Advice or tips for camping on the beach?
July 30, 2007 1:59 AM   Subscribe

Any tips on camping on beaches? I've been considering going camping on the beachs in Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys or in Assateague Island off the coast of Virgina/Maryland.

I've never camped on a beach before. I've camped in the woods of Virgina and in the mountains some, but I'm not what I would concider an expert. Recently, the idea has taken hold in my mind to go camping on the beach with my girlfriend. I like the idea of camping on Dry Tortugas, as we would be able to see the sun rise and set over the ocean. However, Dry Tortugas does not have fresh water. Bringing in enough water for two or three days would be prohibitive, I think.

That lead me to Assateague Island, which is a barrier island off the coast of Virgina/Maryland. Fresh water is available there, and there are more campsites.

Do any mefites have experience camping in either of these two places and would like to share tips/comments? Also, if you have experience camping on the beach advice/tips would be very welcome.

I am thinking of going in the fall or spring seasons.
posted by pemdasi to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I've camped on Assateague several times, once in early spring when I was the only person there and once in the middle of summer when it was quite busy. It's an interesting place--good beaches, rich history, decent hiking, wild horses rambling around, etc. Downsides: in early Spring it's windy and cold, and in summer, possibly through the fall, good god almighty there are a lot of biting insects. Mosquitoes swarm in clouds inland, and armies of horseflies patrol by the water. If you are super prepared you can deal with it, if not, well, I recall hiding in my tent for long stretches of time. Either way, have a good trip!
posted by bepe at 2:14 AM on July 30, 2007

We have camped just off Assateague in a campground. Yes, mosquitos. Also camped on North Carolina outer banks. It was very windy there (which gets rid of the mosquitos!)
The difference to me about sand camping vs. woods camping:
-Sand gets everywhere
-No shade
-Sleeping on sand is much more comfortable than sleeping on ground with rocks, twigs...

If you're in a windy area, it helps to have a tent built for wind. We woke up one morning in NC and we were one of 2 tents still standing.
posted by MtDewd at 4:05 AM on July 30, 2007

Pitching tents on sand can be tricky. Dome tents - tents that use a series of criss-crossing poles to provide support - are a bit easier to use as they are essentially self-supporting. Tunnel tents, which rely on being tensioned from either end can be more difficult to pitch. Either way, if you have to pitch a tent on sand, forget about using tent pegs. Make a 'dead man' from a bundle of sticks or twigs. Loop the guy line around it and dig a small pit and bury the bundle. It will hold a lot better than a peg.

You will end up with sand in every crevice of your body. Enjoy!
posted by tim_in_oz at 4:49 AM on July 30, 2007

Wear sunblock every day, at all times, even if the sky is overcast and the day is relatively cool. You will get sunburned pretty badly if you don't.
posted by oddman at 4:52 AM on July 30, 2007

If you're an experienced backcountry camper, you can check out Virginias False Cape State Park. There is limited fresh water available and every time I've been there it's practically deserted. It's pretty remote, but you'll probably run in to some mountain bikers, but they hardly ever stay overnight. I've not camped on Assateague, but I've camped on the Eastern Shore, and in the fall it can get chilly at night, so pack a fleece or something. I didn't have too many problems with bugs, though YMMV.
posted by Phoenix42 at 5:46 AM on July 30, 2007

I've camped at Assateague. The only differences I found between there and most other places was the blowing sand (which winds up in your food, etc) and horses tramping through your site.

Also consider the OutBanks - Frisco in particular. Its a bit remote, but great. Same beach camping sort of experience but you get some protection from the dunes. Campground is laid out more nicely also.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:02 AM on July 30, 2007

Bring a brush to sweep out your tent (and gear).

Make sure your insect netting on your tent is in good repair. Always keep your tent sealed---netting ziped-up---during the day. Air your bags in the tent, or well away from the sandy beach.

To pitch guylines on a beach, wrap them around rocks or tie them to sand bags. Bring enough plastic shopping bags for all of your lines. Buying bags can help in winds.
posted by bonehead at 6:03 AM on July 30, 2007

That should be Outer Banks not Outbanks.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:04 AM on July 30, 2007

Sorry: burying, not buying.
posted by bonehead at 6:04 AM on July 30, 2007

Dry camping (where you bring your own water) is not difficult, unless you have to carry that water any distance -- water is heavy stuff.

If there are no trees around to provide shade, the exposure to the sun can feel unremitting. And if there are mosquitoes it is worse -- you end up hiding in a sauna-like tent in the middle of the day just to escape the bugs. Sex outdoors on the beach is great -- romantic, exciting, etc, but sand gets everywhere. If this is in your plans, bring a dedicated blanket or sheet for this -- your tshirt isn't big enough, and you don't want to get your sleeping bag so dirty. Try your hardest to keep as much sand out of your tent as possible -- have an old towel to wipe your feet, etc -- but inevitably your tent and sleeping bags will get a light coating of sand.
posted by Forktine at 6:10 AM on July 30, 2007

-Sleeping on sand is much more comfortable than sleeping on ground with rocks, twigs...

Yeah, but the bumps are still bumps. You can smooth them out once you put up the tent, but it's a lot easier to do it beforehand.
posted by smackfu at 6:12 AM on July 30, 2007

In fall and spring, the Talbot Islands State Parks (Big Talbot Island and Little Talbot Island) can be quite nice. Camping directly on the beaches is not allowed, although there are campground facilities on Little Talbot, which are pretty nice, and currently undergoing a big sanitation system renovation, to protect the water quality around the islands (they'll re-open to camping in August). Great fishing (either from the beach, or from The Fishing Bridge, or from boats or kayaks), pristine white ("sugar") sand beaches and aqua sea water, like you see in the four color tourist brochures. But primitive camping on Florida beaches is increasingly hard to organize. Camping is an activity that is just hard on the beach ecosystem in many ways, from which beaches can't quickly recover. Managed campgrounds allow an area like the Talbot Islands to handle many more people with less average impact, and to collect sanitation and fire issues where they can be managed, and their impact on the beach ecosystem minimized. Staying in the tenting area of a good campground, and hiking the beaches by day, swimming, boating, and fishing in beautiful environs you can re-visit often, is a pretty good compromise for giving up driftwood beach fires in the moonlight.

