To be completely honest, the first time we decided to go camping I wasn’t quite sold on the idea. We stayed in a basic cabin at a campground halfway between Haymarket and Baltimore, where my family lives. The cabin was primitive but charming – two beds inside and not much more. It snowed and I froze. I’m the kind of person who would rather sweat to death than freeze. And that’s exactly what happened on our next camping trip. It was sweltering hot so we spent the weekend in bathing suits and I loved every minute of it.
My family began camping more often and whoever was able to join us would meet at whatever campground was decided on in Virginia, Maryland, or Pennsylvania. This became a way for us to get together away from all of our busy, life responsibilities. With no distractions, there is nothing standing in the way of conversations and making memories. My parents then purchased a camper, which only cemented the fact that we were now official camping people.
The most exciting part about a camping weekend is waiting for everyone to arrive and getting things set up. Immediately, the kids begin exploring. When you check in, you receive a sheet of paper that lists the activities by the hour for the whole weekend. The kids read it out loud and each of them gets excited over the one they’re most interested in. We make a tentative plan to get everyone where they need to be to take advantage of as many activities as possible. But in between these activities is where the magic happens.
The area that surrounds your campsite is a treasure trove of things for kids to explore. We bring a yard-sale purchased metal detector that has created so much fun for them in finding objects and running back to show us what they dug up. The best part – there isn’t a single Kindle or iPad or any connected device in sight and they don’t ask for them. In my family, there are six cousins ranging in age from three to 11. But even with this age range, they all find ways to play together and explore. They catch frogs, carve sticks, gather wood for the fire, and collect rocks. The older ones make sure the younger ones are safe while the adults check in but mostly let them roam.
The daylight hours are mostly spent doing what the kids want to do but when darkness comes, it’s adult time. Exhausted from the full day, the kids settle in to watch a movie or retire to their sleeping areas. By this time, the fire is roaring and we form a circle around it in our chairs. The conversation flows and the laughs are endless. Unlike a beach vacation that you wait all year for, these weekends can be enjoyed more often. And while I would love to camp with friends too, the fact that it allows me to be with my family really seals the deal for me.
My favorite time of camping is the morning. While the rest of my extended family stays in their campers, my husband and I, our two kids and two dogs sleep in a big tent. There is just something about waking up in nature, with the birds chirping and the sounds of a campground awakening. The smell of fresh coffee brewing makes you want to get up early and we all gather around in our pajamas and messy hair to enjoy the best part of waking up. If we’re lucky, the kids sleep a little bit longer and then appear and begin asking for breakfast. By now, you can smell which fellow campers are making bacon over the fire or frying eggs. My dad’s coffee and my mom’s biscuits and gravy are the best breakfast for me though. Once the food is hot, we all line up and fill our plates and talk about what the day will bring.
Before a trip, we plan out meals and make sure we have what we need and that everyone contributes and commits to making a lunch or dinner. The recipes we choose are designed to spend the least amount of time cooking, which has been much easier now with the portable Instant Pot – a staple for camping – and electric skillets.
One favorite camp food is walking tacos. While the recipes vary, it is basically a delicious twist on tacos that involves eating out of individual chip bags. Everyone makes their own version by choosing which toppings they want. Kids love it too because… well… tacos.
One of our family traditions is taking a Halloween camping trip each Fall. Many campgrounds host Halloween-themed weekends in October. The kids dress up and trick-or-treat through the whole campground, and then participate in costume contests, pumpkin carving, crafts, and so much more. Nature is particularly beautiful in the fall, and just being in it makes the weekend that much more enjoyable.
When choosing a campground, there are a few factors that will make your decision for you. One is location. Here in Virginia, there are so many within a reasonable drive that this might not narrow it down for you. Seasoned campers know the ins and outs of each campground and even where the best sites are. But for beginners, sometimes you just have to start slow and learn as you go. I never would have thought I’d enjoy tent camping so for years we stayed in cabins. Some campgrounds have many cabin options, but others don’t. Some cabins have the bare minimum while others have refrigerators and bathrooms. And don’t let anyone tell you this is ‘glamping’ – the time spent outdoors is still time well spent.
For tent camping and basic cabins, proximity to the bathhouse is pretty essential. For cabins with more amenities, you may want to look at the campground map and choose the one closest to where you think you’ll spend more of your time or decide whether you want to be in a quiet area or a more busy one.
At Yogi Bear’s Jellystone in Luray, we loved the cabins at the edge of a large field near the outdoor movie theatre and playground. But at Harpers Ferry KOA, we stayed conveniently close to the pool. Greenville Family Farm right here in Haymarket may be a great option for trying out camping but there are no cabins. Our first tent camping experience was at Ramblin Pines in Maryland where we were down the street from the jumping pillow but close to the bathhouse. More recently we camped in Bull Run Regional Park on a cul-de-sac near the bathhouse and the playground. The kids rode bikes and played for hours. There is a nighttime nature walk through the trails and animal adventure groups. My 11-year-old son talked for weeks about the snake he held around his neck and the many creatures we saw in the woods.
At least once a week my three-year-old asks when we are going camping again. I was happy to tell her about the reservations we booked at the Cape Charles KOA this July. Our long weekend at this resort campground with a private beach on the Chesapeake Bay is sure to be another opportunity to make cherished memories with the ones we love most.