Camping Courtesy: Nine Behaviors to Avoid in Public Campgrounds

A beautiful, secluded campsite in the Wharton State Forest.
A friend once told me if you want solitude, peace and quiet, and the chance to truly commune with nature in a peaceful setting, you're going to have to work for it.

For example, don't expect to avoid seeing large groups on hiking trails close to major cities and that are easy to get to. Similarly, don't expect to find complete silence and peace in a public campground, especially during the camping high season.

However, there are a number of behaviors that are sure to incite rage among fellow campers that should be avoided at all costs, unless you want to make enemies of strangers.

Don't do your dishes in the campground bathroom.

This is one of friend Kam's biggest pet peeves, and I agree. It's nauseating to see scraps of others' dinners while I'm brushing my teeth to get ready for bed. If you're like me, you accept that dishes are going to be "camping clean" until you get home. Wipe dishes clean with paper towel or bring biodegradable soap and give dishes a quick rinse at your campsite. Scatter water across as wide of an area as you can and as far away from lakes, streams and other bodies of water as possible. If you want to go all out or have a large group, try this setup from ScoutmasterCG.

Don't leave your RV generator and/or RV lights on all night.

Many campgrounds have separate RV and tent sites, but at highly desired camping spots like Delaware Seashore State Park, the tent sites are only feet away from RV sites and when the campground is nearly full, you might have to set up in an RV site. Friend Patrick and I camped "across the street" from folks who left all of their RV's exterior lights on all night. If you're camped in another RV and can close curtains, it's not an issue, but it felt like I was sleeping under a spotlight all night. Similarly, most campgrounds have rules about when RV generators can be on. One of the quickest ways to incite rage among fellow campers is to leave your generator on outside of those hours.

Don't have a raucous party or arrive and set up camp loudly outside of posted quiet hours.

It should go without saying that all whooping, hollering, and related shenanigans should be relegated to those times of day outside of posted quiet hours. Ashamedly, I've been that camper who sets their car alarm off accidentally, and I felt awful. If you have a car alarm, make sure you know what sets it off and how to disarm it quickly. Lesson learned! And if you arrive outside of posted quiet hours, be considerate of both the noise you make and the light you use when you're setting up your camp. Also, this, which friend Jillian experienced, is not okay. Similarly...

Don't treat your campsite like your home theater or a DJ booth.

Friend Kelly mentioned that on a recent camping trip, folks in a site nearby were watching a movie outside their RV with the sound turned all the way up. Though it's understandable to treat a camping trip like a mini-vacation and bring your favorite action flick for viewing, don't assume everyone in the campground wants to be in on the action as well. Keep your movie watching inside your RV or bring headphones if you're planning to watch it outside. Similarly, just because you love listening to loud music when you're camping, that doesn't mean everyone else enjoys your tunes as much as you do.

Don't walk through others' campsites.

It might seem completely innocent to cut through another site when you're walking around the campground, but it's the equivalent of walking across someone's front porch at their house. Observe basic rules of personal space and take the long way around.

At this campground in Zion National Park, fires weren't allowed. Make sure you know whether or not fires are permitted before you go, and play by the rules!

Don't leave your campfire burning.

For friends Kam and Chris, leaving campfires lit is a major pet peeve. Whether you're going to sleep or heading out for the day, make sure your fire is completely out when there's no one to watch it. Leaving a fire burning isn't just dangerous for you and those in your campsite, it can have significant consequences for others as well. In the same vein, keep your fire confined to designated fire pits and observe the rules if fires are not allowed. Try to avoid throwing garbage into your fire as well; the fumes from burning plastic can be toxic, glass can explode, and it's an added challenge to clean up a fire ring full of trash.

Don't wake with the sun and assume everyone else does too.

Getting up at the crack of dawn to break camp and move on to the next adventure is an exciting part of camping, but not everyone feels the same way. Some activities just make unavoidable noise, like turning your car on to leave, but shouting plans for the day across the site to your tent mate at 5am is avoidable. If you're planning an early start to your day, remember that tent walls are absolutely useless for blocking sound and be considerate of your fellow campers.

Don't leave a mess behind, especially food.

Most large campgrounds have camp hosts that help ensure sites are clean and ready for the next campers, but there's no reason to make their jobs more difficult. "Pack it in, pack it out" can still apply to campgrounds. Know where to dispose of your garbage and be sure to do so, especially if it's food. Animals can learn to rely on humans as a source of food, and thought it might seem harmless to feed a squirrel with the leftover scraps on your picnic table, there are long-term consequences.

Don't let your pets run amok.

One of friend Toby's pet peeves is fellow campers who bring ill-behaved or vicious dogs to campgrounds and let them run amok, or don't clean up after them. And some folks have a a fear of even the friendliest, most well-meaning dogs. Keep them leashed, even in the campsite. It should go without saying, but make sure your furry companion is part of your plans and don't leave them tied up in the campground alone all day.

Huge thanks to everyone on twitter who responded to my request for campground pet peeves! The most common response was definitely related to noise at night. It seems like, generally, most of these behaviors boil down to practicing common courtesy and being considerate. What other campground pet peeves do you have? Do you have a story about any of these?


