Camp Tricks

How to Address Kids’ Misbehavior on the Trail

August 2, 2017


You’re just far enough into the hike to make the trek back impractical when your kids begin acting up. Whether they’re stepping off-trail in sensitive wildlife areas or planting themselves like trees, refusing another step, there’s a whole host of bad behaviors that can ruin your day. Here’s how to get your rowdy young explorers back on track.

Give Them the Opportunity to Succeed
Young ones act out for a reason. If you set them on a task beyond their physical or emotional capacity, you’ll have trouble on your hands. Be aware of their unique abilities before mapping out your route. Remember, they might tire easily or become fatigued without lots of snacks. Consider any sensitivities or fears that might make the journey prohibitive. It’s great to challenge them, but don’t ask more than they can possibly give. Try to avoid problems in the first place by planning a hike that is appropriate for your whole crew.

Give Everyone a Task
Boredom is a huge factor in misbehavior. When everybody on your tiny team has an important task, you all feel you’re pulling together for common good. Help older kids to stay focused by giving them more important tasks, like assistant navigator. Make sure everyone has some responsibility for their own trip, carrying their own water and snacks. You’ll foster independence and increase their investment in making the trip go smoothly.

Be Firm but Sensitive
There’s always a nice way to give directions. Wilderness can be overwhelming, so deliver all expectations in an authoritative yet calm manner. Present yourself as the leader of this little pack and you’ll earn their respect and trust. True leadership never requires empty threats or screaming. If you’re too exasperated for words, take a quick time out until everybody is on the same page. Drink some water, eat a snack, get back to it.

Apply Consequences that Can be Carried Out in the Moment
Sometimes the gentle approach isn’t enough. But if you tell them they’re going to lose privileges at some far off future point, you won’t have the same impact as if you can respond immediately to the behavior. A navigator who refuses to stay on-trail, for example, loses map holding privileges until she can demonstrate she’s ready to take the responsibility seriously. Major misbehavior at the beginning of the trek might result in heading back to camp and performing cleanup chores. Let consequences follow as naturally as possible from the misbehavior to help them make those connections and take control of their behavior.

Always Encourage First
Even if you do need to discipline your young hikers, always use positive messages. As soon as the behavior turns around, congratulate them and move forward. Nobody feels good when the focus of a trip is on poor choices. Give them the tools to make good decisions then give them a high five. Outdoor time is a growth experience for all of us. Your youngest members of the family are no exception.

Camp Games and Activities

5 Camping Firsts to Share with Your Kids

July 17, 2017


Your kid’s first camping experiences have a formative impact on the rest of his or her life. Nature gets in your blood, and the earlier you let yourself be bitten by the camping bug, the richer your life will be. Make sure you share these important and unforgettable firsts with your kids.

The First Fish
Nothing compares to that first fish you pull out of the water. Whether netted from a clear, cold stream or reeled in from a seafront pier, snagging a fish is many kids’ first taste of independence and unbridled excitement outdoors. It’s a great lesson for any young outdoor explorer: the coordination required to perform the act, the tenacity needed to wait it out, and the ultimate sense of accomplishment when they finally succeed, all wrapped in fresh air and quality bonding time.

The First Wildlife Sighting
These days not many children grow up surrounded by wilderness. Those who dwell in cities have perhaps never seen bears, moose, deer, foxes. Strategize to make sure you’re with them and attentive to the joy of the moment when that experience occurs. Keep a field guide on hand and keep your eyes open. Plot out areas like wildlife refuges where the sighting is likely to occur. Your kids will grow up influenced by the importance of preservation and the awe of sharing our planet with so many wondrous creatures.

The First “Off the Grid” Experience
When you venture beyond hookups and wifi access, when you leave the camper at home and grab the old rucksack, you bring your kids back to a time of self-reliance and joy in accomplishment. Whether you set up tent in a designated spot and venture out daily on hikes, or backpack on a family through-hike, you’ll show them that life is meant to be experienced more deeply than gadgets and convenience.

The First “Fail”
Kids are often protected from frustrations by parental buffering. We don’t like to see our kids suffer, so we help them out behind the scenes. Sometimes, it’s great to give your kids a fun, magical boost in confidence. But it’s equally important to let them see what happens when we don’t succeed. Give your young ones some opportunities to mess up. From tents that don’t want to pitch to spilled cooking water, make them reach just beyond their comfort level—while still observing safety practices—then give them the emotional support to overcome goof-ups and improve their performance next time.

