Fulltimers Guide to Surviving Holiday Weekends

crotonSure, us fulltimers have it easy – 50 weeks out of the year, we have practically the whole place to ourselves. However, there are a few times when it's best to get out of town, lay low, or otherwise make yourself scarce. These times are the big summer holiday weekends – Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day – or Amateur Hour, as us fulltimers like to call them. Everybody and his brother is going to be out there trying to camp, and it's best to make arrangements so you don't get stuck in the traffic jam of outdoors living these holidays create.

It's best to forget about campgrounds – they'll be booked solid months in advance if they take reservations, and ugly scenes if they don't.  Even Forest Service campgrounds without hookups where you stayed as the only occupant a month before or after will be crowded with people. People who walk through your campsite, play amplified music 18 hours a day loud enough to hear a hundred yards away, and who don't know how to build or bank a campfire so that they don't smoke out the entire neighborhood.

crowded

You will NOT find me here. I'd rather sit in a Walmart parking lot. I can smell the insect repellant and bad BBQ just looking at this photo.

It takes a while to pick up on campground etiquette – how to know what's likely to bother your neighbors, and to refrain from doing it. The once-or-twice-a-year campers don't have the experience necessary to know how to behave, and they sure can't learn it from each other.  City people on an outing have an entirely different sense of personal space than more experienced campers do, and tend to unintentionally crowd and otherwise infringe upon those used to a more spread-out living arrangement.  If you're going to try to ride out a holiday weekend in a campground, take your tolerance pills. And stock up on earplugs.

This is where boondocking capability becomes worth its weight in gold. If you don't need hookups, you don't have to compete with folks who do. It's better to look for some dispersed camping arrangement, not a campground per se. The amateur campers like regimentation – assigned campsites with little numbers on posts. Check out dispersed camping in national forests or similar arrangements if you want to avoid the crowds – although it's no guarantee you'll be alone.

Ranger Creek, Mt Rainier NF

Ranger Creek, Mt Rainier NF. This is the “before” photo, four days before the Labor Day weekend – not a soul in sight. That would change.

Keep an eye on how far away major metropolitan areas are to gauge the likelihood that you'll be getting spillover from the urban areas nearby. Last Labor Day I made the mistake of stopping only 75 miles outside the Seattle metro area, in Mount Rainier National Forest at a strange forest airstrip called Ranger Creek. Four days before the weekend started, we were alone. As the holiday approached, people started showing up – pushy people who wanted to camp right next to us because we had gotten the best spot. I discouraged them by telling them about the (fictional) nightmares I had and cautioning them not to make noise at night because of my (nonexistent) flashbacks, but it was touch and go, and all the aggravation really spoiled the weekend for us.

Mineral Creek in happier times.

Mineral Creek in happier times. After ten days of solitude in this idyllic setting, you can see how crowds of rude people would harsh one's buzz.

The same thing happened a couple of years ago at Mineral Creek, way up in the San Juan Mountains near Silverton, CO. There we were, all alone, and as Memorial Day approached the once-a-year campers started rolling in. Dispersed camping is a two-edged sword – you have the freedom to camp wherever you want, but so do the other folks, even if it's 25 feet from you. Again, we had the best spot, right on the creek, and we had to keep answering in the negative when people asked us if we were leaving. Two of them actually asked me if I'd like to move. I was not polite.

It's not so bad this Labor Day - here we are on the Oregon coast near Ophir.

It's not so bad this Labor Day – here we are on the Oregon coast near Ophir. There's enough beach here for everybody far from the big cities.

I have had better luck either picking less desirable spots, or picking places like long stretches of beach where there's no one spot people are all crowding toward. This year we spent the 4th of July at the end of a tiny road off the Beartooth Highway, basically a parking lot. However, it was designated as dispersed camping by the Forest Service, and we were the only people who spent the night there. This Labor Day weekend, I was in the least populated area of the Oregon coast in a tiny pullout barely big enough for our rig – that tends to discourage others from crowding in on us. Here you have to move every twelve hours anyway, so we shop around to uncrowded day and night spots as we shuffle up and down the coastal highway, instead of setting up more permanently and trying to defend our territory.  So far, so good.

I'm not as grumpy as I sound, honestly – I really feel sorry for those poor sods who have to live in one place all year and work or go to school, because I don't. I am free. Let them have their few moments of enjoyment – the time clock and school bell are waiting for them when the weekend's over, and I'll be all alone again with nature's bounty and the solitude necessary to enjoy it fully.  I'll settle for having the whole place to myself 95% of the time, and not complain (too much) about Amateur Hour.

 




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  • Mark Handler

    Campskunk, I always enjoy your articles. I retire in less than 6 years, and I’m already planning…..and dreaming. 🙂

  • Lisa

    Boy! I agree about amateur weekends.

  • Pretty negative article about other people who happen live in cities, have to work for a living, or go to school, and enjoy getting out once or twice a year to go camping at a nice campground that might have numbered sites. Some of us amateurs actually like being around other people and enjoy meeting and chatting with new camping neighbors. Most times you learn something new. And some of us don’t make the perfect campfire but enjoy sharing it with our family and friends. And sometimes, god forbid, we might walk thru the edge of another campsite. But you’ll notice something about amateurs, who like being around each other. We’re actually enjoying ourselves and having fun together. That’s why we keep doing it! And Campskunk, I don’t feel sorry for you and I won’t judge you. Being a certified professional camper sounds pretty lonely, but if it work for you, then great.

