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My wife and I and our adult children have inherited a few acres in the middle of a forest in the mountains of North Carolina and would like to set up a semi-permanent campsite.

Ideally, this would allow us to camp there with minimum preparation but still have minimal impact on the site and not attract vandalism from passers-by.

  • Are you looking for a structure or semi permanent tent? Will you have animals? – paparazzo Apr 28 '18 at 15:47
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    Hi David. Welcome to TGO. You'll have to add more details and be more specific about what you are asking. Asking for ideas would lead to a lot of opinion based answers. – Ricketyship Apr 28 '18 at 16:25
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    Welcome David! Since we're different from other sites, I invite you to look around our help center. This page explains why we need the question to be more specific. Without more details, it might end up on hold, or closed. If that happens, don't worry, we can still help you edit and see if we can keep it open. Our system's not always easy to learn, but we're here to help, and hope you'll stay and have fun! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Apr 28 '18 at 23:38
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    Welcome to TGO, David! Please don't mistake close-votes for rejection of your question. I think it is an awesome one, I just need to know more about what "kind of camping". If we are talking road-accessible site and caravan camping, the answer is going to be totally different than for a remote, hike-in site for tent-camping. Or if it is really about minimum impact, no measures except clearing (remove branches...) a patch of ground for a tent are required. Do you want any "amenities" (e.g. shelter)? Add some info like this and the question will be opened in no time (I'll try at least ;) ). – imsodin Apr 29 '18 at 12:03
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    This question is not that difficult to answer. I did change it a bit from open to a more closed question but I think it was already answerable before I did. – Willeke Apr 29 '18 at 12:31
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What to sleep in?
Any building will be inviting vandals, so I would just level out a part of the plot with easy access for your car or a camper van.
Instead of having a building you can bring a tent or a camper van, RV or a trailer that is ready to camp in.
In (parts of) Europe it is also quite common to see a small trailer that holds a tent, which you fold out into a roomy tent big enough to sleep 4 or even 6 people. The beds are part of the structure and there is some space for the essentials.

A base for your nights!
That flat area can be just dirt if the dirt in your plot is going to work for that, it can also be tiles or concrete slabs you put in, cut wood or if allowed in the area, a slap of concrete you poor on the plot.
Or you can make and maintain a lawn to camp on or around if you are willing to put in the time for mowing it and the tent (or vehicle) will not be on it enough to do damage.
Of all above the concrete slap will have the most impact but is also the best collecting all that drips from the vehicle so you can collect that and take it off site if needed. If you are in an area where forest fires are common or very dangerous, I would not make a fire pit but use a fire container which you can put in your car when you leave, either a BBQ or a fire cage.

How to make the going out effort free?
If you want to stay in a tent or several small tents, you can have all of the gear packed in a trailer or a couple of duffel bags which you can put in the back of your car.
A trailer, camping van or RV are always ready to go.
And the fold in trailer tent is basically ready to go, although you might prefer not to store the extra's inside long term.

Drive on or not?
The less easy the access to the plot, the less likely someone will come and make use of it, (either as you would or as a vandal) but the less easy it will be for you to arrive and leave. So it will be a trade off.
Consider parking a bit farther out and walk your gear in over a narrow path compared to driving onto the site.
If the site is a bit farther from an access road you may have to walk your gear in. In which case a small cart with wheels suitable for the ground might be a very valued part of your kit.

Facilities!
If you are just camping there once in a long while, you can dig a latrine or bring out all human waste as well as all your (kitchen)waste.
But if you do go there often, you might want to consider a 'loo' structure where you can easily collect the human waste to take off, (which can be a tent like structure) or build a system that does not need the taking away of waste, compost loo's come to mind but are likely not the only suitable structure.
Using a camping vehicle you might have a waste water system doing it for you.
Waste water that is true water might be allowed to get into the ground or through the ground into a natural stream in/near the plot, but only if it is clean of chemicals and disease. A shower (behind a screen for privacy) can be rigged with a bucket or watering can, over a small tiled area for foot safety, as long as no unwanted chemicals are used.

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Unless you are going to build a sturdy structure, you cannot be confident that you will escape vandalism over the long term whether by homo sapiens or some other species. You will also have to be prepared for normal maintenance. Even a sturdy structure is not absolute proof against vandalism or people breaking in.

Your best option, proof against vandalism, but something of a PIA, is packing everything you need in a closet at home in a highly organized manner, including clothes and things like toothbrushes, and haul it to the site each time.

You might also want to investigate roof top tents.

Addendum: I should have made my answer clearer when, or shortly after, I posted it. You cannot make a semi-permanent campsite proof against trespassers, squatter, or vandals.

As soon as you improve your campsite, passers-by (the OP's phrase) will use it. Some, maybe many, users will be respectful of the site, but eventually someone is going to litter, cut down a tree or otherwise deface or make a mess of your site. At a minimum, they will trample down vegetation and make a path you don't want. All you can do is minimize the hassle of assembling and packing stuff for your visits. Enlisting a neighbor to watch your site will warn you when your site has become a mess. Campsites in parks don't stay clean by themselves!

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    City, state, and national parks so this. It may violate minimal impact but a heavy duty picnic table, fire pit with permanent grill, lean-to that you bring in a tarp ... – paparazzo Apr 28 '18 at 18:42
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There is a great answer by Willeke and a reasonable answer by ab2 in addition to the points they suggested, I have a suggestion.

Find a used travel trailer in your area (e.g., Craigslist) buy it, and move it to the property, and leave it there. This makes your base camp. Leave the door unlocked; if someone wants in, the lock is not going to stop them, and they won't need to break anything to get in.

Avoid RV's with an engine. They can be difficult to move and or recycle when when you want to upgrade.

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    This is a reasonable answer by JJ, but it could use an editor's touch, which I provided. :) – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow May 2 '18 at 20:10

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