At the very beginning of the season, my oldest daughter asked me if I would write a post on campground etiquette. None of my girls have much experience camping, and none at all in an RV, and she was curious about what the “rules” were. It’s definitely a tough subject to tackle, but one I thought I might try after a season of running these campgrounds because I would have lots of feedback from the people who have stayed here since the complaints funnel through me. That being said, I am speaking here as a private citizen, but those comments and experiences have impacted how I feel about this particular topic.
As I told Kyrston, this particular question is very subjective. Different RV parks have different rules and norms also vary from state to state. I do think there are some basic categories that are worth talking about and some generalities I can share with her based upon what I have experienced and seen. You may disagree vehemently with me on some of these, I’d be shocked if you didn’t, but I am going to try and put a personal stake in the ground here. If you don’t agree with me on any particular subject please feel free to add it to the comments, but please keep in mind you are talking to my kid here, and she doesn’t have a ton of experience camping.
Walking through someone else’s campsite- This is probably the most common etiquette faux pas and usually only done by the inexperienced camper. When you rent a site the entire area is yours for the length of your stay, and it becomes your de facto backyard for the length of the visit. Just like in a sticks and bricks home you wouldn’t like it if someone walked through your backyard without invitation, in general people feel the same way in campsites. When it becomes a real problem is when there are no paths to get to the bathroom, or water, or any other area of interest and your site is quite literally the path of least resistance. And by the way, people don’t get cranky about this just because they feel possessive of their space. Minor thefts are pretty common in many campgrounds and since most people have chairs, grills, coolers etc outside, they don’t want folks walking through. Later at night it can also be a little physically threatening when you see the silhouette of someone strolling through your campsite. Again think of it like it’s your backyard and you will understand the emotions many people have. All of that being said, you can ask and usually people are pretty cool about letting you walk through. But it is very important that you ask and if no one is in the site, go the long way around.
Noise – In general there are two ends of the spectrum on people who camp. Some love to party and go into the wilderness to let their hair down and others like the quiet and peace of nature. Although many people fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, there are lots of folks on either end and unfortunately what they want from the experience are diametrically opposed. The fact that sound really carries in most campgrounds doesn’t really help, and there is no such thing as a “rowdy” section, so often quiet people are in sites right next to louder people. Most campgrounds solve this by having established quiet hours and the 10pm rule is pretty constant in most places. The problem is what constitutes quiet? Talking in a normal voice can sound very loud at night to the person trying to sleep next to you and something as simple as playing cards or sitting around a fire chatting can be disruptive. The way we deal with that personally is to call it a night when quiet time comes. Since we are early risers this normally works well for us, but is rough on the night owls who like to stay up later. My best advice is to be aware of the habits of the folks who are staying around you and try to keep that in mind, especially at night.
Generators – We have received more complaints about generators this season than any other issue. Purists want to camp in an environment with as little machinery noise as possible, but many people camp in RV’s that have either onboard or outside generators. In general generator hours match quiet time hours, but listening to a generator run all day (especially loud ones) really ruins the experience for many people. Some campgrounds are dealing with this by having “no generator” loops or zones, but not all campgrounds (including ours) have that option. If you are staying in a place with electric hookups it is less of an issue, but when you are dry camping without services this can be a huge deal. It’s even worse now because of the prevalence of CPAP machines. Many people want an exemption from the quiet hour rules to run their CPAP machine all night which means the generators are running 24/7. As sympathetic as I am to the need for a medical device, personally I feel this is unreasonable. There are battery operated CPAP machines and I hear they are coming out with a solar version, but if that doesn’t work for a person, they really should have electric. That’s just my opinion, but I am one of those folks who finds constant generator noise extremely annoying and since I invested in a solar system to minimize generator use, I suppose I think people who need that much power should do the same.
