Today I am going to share with you everything you need to know to be able to camp with ease on the West Coast!
I remember the first time I set out to go camping in California. I did almost no planning and ended up driving allllll the way back home on the same night I left.
That said, nowadays I take a car full of gear on a 3,638-mile multi-country road trip to Bowron Lakes without so much as blinking an eye.
After realizing that others might have similar problems, I decided it was time for me to help. So, I wrote this West Coast Camping Guide.
First things first, this guide is for anyone who wants to know how to plan an epic camping trip… On a budget.
My brother and I graduated from college at the same time. We knew we had to take an amazing trip with our dad to celebrate.
But here’s the catch. We did not have the leisure of taking an expensive trip. We were just getting out of college.
Long story short, we had to plan a trip on a budget.
So get this, camping and traveling on a budget actually will make your trip more enjoyable and authentic. I recommend it to everyone!
If you have never gone camping before, this might be confusing.
But I guarantee If you read this straight forward guide to the end, you will be able to go camping with ease anywhere. With all the necessities and plans needed.
How to Plan a West Coast Camping Trip
The most important part of camping is planning beforehand. This will create a stress-free trip. You’ll rest easy knowing that everything is all figured out before you even start.
The Trick to Choosing the Perfect Destination
You see, the first step to planning your trip is to figure out where you want to go. Everything else will be determined based on the place and time of year.
My brother, dad, and I finally settled on taking a canoeing trip up north to beautiful British Columbia.
After choosing our main destination, we had to figure out our camping spots from California to British Columbia.
We chose a list of a dozen possible spots at various State parks, National parks, Provincial Parks, and RV campgrounds. This way, we had no obligations but knew all our options for where to camp each night.
Remember, having downtime in the schedule is best because on a road trip many things become interesting or enjoyable at a moment’s notice. I absolutely love going with the flow and spending time doing the little things. Like pulling off of the highway and eating lunch in front of a beautiful landscape. And the entire point of taking a vacation trip is to enjoy yourself.
Listen to this: If you are doing a road trip as well, have a solid few points of interest where you really want to go. Make sure you book any and all campgrounds and activities before you leave! For the rest of your trip, have a few ideas of what you can do and where you can camp, but make sure these are loose plans (more on this later).
That way you have time that is meant for just going with the flow. Because of this your trip will have more of a journey feel, rather than a mandatory schedule feel.
As far as choosing your camping location, I highly recommend State and National parks if you are in the US. And Provincial parks if you are in Canada.
These park have established locations with amenities and plenty of beautiful areas to check out.
You will never be in a short supply of things to do!
Pro Tip: For just 80$ a year, you can go to every single national park with no additional cost. Next time you are at a national park entrance gate, just ask about an America the Beautiful pass.
|Action Step: Figure out where you want to go and build the plan backward.|
What to Pack
After you know where to go, planning out what gear you should bring is going to be easier.
In fact, you really just need the essentials.
- Sleeping pad/cot or hammock
- Sleeping bag and small pillow
- Headlamp and flood lantern
- Stove, and cooking equipment
- Clothes, in relation to the weather of where you plan to camp
- Toiletries, always have toilet paper just in case
Buuuut I do recommend bringing a few extra things.
- Chairs and a table, although most National and State parks have these
- Ice chest
- Backpack, for day hiking
- Games, like a deck of cards or dice
- Bug spray, depending on where and when you go somewhere
- A great book
Look up the weather in the areas you plan to be traveling to.
What are the general temperatures at night and during the day? Is it frequently raining, snowing, or dry?
These factors will guide you in deciding what clothes to bring.
For our trip, we realized that night time was going to be very cold and the daytime was going to be hot. Since we were planning on rowing all day in the sunlight this especially mattered.
Other things to consider:
- Do bears and other wildlife go after human food?
- Is this area full of bugs this time of year?
- High elevation?
- How long is the sun up at this time of the year?
For instance, we learned that mosquitoes in British Columbia would be a problem. Especially in the summertime, right when we would get there. So we brought bug repellant and mesh nets for our faces.
Since we were going to be spending a week on the Bowron Lake circuit out on the open water in a canoe, we had to protect ourselves from the sun. We brought hats, long sleeve athletic shirts, pants and of course sunscreen.
All of these things are necessary to make sure you don’t have major issues arise. Like bug attacks or a bear stealing your food.
Frugal camping tip: Borrow or rent big-ticket gear. Especially if you are new to camping, you will likely realize that you might not want certain things.
|Action Step: Research the area where you will be camping. This makes it much easier to plan out which gear you need.|
What Food to Bring
Plan the food ahead for all trips.
Convenience and quality are the two most important things to consider when planning your food.
Each time I would drive, I would have a list of demands for whichever victim of mine was in the back seat. Usually my brother. That poor guy would have to pull out snacks for me every 15 minutes!
While traveling, having tasty, healthy snacks that support your active lifestyle is the key to success.
But some days, you just need to have a fully cooked meal to satisfy your taste buds. I totally get it!
