Outdoor folks are an opinionated bunch. Nothing speaks more clearly to this than discussing matters of east verses west. Skiing: west. Hiking: east. (Yup, we proved it.) Camping? There’s a consensus but where’s the fun in divulging it in the first paragraph? The two halves of our fair continent have been rated, check out how the crowd voted.
The east enjoys forests and lush greenery abounds. While some of those hardwood canopies provide a bit of shelter from the elements, this verdant scene requires one thing: rain-and lots of it.
East coast campers are rainstorm-ready: a tent with vestibules for gear, rain jackets and pants are items regularly included in their packs. This haul challenges the ultra-light crowd. Says Utah-based Matthew Fatcheric, “I like going light; anything I can leave home, I leave home. In the east you pretty much have to carry rain gear all the time, unless you like being wet.”
And when it’s not raining, the east’s humidity can make an otherwise pleasant temperature feel downright muggy.
Lacking humidity, the west provides cool, shaded microclimates to escape summer’s heat—that is, if you can find shade. A scarcity of rain may afford perfect skies but it keeps wooded areas to a minimum; without shade, campsites roast.
Though you might ditch the rain gear, western temps shift widely from day to night, calling for two sets of clothing—wicking wear for day hikes and insulating layers for chilly nights.
Even with those caveats, east-coaster Laurie Tewksbury says of her western experience, “sleeping without a tent in the Grand Canyon was amazing.”
Winner: the west. Shade can be improvised but humidity and rain can put an insurmountable damper on camping.
Ah, the nuisances of camping! Though found everywhere, ticks, mosquitoes and the harassment of black flies are especially pervasive in the east. Colin True, a Pennsylvanian by birth, agrees: “I love my east coast roots but the lack of…ticks in the west give it the edge for camping.”
Don’t high-tail it west just yet: Though much of the west has little more than spiders and scorpions—though that is plenty for some—northern climes tell a different story. Mosquitoes, Alaska’s unofficial state bird, pester the state with 35 different blood-sucking species, while black flies and mosquitoes are so rampant in mid-summer Montana that a 14-mile trek into Glacier’s backcountry once ended in a fit of hysterics.
(Ahem) Or so I’ve heard.
Winner: the west. Sorry, east coast. Though both coasts have buggy seasons, you’ve got lyme-diseased deer ticks. No contest.
A Harvard professor working on a “remoteness” project found the east’s furthest point from a road was 17 miles. Not bad—until you realize the location was in the swampy Everglades. With gators and mosquitoes as campmates, its remoteness suddenly seems less ideal.
On the other hand, dedicated campers can find solitude surrounded by 20 roadless miles in a section of Yellowstone National Park. Above the lower 48, Alaska boasts a secluded spot 120 miles from any town or road. That place? St. Matthew in the far reaches of the Bering Sea. If you camp there, let me know.
Winner: the west.
Sure, the west might have it covered when it comes to remote locations and “getting away from it all” but when you want a quick outing into nature, the east can’t be beat. Though Katie Boué, a traveling climber, gives a mark to the west for being “…full of free, remote camping spots where there is almost always free camping within a short drive of climbing…while the east is full of overdeveloped campgrounds,” those same campgrounds are perfect if you’re looking for ease of camping without the worry of rough roads and clean water.
With cooking grills, prepared firewood, and even the occasional electrical outlet, you’re nearly home. If the campground doesn’t provide it, native Wisconsinite Kristie Salzmann says you’re “…close enough to towns to run back for something,” which she mentions is harder out west.
Just a taste of what eastern campgrounds offer: The Virginia State Park system supplies water, electricity, and restrooms which look like Martha herself designed them (well—comparatively). Grounds and facilities are kept in pristine shape. Along with easy access to recreation, these above qualities won Virginia The National Gold Medal Award which “recognizes the state park system…which best provides park, recreation and leisure services to its citizens.” (Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation)
Prefer to hike into your campsite? Getting there is still easier in the east. Perhaps not in terms of exertion (see “The Surprising Difference Between East and West Hiking”), but in terms of route-finding, Connecticut climber Mike Bowsher says “…ease of access and proximity to camping areas” is championed by the east. Comparatively, those in his social circle found western trails tricky to navigate.
Winner: the east; based on Virginia’s sparkling porcelain.
You may be surprised, but opinions varied widely here. Colorado-based Heather Balogh says of the west: “I like eastern hiking but I tend to feel claustrophobic. Partially [because of] the increase in people, but largely because of the trees…The forests in the east are denser and I’ve always felt like you can’t see past the trees to get to the big, open sky.”
While Heather loves western camping’s grand views, its scale makes others feel out of place. “The [eastern] forest just ‘feels’ different, like coming home after a long journey,” says Clinton at Hiking Haven. Describing it as “familiar, warm and beautiful” he prefers it to the west where he says “…everything feels big, empty and open.”
Winner: a draw. Got a tiebreaker? Leave a comment for consideration!
While the east has its merits, the conclusion of this small, incredibly unscientific study gives the win to the west. From weather to wilderness, western campers claim their overall experience can’t be beat. Since many of the west coast campers interviewed originally hailed from the east, their actions demonstrate true devotion to the place they love best. As a convert myself, I’ll second that emotion.