Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged. The organization is pretty much by date of publication. Please use the SEARCH option below to find what you are looking for.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

UTVs or Side-by-sides

UTV stands for Utililty Task (or Terrain) Vehicle.   As the name indicates, they were originally designed for utility work.  They are also known as side-by-sides because of the seating configuration.  The Kawaski Mule and the Yamha Rhino were two of the first.  They were small 4-wheel drive vehicles, usually equipped with bucket seats and a steering wheel so they drive like a car.  The original Mules and Rhinos looked a little like a Jeep or a small pickup truck.  Their potential for sport use was quickly recognized and soon there were models, such as the Razor, that looked more like a custom Baja racer than a utility vehicle.  Even Razors usually have a small cargo bed in the back.

They are designed for high performance off road use,  often having as much wheel travel as a dirt bike (13" or more of wheel travel) to absorb some pretty big bumps -- or jumps.  Driver and passenger are secured by seat belts or harnesses.   Seat belts are standard equipment:  3-point harness are the norm but for racing and other high impact activities a better 5-point harness is recommended.  They usually have roll bars and a small cargo bed at the rear.  Most if not all are equipped with 4-wheel drive, giving them a "go anywhere" capability, as long as the road or trail is wide enough for them.  There are many trails designed for dirt bikes and ATVs where UTVs are prohibited.  Attempting to travel these trails in a UTV is not only illegal and environmentally irresponsible, it is dangerous.

Most UTVs carry 2-4 passengers, but some, like the Ranger, can carry up to 6 passengers.  That makes them popular for family outings, especially when you have children too young or other family members who don't ride.  And the cargo space means you have plenty of room to bring along a well-stocked picnic basket and cooler for lunch and other refreshments out on the trail.

There are optional accessories available to customize UTVs to an owner's individual needs and wants, including off road lights and elaborate sound systems.  You can even purchase body kits that fully enclose the passenger space and add a heater for winter riding.  Some might even have an option for air conditioning!  That would obviously make hot summer rides more comfortable but I would worry about how much power it would take and whether it would cause overheating of the engine.

I've seen a number of  UTVs equipped with snow plows for clearing winter driveways and small parking lots.  And, of course, they are capable of towing any off-road trailer.  The cargo area makes them useful for hauling a variety of things, ranging from a cooler full of your favorite summer beverages to firewood, medical supplies, and tools.

UTVs are usually too wide to be driven on regular ATV trails and definitely too big for single track dirt bike trails.  They are very much at home on fire roads and other dirt roads and the wide puffy kobby tires, together with 4-wheel drive, provide excellent traction in sand,  mud, and snow.  A few UTVs are deliberately built narrow enough to be used on ATV trails.

Because of their larger size and more complex design, they are more expensive than dirt bikes or ATVs, but being able to carry 4-6 people may make the "cost per passenger" a little less daunting.

In some cases UTVs might be modified to be street legal, but most are intended and purchased strictly for off road use.  Off road tires won't last long on pavement and can contribute to excessive tire wear and to dangerous  problems in handling.  This might be mitigated by changing the tires but in doing so you usually sacrifice some the off road capability for better on road manners.

UTVs may offer hard core off road enthusiasts a way to continue to enjoy their sport even after age, illness, or injury prevents them from straddling a dirt bike or ATV.  Riding in the cushy seats of a UTV for many hours is always going to be more comfortable than sitting in the saddle of dirt bike or ATV and the strain on the driver's arms from the steering wheel will be much less than that from  wrestling with handlebars.   The tires, suspension, and body weight absorb a lot of the jarring impact that is transmitted directly to the riders of dirt bikes and ATVs.

UTVs are smooth!

4x4s: 4 Wheel Drive Vehicles

Not all 4 wheel drive vehicles are suitable for off road use.  In recent years there have been many luxury sedans equipped with 4 wheel drive or all wheel drive.  This gives them additional stability on wet, snowy, or icy roads but the suspension, gear train, and general body style are not amenable to off road use. A surprising number of big, lifted 4x4 pickups aren't really intended for off road use either.  They are often more for show than actual use.  Those big, shiny, showy trucks you see hogging extra spaces in a parking lot are not likely to every be driven off pavement.  A REAL off-road pickup is the one with mud all over both sides and the paint rubbed off the front fenders from driving through the bushes!

