Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Finding a good campsite online

When it comes to camping, the internet is a double-edged blade. While it enables you to get lots of detailed information about campgrounds—and even check real-time availability and book campsites via ReserveAmerica—picking a specific site or even a campground is in some ways a shot in the dark.

Much of the joy of camping comes from communing with nature and being in a peaceful, scenic setting. So there's nothing so disappointing as getting stuck in a noisy, crowded campground that looked good on the internet—or a crappy campsite in an otherwise good campground. There's no substitute for driving up to an uncrowded campground, taking a leisurely look around, and picking out the best vacant site. But in the areas within weekend camping reach of New York, booking online ahead of time is a necessity, especially during summertime.

So when Cassie and I made plans to go camping in the Catskills two weeks from now, I searched the internet for any site recommendations as soon as we settled on a campground (Woodland Valley Campground in Phoenicia, New York). While the campground map could display locations of sites, it couldn't show how scenic a given site is, or whether it has ample shade. Unfortunately, I came up empty-handed (though the search revealed an unexploited niche that an enterprising, web-savvy travel writer could fill... hmmm).

I'll have to wait until after our visit to publish recommendations for the campground's best sites. Based on a phone call with a park ranger, however, I can report to you and Google's spiders that sites 4, 5 and 6 lack shade of any kind, as does site 49; sites 33 and 35 have no trees in the actual site to which you can lash ropes, though they do have shade from overhanging branches; site 40 has only partial shade; and site 31 has both shade and trees (so I booked it).

Of course, looking at the campground map, you'll note that there are many other sites right along the creek. I'm sure those will make my Top 5, but for the weekend we're going, they were already booked.

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