Over the years, we have stayed at all sorts of campgrounds: state parks, private campgrounds, KOAs, high-end campgrounds, even Walmart parking lots. Each has its benefits. Despite the pandemic, we have managed to get out many times this year with our camper and one thing has become evident: when camping during a pandemic, state parks are the way to go.
Don’t get me wrong, we love the amenities of a private campground. Our kids live for the crafts, hay rides, pools, and other activities provided by KOAs and the like. Full hook-ups are also a win. However, this year, there are a few ways state parks win out for a family looking to get away during a pandemic.
State Park Advantages:
State parks tend to have a smaller number of available campsites. This isn’t true everywhere, but even state park campgrounds with many sites are often divided into loops that are spread out – almost like separate campgrounds. As a result, campers come in contact with fewer people throughout the weekend.
Even during a non-pandemic camping season, one of my favorite things about state parks is how much space and greenery is between each site. Unlike many private campgrounds we’ve visited, where campers are lined up parking-lot style, state parks provide a good 20-30 feet of trees and shrubbery between each camper. In a year when social distancing is a way of life, not being right on top of the strangers next door is a win.
It’s true that state parks don’t offer many of the same activities and amenities as private campgrounds. There are almost never pools, bounce pads, petting zoos, or hayrides at state parks. We are normally thankful to private campgrounds for keeping our children occupied all weekend. This year, the lack of options at state parks has been a blessing to us.
The handful of times we have stayed at private campgrounds this year have been more stressful than usual for us and more disappointing for our children. We spend the weekend telling our children they cannot go play with the other children on the bounce pad or they have to wait until everyone’s gone to get on the playground. There is a constant refrain of “wash your hands!” Private campgrounds are wonderful, but they are designed to bring campers together. That’s not what we are looking for during a pandemic.
State parks, on the other hand, offer outdoor amenities that are considered safe during a pandemic: hiking, biking, fishing, boating. If there is a lake, it often includes a large man-made beach on which you can spread out, as opposed to being close to others around a pool. Certainly, state parks are missing much of the fun of a private campground, but there is far less disappointment and stress when you don’t have to keep your children off all the fun equipment that is right in front of them at a private campground. We look forward to a time when we can safely send our kids off to make friends with other young campers, but this is not that year.
State Park Disadvantages:
Of course, state parks aren’t perfect. Here are some reasons state parks have made camping a bit harder during a pandemic:
Most state parks only offer electricity at their non-primitive sites. Usually, this is not an issue for us, as we spent years without a bathroom or kitchen in our camper and can manage just fine. This year, however, avoiding the bathhouses is one of the best ways to limit your exposure to others, and not having a water/sewer hook up has made that more challenging. We have made some adjustments to reduce our water usage, like using paper plates and wooden cutlery that can be burnt in the fire ring. It’s certainly manageable, it just takes more diligence with our water conservation.
State funds have been hit hard by the pandemic and that is apparent at state parks where there is a noticeable reduction in rangers and office staff. If you have a problem at a state park campground, it is more difficult to get in touch with someone. Fewer rangers patrolling means quiet hours are not enforced. Despite the pandemic, I have not noticed a significant increase in the cleaning of the bath stations either, most likely due to a reduction in staff.
At private campgrounds, on the other hand, I have noticed an increase in staff to keep up with regular cleaning. Many of the staff we’ve spoken to have been working overtime to clean and disinfect.
This year, they have been our home-away-from home and a way to get out of the house safely. I would encourage everyone to support their local state parks in some way. They are truly a gift.
(Click HERE for a playlist of all of our PA camping Adventures!)