How to plan a summer camping trip

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Vayda at a campsite
Vayda posing for a picture at her campsite over the weekend. (Sara Welch photo)

My daughter Vayda and I spent the weekend exploring Hocking Hills — or as much of it as we could squeeze in one weekend. The trip was a birthday present. She turned 10 in February and I thought that milestone should be met with a special gift. It was actually our first camping trip on our own.

I have to admit when I booked it I was a little intimidated at the thought of the two of us being 3 hours from home camping on our own, but I knew we could figure it out. We’re pretty outdoorsy and we’ve been camping before. The biggest unknown was the weather because I reserved the site in January.

Make reservations well in advance

That brings me to my first tip — make your reservations well in advance. If you wait until the weekend before you want to go, a lot of campgrounds, especially at state parks, will be booked up. Some campgrounds reserve spaces for walk-ins, but you risk all the walk-in spaces being taken when you arrive. And you don’t have the privilege of picking the site you want when you don’t plan ahead.

Many campgrounds, even private campgrounds, have maps available to show you the amenities offered at and near each campsite as well as the natural features around it. When I chose my campsite my priorities were seclusion and a desire to be on the Hocking River, so I gave up on-site electricity and proximity to flush toilets and showers. Ultimately, it’s personal preference but it’s nice to be able to pick exactly where you want to pitch your tent, especially if you are traveling a distance to get there.

Finding a place to camp

Finding a place to camp is a personal decision. Are you just going for the experience? Do you want to go somewhere close to home? Do you have a list? Are you more interested in recreation or sightseeing? Do you prefer the forest, the lake, the desert, the mountains or the ocean? Are you traveling with children? All of these questions can determine where you might go camping.

When I chose Hocking Hills it was because it was one of the places on my list of places to visit in Ohio, it wasn’t too far from home, I knew there would be kayaking opportunities down there, Vayda and I love the forest and we wanted to check out the caves that Hocking Hills is known for.

You can browse camping opportunities and make reservations at state parks in Ohio by visiting the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ campgrounds page.

After I booked the trip we bought Hocking Hills Day Hikes to see what we might want to see. Vayda picked five or six different hikes recommended in the book and we settled on Old Man’s Cave because we really only had enough time for one hike and it is the most popular.

Researching where you’re going

Finding recreational activities like hiking, kayaking, tubing, canoeing, ziplining, zorbing, etc is just one reason to research the place you’ll be camping before you go. Knowing the camping rules and regulations is another reason.

Most likely the campground will have its own set of rules and the individual county and state you are camping in will have regulations you need to follow. 

The private campground we stayed at only allowed alcoholic beverages on individual sites, but not at the beach or any shared public space in the campground. However, it said nothing about glass bottles being prohibited, which many campgrounds don’t allow. Every campground will have its own standard set of rules to review before camping. They let you know everything from whether pets are allowed to how many tents you can pitch on one site. It’s a good idea to review them beforehand, so you know what to pack beforehand.

State and county departments may also have regulations that apply to your stay. Vayda and I had to buy wood from the office at the campgrounds upon arrival because in Ohio you can’t transport wood across county lines due to the risk of spreading the emerald ash borer. I also had to renew my fishing license through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources before we left, so we could fish in public waterways while we were down there.

As you’re planning activities and things you want to do, visit the local department that manages the upkeep and oversight of the state parks in the area to ensure you’re following all the guidelines while you’re there.

Mapping out your trip

It’s easy to rely on smartphones for everything. Having a computer in your pocket is pretty convenient. However, when you’re camping you don’t always have cell phone service.

That’s why it’s a good idea to map your trip to and from the campground out before you leave, along with anywhere you might like to visit while you’re down there. All I did was take screenshots of the recommended directions in Google Maps to keep on my phone for the weekend in case I lost service. But you can also print directions or actually use a physical map like travelers used to do.

It’s also worth noting that satellite-driven GPS systems generally still work where cell phone service ends. My car GPS worked the entire trip, even when my cell phone was out of commission. Just make sure you update your maps before you leave or entrances to places may not be exactly where you’re told to turn (we made a couple of quick lefts when the GPS told us .5 miles ahead.

Packing for your trip

Packing depends on how long you want to stay, what types of activities you’re planning to do, what the weather is like and what you feel comfortable wearing. The list I have compiled is the one Vayda and I worked off of for a Friday-night-to-Sunday-afternoon trip.

Supplies

  • Battery Pack
  • Extension cord
  • Cooler
  • Hatchet
  • Chairs
  • Marshmallow roasting sticks
  • Hobo pie cooker
  • Can opener
  • Spatula
  • Toilet paper (I don’t rely on campgrounds to supply it)
  • Paper towels
  • Paper plates
  • Plastic utensils
  • Spare batteries (for flashlights, radios, etc)
  • Playing cards
  • Bug Spray
  • Firestarters
  • Sun Screen
  • Battery-powered radio (with a good antenna)
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bags
  • Air mattress
  • Pillows
  • Extra blankets
  • Clorox wipes
  • Flashlights
  • Lantern
  • Clothes
  • Bathing suits
  • Towels and washcloths
  • Sandals, tennis shoes and hiking boots
  • Backpack
  • Shower stuff
  • First aid kit
  • Fishing gear
  • Cash (some places only take cash)

Grocery List

  • Ice
  • Bottled water
  • Gatorade
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Granola bars
  • GoGo Squeez applesauce (no spoons required)
  • Cheese balls
  • Cheez-Its
  • Poptarts
  • Lunchmeat
  • Hotdogs
  • Bread
  • Buns
  • Pie filling
  • Pizza sauce
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Pepperoni
  • American cheese
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Non-stick spray
  • Butter

Things to buy when we get there

  • Firewood
  • Fishing bait

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, Ohio, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

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