What are the Differences between Rustic, Modern, and Primitive Campsites

There are three main types of campsites, primitive campsite, rustic campsites, and modern campsites. Each campsite type has strengths and weaknesses, and the right kind for you and will depend on your personal preferences.

Here is what each campsite term means, what to expect, and the pros and cons of camping at them so you can reserve your perfect outdoor getaway.

Primitive Campsites

What’s Included

Primitive campsites are the bare bones of campsites. Primitive campsites provide a designated camping area and may or may not include a firepit. Primitive campsites do not have amenities such as a table in your campsite, and there are no restrooms, water, or trash disposal areas available.

For the novice camper or less rustic types, this may be a deal breaker. There are no restrooms near primitive campsites. Primitive campers must relieve themselves amongst the surrounding nature and burying their toilet paper and human waste.

If you produce trash during your camp stay, you must bag it and remove that bag with you from the camping area. It is the camper’s responsibility to locate a trash disposal location off site.

Campground & Accessibility

Campfire adn tent-min

There is often no campground at all with primitive campsites. Campsites are spread out across a larger area with no central access area like a campground.

Primitive sites are not guaranteed to be accessible via car or RV either. Because primitive campsites are remote, sites may only be accessible by walk-in or boat. Confirm your intended transport to ensure the site is accessible before booking.

Drive up sites are often along dirt roads that may not be on your favorite map site, like Google or Bing.

Depending on the accessibility of the site you are staying at, there may be a regular patrol that drives through, like a park Ranger, to check on campers and ensure rules are obeyed. This is more likely to occur when other campsites are along the same route, area, or road.

Sites that are walk-in or boat to sites, are patrolled less frequently than drive up sites. The remote sites are also less likely to have interference from other campers who may disturb you with noise or large groups. Boat and hiking patrols still occur, just less frequently than sites accessible by road.


Firewood at primitive campsites is on your own. Confirm on your site’s detail page or rules section about firewood access as many primitive sites are allowed to forage, or find, their own firewood in the nature around them.

If you are staying near a city or town, locals may offer firewood for sales along the main roads, too. This option works if you can transport the wood with your vehicle.

Primitive camping is a great option for the camper who likes to rough it, escape into nature, and has all the equipment or skills to manage without modern amenities.

Pros & Cons to Booking a Primitive Campsite

Primitive Cmaping-min

What is the benefit of camping where there is no restroom or water?

One benefit is that primitive campsites are often off the beaten path giving you the ability to be feel remote, among nature, and have the maximum amount of privacy from other campers.

When primitive sites are along a shared route, they often have large areas of trees or brush between them making it difficult to hear or see your neighbors.

Primitive sites are a great way to feel you’re away from it all while still camping on the grid. It’s you and nature!

A second benefit of primitive camping is that reserving sites is far less less expensive than modern sites. Because primitive sites do no require running water or electricity to operate, and the camper handles most of the clean up, sites are must more price effective to reserve.

Primitive campers save anywhere from a third to half of the price per night of modern campsites.

A third benefit of primitive camping is that there is lower demand for the sites with most RVers opting for more modern campsites. This lower demand often enables availability for last minute reservations at primitive campsites not in high demand areas.

Cons to Booking a Primitive Campsite

There are two large cons to primitive camping: no restrooms and you must bring everything in and out with you or have the skills to locate it yourself.

Without running water for toilets, sinks, or potable water, primitive campers must bring in their own water or know how to obtain water safely in the habitat.

Primitive campsites do not have tables, may or may not have a firepit, and require campers bring in or forage for firewood. Campers are also required to take out all trash with them.

Primitive sites require the camper bring in everything they may need for their stay and remove any trash they may create during their stay.

Included with Primitive Campsites
Toilets No
Water No
Camp Host No
Electricity No
Table in Campsite No
Privacy Yes
Firepit Sometimes
Trash Disposal Area No
Firewood for Sale No
Price $8-12/ night

Rustic Campsites

What’s Included

Rustic campsites split the difference between primitive campsites and modern campsites. Rustic campsites include a firepit and designated camping area like primitive sites, but they also have a picnic table, and there is shared pit toilet, access to water, and a trash disposal location for the campground.