The First Wilderness Skills
You know your kids’ level of development and preparation for an outdoor adventure. Each trip will build on the last. The awesome part of this ever-evolving acquisition of skills is that you’ll get to have many firsts with them. The first time you let them help tend the fire. The first time they lead the pack on a hike. The first time they identify constellations on a crisp summer night. You’ll instill in them a sense of progress and a lifelong love of the wild.

Other Outdoorsy Stuff

Questions to Consider Before Camping with a Canine

July 12, 2017


We all want to take our precious pooch wherever we go, especially when heading out on a great adventure. But before you grab the leash and water dish, ask yourself these five questions to determine whether your dog is a suitable wilderness companion.

What are the Regulations of the Camp Site or Park?
Here’s an obvious one: some camp spots frown upon furry visitors. There can be a number of good reasons for this. Dogs have the capacity to disturb delicate environments with their snuffling, hunting and excrement. What’s more, many places aren’t safe for dogs. The local wildlife might include species that would find Fido to be a tasty snack. Even if you are allowed to bring your dog, she might not be allowed in certain areas, like environmentally sensitive trails. Always respect the guidelines of the place you’ll be visiting.

Is Your Pooch Medically Clear for the Adventure?
Some animals are fragile, others have compromised immunities, others just haven’t yet completed all the necessary shots to let them explore too far afield. Whatever the case, some dogs aren’t currently in a place where they can play the role of adventure buddy. Be aware of your dog’s needs. Never compromise her health for any reason. Safe is better than sorry.

Is Your Dog a Polite Camper?
In new environments, some canines flip. It’s sensory overload with all the new smells and sights. Anxiety, excitement and fear can all inspire your dog to behave in a rowdy manner. Most likely, people will want to pet her and play, so make sure she’s good with new people of all types, including rambunctious kids.

Bear in mind the types of activities you’re planning. Are they dog-friendly? Hikes on trails where dogs are welcome? Swims in lakes or rivers that dogs are allowed and safe? A dog behaves differently when mom and dad are around. If you’ll be leaving her at camp while you go out on excursions all day, her barking and boredom might get her into trouble. If you don’t think your favorite dog is trained and mature enough to handle it, leave her at home.

Does Your Four-Legged Friend Really Want to Go?
The great outdoors isn’t everyone’s thing. Your dog is no less of a dog for preferring to hang in the back yard. Be attuned to her needs and avoid stressing your pet.

Will a Canine Cramp Your Style?
Your pet is as precious to you as your child, and sharing new experiences creates great bonds. But sometimes we want to get away from home to escape all our daily pressures—including our cherished pets. Will letting your dog ride along restrict your activities, or stress you out? It’s okay to make her sit it out this time. Make it up to her when you get back with plenty of extra time at the dog park.

Camp Tricks

How to Prepare Young Campers for Their First Trip

July 3, 2017

Knowing that spending time in nature has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, it’s ironic that getting into those great outdoors can provoke a lot of fearful, anxious responses—especially in small kids.

If you’ve got an anxious little one who could use a dose of wilderness, here are a few pre-trip tips to get everybody in the best frame of mind.

Get Them Involved
Having your kid help plan some aspects of the trip gives them a sense of control, which can help ease anxiety they may have about such a new experience. Let them assist with meal planning, to ensure that they’ll still have things they enjoy eating on the campout, or let them choose some comfort items to pack. If they don’t have basic necessities, like a sleeping bag, take them with you to choose their own. Consider giving them a choice of campgrounds: would they feel more comfortable near water or in a forest?

Keep it Simple
An easy trip may be dull for you, but for anxious kids, it means less pressure and fewer unknowns. Camp close to home to avoid long travel times and plan to camp near your vehicle if possible—backpacking adds a layer of complexity that may be too intense for little ones. The further kids can wander without leaving sight of the tent, the more boldly they can explore and the more confidence they gain in a new environment, so try to choose sites that have interesting features—downed logs, water, and small boulders are all popular choices.

Do Your Homework
Anxiety thrives on the unknown, so hit the books to help your kids get familiar. If you’re going somewhere iconic, chances are good there are picture books and documentaries about it. Loads of popular kids’ characters have gone camping, from Little Critter to Amelia Bedelia and Fancy Nancy, so try to tailor your picks to their interests. Maps won’t go amiss either—if you’ve booked your site in advance, you’ll be able to show your kiddos exactly where you’ll park n’ pitch, and you can use it to tempt them with nearby trails and points of interest.

