Category Archives: Camping and Hiking

How to Choose the Perfect Campsite

choosetheperfectcampsiteWe’re big campers. Until a few years ago, I’d never camped, but after that first trip I was hooked. Our setup has changed considerably since we first started out, but that’s how it works. The more you camp, the more you learn what you need and don’t need, and what you like and don’t like. For us, having a great site is one of the most important things.

Choosing a campsite can be a tough decision. Your campsite is your home away from home, so you want to be sure you’ve got a good one. Experienced campers likely have it down to a science, but for those of you who are new to camping, here are a few things to take into consideration.

Before You Go

If you’re planning a trip, you can use a site like Recreation.gov or ReserveAmerica to pick your campsite ahead of time. Many campgrounds let you reserve anywhere from 3 days to 6 months in advance. Depending on the campground, sometimes you’ll luck out and the sites will have photos. If not, you can often Google the campground name and pull up pictures that people have shared online. Sometimes those will have site numbers.

That’s not always the case, though. For this reason, we always make a loop at every campground we visit. We take pictures, and sometimes videos, of sites we like. If we ever go back, we just pull up our “campsite” album and compare what’s available to the sites we have pictures of. If you’re going to do that, make sure you get the site number in the photo, as well as the whole site.

campsite

This is one of our favorite campsites. Lots of trees, close to the bathhouse, and a great spot for the dogs. (It’s at the Bandy Creek Campground, for those interested!)

How to Choose the Perfect Campsite

So, just how do you choose the perfect campsite? Everyone is different, but here are the things that we look for when we’re picking out a site. These same guidelines apply whether we’re reserving in advance or showing up last minute, though our choices are typically a lot more limited last minute!

How close are the other campsites?

Simply put, we don’t like being on top of another campsite. We look for one with ample space on either side, as well as no direct lines of sight into other sites.

On the other hand, if we’re camping with a group of friends, we look for sites that are close together – either right next to each other, or across from each other.

campsites for groups

We’ve camped in these sites twice with friends. They’re close together, making it easy to hang out in the evenings!

If we can’t find a site that’s relatively private, sometimes we’ll look for sites that are next to people with RVs. Often, the RVs will block a lot of the sight lines into the neighboring campsites, giving everyone a little space. Of course, you never know what your fellow campers will be like – we’ve had great neighbors and not so great neighbors. Sometimes we luck out and have no neighbors, though that’s rare in summer.

How close is the campsite to the playground/gathering area/store? 

In general, we stay far away from all of the above. Playgrounds and gathering areas tend to be noisy and full of children, especially in summer when the campground is at capacity. While it’s nice to be close the store if you run out of provisions, it’s also easy enough to walk (or drive) over.

campsite near playground

In summer, this campsite would have been terrible for us since it was right next to the playground. In March, with the campground empty, it was perfect!

How close is the campsite to the bath house?

We like to be close, but not *too* close to the bathhouse. Typically, we try to get within 5 or 6 sites. Being right next to the bathroom is noisy and often bright. People traipse to the bathhouse at all hours of the day. It’s nice to have a buffer, but I also don’t like having to hike too far in the middle of the night.

campsite near bathhouse

This is another of our favorite campsites. It’s close to the bathhouse (that building on the far right), has plenty of privacy, and plenty of trees.

If your campground doesn’t have a bathhouse, or you can’t get a site close to it, look for one with lots of trees. Which leads me to my next point….

Does the campsite have plenty of trees?

There are two reasons we look for trees – the dogs, and our hammocks. We create ziplines for the dogs, so we need at least three or four good-sized trees relatively close together. We look for sturdy ones that will support the hammocks (and us!) without bending or breaking.

For our hammocks, we need two tree pairs; sometimes these double as dog trees.

trees at campsite

Sorry about the angle – I was in my own hammock! These trees are perfect for dog lines and hammocks both.

Trees also provide shade, fallen branches to be used as kindling, privacy from other sites, and in a pinch, impromptu toilet facilities.

Where is the campsite’s fire ring?

I can’t tell you how many sites we’ve turned down because the fire ring was precisely centered in the back of the site. We have a huge tent, so we need a site where the fire ring is on one side. This wasn’t quite as much of an issue with our smaller tent.