Planning Your Food
So here’s what you do. Make sure your food does not require a large amount of countertop space to prepare. Plan your meals with food that can easily be cooked with your stove or grill. Strategize how you can create the least amount of dishes. That way you can enjoy a meal that is easy to cook and clean.
And remember, nonperishable foods are convenient…
On the other hand, perishable foods are delicious. It will take more effort to cook and clean perishable food, but that might be worth it to you.
Heck, this guy even brings fish and shellfish out camping!
The bottom line is: the more meal preparation you can do at home before you leave the better.
Cooking Tip: Cook your meat or fish on the first night. That way you only have to heat them up for the second night. This is way more convenient.
If you want perishable foods but don’t want the hassle of preparing them while in the woods, try sausages and canned fish.
Reduce Your Dishes
Planning food that creates a little number of dishes is HUGE.
Food for little/no dishes
Perfect your when you’re driving and your brother gets tired of hand feeding you ;).
If you are hiking or simply a little ways away from camp during the day when you usually eat lunch, snacks are a must.
Personally, I just remember three things…
SNACKS, SNACKS & SNACKS
Make them as healthy as you desire.
Oh ya, I almost forgot, a real meal here and there definitely helps.
|Action Step: Plan out your food in advance, with plenty of snacks.|
Bring. Plenty. Of. Water!
Let’s say for example you are in a different country, 3 days away from help, in the middle of a lake, and traveling with your family (sound familiar?). Then you need a guaranteed clean water source. No exceptions.
A water filter will save you if you are out backpacking or boondocking.
However, all campgrounds and parks have drinkable water easily accessible. So when you are camping in-grounds, water is always there for you.
|Action Step: Bring at least three water bottles (and fill them up).|
The Right Way to Plan Your Itinerary
Half of the point to take a trip is to cut loose and enjoy yourself. Having too strict of a schedule will stop you from doing this.
But no schedule at all will leave you stressed and directionless.
Go with the flow and let whatever grab your attention in the present moment. This will create a relaxing and entertaining experience!
Here’s why you should always have time to go with the flow. Ya never know, sometimes the local weather station needs you to give a report!
Finding Ideas While On The Road
Already knowing where a good hiking trail or picnic area is will help with your daytime plans.
But if you simply can’t think of anything to do?
Check out the ranger station at the National or State park you are in. They will know plenty of in-season activities for you to do.
Heck, mid-day games with your friends is never a bad idea! Do what you normally don’t. It’ll be exciting and relaxing at the same time (crazy I know).
Camping hack: Bring that friend who is always camping! He/she will likely have most of the gear, know some good local spots, and be an enjoyable person to have around.
|Action Step: Have a few major locations and activities planned out, but leave plenty of time for going with the flow.|
Brand New To Camping?
Before you spend 6 months hiking the PCT by yourself…
Do This: Don’t even bother planning your first camping trip, do a trial run in your backyard!
That way you are more familiar with how to set up a tent and use your stove. This will also make your first real camping trip less intimidating.
My first trial camping trip was in the backyard of my parent’s house. I even got out of my sleeping bag, went inside to eat a gallon of ice cream, and went right back to my sleeping bag.
After you are tired of having a cramped stomach from camping in your backyard, (which definitely was not from the ice cream)…
It’s time for the next step!
First Camping Trip
Go camping at close locations until you feel confident with your camping abilities.
That way if you forget something or a piece of gear fails, you can just head back home!
Once you’ve experienced the joy of camping without stress. It’s time for the next location.
First Dream Trip
Choose somewhere that you think is absolutely gorgeous!
That place that you have always dreamed of. Every time you see a picture of it, you stop and stare at it. Wondering what it would be like to experience it in person.
The smells of the trees, flowers, and shrubs.
The wind blowing in your face as you hike up to the top of the peak.
A beautiful harmony of birds chirping in the background…
As the aggressively refreshing cold water stings your face while you jump in the river.
Seriously, whatever location just came to mind, write it down. Start making a plan to go there.
If no place comes to mind, National parks and State parks are a great place to start, especially on the West Coast.
Summary of Camping on the West Coast
Quick Action Summary
|1. Figure out where you want to go and build the plan backward. |
2. Research the area where you will be camping. This makes it much easier to plan out which gear you need.
3. Plan out your food in advance, with plenty of snacks.
4. Bring at least three water bottles (and fill them up).
5. Have a few major locations and activities planned out, but leave plenty of time for going with the flow.
Thanks to ‘Shaggy’s Guide to West Coast Camping – aka the greatest trip ever’, you can now turn your dreams into reality. Go ahead, escape the constant routine of your daily life, and recharge in nature while camping!
You have everything you need right here.
As you read in this guide, camping can be outrageously fun and relaxing if done properly. So forget the old tactics and enjoy some stress releasing camping this weekend!
Turn your back to anyone who doesn’t support your outrageous adventure ideas, and walk away from them.
Where do you plan to go on your first camping trip?