Do a Test Run
It’s a good idea anyway, especially if you’ve got new gear that wants testing, but pitch your tent in the yard or the living room first. Lay out your bags, stow your gear, and spend the night in there with them. Having a chance to practice sleeping in the tent in a safe environment will build positive associations, and it’ll give them a better idea of what to expect at the campsite.

Plan an escape route
This is worst-case scenario, but it never hurts to be prepared. Figure out in advance what kinds of conditions call for an immediate change of plans—a serious injury necessitating medical care isn’t out of the realm of possibility, even in well-traveled, furnished campgrounds, and unanticipated weather can rain on anyone’s parade—and then figure out how you’ll evacuate your crew. You don’t need to discuss this with your anxious kids, but being able to communicate that you’ve got a plan in the event of an emergency can help ease their fears.

Other Outdoorsy Stuff

6 Types of Camping You Need to Try at Least Once

June 30, 2017


Camping is an incredibly diverse activity with endless locations, styles and sleeping systems to be tried. While some types of camping (mountains vs. desert, for example) just come down to personal preference, these six varieties of roughing it should be part of every adventurer’s life goals. Even if you try them only once, don’t forget about these six important camping types.

Solo Survival Mode
Leave the plushy accessories at home and say goodbye to your loved ones. It’s time to test yourself against the elements. Everyone deserves the opportunity to meet mother nature on the closest terms possible—minimal comforts and only the essentials. For a hardcore wilderness lover, this might be your preferred manner of communing with nature. But even those who usually create a more homey experience for their expeditions need to feel the rush of independence at least once in their lives.

Mentor Style
Whether you’re a parent, family member or volunteer counselor, everybody should get at least one chance to be the expert guide for a group of youngsters. Be an introduction to the joys of the outdoors for a generation that’s more accustomed to email spam than camp recipe spam. It’s an incredible way to strengthen your bond and improve kids’ self-esteem and peace of mind.

Super Luxe
Sometimes you want all the trappings of the good life and the rugged beauty of the wild all at once. Give glamping a shot. Don’t worry, you needn’t abandon your more rough-and-ready preparations on every trip. But give luxury a chance just once. From shockingly comfortable accommodations to staff on hand for your every whim, there are lots of options for a pampered camping experience. Fish all day and let the chef prepare your catch while you relax with a glass of wine. What’s not to like?

Wild Adventure Seeker
Sleep dangling from a cliff side. Pitch your tent in arctic conditions. Find shelter in a bat-filled cave, get your adrenaline pumping. Find that intersection between curiosity and trepidation, and you’ve uncovered your next adventure destination. If you’re hesitant to go it alone—and in many wilder locales, you should always have a buddy—seek a guided tour or the company of other seasoned adventurers to enjoy the event with you.

Spontaneous Nature Lover
As a true outdoorsperson, you’ve got some gear packed in your car for last-minute trips: emergency seeping bag, first aid kit, pre-packaged food stash, and shelter. Sometimes you just need to escape. Immediately. Without notice. Take advantage of your supplies and hit the road. There’s an unmatched thrill in retreating to nature at the spur of the moment.

Romantic Couples Getaway
The great thing is, you can make your campout romantic no matter which style you’re pursuing. Climbing mountains together and roughing it, or relaxing in a luxury tent, a flask, some deodorant—any trip is romantic as long as you’ve got the one you love by your side.

Camp Games and Activities

5 Ways To Make Your Family Camping Trip Educational

June 12, 2017

Family Camping
There’s no classroom greater than the great outdoors. The next time you take a family camping trip, use these fun, easy strategies to enhance the educational value of your wilderness adventure.

Use a Field Guide or App to Identify Plants and Animals
Whether you prefer a paperbound book or an online catalog, there are tons of regional references to help you learn about the inhabitants of your campground. Being able to identify the animals they see on the trip not only focuses kids’ attention, it gives them a sense of pride in nature. Teach them to recognize and appreciate the wild world early on and they’ll grow up to practice the conservation skills we all need.

Keep a Wildlife Journal
Naturalists keep records of the plants and animals they encounter on their explorations. Bring along a composition book and some pencils so your kids can do the same. Keep the book with you on hikes and pause to make notes whenever you spot something interesting. At the end of the day, you can add more detailed descriptions or color in sketches made on the trail.