The term "4x4" is usually used to describe a 4 wheel drive pickup or SUV.  One of the first 4x4s to gain popularity was the venerable Jeep.  Originally designed as a military vehicle, GIs returning from World War II were quick to adapt them for civilian use after learning to appreciate their amazing versatility in combat.  Jeeps are often the foundation for "rock crawlers", adapted for negotiating passage among large boulders.  The name "rock crawlers" usually applies to the recreational applications for these vehicles and their drivers.  However, a whole class of professional racing as grown up around rock crawling with extremely difficult courses that challenge both man and machine to the limits.  They are often referred to as "rock bouncers" and are specially built, high performance, 4 wheel drive vehicles.  For some exciting viewing, check out "rock bouncers" on Youtube.  I am sure you will be amazed!

4 Wheel drive pickups and SUVs are often modified to enhance their off road performance.   Typical modifications include lift kits and larger tires.  I've even seen some with onboard arc welders for emergency repairs on the trail.  Suspension enhancements are also a popular upgrade for both comfort and performance.  Typical upgrades include stronger (or additional) springs and bigger shock absorbers.  Seats and shoulder harnesses are often upgraded in competition machines.   I have seen a few really unusual 4x4 modifications, such as a Cadillac body mounted on a 4x4 truck frame.  Not quite sure what the prompted the builder but it was certainly surprising and interesting to see it racing through the open desert and I am sure it would be fun to drive.  I have to admit it certainly looked cool!

You will see a few vans with 4WD.   Having 4wd is a distinct advantage in any area where you get snow.  They make excellent vehicles to support winter sports such as skiing, snow boarding, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.  If you want an all terrain motorhome,  a Class B with 4wd would be a good option, if the compact accommodations are sufficient for your needs.  I have seen a few 4wd Class C motorhomes, which are, of course, based on van a chassis. There have also been a very few Class A motorhomes built with 4WD.   Revcon built both Class C and Class A 4WD motorhomes.  I heard that the owner of the now defunct Suncrest motorhome company had one built to stress test their Class A and it kept up with dune buggies in the open desert!  I once owned a 28' Suncrest similar to the one used for the 4x4 conversion and always thought it would be fun to have the 4x4 to support our dirt biking adventures, but theirs wasn't for sale and the conversion would have been way to expensive.

4x4s are often associated with off road activities.  However, when you see a bright, shiny, 4x4 pickup with a lift kit so high you need a step ladder to climb into the cab, those are mostly for show, not off road use.   If you want to see a REAL off road truck, look for one with a modest lift and lots of mud.   If the paint is worn off the front fenders you know it has been seeing a lot of genuine off road driving.

4 Wheel DRIVE ON!

Dune Buggies

 Dune Buggies are a class of OHVs all their own.  To some extent they have been replaced by UTVs in today's off road market.  At one time dune buggies were mostly home made units, often built on Volkswagen or Corvair based platforms.  These rear-mounted, air-cooled engine configurations lended themselves well to handling off-road driving. 

I recall two basic configurations:  rails and fiberglass bodied models.  Rails were little more than a simple frame with a drive train, front suspension and steering, and one or two bucket seats.  The fiberglass models were a bit heavier but they were very attractive and provided more protection for occupants.  They often had a rear bench seat for a total carrying capacity of 4 people.  You may remember seeing Steve McQueen drive on on the beach in The Thomas Crown Affair.  My wife and I actually had the chance to drive that very dune buggy in the Mojave Desert.  At that time the buggy belonged to a dirt biking buddy.  It was a lot of fun and was especially nice for taking small children into "town" for hamburgers.  And, yes, this particular dune buggy was street legal.  Most were not.

There were some commercially made dune buggies, including some large vehicles design to carry multiple passengers on site-seeing excursions, giving non-riders a chance to experience dunes and deserts first hand.

If you want a dune buggy you might have to search ebay, craigslist, or your local classified ads.  There are few, if any, manufacturers still producing them new, but there area few custom builders that will build one to your specifications. If  you don't want to wait to have a custom rig built, take a look at the current crop of Razor style UTVs.  They offer many of the same features and experiences as a dune buggy and usually have 4WD for even more capabilities.  They are, however, a bit pricey.

