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How to Create a Campsite on Your Land

Posted by Nancy Dorman-Hickson on August 10, 2017

We talk to the experts about what's required to set up a camping area on your own property.

Learn common terms foresters use to understand tree healthYou’ve purchased the land, fulfilling a long-time dream. Perhaps it will be a while before you can actually build a house and live on the property. Or maybe you intend to use the place strictly as a getaway site. Either way, setting up a campsite on the grounds will help you maximize enjoyment from your property right away.

Choosing a Spot for a Campsite

“If you’re doing it yourself, you get to custom-build your own experience,” says Chris Warden, formerly of Ginny Springs Outdoors. At this campsite in High Springs, Florida, campers can choose from a variety of options, from bare-bones basics to RV setups to an onsite cottage.

For his own getaway property in Georgia, Warden says, “I’ve chosen not to run electricity and a phone line to my log cabin because it’s my escape,” he says. “I have a wood-burning fireplace and stove. I want to get away from everything else.” But, he concedes, “Some people can’t survive without the internet.”

When choosing how to create a campsite that’s perfect for you, Warden says there are many variables. Are you talking about camping one night or multiple nights?” he asks. “Are you interested in comfort? Is the site going to have to weather storms?” He suggests carefully considering how you plan to use the campsite before making decisions.  

Jim Felton agrees that campsite choices vary by individual. He’s the executive director of the Tennessee Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. When it comes to choosing a physical site on your property, “Everybody is different,” he says. “Some want to be under the trees and some want to be away from trees. It’s a personal call.” Ultimately, he says, “You are looking for some place that makes you happy.” Clearing a campsite depends on your property, he says, whether it’s farm pasture or timberland.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Campsite Location:

Every property is different, so you need to use common sense in choosing a campsite based on the unique factors of your land. But here are some general tips to help youhone in on the perfect spot:

  • Site location should take into account protection from animals, weather, and noise.
  • Avoid roots and rocks and look for level ground for pitching tents.
  • If the land has been previously occupied, watch out for electrical wires and buried gas and water lines when clearing or excavating.
  • For cooking while tent camping, choose open fire with a fire ring and grill screen or a portable butane-powered stove.

Planning to use an RV or a Tent on Your Land  

“To park an RV, you need to check with the county code and make sure it’s permissible,” says Felton. “You are probably going to need unrestricted property.  Most unrestricted property allows you to do pretty much anything you want. But you still need to verify any restrictions associated with the property.”

If RVs are off limits on a property, but smaller structures are acceptable, Felton offers this alternative: “I’ve seen people put up a little barn and park their RV inside.” IF a visible RV is OK, a covered pole carport could provide extra comfort from the elements. If you are using a tent, you’ll want level ground that’s free of roots and rocks and is as sheltered from inclement weather as possible.

If you plan to be on-site during your house construction or if you intend to camp on the property often, an RV certainly adds comfort. Felton suggests installing a power post to provide electricity for your RV.  Battery-operated or solar-powered lights and a portable camp stove or fire can suffice for tent camping.

“If you are going to build a house eventually, you might as well dig a well and use it in the interim,” he says. Or, if possible, proceed with running a city water line. The same logic applies to adding a septic tank and drainfield for use with an RV.

“It may be cheaper for you to have that installed for whatever size house you’re going to put up so that you don’t have to dig for a septic tank twice,” he says.

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Campfires and Cooking

No matter how you camp, Warden points out one common denominator: fire. “It’s the one thing that is universal across the board. Even in the middle of the summer, people burn fires out here,” he says of Ginny Springs. “Everyone gathers at the fire.”

If you’re camping with others, campfire stories and s’mores certainly add memories. You can either bring a fire ring or make one from available rocks. Add a wire mesh for cooking.

For convenience and depending on how much you plan to use the site, Felton adds, “You might want to bring a picnic table or build a kitchen station on site.”

How you store your food is important. “You need to keep your food away from your tent and hang it off of a rope up in a tree so bears can’t get to it,” he says. Barring bears, smaller creatures such as chipmunks may get your food unless it’s properly stored in a cooler. Make sure to keep food iced to prevent spoilage.  

A lot of campsite decisions are common sense, Felton says. “Look around and be aware of the situation,” he says. “Remember, Mother Nature isn’t always kind.”

What to Bring to Your Campsite

Once you've established your campsite, the final step is to have the right supplies to make your time there enjoyable. Here are some of the must-have items to have when you camp:

  • Choose a sleeping bag with the correct weight and material for the weather you’ll encounter.
  • If you’re sleeping on the ground, consider a moisture-wicking barrier.
  • If you opt not to put in an electric post, try battery-operated or solar-powered lanterns.
  • Always carry a flashlight and extra batteries.
  • Bring waterproof matches and lighters.
  • Candles or tinder help start fires more easily.
  • Bring a purchased fire ring or make one with available stones. {Fully extinguish any fire before you leave the property.)
  • Bring basics for eating and cooking: fireproof cookware, non-glass dishes and utensils, and a manual can opener.
  • Bring bottled water for drinking and clean up unless you have access to tested well water.
  • Throw in a roll of duct tape for ripped tents, broken shoes, and other repairs.
  • Tuck in some version of a Swiss army knife.
  • Bring toilet paper.

Safety First

Don't forget to bring these items to ensure safety at your campsite:

  • Bring a cell phone and car phone charger for emergencies.
  • Consider bringing a hand-cranked and/or battery-operated radio for weather reports.
  • Pack a first aid kit. Basics include: antibiotic cream, Band-Aids, adhesive tape, bandages, antiseptic wipes, aspirin, sunscreen, sunburn ointment, and insect repellent. Bring items for your specific medical condition (insulin, epipen, prescriptions, etc.)
  • Bring a life jacket if you will be in or on the water.
  • Make sure you have sufficient ice for coolers to keep food from spoiling.

Nancy Dorman-Hickson

Nancy Dorman-Hickson grew up in Sturgis and Starkville, Mississippi where she roamed woods, rode horses, and fished muddy ponds. Now she is a writer based in Birmingham, Alabama who was with Time Inc.’s Progressive Farmer and Southern Living magazines for 19 years. She’s been a newspaper desk editor and co-authored Diplomacy and Diamonds, the best-selling memoir of Joanne King Herring. Dorman-Hickson and her husband are the parents of college-age fraternal twins. For more, see www.NancyDormanHickson.com.

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