For younger kids, sophisticated observations might be tough, but even they can do simple drawings of what they see. Let each child have their own comp book and share everyone’s notes around the campfire at night.

Build Things
Not all campsites will appreciate your use of natural materials for your own personal fort, but in areas where this is permitted, working as a family to build a small shade or rain shelter is a great way to teach thinking and experimenting skills. Try to avoid giving too much guidance. And let kids have fun figuring out by trial and error how to most effectively put things together. There’s no pride like the pride of creating something. Your kids will feel a greater bond with nature by learning to appreciate its resources.

Search for Constellations
Getting beyond the city lights is the best way to see the stars. When you’re sitting around the campfire, point out the visible constellations. The mythology of how these stars earned their names is great fodder for s’mores story time. If you’re a buff yourself, just talk away. But there are plenty of books and apps to help if your own stargazing skills are a bit rusty.

Grab the Map and Compass
Sure, we’ve got fancy GPS to guide us, but everyone should learn navigation skills. Knowing how to find your way in unfamiliar terrain is not only a critical survival skill, it’s also a great way to increase mental acuity. It also helps your young ‘uns to familiarize themselves with surrounding terrain, so they’re less likely to become lost when out on a hike or excursion. Show them how to use these important tools on a large group hike. Then let older kids do a little nearby exploring on their own.


Camp Games and Activities

5 Camping Tasks Kids Shouldn’t Do Alone

June 9, 2017


Nature is an amazing classroom, and camping at its best will give your kids a healthy dose of independence and self-reliance. But there are some tasks you just shouldn’t let young children do without grownup assistance.

Chopping Wood
This one might seem obvious, but prepping a campfire is one of camping’s most important rituals. It’s a multistep chore that leaves the fire starter with a feeling of pride in accomplishment, and chopping fire wood is one of the most satisfying parts of the process. But the youngest ones in your bunch shouldn’t be swinging the axe. A piece of wood big enough to require major chopping is going to require more energy and dexterity than a child is capable of. If you want to let them in on the process, have them prepare kindling by gathering and snapping twigs. A few splinters won’t hurt anyone, but an axe in incapable hands will.

Tending the Fire
The kids can watch the fire; you can even assign the responsibility to them and make sure they keep their post. But you need to keep a careful eye on proceedings. Kids can’t always identify potential danger early enough to thwart it. And their attention spans are often shorter than those of grown folks. Share the process with them and let them take pride in the event, but never let them go it alone.

On the grill, over the open fire, or on the camp stove, camp cooking involves fire. If you’ve got a responsible young camper on premises, assign them some challenging tasks, like chopping produce, turning burgers, and watching for water to boil. But never expect them to put a meal on the table all by themselves. Teach them those camp cooking skills one at a time over the course of the seasons. One day they’ll be responsible adults who can prepare a full dinner while you lounge in the hammock.

Searching for a Water Source
Unless you’re certain there’s a nearby stream (one with a location you can identify), don’t send your young ones alone on a quest to fill the canteens. Sure, they need the freedom to explore and face some environmental challenges, but unless you know the terrain, they shouldn’t do that exploring without an adult helper. From roaming bears to challenging passes, opportunities for bodily harm abound. And kids might not be as observant of park regulations as adults, thus venturing into areas where they’re not allowed. Plus, do you really your seven-year-old to have sole responsibility for filtering the water? Send them in groups when you do let them explore. A wilderness buddy is a good idea at any age.

Plotting the Course
Teaching kids to set the path for a hike or a walk, sharing your compass skills, and schooling them in celestial navigation is a great way to engage their senses and instill pride in accomplishment. But you don’t want the youngest person to be responsible for where you’ll end up. In all aspects of camping, kids can participate and face challenges, just make sure you’re there to guide them if things get rough.

Other Outdoorsy Stuff

5 Iconic Places to Camp with Your Family this Spring

June 5, 2017

There are places so stunning and famous they have starring roles in movies, coffee table books and paintings. While you may be familiar with some of them, others might surprise you. So unfold your chair, pour a cup of Joe and start making a plan to stay at one or two of these five iconic campgrounds.