Dogs on Leashes – The second most common complaint we get is regarding people leaving their dogs off leash. I have been a dog owner most of my life and although I don’t have a dog now for a long time I was firmly on the side of the folks who felt that as long as the dog was well behaved, let them go off leash. Unfortunately my thoughts have changed on that for two main reasons. First, Lee was attacked by a dog when he was a small child and has a healthy fear of any dog that is not under control. When people’s dogs run up to him to sniff him, he goes completely rigid and no one should have to feel afraid when they are trying to relax and have a good time. The second thing, which really put me over the edge on the topic, was when our friends small dog was attacked in a campground by two dogs off leash. Those dogs belonged to the campground owners and ran wild through the campground, and one day they just decided to attack my friends dog. His belly was ripped open and he had to have over 20 stitches, not to mention it took over a year for him to get back to his normal personality. Dogs are animals, despite our tendency to humanize them, and their reaction to other animals or people can never be taken for granted. All that being said I am a huge fan of “off leash” areas in campgrounds and think they should all have them. One of my eventual goals up here is to add an off leash dog swimming area, to give the puppies a place to play without bothering anyone else.
Trash – Speaking of dogs leaving dog poop laying around really isn’t cool. Not every campground has staff that picks up the poop and frankly with that many dogs in one area it can relaly build up. Not to mention the flies and smells that dog poop brings with it. And speaking of trash, please don’t use your fire pit as a trashcan. If you have a fire going and it’s not windy, it’s fine to throw paper plates etc in the fire, but make sure you are going to be there until it totally burns through or someone is going to have to deal with food on partially charred pieces of wood, which is frankly gross. The worst experience I ever had was at a state park once where I checked in and their was a half eaten (and rancid) chicken leg in the fire pit. It was just nasty and a terrible way to start a visit in a new place.
Smoking – This is a rough one, because we smoke and I would say I am the most guilty of breaking these etiquette rules especially in crowded RV parks. We have friends who hate cigarette smoke and in crowded RV parks have to close their windows, which should never happen. That being said, as a smoker in a crowded RV park, I am not that crazy about having to walk to a remote area every time I want to have a cigarette. For me personally, we try to avoid the parks where we are on top of other people because of this issue, but it’s not always possible. We try to be considerate when we are with friends, standing far away from them and making sure the wind doesn’t blow towards them, but even as considerate smokers we know on occasion we break the unspoken rule. It’s not lost on me that we are out in the beautiful outdoors and polluting the fresh air people are trying to breathe. My only solace is these same people are often breathing in campfire smoke, which yes, I know isn’t the same thing, but for some reason makes me feel better.
Occupancy – Most campsites have a set amount of people who are allowed on the site, but in general these rules are not always strictly enforced. It is very common for a campsite to have a huge group of people and in the case where several sites know each other the groups can spill into common areas, and sometimes other sites who are in between them. This wasn’t something I personally experienced as a camper, but as a campground host it is a pretty frequent problem. People have tons of vehicles, parked all over the place, and so many guests that the noise level gets really high. Since it’s not always possible to get all the sites you would like to have adjoining each other, one persons site becomes the “hangout” place and since people are having such a good time they aren’t really aware of the folks around them. Best case scenario the neighbors are invited to join in on the fun, but worst case someone who is trying to have a nice quiet camping weekend gets totally overrun by a huge party. It really does happen all of the time, and in retrospect, I have probably been guilty of it a time or two. I have a tendency to be oblivious to what is happening outside of my little piece of the campground and I am sure on occasion I have annoyed the crap out of people.
Dealing with Conflict – It seems there is lots of this in any campground where people stay for awhile, and can range from something relatively minor to something major. As much as people want to relax and not be hassled when camping, often they love to complain about what other folks are doing. In my experience the campgrounds with lots of seasonal campers are the worst and the “pass through” campgrounds where people are only there a night are the best. Basically the more time people spend with each other the more chance that they will get on each others nerves. There are exceptions of course, and lots of RV parks where folks get along really well, but we have sort of seen this pattern over and over, especially in the more established parks and the conflicts can get nasty and escalate quickly under the wrong circumstances. My personal stance on this is we have wheels and whenever possible should leave the conflict behind. Of course that isn’t always possible, especially in an area where campground spaces are limited, which means if you want the spot, you have to find a place to get along. Yes, you can appeal to the owner or camphost to intervene, but generally they aren’t able to do much. The best thing is to nip these potential conflicts in the bud before they escalate and be aware that just because you are camping that doesn’t mean you can blow people off. Treat them as you would your neighbor in your apartment or house and you will probably do fine. Act like it’s no big deal because it’s “temporary” and it’s likely you will end up with more conflict than you bargained for.
So, that’s my thoughts, and as I said, feel free to add yours in the comments. Like I said, please keep in mind this was written to someone without a ton of camping experience, and I would appreciate it if you kept that in mind with your responses.
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