Ham Friendly Camp sites

The Host is in Control

The title say’s it all.  The camp host is the person who calls the shots.  They ‘interpret’ the camp rules in what ever way suits them and, as a camper, you are obliged to obey or are asked to leave.

This sounds harsh, but is true.  It’s why I prefer to do my ham radio camping at dispersed National Forest sites.  No camp host!

Unfortunately that’s not always an option.

Most camp hosts or camp ground administrators have _no_idea_ what ham radio is.  They might remember a grandparent fiddling with something called a radio but that’s the extent. This is a BIG PROBLEM for modern day camping ham’s.  The host has no comparisons to work with and does not want any trouble.

I’ve found that the first response from a camp bureaucrat is to ‘put up the fences’.  As soon as you say ‘I am a ham operator and would like to put up an antenna’, nearly 100% of the hosts will change their facial features into an un-friendly ‘not in my camp’ look.  My advice:  DON”T ASK FOR PERMISSION unless you want to put your tail between your legs and leave the camp ground in search of another camp ground.

Asking for permission can almost guarantee a “no, you can’t do _that_ here” response.  Remember, the host has no clue what ‘_that_’ is and simply does not want to deal with any trouble.  No amount of explaining will move the wall that the host has erected.

Here are some guidelines that will keep your profile low and not ‘upset’ the camp bureaucrats.

  1. Just operate your mobile antenna.  The host will be hard pressed to demand that you not ‘enter’ the camp ground with your mobile HF setup.
  2. Set up a portable vertical antenna.   I use the Bravo 7.  It sets up in minutes and takes down in minutes.  Gives me 40 – 10 including warc (only one band at a time).  Fits within my camp site, even small, cramped, driveway camp sites.  If the host complains you can point at the neighbors ‘dish’ antenna and ask why there is a problem.   I’ve never had a problem with a portable vertical, even in sites where the host acts like the other side in WWII.
  3. Put a black wire dipole up in the trees (at least 20 feet up) with the feed line dropping to your vehicle or tied off to a tree.  You may get lucky and have tree’s far enough apart for an 80 meter doublet and ladder line or you may have to live with a 20 meter delta loop suspended from the one tree.  The main thing is to NOT CROSS ROADS, POWER LINES or anything else that might jeopardize safety.  If you are luck enough to have your campsite ‘border’ open woods behind you, then have a blast with your wires.  If a host comes by they may not see anything but more importantly, if they see something, they can make an immediate determination that it is safe.
  4. Inverted V.  Be sure that the ends are ‘inside’ your camp area and mark the ends.  The inverted V may cause your host to put up his ‘not in my camp’ face but you can at least show that it does not pose a threat and hope for the best.
  5. The beam on a mast.  This one is the most obvious.   We have two things going for us, first, the mast with light weight bright yellow poly guys are easy to see.  Second, your neighbors are usually very curious and supportive.  If you can attach one set of guys to your vehicle/camper, all the better.   Make sure you can get it up to height (I don’t advise more than 20 feet) quickly.  Accept any help your neighbors are willing to provide.  Once up, if the host comes by, they will ‘see’ what is involved and in most cases won’t even comment.  In other cases they may be curious.  If you have neighbor support they are very unlikely to request that you take it down.  I use a ‘foldingantenna’ which is a portable 2 element hex beam.  I’ve successfully erected this mast/beam combo on small, driveway sites and have not received complaints from the host

I know it is tempting to ‘ask for permission’ but my experience has been that if the host has never experienced a safe ham radio operation than they will simply say ‘no way’.  So don’t stress your self and don’t stress the host!

Here is my list of camp sites I have operated, with attributes:

Salt Creek County Camp, Olympics, WA, host on site.2015drivewaymast/beam, portable vertical, no wires alowedQRO
Tumalo State Park, Bend, OR, host on site. (notes: not multiple vehicle friendly. I was alone with two motorcycles on my van, no trailer. The host wanted to charge me for 3 vehicles even though it was just me!)2014driveway+portable verticalQRO

I’m always looking for more campsite info.  If you have a ham freindly campsite you would like to add to this list, please send me an email with:

  • ​Campsite name, location, if a host is present,  and notes.
  • Year you were at the campsite.
  • Type of campsite eg: driveway, driveway+, dry camp, woods, open, dispersed.
  • Type of antennas you put up.
  • Power of operation (QRO, QRP).


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