Winter is a depressing time for campers like us. Though Amy and I have done winter camping, this winter has been brutal. Camping in 30 degree weather is one thing. Camping in -5 weather is something completely different. So, we sit and wait….and wait….and wait….
The nice thing about the winter and downtime is it gives us an opportunity to plan the upcoming camping season. Many state parks host festivals or hold activities that are posted on their website. For example, Shawnee State Park (Southeast Ohio) is hosting a weekend activity called Morel Mushrooming Mania. My wife, who is an artist/photographer, would love to attend this. Shawnee has a great campground (so we have heard) and hiking trails. So we printed out some blank calendars and began planning out the places and events we would like to attend this spring.
Another benefit of this downtime is that we can go and visit these campgrounds and decide whether we like the campground and if so, which sites would be the best. This is today’s Camping Tip of the Day: Visit the campground before making the reservation. Now, if you plan to camp more than a few hours away, traveling ahead of time just to check out the campground and select a site may not be advantageous economically. I get it. However, if you have some free time on the weekend, extra cash, and a sense of adventure, check out some potential campgrounds, especially if they are less than two hours away.
But Doug, why spend the time and money in doing so? Trust me. Nothing is worse than looking at camping brochures and having an “idea” of what the place is like, only to get there later and be totally disappointed. One time last winter, Amy and I visited a campground within an hour and half from our house. The brochures painted a glamorous picture of the place. When we got there we realized the place was a dump. Clearly, it was not the place we hoped it would be. Fortunately, this has not happened to us too many times. This is usually because we do the following:
1. We visit the campground and drive around. As we drive by sites we like, we write the site # down in a journal. In addition, sites we really do not like, we are sure to include the journal as well. FYI- Some campgrounds are not open in the winter. Call ahead so you don’t make a wasted trip.
2. We read as many online reviews as we can about the campground.
3. We love going to campground websites that include a map of the campground and pictures of the actual sites online. Now, actually going there is better than a picture online, however, it saves a trip. Kentucky and Tennessee state parks usually include a picture of each site on their reservation website. This can be a very useful tool.
In the end, if you can take the time and gas to visit the campground ahead of time, we highly recommend it. Just last week, Amy and I visited an Ohio State Park that was an hour away (Stonelick State Park). We liked the country-setting type of campground. We drove around and wrote down sites we liked and ones we want to stay away from. When the snow melts (hopefully soon), we plan to visit Stonelick and we know where in the campground we want to be.