I have never been much of a car camper with the exception of car camping at Assateague and The Outer Banks, preferring instead to enjoy Backpacking. That might be about to change.
I recently enjoyed three days and two nights car camping in the Mongahelia National Forest. The NFS campground not onky offered a tent pad, picnic table, fire grate, water pump, and outhouse, but also served as a jumping off point for a couple day hikes. These day hikes were just a couple minutes away from the campground but hours away from my home. With many more trails and possible day hikes near that campground, I think I will be retuirning the next time I get a few days off.
Glad to hear you’re discovering car camping. It’s not quite the experience of immersing yourself in the outdoors as backpacking, but can still be an enjoyable experience. Here in the Pacific Northwest, you can have the range of experiences. From campgrounds with all the amenities to very rustic, the opportunities are there, and you can get there by car. Car camping allows you to bring more ‘creature comforts,’ allowing you to be more ‘comfortable’ than backpacking typically allows. Sometimes, you want to get out in nature, but still have some of those comforts—perfect car camping opportunity.
I have always resisted car camping or AKA Glamping. But to get family members out and now a new puppy, I have to compromise. I get what you're saying about immersion in the forest. I love hiking alone. Since I canoe camp a couple of times a year, I got the creature comfort kit established. One of our crew brings a rope swing and an eight-foot extension ladder to launch ourselves on the swing. It's a great toy.
I wish we could find rustic campgrounds closer to us. But, unfortunately, North Georgia is 5.5 hours away, North Carolina is 4.5 hrs., the Pacific Northwest is...a haul from Savannah. So that is why I asked the question.
I think car camping shouldn't be looked down on. It's a great way to spend time outside and away from screens without having to commit to long hikes and uncertainty. When it comes to kids, elders, people with disabilities, etc. car camping can be a way to get exposure without putting people in danger. For even the hardcore campers, car camping can be a good way to explore a wide range of terrain without wasting time "hiking between destinations". This is absolutely true for road trips. I find that you can also hone skills by car camping that you can't by backpacking. Everyone loves the camp chef, the people who can start fires without thinking twice, people who can tell great stories and entertain others. Car camping lets you hone skills you otherwise wouldn't focus on during backpacking. Also those who want to use their time for things other than hiking, like photography, astronomy, and other fun things.
We ditched the tent a few years ago and haven't looked back. Gone is the hassle of struggling to put up a tent as soon as we ariive at a site. We fold down the back seats in the SUV, put an air mattress in the back and sleep in the car! So much easier.
Unfortunately, my SUV is not that comfortable to sleep in. I feel more at home in a tent, in a light weight one person then. However, I am thinking about purchasing a larger tent just for car camping.
I haven't visited the Monongahela NF in a number of years, but certainly hope to get back there again.
I grew up car camping, first in a tent, then, later, my parents bought a small pop-up camper.
It is certainly easier with kids (I was one of three) and allows for more creature comforts. I car camped as an adult, before taking up backpacking somewhat later in life, and found car camping was a good transition to ease my wife into the possibility of backpacking, as well.
I will say that I have slimmed down my kit for car camping significantly over the years. But, in contrast to backpacking, I do enjoy having more space in the tent, a more cushy air mattress and an actual pillow, as well as more varried cooking options (as others have suggested) like cast iron, a tripod grilling grate, a one-burner and two-burner stove, oh and most of all my percolator coffee pot!
I enjoyed a ten day MNF "Sojourn" last September. I car camped with a one person tent in five different NF Campgrounds, day hiked several tails I had been on before, and lost ten pounds. I can not wait to do something like that again.
We're looking for a great car camping spot and it sounds like you found one in the Mongahelia National Forest. Where exactly did you camp? I pulled up the site and found a list of campgrounds. Did you find a forest service road and happen upon a spot? We love to hike but we have a 3-month-old puppy we'd like to take car camping in a couple of months.
I strongly suspect you are risking a greater hazard driving to the campground than you are when actually on the trail. Of course, we have all been riding in cars since day one and we are familiar with the hazards, not so much the case with the trackless wilds - full of tiggers and things