Finding privacy in a campsite

Published 4:57 pm Tuesday, September 3, 2019

in the woods header

Those who “camp” with the equivalent of a small house on wheels probably don’t worry too much about how a campsite is laid out.

After all, all they need to do for privacy is close the curtains.

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If you’re in a tent this becomes more important the more privacy you crave.

The walls, after all, are thin.

Having stayed at 17 of Virginia’s 26 state parks that offer camping, there are some that stand out from the others in terms of site planning.

There are two categories of campsites — those located within a fully-developed park and those considered “primitive” — meaning no water or electricity and basically an outhouse.

In the first category, and of those I’ve sampled, Hungry Mother and Occoneechee are the best, and Pocahontas comes in a good third, particularly given that it’s near Richmond.

Hungry Mother has some tent sites built on wooden decks and one in particular is my favorite. It’s a chore hauling everything up the hill and stairs to the deck perched on the side of a mountain, but it’s great in the rain because your tent isn’t sitting in mud. Plus, having your tent on a deck is pretty cool.

Occoneechee has some sites that are set below the road and also accessible by stairs, providing a welcome buffer. Plus they are not situated on top of the next site. One of my favorites also has its own path to the lake where it’s nice to set up a chair and relax.

Pocahontas is a large and busy state park, but whoever designed the campsites did a good job at providing lots of room and vegetation between each one. Pochahontas is good for people-watching without the sense that you are on top of each other.

When it comes to primitive sites, those that you have to hike into are obviously the most secluded and they include Sky Meadows, False Cape and Shenandoah River.

Probably the worst campsite I’ve had was at Douthat — made more disappointing given that it was rated as one of the best state parks in 1999. State park personnel say those who love the tent camping area at Douthat are devoted, but when I arrived and found that each site nearly touched its neighbor with nothing in between, I was tempted to turn around and go home.

Not only could you hear actual conversations, I was also subjected to the sound of a man urinating outside and another vomiting inside their respective tent, as well some poor baby crying for at least two hours and every word that the father spoke trying to get him or her to quiet down. Then there was the party of about 20 people on the site next door, so close that I could have stood at the edge of my site, reached out and touched one of them. One couple rented an empty site next to their rig, presumably to provide some space from the neighboring group of campers.

However, nothing beats finding a great campsite in the wilderness with absolutely no one nearby. The best are located next to rivers and streams or on the side of a cliff. The rushing water is good for water, of course, but also for drowning out other nighttime noises. Camping on the side of a cliff or overlook is obvious — the view.