Watchman Campground, Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park, Utah |

Camp here under the watchful eye of the Watchman. The campground is surrounded by tall sandstone cliffs that change colors throughout the day and especially at sunset, and the small but powerful Virgin River runs adjacent to the sites. The campgrounds fill up fast, and it’s first-come, first-served, so grab a hotel the night before or come in early from nearby St. George and circle the campground waiting for a spot to open. The park is very busy, and a shuttle bus runs most of the year, but if you drive above the second tunnel and park along the road, you’ll find some amazing places where you’ll feel like you are the only hikers in the park.

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park, California | ©istockphoto/Bartfett

Everyone wants to camp at Yosemite, but it’s not easy to get reservations. If you are lucky enough to snag a spot online, congratulations! If not, you might want to make a trek to the park anyway and find a spot on a first-come, first-served basis because it’s worth it. Sure, it’s crowded with campers from all over the world, but the view of El Capitan and the climbers who brave the wall, hanging on the rocks by their fingertips, is as exciting as it gets.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico | ©istockphoto/zrfphoto

Camping at Carlsbad Caverns National Park is permitted only in the backcountry, which says something right there. No RVs with their generators running, no little kids running through your site, just you and the lore of the Apache Indians of the Guadalupe Mountains. You backpack your stuff in and out at this park, but what a difference it is from the other parks. Backcountry camping requires a permit and a minimum half-mile (.8 km) hike into the desert away from your vehicle. Before you go, remember you’ll be camping in the desert, so come prepared and enjoy your time away from the tourists.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park, South Dakota | ©istockphoto/fotoguy22

This national park has appeared in movies such as Dances with Wolves, Armageddon and many others, so you might recognize the rugged scenery at Cedar Pass Campground and Sage Creek Campground from the big screen. As you’re sitting around your fire telling stories in the same spot the Lakota Indians once roamed, consider yourself lucky. Cedar Pass Campground has 96 level sites and if you have an RV, there are hook-ups, but it’s still kind of primitive. At Sage Creek Campground, Bison might wander through your campsite, located on the west side of the park’s North Unit, near the Badlands Wilderness Area, available on a first-come, first-served basis and rarely filling to capacity. A portion of the Sage Creek Campground is designated for horse use.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, Montana | ©istockphoto/qiaohuavip

There are more than a dozen campgrounds as well as 65 backcountry sites here in Montana. This is bear country. In this iconic park, the chance of running into a grizzly is small, although a possibility. There are 1000 campsites at Glacier, but if it starts to snow, the closed signs are posted right away. Beside the bears, the park is filled with lakes and streams and most campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you go and pitch your tent, you can brag that you’ve been to one of the most iconic campgrounds in the country.

Camp Tricks

Think Outside the Tent

May 24, 2017


While tents are the go-to camping shelter, there are many other options you might not have tried yet.

Car Camping
If you’re driving to camp, your car is the best choice for shelter. If it’s packed with stuff, take the stuff out and pile it in the front seat. Even better, carry your gear on top in a waterproof car carrier. Stash your edible and scented stuff in a bear box. If you can fold down the back seats, this will be the most comfortable option. Lying down is better for your beauty sleep than sitting up in your front seats. Crack open a window for airflow, lock the doors, and fall asleep.

Camping in a hammock is easy and relaxing. A lightweight hammock is great for backpackers who want to forgo finding level ground to set up a tent at the end of a strenuous day. Many people find sleeping in a hammock more comfortable than sleeping on the ground, and a better night of sleep allows you to hike more the next day. Sleeping under the stars is another bonus.

Roughing It
You pull into your camp spot in the late afternoon and say “hi” to your neighbors who are setting up their tent before they go for a hike. Two hours later, you return and they’re just finishing up. You pull out your sleeping mat and your bag throw it on the ground near your fire, and hunker down for the night. For extra protection from the elements, consider a mummy bag. Just lie there and watch the stars turn the night sky into a milky wonder.

National parks frown upon building a lean-to in a campground, but if you’re backpacking off the grid, this is a good way to build a shelter. All you need are the natural materials that surround you on the forest floor, but you can build one even faster if you came prepared. Look around and see if you can gather some loose branches, some leaves, and something to tie with, preferably some roots or vines of some kind. If you can find a large enough rock that can protect you from the wind, you can use that as the basis for your shelter, or you can use a downed tree that is resting on its side for a shelter for the night. Make sure to observe all park regulations when building shelters.