Enjoy a buggy ride!


ATC stands for All Terrain Cycle.   This describes a collection of 3-wheeled off road vehicles that were once popular in the 1970s and 1980s.  You may still see a few of them out on the trails or for sale by owner.  You WON'T see any new ones.  

There is a popular notion that ATCs are illegal.  That really isn't true.  They were phased out by an agreement between the manufacturers and US Government interests that preempted any actual legal ban.  By the time the "voluntary" moratorium expired, ATCs had been replaced by ATVs.

 Whether ATCs deserved the bad repuation they got remains an issue of debate even today.   The 3-wheel configuration gave them a little more stability than a 2-wheel dirt bike which made them appeal to novices and younger riders.  Unfortunately, the perception of stability often masked the actual danger involved in riding any motorized device and people would over estimate their own capabilities, often resulting in careless accidents.  To that extent the fault may lie more appropriately with the rider than the machine.  

However, there were some innate characteristics of ATCs that made them somewhat unpredictable.  One was the propensity they had to turn opposite of where the rider was trying to go.  What happened was this:  the rider would lean into a turn, like you would on a bicycle or motorcycle and the ATC would turn the opposite direction.  That is because leaning put extra weight on inside wheel giving it more traction and making it force the machine to turn the other way, regardless of which way the front wheel was turned.  Another quite frequent problem was riders running over one of their own feet.  It was very easy for a rear tire to roll over your foot before you got it on the designated platform when starting out.  I've seen it done and even had it happen to me a time or two when I tried out a friend's ATC.  I NEVER run over my own foot with my dirt bike!  I once saw "Any ATC" prominently displayed on a list of the 10 Worst Dirt Bikes Ever.

While you can't buy an ATC new anymore there are still some used ones out there that might tempt you.  If you think you would like riding an ATC, go ahead.  They can be a lot of fun.  But please remember their idiosynracies so you can avoid the common problems that led to them nearly being banned in the United States.  The tricycle configuration does make them a little easier for novices to ride than 2-wheeled dirt bikes, but the 4-wheeled ATVs that replaced them offer similar benefits without the downsides of the 3-wheeled ATCs.

Cycle on!


ATV stands for All Terrain Vehicle.  They are also sometimes know as "quads" or  "4-wheelers".  These fun and versatile off highway vehicles are sort of like a 4-wheeled dirt bike.   Like dirt bikes you straddle the seat and use handlebars to control the steering.  Because they have 4 wheels they are more stable than dirt bikes, but their extra width limits which trails they can be ridden on.  It also makes them somewhat unstable when crossing hillsides.  I've personally seen several 4-wheelers come tumbling down the hill when their operators tried to ride across or make a  u-turn while climbing a steep hill.  Many ATVs are equipped with a "dead man switch" so the engine shuts off if the rider falls off.  If a rider falls off a dirt bike, the dirt bike falls down.  But without a dead man switch, an  ATV could keep going for miles without its rider.  I once saw a rider roll his ATV and, because  he wasn't using a dead man switch, it kept going after he fell off -- and headed right for my motorhome!  The deadman switch has lanyard that connects to the rider's wrist.  When he/she falls off, the lanyard pulls the switch, shutting down the ATV.

Some the first ATVs  were initially designed to be ranch or farm vehicles.   Owners quickly saw the recreational potential and manufacturers weren't far behind in catering to the recreational market.  ATVs are often used by search and rescue organizations for both conducting searches and transporting injured victims.  Hunters use ATVs to haul their big game trophies.  Their basic stability and heavy load capacity make them ideal vehicles for these jobs, even though they aren't quite as nimble as dirt bikes.

ATVs, because of their wide, soft tires, are particularly well suited to riding on soft surfaces like sand, mud, and snow.  4-wheel drive versions deliver especially good performance in these situations.  ATVs can be be equipped with at snow plows for plowing driveways and other small areas.  Most ATVs are capable of towing small trailers.  Some ATVs can be equpped with rotary mowers.  Dump trailers, like the garden carts designed for lawn tractors are popular for hauling camping equipment and firewood.  You can even buy tent trailers designed to be pulled by ATVs, allowing you considerable camping comforts far off the beaten path.

