In defense of car camping

I recently saw a friend and he commented on how I seem to get to places off the beaten path.

Yes. Yes I do. 🙂

I smiled and said “I can Google with the best of them!”  Being an IT professional, it pretty much IS my day job after all. 😉

From Da Google Image Search. Naturally.
From Da Google Image Search. Naturally.

When I mentioned that I’ll often car camp at these places, he was a bit perplexed.

Sure, I’ve done some long hikes in the past and I do obscure backpacks, but I truly think car camping is a great way to see some of these obscure places, too.

Let me explain.

I’ve discussed car camping in the past and why I enjoy this activity at times.  But the article was more of a primer and how-to guide rather than a philosophical take.

But perhaps I should expound more on this topic.  I think some otherwise active outdoor people are missing out on some great places to see.

First, let me define how I typically car camp (excluding late night trailhead bivvies, road tripping or  for trail work projects.  All of which is when I camp for more for utilitarian reasons.)

  • Preferably in a dispersed area or at the very least a lightly used area with not many people at minimum.
  • Somewhere remote and obscure
  • Usually when the high country is still snowy and/or the nights are long
  • A place where it is best to simply take it in rather than walk through  during a backpacking trip  OR
  • A place where you simply can’t backpack

These parameters aren’t for your stereotypical KOA or even a popular USFS or NPS campground. Those environments have their place. If on a road trip they are utilitarian. These popular campsites are sometimes the only option for staying overnight at a place. And they work well for certain situations such as family car camping.

From Westoboro DINKs. No family camping for the wife and I. 🙂

But these type of scenarios is not how I typically car camp or are my preference.

Looking at past articles I have written, the wife and I have indeed enjoyed the places where it is best to be immersed and just to take it all in. The High Plains and similar areas can certainly be walked through. However I think these places are best enjoyed simply being immersed in them.

The wide open spaces open themselves up best when sitting still and observing.  Listen, see, smell and feel the environment. Being immersed in these spaces reminds me of a painting that becomes increasingly more detailed and complex as it is observed.  The fine details pop out. The faint smell of sage, the multiple colors of the setting sun and some birds making their increasingly distinct evening songs all add immensely to the outdoor palate.

The Sagebrush Sea in Wyoming

Not that I can’t observe these fine details while walking through an area. But I find sitting in one area for a while is more conducive to this type of immersive outdoor experience.

I also mention how certain places you simply CAN’T backpack or even camp.

The Pueblo dwellings immediately come to mind. Miss these exquisite places simply because I can’t backpack there?

No way.

The history, uniqueness of the place and the beauty all make them places that aren’t not just nice for me to see, they are places I HAVE to see.

Penasco Blanco in Chaco Culture National Historical Park

As mentioned, there are other places where any overnight activity is not allowed. The Agate Fossil Beds were stupendous. Both the natural history and the more recent Western history on display in the small, but exquisite, museum located there.

The wife and I ended up camping further afield from the national monument.  A place we had to ourselves with cottonwoods blazing in a lush canyon. And one of the most memorable nights skies I’ve ever seen. I would not have traded that weekend for whatever backpacking trip I could have done then.

Finally, the type of car camping we enjoy is also very conducive to deep or early shoulder seasons.

When the mountains are still full of snow , and the nights are sometimes long, a simple car camping trip makes the long nights enjoyable.

Much like a hut trip  in reverse: We set up camp and hike to and from our camp. We don’t ski to the hut first and then back again.

The concept is similar. When the nights are long and cold, some good food and an adult libation or two makes the time memorable. Add a cozy shelter with very warm sleeping bags and clothing , in addition to  the welcoming glow of  some lights, and a good experience will be had while camping.

We almost always do these type of trips in over Thanksgiving and I can’t think of a better way to be spending our time.

A canyon hike that was right next to our campsite

The younger , and perhaps bit more arrogant to be honest, long distance hiker version of me used to poo-poo car camping.

Growing up back East, dispersed and remote car camping is not really a common activity. There are few public and wild spaces on the map to enjoy this type of camping.

The more mature version of me,  the version of me who lives in the American West with its vast land and has more than a thru-hiking skill set or even perspective, enjoys this type of camping.

I just enjoy being outside as much I can. I have embraced different ways of experiencing the outdoors.

And sometimes these areas are even more remote, less crowded and wild than designated Wilderness areas.

I am an unapologetic car camper in the remote or obscure areas.

And I will continue to be.

OK. The salmon in the middle of nowwhere is a nice treat, too. 🙂
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7 years ago

I love backpacking and car camping just as long. as it gets me outdoors. Both have a place for me as long as I’m in good company and immersed in a loud/wild crowded area.

7 years ago

Do a annual trip to NW Missouri first weekend every December to watch the eagles at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refugee and it can get cold. It’s a nice car camping weekend since you can bring a few “extra’s” and not worry too much about weight. It’s a good weekend for friendship and fellowship and good food