Those who are new to camping can easily get overwhelmed by the terminology they may encounter either online when booking or upon arriving at a campground. Sometimes it seems that campers speak their own language which can confuse those unfamiliar with the usage of certain words.
But it’s important to understand the various ways of describing campsites, trails, and amenities so you can properly plan and know what to expect. There’s nothing worse than getting excited about a camping trip and arriving only to find out you can’t easily reach your site.
When it comes to camping and certain campgrounds, site accessibility is a big issue. You may see certain spots marked as “site accessible camping” and be wondering what this means.
There could be two different meanings depending on the location and the signage accompanying these markers.
The first meaning for site accessible campsite is simple that the campsite is easy to access or get to. The second meaning is American With Disabilities Accessible. This means these sites are set up so that people with disabilities can access them and enjoy camping as well.
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Easy Access to a Campsite
The first and probably most common meaning of site accessible camping is that you will be able to reach the campsite easily. When car camping, this usually means you can drive right up to the site, park nearby, and unload your gear.
It’s important to have easy access to the campsite, especially when car camping because you will probably have a lot of equipment to unload. By parking close to where you will pitch your tent, you won’t have to walk far or carry heavy things over long distances.
This will make your camping experience much more enjoyable. You’ll also spend less time setting up camp and won’t be daunted by the task of loading or unloading your car. It also allows you to bring more comforts from home to enrich the entire trip.
Although it might seem obvious that all campsites should be accessible by car, this is not always the case. Different campgrounds can have a variety of configurations and the parking setup will not always be the same.
The traditional campgrounds often have loops with traffic flowing one way and each campground has a pull-off where the campers can park. Each camper parks his or her car in their designated spot and then has their own picnic table, fire pit, and tent mound.
However, you can also encounter campgrounds with a single parking lot. Each campsite is then some distance away from it and you may need to hike to reach the site. The distances vary but can be around a quarter of a mile or more.
Even if the distance to the site is short, sometimes the path is not paved which will add an additional challenge to reaching your reserved area. Other sites are located on a small hill which gives great views but is challenging to climb up when carrying gear and camping equipment.
In those cases, it is recommended to bring a wagon or cart along to haul all your supplies. One with large wheels that can navigate hills and possible ruts or potholes in the trail will make the job a bit easier.
Another group of campsites that are not accessible easily is backcountry sites or dispersed camping sites. These remote areas are often located on public lands, in forests, or even in national parks.
The sites are not at a campground but might be a single site located out in the wilderness for those who want a more peaceful, rustic camping experience. Campers may need to get a permit, particularly for national or state parks, and then will be assigned a campsite.
Some sites can be several miles into the backcountry and are accessible only by hiking on a trail. The trails can be deep into the woods and have a lot of elevation gain, making it challenging to reach the site.
In these instances, camping more closely resembles backpacking because you will have to carry all your supplies and equipment to the site. There often isn’t a possibility to even bring a cart or wagon to haul things with you.
These primitive sites will not have running water or access to bathrooms either, making them a truly wild experience far from the comforts of civilization. Campers should also known the area they are camping in as well as navigation and survival skills to make sure they stay safe.
Many public lands, especially the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed lands, offer dispersed camping throughout the area. These sites often have a fee and are available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
The fees can vary by location and there are often limits on how long you can camp there. Campers must also follow all the rules of the particular land and should observe leave no trace so they don’t damage the wildlife nearby.
Most of these sites cannot be reached easily by car. Although there are roads, you may be required to park far away so you don’t block trailheads. Even if there is a somewhat nearby parking lot, you probably will have to carry everything from your car to the site.
Many dispersed camping areas require you to camp at least 100 to 200 feet away from a road, trail, or source of water. That may not sound like a long distance, but it is still necessary to haul your tent, sleeping bag, and food with you to the location where you will be camping.
Accessibility can also be an issue when camping near a lake or other body of water. There could be campsites that are only accessible by boat. In those cases, it’s important to plan carefully to ensure you have a path across the water to your site.
You will also need a boat that can carry your tent with you and any other gear you will need. In the case of an emergency or inclement weather, you will not be able to easily or quickly leave the site either.
If the water is large, it can take a long time to travel across, especially in a kayak or canoe. So you will need to give yourself enough time to park, launch your boat, and travel to the site before you are even able to start putting up a tent.
Other campsites may require riding a horse or mule to reach them. Although these sites often offer seclusion, privacy, and stunning views of nature, they are definitely a challenge to access.
ADA Accessibility to a Campsite
Another possible meaning of site accessible camping refers to sites that can be accessed by those with disabilities. Many campgrounds have started adding sites that have paved parking areas that are level and have convenient access to bathrooms.
This allows those with disabilities to easily enjoy the outdoors and have a camping experience without additional challenges. Sites marked as ADA accessible must comply with ADA requirements and may have wheelchair accessibility.
These sites are often clearly marked or may have a wheelchair symbol to identify them on a map of the campground. Although there aren’t guidelines set out by the ADA specifically for campgrounds, there are different components a site could observe.
Providing a level site makes it easier for those in a wheelchair or other device to assist with walking to move around. The site should also have parking nearby with enough space for a wheelchair lift if necessary.
Sites should be located close to a bathroom so campers do not have to travel far and the path to the bathroom should also be paved. The bathhouses themselves should be ADA compliant with doors that are easy to open, stalls wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and safety railing inside the stalls.
Picnic tables at an ADA accessible site could have a longer overhang to accommodate someone in a wheelchair to easily sit beneath. Fire pits will often have higher sides and the barbecue grill should be at a height that can comfortably be used.
Those searching for ADA accessible campsites can look online when reserving a site or search for campgrounds that are ADA-friendly. There are also sites dedicated to accessible camping for those with disabilities where campers can find out more information, read reviews, and see pictures to determine if a site will work for them.
Why Site Accessibility is Important
As you can see, whatever the definition of site accessible means in your particular situation, knowing what it indicates is important. If you are a person with disabilities, awareness of accessible camping sites could make all the difference to your camping experience.
Should you reserve a site that was not accessible, you may not be able to utilize your reservation upon arriving at the campground. Those with disabilities may not even be aware that such sites exist so knowledge of the various sites may encourage them to venture outdoors when they otherwise wouldn’t have thought it possible.
When it comes to accessibility via car or boat, it’s crucial to know how you will access your site. If a site requires a boat and you don’t own one or have the opportunity to rent one, you won’t be able to reach the area and your reservation will be worthless.
So make sure to do your research before reserving to ensure you can easily reach your site and make the most of your camping trip. Choose a site that has everything you need to have a wonderful time enjoying the outdoors.
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