Enjoy Your Summer Vacation – Camp Outdoors, on the Cheap and Close to Home
The best news: A family of four can pull off an amazing outdoor adventure for less than the price of box seats, parking, and dinner at a baseball game. If you already own camping gear, an entire week in your local state park or national forest can cost as little as $400: That’s $75 for campground fees, $250 for burgers and s’mores, $50 for gas, $20 for firewood, and $5 for nightcrawlers. And you’ll bring home better souvenirs — Dad and kids flipping the canoe, kids catching a frog, and a scrapbook full of other lifelong memories.
Here are five tips for finding, outfitting, and enjoying the perfect campsite.
1. Rough it. To avoid crowds and noisy RV caravans, scan the map for small, out-of-the way state and national forest campgrounds, which get less traffic and often have better scenery. Campgrounds without electrical hookups and other RV-centric amenities are also great for quiet-loving tent campers. Prefer something more rustic? Most Bureau of Land Management lands allow free, unrestricted camping wherever you want to pitch your tent. Prefer to escape the road altogether? With more than 2,000 trip options, Backpacker.com/hikes is the place to find the ideal trail near you for true wilderness camping (or for just a dayhike).
2. Beat the crowds. Reserve campsites in advance through Reserve America (reserveamerica.com), or arrive midday Sunday — when the weekend crowd is clearing out — to get the best sites in the campground.
3. Don’t own camping gear? Rent it. Many outfitters, including REI’s all over the country, rent tents, sleeping bags, packs, and other gear. It cuts initial costs and lets you experiment before buying.
4. Pack early so you don’t forget the essentials, like these five must-have items for car camping:
- a large collapsible water jug for hauling cooking and dishwashing water
- campfire tinder such as egg cartons, sticks, or cardboard
- a large tarp for shielding the picnic table during storms
- ear plugs — just in case there’s a noisy group in the campground, or a snorer in your tent
a large pail or bin for washing dishes
Not sure what else to pack? Print the appropriate gear checklist from our camping checklist
5. Make the ultimate s’more. Whether you’re car camping or backpacking, no trip is complete without this much-loved campfire dessert.
One of our favorite recipes is “S’mores in a Bag,” which you can largely prepare before leaving home.
Take 1/2 Cup crumbled graham crackers (about 1 1/2 crackers),
1/4 Cup chocolate chips, and
1/4 Cup chopped, toasted walnuts.
Combine all ingredients and divide evenly into two small oven-roasting bags.
When camping, squeeze air from bags, make sure the bags are securely closed and submerge them in hot water until the chocolate has melted. Remove the bags from the water and eat with a spoon.
Ms. Jensen is a leading advocate for families and children and was the founder and president of ACES, The Association for Children for Enforcement of Support.
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