Kate C said…
Great article! The weekend before last, we were out searching for a campsite for our (tiny) trailer in the dark, in a new area. All of the first three campgrounds we checked were packed. The fourth had two sites that were probably best for tents available between two large tent groups. It was 10p and we had a sleeping 2 year old in the back seat, so we just parked the trailer in the parking lot, paid for one of the camp sites, and crashed for the night. Of course, one of the large groups was up until 2am playing loud music, yelling at each other, and singing at the tops of their lungs. ARg. Even in a trailer, that stuff keeps you awake.

Of course, the next morning, the two year old was awake at 6a, and the parents who were kept up by the drunken wailing were not doing well. So I took the kiddo outside to let Dad catch some more zz's, and we went for a walk. Did our walk involve running circles around the tents of said offenders? Probably. Did it involve mom yelling at the kiddo to leave them alone in a not-so-quiet voice? Yes, it did.

I used to be a tent camper that loved to complain about RV'ers, but since getting our trailer, I feel like tent campers are actually worse for most campsite annoyances. And there should be some unwritten rule about how making noise until late at night automattically allows others to wake you up when their kids wake THEM up at God-awful early in the morning. Just saying.
Julie said…
I think you touched on them all! I especially hate the poor campfire management when it happens in fire season. Sheesh. The walking-through-the-tent-site I recently experienced for the first time. We spent a week in BC and discovered that there was a group of bandit campers who accessed their tents by walking by our tent. At all hours. I find it disconcerting when I've been asleep and headlamps, footsteps and unfamiliar voices wake me up at 2am. I think they chose to access the bandit sites by walking through our site to disguise their trail. Grr.

Kate C - ha! how sweet the revenge :-)
Katie said…
Oh my goodness, Kate, what a night you guys had! I can imagine even trailers aren't the best for blocking out loud parties. There's only so much four walls can do!

I definitely think there are offenders in both the RV and tent camps (pun intended), and that it all really boils down to common courtesy and awareness. I also don't advocate for seeking revenge, but I also can't say I haven't done it myself, or that it wasn't warranted in your case :) sometimes, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!
Katie said…
Yikes, that would certainly be disconcerting, Julie. I can't imagine having that happen in the middle of the night! Folks might think they can get away with walking through others' sites under the cover of night, or even when they think you're not there, but it's not right no matter what the time of day, and especially at night! Hope you managed to get a little bit of sleep!
Shannon Wood said…
The number one thing I have picked from this article was dont let you Pet run around free. I can not stand this even when I go camping. I hate when I have to go to a State park or something and pay $24 a night to camp in my tent and the neighbors two sites down have their dog crap at the base of my tent floor. These four legged creatures are not deer or bear or even coons and have only the minds of what their owners have. I think when you go camping it is not meant to be home away from home for only its a peaceful and quite journey you take into Gods country. I loved this article Katie thanks for sharing!
Shannon Wood said…
Very well put here Julie! I agree with you on this!
Meghan J. Ward said…
Great post, Katie! I've always wondered. How DO you go about educating people about campsite etiquette? It only takes one party to ruin it for everyone.

The last time I went camping, I saw guys hacking away at a live tree for firewood. This is totally stupid to begin with, but we were in a national park, which also made it totally illegal. At what point is it up to us to tell them? Our parks staff are stretched so thin... I wish fellow campers could issue fines!
Katie said…
Yeah? Sounds like you've had some rough times with others' pets! I've camped with friends who have some of the most well-behaved puppies and it's been a blast. They've been great additions to the trips and I've really had a good time spending time with them, especially since I don't have dogs at home. But like you, I've had bad experiences with others' pets in campgrounds. Hope we both have good experiences going forward!
Katie said…
Great question, Meghan, and I think it's the same challenge as teaching Leave No Trace principles. How do we get people to stop tossing water bottles and wrappers on the ground? I haven't come up with a good answer yet either. Anyone else? :)

And holy cow, I'd go absolutely insane if I saw someone hacking at a live tree for wood. That's one case where I might've gotten over my shyness and said something! Agreed, we should be able to pass out fines. Vigilante justice!
Robbie said…
Once we were camping and next to us was a group ( ethnc group ) that all morning loudly used the F word in every sentence non stop. I was w/ a group from Church w/ kids and everyone was uncomfortable.
About 10 in the morning I came back from the river and a boy in the ethnic group had cut his foot on glass, so I asked if I could help ( WAFA cert ) . They were relieved cause they didn't know what to do. I told them I was w/ a church group and asked if they could keep the F word down and they translated that to the rest, so we went over to my group where I had a first aid kit. Now the Church looked at me like I was nuts ( I know ). Well I patched up the boy and the rest of the day there wasn't one curse word from that group and they gave me some weird desert that was excellent.
Some people don't realize what they're doing, so don't attack head on, be tactful.
Don't return evil for evil, & you might win a friend.
Katie said…
That's great advice, Robbie, and you're right. It's much easier to win friends with kindness and by helping if there's an opportunity! Sometimes, all it takes is a non-threatening cease and desist request :) And you're also right that some folks might not know or understand how their behavior can impact others. Thanks for sharing!