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Go out and play! Plan for a camping experience

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The view through a window of an abandoned cabin in Colorado. Photo by Kemp Nussbaum

Car camping – whether at a park with reserved campsites or in wilderness areas off dirt roads – can bring great enjoyment to the entire family if it’s done right.

Using your car to haul gear improves the experience as you are limited in what you can bring only by the size of your car.

Camping can bring your family closer and provide enriching experiences such as sleeping in fresh air beneath the stars, hiking along rivers, climbing mountains, swimming in lakes or taking part in your choice of outdoor fun.

When my children were young, I would take them about 10 miles to a state park to camp. These were some of the most memorable experiences of being a dad. We would hike the trails, build fires, tell stories, play flashlight tag, burp out loud (only allowed around the campfires) and chase raccoons out of the campsite in the middle of the night.

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Having an organized campsite makes getaways that much easier. Photo by Kemp Nussbaum

This summer and fall, my wife and I decided to reserve every weekend for car camping so we can explore the great state we live in. Whenever anyone asks us about our weekend plans, we merely respond, “We will be out of town,” whether we have plans or not. This keeps us focused on never committing a weekend, allowing us to meet our goal to explore, learn and see whatever is accessible by four-wheel-drive.

We planned and organized so that we could mobilize quickly with all the important – and some less important – items. Here is our advice on how to be ready to go on short notice:

  • Create a camp box or boxes. We have camping boxes to store all the essentials. One box includes cooking (pan, spoon, spatula, fire starter, matches, soap, towels) and eating utensils (plates, napkins.) We also throw in flashlights, bug repellant, toiletries, sunscreen and a first aid kit. A second box holds sleeping bags, pads, tents and tarps. When we’re ready to leave, we merely toss the boxes in the truck. Note: Following each trip, we take time to clean up and replace necessary supplies.
  • Prepare food for camp cooking. I have become a huge fan of smoked meats because they are already cooked and tend to last longer. Precook items such as potatoes so that whipping up an awesome stir fry can be easy. Grate sweet potatoes for hash and dice and package onions and other veggies. Bacon and eggs are always a breakfast essential, and please don’t forget the dog food for your canine companions. Cooking is much easier if you have a small gas stove, but cooking over an open fire is always an option.
  • Have a plan. We chose areas of Colorado and specifically forest service roads with national forest, wilderness areas and Bureau of Land Management areas for camping. You might choose specific state parks or private campgrounds to explore based on activity options for the family or the need for plumbing. Whether you have children, pets or neither can make a huge difference in your choices. Having an idea of what you want to do in advance will make getting out the door that much easier. Consider calling to reserve a spot if you plan to visit a popular campground destination or be prepared to change your plans to find a place to sleep. Which leads to the next point…
  • Be flexible. There have been many evening drives where we just didn’t feel like roughing it and pushed on to the next hotel. These have been the greatest decisions each time, especially on multi-day trips where the experience of a warm shower and comfy bed are tough to beat.
  • Be a good camping citizen by following the rules where you are camping. Campfires, pets, shooting and quiet times are some issues to take into account. Colorado and other states have “no burn” rules to help prevent forest fires when fire danger is high. Some campgrounds, including most national parks, don’t allow pets. Wilderness areas and some other places allow shooting, which can ruin the experience if you’re not expecting it. And most campgrounds have quiet times to allow for sleeping. Always practice the “leave no trace” philosophy by leaving the camp cleaner than you found it. Such a practice is becoming more critical in large popular camping areas to help sustain the experience for all.

So get out there and enjoy the experience.

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