water and electricity, reducing the cost it takes to run a generator. Private campgrounds also offer some pretty swank amenities, like heated pools, wellness centers (can you believe it?), canoe rentals and a game room or arcade for the kiddos.

While prices can vary on site size alone, you can expect a privately run RV park campsite to cost $25 to $90 per night. Again, this can vary on whether you just have a pop-up camper or a full-on three-bedroom RV.

Government-run and operated public campgrounds offer fewer amenities, other than maybe a public restroom, occasionally an outdoor pool and rentable canoes (not inclusive!). However, in contrast, they are typically much more affordable. National and state park public campgrounds tend to cost around $15 to $30 per night, depending on whether you need RV hookups or a tent site only.

It’s worth noting that both private and public campgrounds can also vary by state. As you might guess, Florida is the most expensive state to park an RV due to all the snowbirds who travel south for the winter. Also, always ask about additional fees, such as pet fees and extra vehicle fees.

camping can be an affordable option

Essential Camping Gear

When it comes to camping costs, camp gear can vary in price enormously. When you consider what to bring camping, is it the essentials or is it the whole kit and caboodle? Can you camp minimally with a bivvy tent or do you prefer an RV lifestyle with the creature comforts of home? Most fall somewhere in the middle, so here are moderate prices of gear you can expect. Also, this breakdown is for tent campers, as RVs require their own set of equipment.

Most fall somewhere in the middle, so here are moderate prices of gear you can expect. Also, this breakdown is for tent campers, as RVs require their own set of equipment.

  • Tent – A three-season, four-person tent can cost somewhere between $150 and $200. You can find more affordable, smaller three-person tents, which are spacious enough for two, but you can also seek out a four-season tent for winter camping, which will be costlier.
  • Sleeping bag – The cheapest option is blankets from home, but they won’t keep you as warm as a sleeping bag. Choosing a sleeping bag for cooler night temps is crucial and they can cost roughly $100 – more if you want to double up.
  • Ground pad – Yes, you can bring an air mattress from home, but it could get super dirty. Instead, purchase a proper self-inflating ground pad for roughly $129.
  • Cooking supplies – This one varies widely, but let’s assume you want a two-burner propane stove. A standard Coleman Propane Stove can reach $80. From there, you could bring utensils from home and purchase a pot and pan set (or a cheap cast iron pan) for roughly $50.
  • Cooler – Sure, you can go out and buy a cheapo Styrofoam cooler, but don’t expect your food to stay cold. You’ll likely run into food waste and a cooler than won’t last more than a few trips. Instead, aim for a high-quality hard case cooler that will keep food preserved and beer chilled.
  • Camp chair – A decent camp chair that’s comfortable and folds down to a compact size can cost around $90.

Other than these basics, there is the cost of meals, firewood, entertainment and activities. But this list should give you a general idea of a preliminary budget. From there, you can expand into more fun and practical gear such as dry bags, hammocks and illuminating solar-powered lights and such. Speaking of dry bags, a better option would be a crushproof Pelican case that can keep your gear dry and watertight, which comes in handy during rainy days and winter camping.

How to Cut Camping Costs

If you need to shave your camping costs, here are some extra tips for finding more affordable sites.

  • Avoid peak camping seasons – Summers are synonymous with camping so plan to go during the off-season months during late autumn through early spring. If you can embrace winter camping, go for it!
  • Camp within your state – Many states offer discounts to residents.
  • Join a camper club – If you plan to camp frequently, join a local camper club or buy a pass like the America the Beautiful pass that offers a discounted yearly fee.
  • Choose the right site – RVs need more hookups than car campers, so book a campsite based on your needs. If you’re just car camping, you probably don’t need connections, which increases a site’s nightly cost.
  • Find more remote campgrounds – Avoid large cities and popular regions, if possible. If that’s your mission to see the Grand Canyon, you might not have a choice. But in general, find more remote campgrounds.
  • Find free campgrounds – Last but not least, you can always find free campgrounds, especially in casino and fairground parking lots. However, the facilities may be extremely limited. Always inquire about a permit!

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