Racing of ATVs isn't as popular as racing dirt bikes.  For a while there were regular "quad" heats between regular races at Supercross races, but they didn't really catch on.  ATVs are much heavier and somewhat less nimble than dirt bikes, so the quad  races couldn't compete successfully for excitement against the extreme stunts in a Supercross race.

Many ATVs come from the factory or can be adapted to carry a second passenger.   That makes them somewhat popular with families who have members who can't or don't want to ride dirt bikes.  Non-riders can still participate as passengers on trail rides.

ATVs are often popular win rural areas where they can serve as utility vehicles as well as off road toys.  The same machine folks use for trail riding can also be used to round up and deliver feed to livestock, haul fencing and firewood, and for a host of other tasks around the farm or ranch.

A predecessor to the ATV was the ATC -- All Terrain Cycle.  These were 3-wheeled machines, a sort of tricycle on steroids.  Because they were more stable and easier to keep upright than dirt bikes they quickly became popular with novice riders.  But they also developed a reputation as being dangerous, so much so that eventually the manufacturers agreed to a moratorium to avoid an outright ban in the United States.  Part of the problem was that the ease of use often gave new riders a premature sense of confidence that frequently caused them to get themselves into trouble.  There were some issues inherent in the design also.  For example, it was fairly common for a rider to run over his own foot with one of the back wheels, something I NEVER did on my dirt bike.   Another anomaly  had to due with turning.  On a bicycle or motorcycle you lean into the turn.  If you want to turn right, you lean right.   If you want to turn left,  you lean left.  With an ATC, when you lean right it puts extra weight on the right rear wheel, giving it more traction and causing it to outrun the left rear wheel, making the ATC turn left!   Although they were never formally banned, ATCs are no longer manufactured but you can still find some used machines around if you have an urgent desire to try one out.

ATVs go just about anywhere!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dirt Bikes

 Dirt bikes is a term commonly applied to off road motorcycles.  They come in all sizes, from small 50 cc machines with training wheels for little kids to giant 650cc dual sport motorcycles for really big kids of all ages.   My kids were all experienced riders before they were out of kindergarten.  Some people object to letting little kids anywhere near off road vehicles, but with proper supervision and instruction, they are at least as safe as they are on a public playground.  In fact, my several of my kids were hurt far more seriously on "safe" playground equipment than they ever were on their dirt bikes.

The very first motorcycles were, in a very real way, off road motorcycles.  For one thing, they had to be.  There weren't that many roads!  They had to be able to negotiate  a lot of unpaved and even ungraded routes.  As roads became more prevalent, motorcycles designed specifically for street use became the order of the day for most people.  Bikes began to have more road compatible features and less off-road capabilities. Most modern street bikes are too heavy and unwieldly for off road use,

Modern dirt bikes evolved from custom racing machines usually built by the racers themselves, from Triumph and Rickman street bikes.  As off road racing and trials competition became more popular, international motorcycle companies began taking an interest in manufacturing motorcycles specifically designed for off highway recreation.  One of my riding buddies bought the very second Yamaha IT400 off the boat from Japan in the early 1970s and some years later we bought it from him.  It was a GREAT bike!

The  main differences between a street bike and an off-road bike include weight, tires, suspension, and gearing.  Off-road tires need to be gnarly to get traction in a variety of places.  Street tires are designed for a smooth ride and traction on pavement.  Off-road suspension accommodates huge bumps, often having more than a foot of vertical wheel travel to absorb the impact of going over obstacles.  Street suspension is tuned for a comfortable ride on pavement.  Off-road bikes are usually geared for good low-end performance where traction may be limited.  Street bikes are usually geared for comfortable cruising and high MPG on the highway.  Off-road machines try to keep the weight down, and many don't even have any lights and no battery or electric starter.  Street bikes can handle more weight for accessories for rider comfort.   Some big cruisers even have air conditioning!  When converting street bikes for off-road use, the guys doing the modifications typically changed the tires (and sometimes the wheels), upgraded the suspension, and often stripped off anything they considered unnecessary to get the weight down.  Modern dirt bikes come with knobby tires, tall suspension, and few accessories.  Sometimes they don't even have a kick stand, but one can usually be added.

