A year on the road means a year of campground showers. Most campground showers are coin-operated, time-limited contraptions. They generally run for three to five minutes for a few bucks a go. That time goes fast — especially when the water starts out ice-cold. Through much trial and error, we figured out how to optimize our short showers.
How to shower in three minutes, flat:
- Do a quick snake/rodent/spider/other gross bug check. You don’t want any surprises.
- Check to make sure the shower isn’t visibly broken before you get undressed.
- Get undressed and set up your toiletries and towels.
- Put the quarters or tokens in the machine. If you want to add extra minutes, you usually need to add the extra quarters when you start the shower.
- Start counting down the time as soon as the water turns on.
- While the water warms up, put the top of your head under the spray and start wetting your hair. Try not to scream – the water will probably be icy cold.
- Shampoo and rinse.
- Condition and rinse right away – there’s not enough time to leave conditioner in your hair for a full minute.
- Soap up, starting with the dirtiest bits. Get the cleaner bits if you still have time.
- Rinse like crazy before the time runs out! Try not to curse at the shower, the park, the world.
- Always, always bring enough quarters to restart the shower. There’s nothing worse than having the water run out when you’re covered with soap and out of quarters.
- Some showers’ timers will stop when you turn off the water, some won’t. Sometimes this information is posted, sometimes you need to ask.
- When you need to shave your legs, use a full three minutes to do just that. Pure luxury, right?
- To save time, wash your face at the sink, not in the shower.
- Always wear shower sandals. You’re not just worried about athlete’s foot – the floor is usually freezing cold cement.
- Use a waterproof shower bag. If there aren’t any shelves or hooks in the shower room, you can stuff your clothes and towels inside the bag to keep them dry until you need them.
- Space out your hotel stays so you can get a really good soaking every other week or so.
We found a few amazing showers and a lot of awful showers during our year on the road. Here are our favorites:
Best showers in the country
- Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley: There’s no time limit on these showers, and the water comes from a hot spring. Pay $5 and you get a key to the pool area that works for a full day. Consider using the hot spring-fed pool and showers all day.
- State Parks in New Mexico: New Mexico recently upgraded many of its State Park facilities. At the NM parks we visited — Rockhound, City of Rocks, Oliver Lee, Navajo Lake — the sites are $10/night and the showers are free. The upgraded showers use a push-button system, which can be a pain unless you use the accessible shower – it stays on longer.
- State Parks in Oregon: free, private showers can be found in any of the State Parks that line the Oregon coast.
Worst showers in the country
- Jalama Beach County Park, CA: One of the best parks in the country with one of the worst showers. The spray is a fine mist, and a cold breeze blows down the beach through the gaps under the doors on the North side of the building bringing a fierce chill and a sprinkling of sand. I’ve never shivered so violently.
- Panamint Springs Resort in Death Valley: There’s no door on the outside of the Ladies’ room and there are no doors or curtains on the shower stalls. They’re free, though, and the rag-tag bathroom assembly (one hooked-up sink, one disconnected sink) helps give Panamint Springs that remote wilderness feel that is long gone elsewhere in Death Valley. Skip the Stovepipe Wells resort showers, too.
- Catalina State Park, near Tucson, AZ: Exfoliating in the extreme, these showers will take off a few layers of skin. Especially bad if you have a sunburn. Men: protect yer privates.
- Most State Parks in California: In parks that aren’t regularly maintained, the ground squirrels that have taken over all of CA’s State Parks have taken over the shower buildings, too (Malibu Creek State Park, guilty). Even in parks that are well-run, people seem to abuse the showers more than usual, regularly filling them with copious amounts of cigarette butts, vomit, and poo of unknown origin (South Carlsbad State Beach, guilty). They’re the most likely to be broken and to eat quarters (San Simeon State Park, guilty).
- Glacier National Park’s Colter Bay Village, MT: The combination shower/laundromat is operated by people who seem to think it’s normal behavior to peek into your shower to see if you’re doing OK. I can’t imagine that my experience was an exception.
Well, we could go on for days! Don’t even get us started on that other wonder of camping, the pit toilet…