This isn’t the tarp someone keeps in their truck to cover the stuff in their bed from getting rained on; this is the latest thing in backpacking. Although, when it comes down to it, those types of tarps can be just as good. You will also probably have a ground cloth to put down underneath your tarp. The most common and the simplest set-up is to take each corner and tie it off to a tree or other tall structure, or use poles to elevate the corners. For other shapes of tarp shelter, you can use trees, boulders and even your car as points of attachment. Once you tie the ropes you can toss your bag under your shelter and climb inside nice and dry.

Other Outdoorsy Stuff

Exploring Bears Ears and Gold Butte National Monuments

May 19, 2017

Since the designation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, our elected officials have been assuring our outdoor heritage by protecting land for generations to come.

Before leaving office, President Obama helped to set aside more than 553 million acres of new national lands, including these recent additions:

Bears Ears National Monument

For thousands of years, through the inhabitance of multiple distinctive cultures, this region has absorbed the essence of human history. It is an unbelievably archeologically rich location. It is also a beautiful wilderness, full of rugged outcroppings, rich desert colors, and stunning vastness, including its namesake mesas.

With the help of activists and preservationists, the importance of Bears Ears reached the ears of the White House and on December 28, 2016, a presidential proclamation entrusted the land to the federal government for protection. The 1.3-million acres preserve geological formations as well as architectural remains and a trove of indigenous artifacts that are still being discovered.

The land will be jointly managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Perhaps most importantly, the joint planning force will also recognize the voice of Native American tribes and nations that have historically been the stewards of the area. The Bears Ears Commission will include one tribe-elected official each from the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, and Zuni Tribe.

Gold Butte National Monument

When you think of the Grand Canyon, you probably think of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona—and specifically the awesome chasm for which the park is named. But the land surrounding this amazing geological feature is an indispensable part of its overall ecosystem. Keeping this area safe for generations to come is just as important as protecting the canyon itself. Enter Gold Butte National Monument.

The newly preserved area in Nevada spans the 300,000 acres between Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, creating a buffer for wildlife and ecological preservation.

Rich with flora and fauna, Gold Butte reminds us that the desert is much more than just an empty expanse. It’s a dynamic, ecologically delicate and beautiful place worthy of respect and protection. The area also teems with traces of past residents, from the remains of indigenous civilizations to evidence of historical mining and ranching operations.

Plan a Visit
When planning your visit to these or any wild place, remember to respect their integrity and be aware of your impact on sensitive areas. Don’t let unleashed pets have the run of the place and keep them away from designated archeology sites. Teach kids to respect the natural formations and historical human constructions alike.

These new monuments shouldn’t be treated as playgrounds. But they are not-to-be-missed examples of America’s natural and historical beauty. They belong to all of us to visit, appreciate and protect.

The concept of federal land has always been divisive. At every stage, since the opening of Yellowstone itself, opponents have worried that government overreach would result in unfair or unwise management. In years to come, the fight over how best to care for and use the land, including Bears Ears and Gold Butte, will continue.

Yet for all the competing interests and different ideas about how land should be governed and used, it’s impossible to imagine that any American, upon looking over the rim to the vastness of the Grand Canyon, could be anything but grateful for all the wild that federal lands have kept in tact for generations to come.

Other Outdoorsy Stuff

6 Tips for Snagging Your Perfect Camp Site

May 10, 2017


Camping used to be easy. You would drive your van to a campground, pay your 10 bucks for a site, and set up your tent. These days, with so many people camping on and off the grid, you have to plan ahead. But here are some tips so you can regain some of the spontaneity of snagging the perfect camp spot.

Reserve Months Ahead
You can check availability and reserve a site by visiting the official park webpage, clicking on reservations, and entering your preferred dates. Not only can you see where all the campgrounds are located, but you can also see when a specific campground filled up on a specific date the previous year. Some campgrounds have limits on the length of RVs, or no room for RVs, so double-check the website.

Go Off the Grid at State Parks
Five-thousand campsites available at state parks are not on the reservation system. For instance, at the Grand Canyon, when the main campgrounds do fill up, you’ll be directed to the park’s Desert View Campground, where the 50 sites are first-come, first-served. Most summer nights that campground is full by 3 p.m. While this campground is 25 miles east of Grand Canyon Village, you’ll enjoy the added solitude.

Go Way Off the Grid
Even with the big parks parks booked full on summer weekends, there are still roughly 500 to 600 campgrounds with space over the summer months, and most are located along lesser-known streams, lakes or at wilderness trailheads. Most of these are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and local park districts.