Beginner bikes, like the little 50 and 60 cc motorcycles made for small children often use a centrifugal clutch so there is no clutch lever for little novice hands to master.  The clutch engages automatically as the RPMs increase.  Bigger bikes for more sophisticated riders have manual clutches and multi-speed transmissions.  Gear ratios vary depending on the intended purpose for the bike.  Some variations you will see are motocross bikes (designed for racing on motocross tracks), trail bikes (designed for trail riding), and Enduro bikes (designed for specialized off road Enduro races).  

Trials bikes are breed all their own, focusing on light weight and maneuverability.  They typically have very narrow, low cut seats, high ground clearance, and fairly low gear ratios.  They are made for crawling over rocks and other obstacles.  A Trials rider is penalized if his foot touches the ground.  Motocross and Enduro bikes, on the other hand, are designed for speed and good handling over rough terrain and you'll often see a rider use a foot as a pivot point when making a sharp turn.

Some beginner bikes come with an exhaust restriction device to limit power until the rider becomes skilled enough to manage a stronger engine.  Removing the exhaust restriction makes a significant difference in the acceleration, power, and top speed of these little bikes.   Bikes with engines as small as 80cc's can be surprisingly powerful.  One of my riding buddies, a former desert racer, bought a Yamaha YZ-80 for his pre-teen son.  He took it out for a spin and was quite pleased with its modest performance.  Then, on his way back he opened it up "to blow it out" before shutting it down and storing it and at somewhere around 11,000 rpm the little bike lurched into its power band, surprising my buddy by delivering an unexpected wheelie!  You definitely want to make sure any rider understands and respects the power of his bike and knows how to ride it safely.  Just because is is only 80ccs doesn't mean you can put a complete novice on it and turn them loose.

I have mixed feelings about using training wheels on little motorcycles for little riders.  Certainly they can be an aid to keeping the bike right side up until they learn to balance, but they also affect handling and if used off road can get caught on obstacles along the trail.  My solution was to get my kids to master their pedal bikes (with training wheels at first) until they could ride them well without training wheels and then let them try the motorcycle without training wheels.  My youngest son was chomping at the bit to ride during a Spring Break outing when he was only 3 years old.  I reminded him as diplomatically as possible that he needed to learn to ride his pedal bike without training wheels before he could ride a motorcycle.  When we got home from that trip he ran into the house, brought his bicycle out, laid it down on the parking strip as we were still unloading, and demanded "Take 'em off!".  He was one very determined little boy.  I took off the training wheels and he immediately went to work on learning to ride without them.  By our next outing on Memorial Day weekend a little over a month later, he rode 13 miles on a poker run on a little 50cc motorcycle and was anxious for more.

These days you have a number of alternate OHV options in addition to dirt bikes, including ATVs and UTVs (side-by-sides) but for many years dirt bikes were the only option for personalized off highway motorized travel.  My family still prefers dirt bikes.  Personally I find them more maneuverable and agile than ATVs.  They are certainly safer riding across hillsides where ATVs have a tendency to roll over and they require a path only a few inches wide.  ATVs are a little more stable and are sometimes easier for novice riders to master quickly.  They are also more capable of hauling cargo and are even sometimes used to transport injured riders or hikers out of remote areas.  However, I fear that the ease of use often lulls new riders into a premature sense of over confidence that I believe is one of the reasons for many ATV accidents among young or novice riders.  UTVs are very easy to drive since the controls are very much like a car.  In most places you must have a valid drivers' license to drive a UTV.  Also, they cannot be easily adapted for diminutive riders to reach the controls.  Let your kids enjoy the ride with you or another licensed driver at the wheel.

Motocross bikes are very popular among recreational off road riders.   No doubt part of the appeal is mimicking favorite professional riders, who make riding look easy and beautiful.  However,
a motocross bike is not necessarily the best choice for recreational riding.  The gearing of a motocross bike is designed to deliver good performance on groomed tracks.  Trail riding often requires more low end power and better performance at lower speeds.  Some bikes are considered "wide ratio" bikes, meaning there is a wide range of gear ratios available across the several shift positions.  These can be very good in a variety of circumstances and adapt very well to trail riding, since trail riding, by its very nature, consists of many different types of terrain.  Sometimes you need a high gear for speed across open spaces.  At other times you a need a low gear for tackling steep grades or tricky, highly technical trails.   A properly designed wide ratio bike will provide a smooth transition from the lowest to the highest gear.