Campground & Accessibility

Rustic campsites occur in campgrounds and are less private and scattered than primitive sites. This enables amenities like restrooms and drinking water be provided for multiple guests more easily.

Rustic campsites are more private than modern campsites, but are not as widely dispersed and remote as primitive campsites. The level of distance and privacy between campsites will vary campground to campground with most sites having a few feet of brush between their boundaries.

Access to rustic campsites are drivable. The exceptions are campgrounds that offer some walk-in sites not too far from the shared water and restroom facilities. Walk-in rustic sites are not common.

The road to and throughout the campground may not be paved and campers find themselves on a dirt road en route, but there will be a road leading to the campground from the main roads. Many of these dirt roads, where they occur, are marked on common mapping sites like Googlemaps.


Toilets at Rustic Campgrounds

Toilets at rustic campgrounds are vault toilets, also referred to as outhouses or pit toilets.

There is no plumbing at rustic campgrounds. The pit toilets may be housed in a basic structures made of press board, wood, or plastic and often are shared by all genders.

Within the vault toilet structure, biodegradable toilet paper is often provided and many offer hand sanitizers, but these extras are not guaranteed. Rustic campers should bring a roll of toilet paper and sanitizer in case.

Water at Rustic Campgrounds

Water sources at rustic campsites are not running water or modern plumbing. Campers will find a metal hand pump to pull groundwater or well water for drinking. More updated rustic sites may have a fountain or nozzle to pull water from.

While these pumps are often reliable, during busy seasons or droughts the wells may run low.

The level of naturally occurring elements in the groundwater will also vary. This may affect the taste, color, or smell of the water.

Trash Disposal at Rustic Campgrounds

Rustic campgrounds will have a shared trash area near the entrance/ exit of the grounds for all campers to drop their trash off at as they depart.

Campers will need to remove all their trash from their campsite, but will have a designated and accessible drop off location for the waste as they exit the campground.

Camp Host

While not guaranteed, a camp host may be available on site at rustic campgrounds. The camp host is a fellow camper on a designated campsite who works like an onsite manager. Camp hosts are quasi-volunteer campers who get discounts or benefits for helping manage the campground. They are not DNR employees or Rangers. Camp hosts stay onsite using the facilities like the other campers.


Firewood shop

Rustic campgrounds vary in how they handle firewood. Rustic campgrounds may offer firewood and other conveniences at the local DNR office or via the camp host during designated hours. This firewood often has a slight premium added to the price per bundle due to the convenience.

Most rustic campgrounds do not allow campers to forage and find their own firewood in the surrounding nature, and not all campgrounds off firewood for sale. When this occurs, campers must find designated firewood from local sellers such as farms, homes, or gas stations.

Pros & Cons to Booking a Rustic Campsite

Rustic campsites are the best of both the primitive and modern worlds. While rustic campgrounds do not offer electricity or running water, they do provide basic facilities such as toilets and groundwater as well as picnic table on site and a trash drop off point.

Every campground is different, but most rustic campgrounds have more distance and brush between campsites offering campers more privacy than modern campgrounds.

Campers may feel safer knowing other campers are nearby.

Rustic campsites are more economical than modern sites. Rustic campgrounds do charge a few more dollars per night than primitive sites to offer the toilets, water and upkeep. However, without the cost of running water and electricity, primitive sites cost less than modern campsites.

Cons to Booking a Rustic Campsite

While toilets, and water are generally provided for at rustic campgrounds, campers should not rely on their quality or stock.

Toilets can smell during busy or summer months until they are scheduled to be emptied. During muggy or hot days, the smell may extend beyond the enclosed area of the toilet. Restrooms are not guaranteed to have toilet paper or hand sanitizer in stock during each visit.

Water is not guaranteed nor is the quality of that water due to naturally occurring elements in groundwater. This may affect the sight, smell, and taste of the water offered. Campers should bring in some, if not all, their water the first time they stay at a rustic campsite.

