With spring close enough for you to start thinking about shedding those winter pounds, it's almost time to hit the great outdoors. While you're in the gym, consider a walkabout or a classic American roadtrip as the temperatures rise and take advantage of the state and federal parks systems' many campgrounds and sleep under the stars. Equipped with running water, electricity hook-ups for your motor home or RV and working showers and rest rooms, America's campgrounds are inexpensive ways to meet red-blooded Americans and see the land of opportunity. With most sites averaging between $10 and $15 per night, the camp system sure beats motel hopping.
Reserve America (tel. 877/444-6777; www.reserveamerica.com) is the country's leading resource for booking campsites. With endorsements from the National Park System and the U.S. Department of Interior, the site has listings from every federal and most state parks around the country. Offering its over 1.1 million members a look at the locations, amenities, and details pertaining to specific campsites within the parks, Reserve America gets so detailed you can book exact numbered locations for your stay and see how close it is to the rest rooms, the neighboring campsite, and any body of water such as ponds, rivers or lakes. More than that, Reserve America can tell you how many flushable toilets exist at specific campsites, type of barbecues and grills, nearest medical facilities and the amount of dumpsters in the vicinity. The site lists rates per park for single-family standard motor homes, vehicles, and group camping fees. It also lists rates and sites for pre-constructed tents and available cabins. You have to join the site as a member to use its booking software, but don't fret, to join you just give your e-mail, home address and choose a user name and password. Membership is free, and it's as easy a member sign-up page as we've encountered online. (Membership can get you discounts on camping equipment like the nifty Beer Can Chicken Cooker sold through Camping World, a partner of Reserve America.)
Here's an example of the sites capabilities. Near Moab in Southern Utah near the Colorado border sits Arches National Park. Devil's Garden Campground (how's that for a name?) lies eighteen miles in from the park's entrance at 5,200 feet above sea level. Reserve America describes the campsite as "nestled in a beautiful setting of rock fins with views of mountain peaks." Not surprisingly, the site warns to keep your food in closed containers as fox, deer and ravens (where else would Satan go camping?) frequent the area. In addition to allowing you to book the exact campsite you want, the site tells you how much shade to expect at each site and gives a park phone number. Park entrance fees for Arches come to $33 for the first eleven campers and $3 for each additional camper. Camping fees come to $10 per night with a small reservation fee tacked on. Booking the trip at Reserve America, a three-night stay at the Devil's Garden Campground will cost a total of $39. Read the details per campsite closely as tent size or vehicle type is crucial to site availability and particular campsite rules and regulations.
You can also book your trip to Devil's Garden or any other national park campground through Reserve America's sister site, Reserve USA (tel. 877/444-6777; www.reserveusa.com). And while you can't booked through the park itself, you can take an in-depth look at all the information about a national park fit to print at www.nps.gov, the National Park Service's official website run by the Department of the Interior. You can find a detailed listing of every national park complete with fee information, directions, educational facilities and park history.