Remember – you can move a picnic table (generally), but you can’t move a fire ring.

fire ring at campsite

Great location for the fire ring – away from the tent!

There you have it – our tips for choosing the perfect campsite. What other things do you look for in the perfect site? Do you have the same criteria we do?

Happy camping!

Travel: Camping in the Big South Fork

I’ve traveled a lot this summer, and now here’s yet another post about traveling. (You love them, I know you do.)

Utah was….awesome. Amazing. And exhausting.

I was gone for a week. I missed Jimmie, I missed the puppies, and I just missed sitting around. Plus, being in all that outdoorsy wonderland made me crave it something fierce….so about 4 days into the Utah trip, I texted Jimmie and asked if we could go camping when I got back.

Obviously, he said yes.

We decided to try somewhere new this time, so we headed up to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area with Luka in tow.

Big South ForkThere was an 80% chance of rain the entire weekend. We went anyway.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of it, but it turns out that the road to Big South Fork is the same road that just so happens to host the World’s Longest Yard Sale. Which happened to be the same weekend we were camping. Jimmie was driving, I was begging to stop, and Luka was balancing on pillows in the backseat. We didn’t stop. I cried. (Not really – but I do have plans to hit it up next year. The stuff we saw looked amazing. Traffic…not so much.)

After a much longer drive than necessary, we made it to Bandy Creek Campground.

Bandy Creek Campground (2)In case you’re ever in the area, the road to get to Bandy Creek is insane. We’d borrowed a truck, and it was still killer. Hairpin turns…thankfully it’s short, but holy batman.

Road to Bandy CreekBecause pictures don’t quite do it justice, I made a video.

I’d read reviews beforehand saying there wasn’t any need to make a reservation, so we took our chances. Sure enough, the campground was wide open. We checked in at the little visitor stand (which was staffed!!!), then picked out a site close to the bath house – my requirement – and set up our little home away from home. Of the 90-something campsites available at Bandy Creek, I’d guess maybe 15 of them were occupied. It was so quiet I actually got freaked out at night. It was wonderful.

Campfire 2

Gorgeous moon

Gorgeous moon

We managed to find a site with two trees close enough together for our brand new ENO hammock….which is the most amazing thing ever. If you don’t own one, you should. Go buy one, now. I read in this for hours….and even took a few naps. Heaven. (Even if it was a crappy book.)

HammockSaturday we decided to hike the Angel Falls trail, and Luka got to try out his new backpack that I scored for $3 in Utah. He hated it.

Luka's BackpackActually, Luka hated hiking. Don’t let this picture fool you – we thought a healthy, 6 year old German Shepherd would have no problem doing an easy (flat) 4 mile hike. Wrong. The big baby had a nervous breakdown less than a mile in. Looked like he was overheating, so we gave him all our water, made him lie down, and then eventually started back towards the car. And wouldn’t you know….as soon as Jimmie said the words, “C’mon, Luk, let’s go HOME…” that damn dog started prancing around excitedly. Faker.

Angel Falls

Awesome stump, right?

Awesome stump, right?

After the failed Angel Falls hike we drove around a little checking out the area. It’s beautiful, and so peaceful. And there was practically nobody there. We made our way to the Twin Arches trail, and figured we’d hike some of it…the visitor’s center lady had told me about the trail, and about the ladder steps you had to climb. She actually asked me…”does puppy climb ladders?” Um, no. No, puppy does not. Puppy is a wuss.

We didn’t make it to the ladders, because Jimmie heard a noise and thankfully shoved Luka at me before investigating. Turned out there was a bear around the bend. We hightailed it back to the car, not wanting to witness Luka vs. Bear. (My money would totally have been on the bear…)

Twin Arches

Mushroom

I just liked this picture.

The rest of the trip we just lazed around the campsite. We read, we played games, we talked. We enjoyed being unplugged. It only rained twice, and though it was hard rain, it didn’t last long. It was just the break I needed.

Luka chilling under the picnic table...hiding from the rain.

Luka chilling under the picnic table…hiding from the rain.