Motocross is a stylized from of dirt biking on a groomed course.  The ultimate motocross race is the Supercross.  You can find amateur motocross races all across the country with many riders of different skill levels.  Supercross is a major, professional level sport where only the best of the best are able to compete.  Supercross tracks often include double and triple jumps where riders and bikes are literally flying hundreds of feet.  Supercross races are extremely exciting to watch, with jumps, sharp turns, whoop-dee-doos, and fast straightaways.  Riders are often competing "bar to bar" in tight packs where a single mistake by just one rider can cause many bikes to crash.  It is definitely not a place for the timid and only the most skilled riders can ever dream of racing Supercross.  It has been said that Supercross is the most physically demanding sport in the world!

That being said, Supercross is still the inspiration for hundreds of recreational riders.  Even if they can't begin to match the extreme stunts by their professional  heroes, dirt bikers still enjoy trying to approximate their behavior as much as they can.  Most of us will never ride a professional Supercross track, but we can have a lot of fun riding trails, which usually include fast straightaways, hill climbs, downhills, whoop-dee-doos, and sometimes even jumps.  Many amateurs can learn to master the art of riding wheelies.  We had a guy in our Desert Rat group in California who rode a custom-made bike that included a very large rear sprocket.  He didn't have a lot of top speed in the open desert, but  he could ride wheelies just about anywhere. I used to tease him that he had an unfair advantage on the trails because he only hit half as many bumps as the the rest of us did -- because he only hit them with one wheel!

To me a dirt bike is the perfect way to ride off road trails.  It is nimble, light weight, goes anywhere, and is pretty much something you have do without any help.  The bikes we rode when we first began riding several years ago had 2-stroke motors.  They were fairly simple and relatively easy to work on.  Today's dirt bikes tend to have 4-stroke motors and are far more complex although they do claim to create less air pollution.

Dirt bikes rock!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Choosing the Ideal Camp Site

No doubt we'd all like to experience the "ideal camp site".  So how do you find one?  First of all, there is no single unique "ideal camp site".  What is ideal is going to be different for different people and different for anyone at different times.  If  you're looking to escape summer heat, the ideal campsite will be cool -- mountains or beach.  If you want solitude, it will be remote but if you desire companionship and social interaction it will be a place with lots of other people with interests similar to your own.  For hunting or fishing it needs to be where you have access to appropriate game.  For OHVs and horseback riding you'll need plenty of trails or open riding areas nearby.  For boating or other water a sports you will need a lake, river, or reservoir.

If you have an RV and prefer the convenience of hookups, your ideal camp site will necessarily be in a comfortable RV park with ample amenities.  But are you looking for an overnight stop along the way to your destination or is the site itself your destination?   If you're looking for an overnight stop the ideal place will be near your route, easy to get in and out of, and inexpensive.  If the site is your destination,  you'll be more concerned about its ambiance and amenities.  If  your outing is geared toward special outdoor recreational activities, the ideal site is going to be one that gives you convenient access to those activities.  OHV riders will need a place with access to OHV trails or open riding areas.  Fishermen will need well-stocked lakes or rivers. Boaters will need launch facilities and waterways for their watercraft.  Hikers and mountain bikers will need trails.

If you prefer boondocking or are at least willing to explore off-grid camping, you will find many more options.  Factors to consider may include how remote you want to be, how long you are prepared to stay, and how far you are willing to drive to reach your goal.  If you're seeking peace and quiet you will want to avoid primitive camping areas that serve as staging areas for OHV activity or places that attract raves or other party groups.  If  you roll into a remote site and find old 55 gallon drums that have been carved like scary Halloween pumpkins, it is probably used frequently for raves and you may get a lot of unwanted rambunctious neighbors.

Tent campers will want to choose camp sites that are suitable to their style and expectations.  If you enjoy hiking and backpacking, your ideal camp may be miles off the beaten track, but if you bring a lot of equipment with you you're going to want a site you can drive right into.  You will usually want a shaded, grassy site with a fire pit and picnic table.  Access to an attractive lake, beach, or stream is a  plus.  Families will need space to set up a large tent.  Backpackers can fit in smaller spaces.

