However finding and booking Dimond O. Campground was not such an easy task. Around Yosemite National Park, the majority of campgrounds are usually booked 2 to 3 months in advance !
Why so ? Keep in mind that Americans only have 3 weeks of vacations per year, so they usually planned them well ahead. In addition camping here is very appreciated and is definitively a cheaper way of traveling.
Booking the campground
So…. of course when we decide to pre-book our camping site in Yosemite – only 3 weeks in advance – on Recreation.gov there was no more camping spot available, except for the “First come, first served” ones.
Fortunately the website ReserveAmerica.com exists ! It lists hundreds of private and public camping sites across the United States. After spending hours screening every campground located less than 70 miles away from the park, taking every details into account (photo, reviews, on-site equipment etc.), we finally secure our spot… and just in time as we were bordering on hysteria !
Late night arrival
We left for Yosemite on the late afternoon. We arrived in the evening. By night we followed the GPS on a narrow forest road that led us to the middle of nowhere, hum no sorry, to the camping site.
Dimond O. Campground is your typical US campground, quite rudimentary and completely lost in nature. So when we arrived, it was pitch dark and there was no living soul around. We had to use the car’s headlights to find our camping spot.
Fortunately our spot was quite spacious and enjoyably well distanced from the others campers: the exact opposite of French camping where people are crammed together !
The place included a fire ring, a bear canister and a wooden table and benches for picnic.Further away were a water supply and dry vault restrooms… and nothing else! No showers, no sinks or any place to wash the dishes or else…no stores, no electric lights.
It was the total wilderness experience for us.
But it was not the case for everybody as we were surrounded by RV (Recreational Vehicle). And let me tell you that US RV are quite different from the basic French “camping-car” (RV). Equiped with showers, air conditioning and full comfort they look more like “touring bus”.
Truly, in the United States people love to “gear up”! 🙂
Being bear aware
Wilderness is real in the US. It is not like in France where seeing animals is extraordinary (and rarely happens).
So it is very important to respect wildlife and observe precautionary rules when visiting national parks and protected areas.
You especially need to be bear aware.
That is why every camping sites and parks locations include bear canisters. The bear canisters or “bear box” is a hermetic metallic box specially designed to store all smelly products (foods but also creams, lotion, deodorants…) away from bears. It prevent them from searching your food and stuff, and from potentially aggressing you!
It was unlikely that we would met a bear family in Dimond O., but accidents happens more frequently than you can imagine. All these “Beware of Bear” signs and precautionary rules posted everywhere maintain the fear and fascination everyone had of the big bad bear…
Already 9:30pm, we put up the tent by the light of our headlamps (they made us look like clumsy speleologists!), and started a fire to grill our sausages (which proved to be a total fail! See below) and marshmallows.
Note to self: avoid at all cost odd flavors for sausages ! The “spicy chicken” et “garlic and spinach” sausages definitively didn’t taste good.
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly, a bottle of beer in one hand we watched the starry sky while listening to the crackling fire and muffled sounds of the surrounding forest.
In these moments, you realize how great camping can be.
Right after eating came one dreadful moment = going to the dry toilets.
Let me remind you that there was no showers and no water to wash hands, face or dishes… suddenly hands sanitizer and cleaning wipes became our best allies !
Dry toilets were another complete story. In short, dry toilets consist of a bowl on top of a well, whose walls are covered with foul-smelling filth and gnats. Just imagine the stinks after a hot summer day…
I’m not kidding, we really had to to prepare ourselves mentally before entering there... Especially at night, in complete darkness.
You must have quite an adventurous side and/or low hygienic expectations to stay more than 3 days in a row in this type of rudimentary campground… or else be young! Strangely ( or ironically?) in your thirties, it feels more difficult to get up in top form after sleeping for only
8 4 hours on a very hard floor !
In conclusion, camping in the US was quite an experience for us, and a different one from what we could expect !
Good to know when camping
- Always book in advance your campsite : 2-3 months ahead for Yosemite and more than 6 month ahead for Yellowstone national park. Otherwise choose the “first come, first served campgrounds” (meaning you will have to get up really early) or those further away from the parks.
- Gear up ! Here’s my (survival) list for the must-bring camping essentials :
headlights or flashlights – it is really helpful and will prevent you from falling in the darkness.
a tent, sleeping bags, small pillows and air mattresses.
camp wood for the fire : you can generally buy it on-site, or in the parks’ stores and campgrounds. Don’t forget the matches or lighter [it remind me of this scene from the famous French movie “The 5th element”, here], newsprint paper or coal to start the fire.
cutlery, cups, paper plates, a knife that cuts, skewers (useful for roasting marshmallows or for making kebab).
plenty of water bottles, foods and meats to grill.
hands sanitizer and cleaning wipes – keep calm and to stay clean ! (and incidentally kill the germs).
an ice box to keep cool drinks, beers, meats and perishable products. Many stores and gas station conveniently provide ice packs.
a camping stove, if you can’t possibly do without your morning coffee. It is a bit cumbersome though, that’s why we didn’t bring one.
- Be bear aware by storing your food and scented products in bear-proof lockers, or by default in airtight bags located away from your tent. In REI store, you can even buy your own portable bear canister !
- Enjoy the experience ! Camping in the US is a great outdoor experience, despite its “rustic side” and rudimentary installations. There’s no better way to feel the fresh air, improve your mood and totally unplug from the stress of the week ! In addition, camping is a very cheap way of traveling : for our 2 nights in Dimond O. Campground, we only paid $57 for 4 people.