Saturday, December 2, 2023


Do idyllic campsites exist? Yes, and they’re not hard to find

Past articles, like this one, question if the idyllic campsites pictured in RV industry ads really exist. Publisher Chuck Woodbury suggests they are staged where you aren’t allowed to camp. Others I see are photoshopped, often quite poorly, in a scenic location.

idyllic campsite in CA
Photo from, in the article mentioned. This idyllic campsite does actually exist in the Alabama Hills of California.

Before we answer the question “Do idyllic campsites exist?”, we need to define what an idyllic campsite is. Webster Dictionary defines “idyllic” as “pleasing or picturesque in natural simplicity”. They define “campsite” as “a place suitable for or used as the site of a camp.”

Blending the two together equates to a definition something along the lines of “idyllic campsite” – “a simple, pleasing, picturesque place in nature suitable for a campsite.”

What is missing from the above definitions? The words RV park, campground, or Walmart.

Therefore, it only stands to reason if you want to find idyllic campsites, like those pictured in the ads, you may want to look outside the confines of a traditional RV park or campground.

Are spontaneous road trips dead?

The same article proclaims “A spontaneous RV road trip is all but dead.” Yes, expecting to take a spontaneous RV trip through the most popular national parks, in prime tourist season, while finding open campsites at the end of the day is far from possible, as it once was. If you are like me, you probably don’t want to deal with the hordes of people in our national parks anyway. Dealing with shuttles, timed entry, limited parking, long lines, etc., hardly sounds idyllic to me. Just like finding an idyllic campsite, you will have to search out the idyllic, lesser-known places to visit that are almost or just as beautiful as those preserved in our national parks.

idyllic campsite in UT
An idyllic campsite and awesome views via BLM land in Valley of the Gods, Utah – Photos: Cheri Helgeson

Example: Utah has The Mighty 5 national parks that people flock to like moths to a flame.

“All-time visitation records were broken at four of Utah’s five national parks in 2021, according to preliminary data made available by the National Park Service.”

However, outside of the confines of the The Mighty 5, you will find uncrowded idyllic places like Little Egypt, Eagle Canyon Arch, Valley of the Gods, Wild Horse Window, and many more in Utah. And guess what? Uncrowded idyllic campsites abound within the boundaries of these sites, or very nearby, providing for spontaneous road trips.

Massive Eagle Canyon Arch in Utah. Base camp pictured at left. Author for scale. Photo: Cheri Helgeson

Spontaneous road trips are still possible

Click here to review a spontaneous road trip my wife and I took in the spring of last year. We didn’t spend every night in an idyllic campsite, but we enjoyed many. The trip did include two nights in a national park and many idyllic places along the way.

Yes, campground crowding became exasperating due to everyone buying an RV during COVID. However, during this time, my wife and I continued our summer tradition of RV camping with friends and visiting uncrowded beautiful places outside of national parks while camping in idyllic campsites each night. No reservations required. Thundering waterfalls, towering peaks, endless views, gorgeous alpine lakes, etc., have all been part of our itinerary.

RV parked in idyllic campsite
Idyllic campsite just out of the popular tourist town of McCall, Idaho. Photo: Dave Helgeson

How to find such places?

Well, I can’t give away all my secrets or these idyllic places could become overrun and not be so idyllic anymore. I will, however, share enough information for those willing to take the time and do the research to get them started on the hunt.

Wildhorse Window
It was an easy hike from our campsite (right) to Wild Horse Window (left)

Start by knowing where public land is located. Most all federal lands allow some type of less formal camping (not in a designated campground) that is often in extremely scenic areas that hold idyllic campsites. It might be a “camping area,” designated trailhead, staging area or dispersed camping. These same scenic areas often contain natural features on par with what you will find in a national park. Click here to learn the ABCs of federal land.

Large arch in Utah
You won’t find this impressive arch in a crowded national park. Author right of center for scale. My wife and I had the place to ourselves during our visit.  Photo: Cheri Helgeson

You will also need to know where state land is located. State land often provides the same types of idyllic opportunities as federal land. Knowing where state land is located is especially important in the eastern portion of the country where federal land is less abundant. Examples are state trust lands, DNR (Department of Natural Resources) lands, Fish & Wildlife lands, shores of reservoirs, etc.

Click here to watch a video where I talk about federal and state lands. My discussion of state land agencies begins 12:32 minutes into the video. Note: The Public Lands website I reference is no longer available, but the app still is. I use in place of the website.

Do idyllic campsites and idyllic places exist?

Yes. My wife, friends and I enjoy them regularly and you can too!  However, you won’t find them in a campground directory or on an app; you will have to discover them for yourself. Take the time to search them out and enjoy your own pleasing, picturesque place in nature. You’ll appreciate your time in nature much more than looking at your neighbor’s slide-out!

RVs in crowed RV park
Photo from article mentioned. Far from idyllic

Final thought: I find it ironic that you never see a power pedestal in any of the idyllic campsites advertised by the RV industry. They paint the picture of camping in these idyllic wild settings yet continue to add more power hungry appliances to their RVs which, in effect, prohibits many RVers from camping in such places.

What are your thoughts on idyllic campsites? Are they real or a pipe dream for you and your RV?

Idyllic Campsite in Wyoming
Yes, idyllic campsites like this do exist. Photo: Dave Helgeson


Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson has been around travel trailers his entire life. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership long before the term “RV” had been coined. He has served in every position of an RV dealership with the exception of bookkeeping. Dave served as President of a local chapter of the RVDA (Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association), was on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college and was a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. He and his wife Cheri operated their own RV dealership for many years and for the past 29 years have managed RV shows. Dave presents seminars at RV shows across the country and was referred to as "The foremost expert on boondocking" by the late Gary Bunzer, "The RV Doctor". Dave and his wife are currently on their fifth travel trailer with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications on his own unit.