Included with Rustic Campsites
Toilets Vault Toilet
Water Groundwater
Camp Host Sometimes
Electricity No
Table in Campsite Yes, except walk-ins
Privacy Likely
Firepit Yes
Trash Disposal Area Yes
Firewood for Sale Sometimes
Price $12-18/ night

Modern Campgrounds

What’s Included

Modern campgrounds are the premium public campground with modern facilities such as plumbing, trash disposal, and a camp host, and most individual campsites have electricity hook ups. All modern campsites come with a table and firepit.

As you depart modern campgrounds, there will be trash area as well as a dump station for RVs and motor homes to refresh at as they depart.

Campground & Accessibility

Any type of camper, hike-in, tent camper, car camper, or RV camper can comfortably stay at modern campsites. Modern campgrounds often have more RV and mobile home campers than tent campers due to the water and electric hook ups.

RV-minMany campsites will offer electricity boxes where campers can connect their RVs, or extension cords for conveniences like crock pots, fans, and lighting. Confirm if your site has electricity or RV hooks ups before booking if they affect your stay. These luxuries also come with a premium rate to cover the costs of electricity and upkeep.

Modern campgrounds are well paved and many sites include a paved pad for RVs and motor homes to rest.

Because larger sections of modern campgrounds are paved, there is often less brush between sites. Some modern campgrounds have no brush at all between campsites. All campers share a large grass area with sites marked off my signs or painted lines in the road.

The level of privacy and amount of paved sections will vary campground to campground.

Modern campgrounds may offer additional recreational resources such as beach or lake access, playgrounds, or playing fields for campers to enjoy. There may even be a concession stand or pay laundry facility onsite.

The cost of a modern facility campsite with electricity will run in the $20-29 per night rate, making modern campsites the priciest of the three categories.


Toilets at Modern Campgrounds

Modern campgrounds have at least one restroom building with a designated men’s and women’s side. Each side will have flush toilets, running water, and mirrors. If a campground has more than one facility building, all the buildings will have flush toilets and the main building will have showers.

Water at Modern Campgrounds

Water is accessible via drinking fountains and scattered water sources throughout the campground. The source of the camp water may still be groundwater, depending on the campground. Confirm when reserving, if possible, if you have a preference.

Camp Host

Nearly every modern campgrounds will have a camp host onsite for any questions or concerns during your stay.


Modern campgrounds often have firewood available for sale at the local DNR or camp host. Foraging for firewood is always prohibited in modern campgrounds. If campers do not want to pay the premium for onsite firewood, they can find other local retailers like farms, homes, and stores.

Pros & Cons to Booking a Modern Campsite

The two biggest pros to camping at a modern campsite are modern pluming facilities with toilet, sinks, and showers, as well as RV amenities like electricity and dump stations.

Added conveniences such as trash drop off, camp host on site, and firewood make modern camping prep more stress free.

Cons to Booking a Modern Campsite

Modern campsites are accessible to all types of campers- tent campers, car campers, and RV enthusiasts making them more popular and crowded. With minimal privacy or distance between sites, this may not prove a relaxing get away or allow one to feel surround by nature.

Modern campsites are the priciest of campsites by twice or even three times the cost per night of a primitive campsite.

Included with Modern Campsite
Toilets Flush Toilets
Water Groundwater or plumbing
Camp Host Yes
Electricity Most Sites
Table in Campsite Yes
Privacy Rarely
Firepit Yes
Trash Disposal Area Yes
Firewood for Sale Likely
Price $18-30/ night

Comparison of Primitive, Rustic, and Modern Campsites

Primitive Rustic Modern
Toilets No Vault Toilet Flush Toilets
Water No Groundwater Groundwater or plumbing
Camp Host No Sometimes Yes
Electricity No No Most Sites
Table in Campsite No Yes, except walk-ins Yes
Privacy Yes Likely Rarely
Firepit Sometimes Yes Yes
Trash Disposal Area No Yes Yes
Firewood for Sale No Sometimes Likely
Price $8-12/ night $12-18/ night $18-30/ night

Leave a Reply