We didn’t get too wild and crazy with the food…quesadillas and hot dogs for dinner, and leftovers for lunch. Muffins for breakfast. I didn’t even take stuff for s’mores, but honestly, I didn’t miss them. Probably the most exciting part was my wine.

FisheyeBandy Creek is awesome, and we’ll definitely go back. The staff in the visitor’s center were so incredibly helpful….they talked to me for almost an hour about things to do in the park. They even have evening programs and guided hikes (we didn’t make them, but still cool that they do that stuff). Every building in the park is dog-friendly. And, the bath houses have sinks for washing your dishes. Much nicer (and safer) than trying to wash them at a campsite. Most of the sites were fairly spaced out, and there was a good selection of shaded and sunny sites.

Next time, though, we’re taking Lucy. I know she’ll wear the backpack.

 

Camping: Indian Boundary Campground in Cherokee National Forest

Ahhh….the great outdoors. There’s nothing like it.

Once upon a time I was fearless. I was spontaneous, I lived in the moment. I acted on a whim, and it was amazing. Then life got in the way. Suddenly I was faced with RESPONSIBILITIES and BILLS and a JOB and DOGS. And I had to pay for all my own stuff. Not quite as much fun being spontaneous on your own dime. So, as happens to so many people, I stopped just “doing” and started being boring.

I hate planning. I hate checklists. I hate schedules. The one exception is with vacations – I love planning those. To a point. Mostly I just love deciding where to go and then the buildup of excitement until the day you actually leave.

Anyway. More and more, I find myself getting caught in the trap of thinking of all the reasons why I shouldn’t just do something. Booooring. (And yeah, probably somewhat practical. But still boring.)

Which is why this past Thursday night was so exciting. Jimmie and I decided to go camping for the weekend.

A whole 12 hours before.

A quick check of the weather, a desperate text message to a friend about dog duty, and several Pinterest recipes later, we were ready.

Friday morning, we packed up our brand new tent and all our gear. I was in charge of food and Luka’s stuff. We’d decided to take him since otherwise he’d have spent the whole weekend in his crate….and we hated that idea. We hit the road about 1:00, head to Walmart for food and beer. Unfortunately we hadn’t factored in the fact that it was tax-free weekend, so Walmart was nuts….poor Jimmie went in for supplies, and Luka and I took pictures. Eventually though, we got on the road and made it up to Tellico Plains and the Indian Boundary Campground (in the Cherokee National Forest).

Luka, excited for his first camping trip.

Luka, excited for his first camping trip.

Waiting on Jimmie at Walmart

Waiting on Jimmie at Walmart

IndianBoundaryCampground

As luck would have it, there were a few cancellations at the campground, so we snagged a spot and made camp. We spent the rest of Friday getting settled in and eating hot dogs…the staple of any camping trip!

Saturday we headed down to the river so Jimmie could do some fishing. Luka and I read by the river, and were surrounded by butterflies. Literally dozens of them. I need to look them up to find out what kind they were…but they were everywhere!

 

IMG_1881

 

Just a handful of the butterflies swarming us by the river!

Just a handful of the butterflies swarming us by the river!

Close-up of one of the butterflies. Anyone know what this is? Not a Monarch, I know that much.

Close-up of one of the butterflies. Anyone know what this is? Not a Monarch, I know that much.

Sadly, Jimmie wasn’t able to catch anything. At that point we were both pretty tired, so we took a nice nap….let me tell you, there’s nothing better than napping in the middle of the day.

After the nap, I decided that the majority of what you do when camping is either eat or prepare to eat. Seriously.

And here’s where I have to brag…I STARTED THE FIRE FROM COALS!!!!!!! No, it wasn’t pretty. But I did it!!!! I was so proud of myself I took a picture:

The fire I started!!

The fire I started!!

Dinner was veggie packets, corn on the cob, and pork tenderloin. YUM. Followed by S’mores and guitar playing, and staying up late talking about anything and everything. We left Sunday, feeling both tired and refreshed.

It felt good to get away. It felt good to connect on a level that didn’t involve computers or television or anything other than conversation. It felt good to go spur of the moment. And it felt good to be outside, marveling at the beauty around me, spending time with those I love, and feeling at peace. I’ll take that.