Motorcycle camping

How do you overnight when you’re motorcycle touring???

Glencoe motorcycle only camping

Traditional motorcycle camping is an honored and cherished tradition, at least for bikers who entered the two-wheeled world a couple decades ago. Today, if you are up for it, motorcycle camping connects us with the men and women who traveled the U.S. on two wheels many decades ago heading to this vacation spot, or that rally.  If you’re up for it.  It can be fairly primitive.

Morning dew at Marmarth Bottoms Up rally

It doesn’t seem as though motorcycle camping is what it once was.  There are too many motorhomes pulling motorcycle trailers, or a few motorcycles pulling little campers.  To me, motorcycle camping is at most a tent and a few supplies bungieed on to the back of my bike.

Freedom Rally, Algona, cottonwood camping

Here are a few ideas for camping by motorcycle:

I have found that backpacking equipment makes good motorcycle camping equipment. It’s lightweight, compact and durable.  Set up your tent before you go for two reasons:

  1. to waterproof it with spray silicone
  2. to make sure you know how to do it in case you arrive at your campsite tired, cranky, or after dark

You can pack enough for a week’s stay on your bike. I like to include

  • a folding canvas camp stool or small chair, collapsible cooler,
  • sleeping bag pad
  • sleeping bag
  • tent
  • tarp for under the tent, or for shade strung from rope or twine
  • camp lights (have more than one such as miner’s headlamp, flashlight and lantern left in strategic and consistent spots inside your tent for quick access.)
  • a one-burner stove and matches or lighter
  • a multi-use pan for boiling water for coffee, or cooking up stew.
  • a length of rope or twine to hang items at the campsite
  • mosquito repellent
  • toilet paper
  • wet wipes

I recognize that not everyone likes to camp, but it’s probably the most economical way to experience a rally. It allows you to immerse yourself in to the event.  Two good examples of motorcycle camping are the Freedom Rally in Iowa and the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota.

Camping in the trees at Iowa ABATE Freedom Rally

The Freedom Rally in Algona, Iowa is my favorite rally. It’s as traditional and focused as any rally you can find.  The entire area is owned by ABATE of Iowa.  It’s fenced off so that you can access the campground only by motorcycle. Motorhomes and travel trailers are parked down the road at another site.  The campground is clean and cool. Big cottonwoods give plenty of shade if you choose that relatively secluded area.  Or if you like, you can set up in a sort of “tent city” where the partying never stops.

Picking a site:

pick a site with trees to the west

  • morning sun is not bad, afternoon sun can be unbearable, so pick a site with trees on your west side
  • Try to set up your tent on a flat spot otherwise at night, you’re going to find you and everything in your tent sliding to the downhill side.
  • Do not set up in a lowland because if it rains, your tent will be come a bathtub.
  • Turf protection is childish.  I’ve seen a tent set up in a roped off area trying to create the illusion of  little house on the prairie with a driveway and yard.  Sometimes the roped off area is to claim space for campers yet to arrive, which I can understand.  When space is a premium at a motorcycle campground, and someone claims too much turf, I think they should go back to kindergarten and learn to share.
  • That said, be prepared to have your tent right up next to the neighbors, and hope they don’t snore, or that she or he is not a “screamer” but at most a “moaner.”
  • Allow room for to park your bike(s) AND to let others get past your bike(s).  Late at night, some newbies, and drunks need lots of room to get to their tent.

Once your set up, recognize you are in a community. Get to know your neighbors. Walk next door, shake hands, “Where ya from? When did you get here?”  Your neighbors are likely going to be your best security when you leave your worldly possessions alone in your tent.

I prefer “motorcycle only” camp sites such as at the Sturgis Rally. For example, Glencoe has an area where only motorcycles can squeeze through the narrow openings. Pick a spot, park your bike and call it “home” for as long as you wish during the rally.

Sturgis Glencoe motorcycle only camping

The benefits of camping like that are obvious: you avoid the astronomical high prices of motels during the rally.  One motel in Sturgis where I stay before Memorial Day or after Labor Day prices its rooms between $50 and $80.  But during the rally, they are $250 or more.  Camping during the rally is as low as $12, but generally in that $30 to $40 range.

Map reading at Sturgis Glencoe Campground

Other benefits include the camaraderie of fellow campers, and the immersion in to the motorcycle lifestyle.
The disadvantage is of course you

are exposed to the weather as it is – hot, cold or rainy.  I’ve climbed in to my tent after a wet day of riding, and there’s no warming up by the furnace or fireplace.

Tip: Inside your tent, have available on top of your gear, or your sleeping bag that extra change of clothes or the extra blanket so you can find it quickly.

Serenity at Roughrider Rally, Beulah

It’s also a bit more work to camp. It’s up to you to pack and unpack as you move.  No ready-made beds are available.  Showering is a challenge, but usually most campgrounds have a community shower that is just fine with me.
Motorcycle camping is part of the motorcycle experience.  If you wanted to travel in luxury, you could have traded in your bike for a pull-behind trailer and you would drive the country in your car.  Or you can just motel hop your way across the country, leaving the confines of your cage for the continued confines of a motel room.
Me?  I like the exposure and freedom of motorcycling – and that includes motorcycle camping.

Campground at Marmarth Bottoms Up rally

(Now, do you know how to pack for this motorcycle camping trip?  Check out one of my other entries about packing your motorcycle.)

11 Responses to “Motorcycle camping”

  1. where do you guys buy camping equipment online ?:;*

    • That’s a good question and I don’t have the definitive answer. I know I check out for good deals, and Amazon, too. But one place that I used to buy backpacking equipment (which works great for motorcycles) is the REI outlet store. You can find it at Hope that helps.

  2. some sleeping bags are waterproof and weatherproof too, they are nice for camping outside the house “‘*

  3. You’re right about backpacking gear being perfect for motorcycle camping. Backpackers and climbers are obsessed with reducing the weight and volume of their gear.

  4. Wow! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a entirely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Outstanding choice of colors!

  5. yamaha…

    […]Motorcycle camping « 2wheels2lanes1camera's Blog[…]…


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