Google Maps is my friend--except, of course, when the app leads me astray. Being led astray has happened before. Once I found myself pushing my bicycle down a track that I could see used to be a gravel road but was now overgrown with brush and Iowa ragweed. I pushed on and eventually connected with a real gravel road, emerging from the bush just behind some guy's house. He certainly was surprised. Another time my wife and I were scouting out a county park, and Google Maps directed me onto gravel roads for about ten miles. I knew the campground we were headed for was on a paved county road, but the app took me off the main road. Sometimes it's hard to second-guess Google Maps while driving; however, Google Maps is a field of all camping possibilities for me, a place to dream . . . and to see photos and read reviews of my dreams. Although not always reliable, Google Maps is still my friend and confidante.
One of my most common interactions with Google Maps also includes Facebook and Instagram. While scrolling through Facebook camping groups or Instagram posts from camping aficionados, when I come across a campground or area that catches my interest, I star that location in my Google Maps account. This has led my Google Maps "homepage" to look rather cluttered, but when I zoom in, the stars disperse yet still provide local possibilities when I'm researching routes and destinations. And, yes, I do sometimes remove a star if after more research I determine a campground is no longer viable for me.
The reviews on Google Maps can be variable. Reviewer experiences and opinions differ, of course, but what time of year and how long ago the review was written are factors to consider when reading reviews. It is always a bit odd, though, to read two reviews a week apart, one stating the campground host was a jerk and the other called the host an angel. Summer is always a busy camping time, so comments regarding crowding are always date-significant. Information regarding the tightness of campsites to one another, how level the parking spaces are, or general facility maintenance are always helpful, especially if multiple reviews provide the same information.
Three campers I follow on social media are currently out and about with their single-axle trailers: one finishing up a Great Lakes tour, another currently in the upper Wisconsin area, and the third currently on the Oregon coast after finishing up an across-the-country tour. All these social media friends have posted from campgrounds, and I've not only enjoyed their comments and photos but have also starred some of their locations on Google Maps for future reference. It's reassuring that I don't have to start a trip stone cold, with no knowledge of a locality whatsoever. My most recent campground starred locations have been around the Great Lakes and in the Southwest, although I have been adding campgrounds in the South as considerations for possible winter trips. Let me provide a few examples.
|Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Gordon Ehrensing photo)|
|Pictured Rocks area (Han Nichols photo)|
|Pictured Rocks from the water (Virginia Yurich photo)|
Frequent comments from Google reviews of Pictured Rocks mention that this federal lakeshore is large and spread out. Planning is essential for a fuller experience, and seeing the lakeshore from the water provides a fuller appreciation. One reviewer said the following: "This was wonderful! Such beauty! There are so many ways to see Pictured Rocks. You first need to decide what type of traveler you are. Do you want to sit and see pretty views from a boat with a guide speaking over a microphone, or do you want to be active and kayak? Or do you want to do it all yourself and drive around to certain locations and see from the shore? You need to get out into the water to see the beauty of the rocks."
|Pines Campground (Alexander Kendi photo)|
|Saddle Campground (Kevin Edgington photo)|
|Village of Cloudcroft (Steve Hines photo)|
Google Maps reviewers of the Cloudcroft area report on a number of campgrounds. One good example of a useful review came from the Pines Group Campground. Evidently, this campground and the Upper and Lower Fir campgrounds are close to one another and have been managed by one host--Don--for some years. Folks appreciate Don, who is friendly and provides good information, support, and maintenance. Host Don, of course, is a variable that can change. One reviewer provided good general information about the forest service campsites, though. "Cloudcroft is a great town to visit, particularly during the summer months when the rest of the SW is so hot. The summer temps are perfect, the views are spectacular, the people are friendly. What I like about the Pines Group Campground is that it is SO close to Cloudcroft and there is a very short (about a mile or less) hike from the campsite into town on the Osha Trail. The ONLY downside to this campsite is that you are sort of 'boondocking.' There is fresh water on site, but you have to carry it to your campsite or RV. There are no electric hook ups. There are no sewer hook-ups (though there is a pit toilet)."
|Lake Jackson RV Park (Jill Wilson photo)|
|(Jill Wilson photo)|
|Lake Jackson (Ramon Navarro photo)|
The content of Google Reviews varies, but the average rating is 4.6. One reviewer stated: "Florala State Park/Lake Jackson Campground - I would recommended calling and making reservations so you're sure to have a site if you want to stay at this campground. The sites are close together and the grounds are not well kept. There seems to be a lot of long term campers residing at the campground. Campground bathrooms were cleaned every morning. The fees are too high. $36 for a standard site and the sites by lake are $40.60. The small town of Florala is a quaint, with lots of history. We did spend some time checking out the town." Personal opinion laces a few relevant facts. It's a small campground now run by the city, so reservations are wise. Other reviewers call the park clean and the rates affordable. Considering the reviews in general, it seems this is a small, busy campground and park on a beautiful lake. Day-use is a factor in how busy the area is. One reviewer states parking is limited while another says there is ample parking. One reviewer said, "I give this place credit it they have stepped it up from what it used to be." If I ever camp here, I think I need to head in with the expectation that this is urban camping, more busy even with the beautiful lake and cypress hiking areas.
My wife and I are heading out to a local state park in a couple of days, camping on one of Iowa's biggest lakes for two weeks. There are wonderful travel and camping opportunities farther away, though, and Google Maps is a wonderful means of exploration. I consider Google Maps to be my friend, and considering all the possibilities for online and smartphone doomscrolling, discovering and researching potential campsites is a very positive alternative. Although every journey begins with a single first step, perhaps in our modern times, every journey also begins with that first Google Maps search. Photos, reviews, links, and directions--Google Maps is a very helpful addition to vacation and trip planning . . . usually . . .