  • Bill Sprague

    Campskunk,

    I have friends with big ranches. They let me hang out on holiday weekends. I park were I can’t even see their house. Just us, the horses, cattle, coyotes, and an occasional bobcat. Oh and cell coverage is non-existent. I don’t work on holiday weekends either. :0)

    Bill

    • Campskunk

      man, i need some friends like that 😉

      one thing about the national forests is that there are frequently private holdings in the middle of them – people who got grandfathered in when they first designated the area as national forest. in the last three years i’ve gotten much more attuned to land use categories so i don’t inadvertently get on someone’s property – and toes. the topographic maps available online are a good resource when you need to know what’s what.

  • Mike Wendland

    In the north and Midwest, I love this time of year… September, October, sometimes even the first couple weeks of November. The crowds are gone…even in state parks…. the weather is still great. Come winter, we plan to keep camping, even in the snow, as we did last year in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We’re not big on being surrounded by people. We like solitude and wilderness. We love sleeping at night with the windows in the RV open and hearing nothing but the wind, the water and the non-human animals. I understand other people like KOAs and commercial campgrounds. It’s a big country. We’re all different. Its all good. But given a choice, we’ll take solitude every time.

  • Bill Sprague

    Mike,

    When we first started camping in 1977, we had a 19′ Terry Taurus trailer. We towed that thing everywhere. I enjoyed our visits to Christian music festivals and having our awning and fire ring being a hangout for our church youth. Those kids, now in their late 40’s still remember those times fondly as do we.

    We were thirty-somethings then and still youthful enough to enjoy late nights and stepping over slumbering teens who’d decided our awning was better than their tents and tarps. That was thirty six years ago.

    Now we like songs of crickets and tree frogs. Thus dispersed camping works better. We’re still love youth but now from afar.

    Anyone can drop by and see how we roll, share a cup of cowboy coffee, and go quietly back to their campsite. We’ll share what we know with anyone but argue about it with no one.

    Bill

  • Ron

    I agree 100 percent with campskunk, we call them “yahoo’s” in Canada, you know the type they decide at midnight to have a game of soccer! Don’t laugh it happend to us one night so I got up and give them a mouthfull! I blame the private campground for not policing the grounds. The Provincial parks here don’t allow excess noise at any time and will eject the offenders even at 1am, maybe I am getting old but who wants to hear someone elses stereo? I can do that back in the City and not have to pay $45 a night to do so!!

  • Sherry Hooker

    I agree, Campskunk. If I didn’t want to enjoy the peacefulness of nature, I’d stay home. It’s not so much the people crossing the edge of the campsite as the ones who trip over your fishing gear or knock stuff about, as they go THROUGH your campsite. Or even worse, the ones who have no control over their pets nor bother to teach their children respect for others, or just plain common courtesy. Makes me cringe at the thought of being their neighbors anywhere.

  • Pam Hicks

    It’s solitude for me, too.
    I don’t think jdawg “gets” you, Campskunk, but I think you’re super considerate & thoughtful about all perspectives. Lonely??? No way 🙂 Thanks for the article.

  • rv23

    Campskunk! Do you have anything better to do than complain about people who are just having a good time! I realize they’re not perfect! Instead, they’re normal! Campskunk, do you realize that you’re the weird guy in this situation? Not everyone spends they’re life in an RV and camps every night! So cut ’em some slack, and buy a house.

    • Campskunk

      lol! i am DEFINITELY the weird guy in this situation. when they ask me what all the satellite dishes are for, i tell them i’m trying to maintain communication with my home planet.

      • Emily

        Excellent response, and thanks for the great blog post, campskunk! We used to own a sailboat, and we avoided holiday weekends at our marina for the same reasons.

  • Campskunk, I read your derogatory blog about people that do not RV full time (“amateur hour” you called them) a couple of days ago and have been stewing over it ever since. I just had to respond. If you are going to label groups think on this..not too long ago people that had no full time jobs and moved frequently carrying all of their belongings with them were called (and not kindly) gypsies. Those people who have the “manners” you speak of are not necessarily RVers, they are Campers. Campers are the ones who understand that you don’t walk through another camper’s site (it is like cutting through a neighbor’s yard). And Camper’s understand that you leave a site in better condition than you found it. And these manners don’t necessarily need to be taught (although some people need reminding) by other campers. These are manners that one’s parents should have taught as life lessons. I started traveling with my parents first with a 125 lb canvas tent, then a fold down, then a pop up, a truck camper and on to a Class C. My husband and I now travel in a Class B. We are not full timers and have no desire to be full timers; however, we are and have always been aware of “camping” etiquette. And quite frankly we have always stayed in “campgrounds” not RV parks and we have very rarely been bothered by poor manners. Perhaps it is not the “part time” part of the equation that is the issue.

    • Campskunk

      bonni, you’re absolutely right. i’m overgeneralizing to say all fulltimers know how to behave correctly when camping – i have seen a few who don’t. my point is that many of the people who are just starting out camping get things wrong – it’s a learning experience like any other skill set. and you are definitely correct in saying many (probably most) part timers aren’t guilty of the things that irk me. i have met some charming rookie campers – a German couple at Kirk Creek campground in Big Sur literally had to be shown how to build a fire. they don’t burn wood in Germany – they burn coal, so they didn’t know what to do. i finagled them an oceanfront campsite, and they cooked their dinner on the fire, were astonished by the whales migrating by less than a hundred yards offshore, and watched a beautiful sunset together. now THAT’s a memory for them to take back home.

      there are plenty of part time campers who DO know how to camp. it’s not how often you camp – it’s how fast you learn.

  • Neil

    Love holiday weekends. We beetle back home and find the city is deserted. No radios playing, stores are quiet, great chance to catch up on the yard chores, and then on the last day of the holiday, head back out of town, and gape in awe at the huge traffic jams of those trying to get back into town!