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Backcountry164 (@guest_210471)
1 year ago

Of course, they exist. Why wouldn’t they?? They’re just harder and harder to find. If it’s too close to a main road there’s probably an RV parked there with their generator running and their dogs barking. If it’s really close to a main road, it’s already been trashed by those same people and is no longer idyllic…

Marsha (@guest_209661)
1 year ago

When you need electric for medical issues, the idyllic places do not exist – even when you have solar.

Randall Johnstun (@guest_209818)
1 year ago
Reply to  Marsha

I disagree, we have solar and I run a cpap at night, also an oxygen concentrator. Never had a problem.

Duane (@guest_209873)
1 year ago

Oh, come on! Don’t presume to know what Marsha is talking about, then denigrate her for not having a solution like what works for you.

There are many facts of life that prevent many people from doing many things. I can’t get a multi-million-dollar basketball, baseball, or football contract. Fact. I live with that limitation, and don’t complain. Plus, those athletes can’t do what I do, often due to their time demands. Lives are different, and not everyone can do what others can. No need to dis the people who can’t do what you can do.

Backcountry164 (@guest_210468)
1 year ago
Reply to  Duane

?? Marsha made a blanket statement. She didn’t say “I can’t do this thing” she said no one in that situation could. All Randal did was disagree with an obviously false, blanket statement. He didn’t “denigrate” or “dis” her in any way. YOU are the one doing the thing that you’re telling someone else not to do…

ReneeG (@guest_209850)
1 year ago
Reply to  Marsha

Hubby has a Cpap. We have solar that supports it, but we also have a Jackery as backup, so if you need oxygen a backup source works. Plus, we have solar panels to recharge the Jackery.

Suru (@guest_209606)
1 year ago

Unfortunately, in my home state of Utah so many of these “idyllic” spots are getting overrun and ruined. I live near a very beautiful National Forest that allows dispersed camping. But because of the Internet and YouTube, the forest is now overrun with full-timers who ignore the 14-day stay limit and park up there and live for months at a time. Regardless of how well people pick up their trash, they are still impacting the forest much more than the occasional camper who only camps for a few days. I foresee many of these places being closed down as there are not enough rangers to police the areas and clean up after people. It’s sad.

Last edited 1 year ago by Suru
Scott R. Ellis (@guest_209547)
1 year ago

At this point they are real, but every article like this erases another portion of them. Knock it off.

Jeff Winkler (@guest_209585)
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott R. Ellis

Most people don’t want to be away from the electric pedestal and sewer hookup so this article shouldn’t change where they go!!!

Scott R. Ellis (@guest_209592)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Winkler

You are right about most people. The rest don’t need to be encouraged, and they certainly don’t need NAMED specific spots to aim for.

And even the most remote places are much more crowded than just a few years ago. I know a perfect example, a little-known access to an iconic destination, but I won’t name it . . . because I hope to get a RESERVATION (now required) to go back there again.

Backcountry164 (@guest_210489)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Winkler

“Most people” aren’t the problem…

Laura G (@guest_209588)
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott R. Ellis

Agree, articles like this need to stop bringing attention to the hidden gems or they won’t be hidden!!

Frank Niehius (@guest_209536)
1 year ago

We’ve got to stop writing about these beautiful, safe, secure free boondocking places to camp or we won’t have them to enjoy ourselves. We’ve been going to AZ for 3 months in the winter for the last 12 years and some years haven’t spent a dollar on camping, never locked any compartments on camper or secured items at night. Bad guys or people with bad intentions go where there is a crowd that they can pick and choose and get lost in the crowd so not to be detected. We couldn’t stand to be parked a foot next to someone and your view is into someone’s slide out. Living out west is a privilege we can’t afford to lose, keep those people who think they are camping in the so called cramp grounds and we’ll take beautiful safe spots

Kim Stanfill-McMillan (@guest_209502)
1 year ago

These places are where I camp most of the time. But I’m in a Roadtrek Zion SRT (Camper Van) with solar and an under hood generator. I can’t run A/C or a CPAP machine but I can cook and keep my fridge on. I use small USB fans and a weather app to plan my travels on the fly.

Michelle (@guest_209528)
1 year ago

My husband uses a CPAP by carrying a battery for it, that will hold a charge for about 4 nights (with no water). And then we charge the battery with the truck’s power when heading out for the day.

Bill T (@guest_209495)
1 year ago

I see a lot of pictures of these beautiful places, but they are only good for half the country. The valley of the Gods looks nice but doesn’t help those of us who live in NY or PA. Unless you “plan a trip” out west (in which case you will need to plan places to stay) who will drive thousands of miles to get to them. Are there any places in the east that have similar access?

Michelle (@guest_209530)
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill T

Head to places like Michigan’s UP and upper lower peninsula, or northern Wisconsin or Minnesota! You can find idyllic camping in state and national forest lands.

MrDisaster (@guest_209634)
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill T

Bill- you’re right. There isn’t much public land in most eastern states. You might be limited to more rustic (limited or no services) county or local gov’t parks and campgrounds. Idylic spots aren’t goig to look the same as “out west” but there are some. We found a rustic campground near Montpelier VT. Old weathered barns, apple orchard, rolling hills and a small stream. While it was FHU ( and still inexpensive) it was an iconic vision of what we expected for Vermont. Not the same but still pretty nice. YOu may have to look harder but they are out there.

Frank (@guest_209491)
1 year ago

They are real if you are set up to Boondock. We have found many using various public land phone apps.

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