Be Flexible with Dates
Arrive or book Monday and Tuesday to grab a spot. Go in April, May, September and October. Except for the top tier locations, even the best campgrounds have awesome sites available on the shoulder months. Sometimes campgrounds such as Zion National Park are available first-come, first-served, so try and get your dates mid-week and arrive at dawn so you can scope out the campground and watch for people who are packing up to go home.

Check for Cancellations
Even the Grand Canyon and Yosemite have last minute cancellations. When life happens, people do occasionally have to change their plans. Before three-day weekends, the state park website at often lists campgrounds where sites are available, often because campers have to change their plans. Have your gear packed and be ready to go if one of your favorite campgrounds has a no-show.

Follow the Blogs
There is a plethora of blogs out there written by people who camp full-time, making them experts on finding a spot summer, spring, winter or fall. These campers don’t want to end up sleeping in a Walmart for the night if they can help it. They’re more than willing to share ideas such as finding a spot off the grid in Quartzsite, AZ, or a primo spot in Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina. Check out the blog, No Excuses: Go Nomadic and HitchItch, and follow the professionals to the campground.

Other Outdoorsy Stuff

How to Visit Family-Friendly Anchorage

May 1, 2017

The idea of vacationing in Alaska might sound too chilly for any but the most intrepid explorers. But vacation planning takes time, so grab your cocoa and discover your next unique summer vacation spot!

Although its average winter temperatures are below freezing, Alaska’s largest city experiences a full 22 hours of daylight during the peak of summer. Come July, you and your family will feel like you have all the time in the world to explore the extensive opportunities for outdoor adventure in the land of the midnight sun.

Portage Valley


More than 100 years ago, this entire valley was filled with a great river of ice. The Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, home to the Glacier Ranger District Interpretive Program, sits at what was once the foot of that massive glacier and is a great starting point to learn more about Portage Valley and its geology. Portage Glacier has since retreated from sight of the center’s viewing decks, but little seafarers wanting an up-close view of its ten-story face from the water can take an interpretive cruise on the mv Ptarmigan. Five miles of trails await landlubbers along the Trail of Blue Ice, which connects many nearby glaciers with campgrounds, and the Byron Glacier Trail offers a quick, easy in-and-out hike to the moraine fields at the toe of the Byron Glacier.

Flattop Peak

The 1.5-mile hike to the summit of Flattop Peak is easily the most popular hike in Anchorage, due in no small part to its location just fifteen minutes from downtown, and makes a great, family-friendly day hike. The youngest set may want to stick to the Anchorage Overlook Trail, which is an accessible trail with a viewing deck that offers stunning views of the city, the nearby Alaska Range, and Cook Inlet. Toddlers on up can try to tackle the Blueberry Loop Trail, which circles the first saddle on the way to the summit. Snow can muddy the path even in late June, and the trail is popular with Anchorage’s four-footed as well its humans, so do keep an eye on those kids! Intrepid explorers of grade-school age should be able to handle the hike all the way to the top—it’s a popular field trip location—just make sure they’re careful on that final scramble.

Crow Creek & Indian Valley

If you’ve got a little rock hound in the family, catch a bit of gold rush fever and take them out panning for gold. Spend a sunny afternoon in the heart of Chugach National Forest on a whitewater creek at Crow Creek Mine, sluicing for gold flakes after a quick demonstration, or take a guided tour for a more educational experience that includes information about the historic buildings that date back to the turn of the century and the mining equipment from the same era. Indian Valley Mine, a lode mine located about 30 minutes west of Crow Creek, offers similar opportunities for families to get their hands wet panning. Strike it rich, then relax and enjoy the stunning views of Turnagain Arm.

Wildlife Watch


Alaska is infamous for its megafauna, and much to youngsters’ delight, it doesn’t take much effort to see them. The resident beluga whale pod cruises just offshore from turnout points along the Seward highway—check out Bird Point and the aptly-named Beluga Point—and orcas, humpbacks, and fin whales frequent the waters of Prince William Sound and Resurrection Bay. Moose regularly trot through town, and Potter Marsh is as good a bet as any given backyard.

Anchorage boasts some 200 to 300 resident black bears. Follow the fish to see the bears—try Russian River Falls or the Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform. If the kids aren’t satisfied with seeing a bear with the recommended minimum distance of 100 yards between them and the animal, guaranteed views and close-up encounters can be had at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

Wherever your Anchorage, Alaska, trip takes you, you’re sure to make memories to last a lifetime.