Bugs can definitely be an issue. Sand gets more places if you are wet, so staying dry is the best defense against getting sand everywhere. It will still get in all your gear over a weekend, but clean sand is easy to deal with, as it brushes out easily, and doesn't stain. In a lot of places, if there is sand, there is gravel, and camping on pea gravel isn't a bad compromise between keeping clean, and comfort. The advice from tim_in_oz about anchoring tents using deadmen is good, and making a deadman looks like this. Bury your deadmen at least two foot deep, to resist high wind.
posted by paulsc at 6:21 AM on July 30, 2007

Assateague is the only place I've been where the mosquitoes bit me through my t-shirt, and the horseflies draw blood. I've been back, but, yes, insect repellant is a must. Get the good stuff, the heavy industrial-strength DEET that you apply to your clothes and tent, not just the kind you spray on your skin.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:09 AM on July 30, 2007

You might want to look into Skackelford Banks, in NC. I camped there before they had a ferry service and it was great... don't know what its like now though. Also, that stuff you spray on your clothes isn't DEET. One trade name for it is Permanone.
posted by Huplescat at 7:22 AM on July 30, 2007

Keep the sand out of your tent zippers. It will ruin them quickly. Especially, don't let the door zipper get buried in the sand. I'm not a big advocate of using a groundcloth (a piece of cloth or plastic under the tent) for most camping, but on the beach I feel it is a must. Use a groundcloth that extends beyond the perimeter of your tent in the front to protect the door zipper (although typically groundcloths should be slightly smaller than the perimeter of your tent). Or, sleep under the stars (mosquitos permitting).
posted by Eringatang at 7:27 AM on July 30, 2007

I do not recommend assateague island, although the beaches are quite nice. My family and I refer to it as Horseshit Island.
posted by bahama mama at 9:36 AM on July 30, 2007

Water access for campers in the Tortugas can't be that prohibitive to carry, people do it all the time. When my darling girlfriend and I went out for a day trip there last November there were people on our charter boat on their way out to camp and some other people who had been camping came back in with.

When we went out we took the Yankee Freedom charter and they have a page of information over here. Even if you double the suggested gallon of water per person per day you won't have any trouble taking that much with you on the boat - there's plenty of room. Getting it to the dock in KW will be more difficult than anything else - the island is not that big and where you will camp is about 600 feet from the dock.

Look at the last picture on this page and you'll see the campground icon. Not far to go.

If you don't go camp there make sure you at least go for a day trip. It's a fantastic place.
posted by phearlez at 10:01 AM on July 30, 2007

I've camped on Assateague and on Edisto Island in SC and it was great as long as the wind was blowing. When the wind stopped? Transylvania by the sea. The worst mosquitos I have ever dealt with anywhere, totally unfazed by repellent.

Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat, but I'd bring the strongest repellent known to humankind, citronella torches, long sleeved light clothing and I'd make damn sure that my tent was totally bugproof. YMMV, but it won't hurt to go prepared for swarming, biting bugs.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:24 AM on July 30, 2007

I've camped on the beach side in Assateague, and in the fall we almost had the area to ourselves. As others have mentioned, wind is an issue; we had to dig a hole to create a space where the cookstove would work reliably, and consumed considerably more fuel than I would normally use, even under wet conditions. Use pots with firmly closing lids or you will enjoy a very, very crunchy meal.

We didn't really encounter many insects and other than the challenge that the wind posed, we had a great time.
posted by itstheclamsname at 10:35 AM on July 30, 2007

I camped on the Dry Tortugas and I recommend it highly. You do have to bring your own water, but I though half a gallon a day was plenty. There's plenty of grassy, shady camping spots on one end of the island the fort is on.

The only potential drawback is around the end of the year, the wind starts to pick up and doesn't stop. A buddy and I were stranded out there for a few days, along with all the other campers. Those few days were pretty much a fog of drinking, bartering for food and surfing the waves in our kayaks. Bring extra food and stuff.

On the way back, my buddy got so seasick he shit his pants.
posted by atchafalaya at 11:17 AM on July 30, 2007

Grayton Beach State Park in the Florida panhandle was named the #1 most pristine park in the nation a few years back. It's very beautiful. It's also a hell of a lot closer than the keys.
posted by wsg at 11:35 AM on July 30, 2007

I have camped at Assateague three times, and felt the need to warn you, make sure you camp Ocean side, not Bayside. As bad as the mosquitoes can be Ocean side, they are much, much worse Bayside IMO.

Oh, and the wild horses like to go through your stuff if there is no one watching it. I still remember laughing at the horse standing on my friend's beach blanket when we got out of the water.
posted by fings at 11:56 AM on July 30, 2007

Long stakes (or, if like us, unprepared--a really good instinct for stable tent-stake angles) and an unworried attitude about getting sand *everywhere.* I really recommend camping at Assateague in the fall--we went last year in November, on one of those unseasonably warm weekends--cool sand squishing between your toes, crashing waves and pounding but not punishing wind, a gazillion stars above you--it was pretty awesome. No mosquitoes, either, but I guess you gamble on cold--I bet mid- to late-October is pretty sweet.
posted by jenh at 7:11 PM on July 30, 2007

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