Time of year may color your selection as well.  In hot summer months you will probably want a shady site to give you some relief from the glare of that hydrogen fusion furnace 93 million miles away we call Sol.  In cooler times you may enjoy a sunny sight that will warm your tent or RV.  Desert camping is usually uncomfortably hot in the summer, so mountain, forest, or beach destinations are more ideal in hot weather.  Conversely, mountains and forest areas may experience harsh weather in cooler months when desert areas may be moderate and attractive.  Mountains also tend to make their own weather so you may not be able to rely on the regional forecast on the TV or radio.

The composition of your camping group will also affect your choice of an ideal camp site.  A couple seeking some quiet time together will have different needs than a family with young children who will require access to playgrounds or other sources of entertainment or a large group of OHV riders who want to camp and ride together.

If you are seeking peace and quiet you will probably want to avoid popular state and federal parks, especially on holiday weekends or during the summer vacation time.  Look for smaller venues, such as local or county parks.  Activity can vary a lot at private parks.  Some are fairly remote and quiet, some are highly used and foster a lot of social interaction.  If you enjoy a lot of social interaction, by all means get reservations at a popular location during a busy time.

Finding the right site within an established campground might take a little exploring.   In most cases, not all sites are equal.  Some might be downwind of the restrooms or near a high traffic road or adjacent to a noisy group area.  You might be able to choose a camp site from a map when you make your reservations.  If not, you might have to physically explore the available options when you get on site.  Some common criteria for choosing the best site are level and adequate parking, clean, level space for tents, minimum traffic, close proximity to resources you want to use yet not too close to restrooms or dumpsters, convenient access to water faucets, shady (especially in the summer!), proper fire pit, picnic table(s), pavilion or shelter.  Sometimes  you can peruse a map of the campground and pre-select  your campsite based on the information available on the map.  Other times the host will assign you a space or you may be given an opportunity to choose an available site at check-in.  If you have a choice, you will normally want to avoid being too close to the restrooms or other common use areas that might generate unwanted noise or traffic.

Finding the right site when boondocking will either require familiarity with the area or doing some exploring.  You will need a spot that is accessible to your vehicle(s), reasonably level, away from traffic (roads, trails, etc), shady, large enough for your group, and fire safe.  Many places that offer "dispersed camping" (like boondocking in undeveloped areas) there are usually requirements to be a minimum distance from the road (usually around 150' or so) and often there are limits on how long you can stay in one place (14 days is a pretty standard limit).   In rainy weather or if there is an chance of rain, avoid depressions or washes that may be subject to flooding.  Because maneuvering large motorhomes or trailers can be cumbersome, try to check out your proposed destination ahead of time using a more nimble vehicle but keep a wary eye out for obstacle or clearances that might present problems for RVs.  It will be a lot easier to avoid or get out of difficult situations in a car or truck, especially it if has 4WD.  If I'm going to an OHV staging site neither I nor my companions have already been to I like to "pre-run" in my 4WD pickup.  Failed to do that just once and got my motorhome and trailer stuck in a rather unpleasant situation.  Fortunately,  several of the off-roaders in a nearby camp were also professional truck drivers and had a big 4WD pickup to drag out my trailer while one of them maneuvered my 40' motorhome out of its sandy trap and back to where we could hook up the trailer and drive out another way.

The bottom line is, only YOU can determine what is the ideal camp site for any given outing and it will very likely be different from trip to trip depending on many factors.  You may feel like returning to a spot you previously enjoyed, but consider whether there are mitigating circumstances that might change your experience.  Some things to consider are the time of year and the size and make up of your camping entourage.  If  you really loved the fall foliage you might be disappointed in visiting at a different time of year.  A nice little camp site that was perfect for you and your significant other might not work when you bring another family with children.  A site that offered great camaraderie and companionship during the active season might be less rewarding in the off season unless you bring enough companions with you.  Realize that finding the ideal site means matching YOUR current needs rather than adopting some external definition and you should be able to select the right place very time.  Hopefully each time out will be ideal!

Get it right!