Autumn is ideal camping season: the leaves are turning brilliant colors, the mornings are crisp and cool, rain isn’t as likely to spoil your trip, and chilly evenings are ideal for campfires. Before you pack up your tent and hiking gear, here are some things to keep in mind about what to do (and what not to do) when on a camping trip:
First, remember that you are surrounded by wilderness and wildlife – even if you are camping in a state or national park surrounded by other campers. Keep your food put up and away! I’ll never forget camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains at an organized campground. For some reason, other campers didn’t want to open the door on the gate that surrounded the garbage bins, so they were hurling watermelon rinds and other debris over the fence instead of going in and putting it in the secure bins. It didn’t take long for the bears to come and investigate … we kept a safe distance until they decided to leave, but this creates a dangerous situation (for the campers and the bears). Store food properly and remember – if it smells good, it’s attractive, so keep lotions, soaps, and even toothpaste in a secured container.
Don’t feed the bears (or any other animal). One evening, while roasting marshmallows over a campfire, we noticed a pair of eyes. They would disappear and then pop up, closer to our campsite each time. When he finally got close enough, we realized it was a large raccoon – a very tame raccoon that didn’t seem to have any fear of us at all. We realized that his lack of fear was probably due to other campers feeding him. This is a very bad idea and most campgrounds have rules against it for your safety and for that of the animals.
Clean up after your pet! Being able to take pets is one of the reasons my family has always enjoyed camping trips. We don’t have to worry about finding pet-friendly hotels or be concerned that our pets won’t be welcome somewhere. But irresponsible pet owners make it much more difficult for everyone – and it could lead to less pet-friendly parks.
Keep your pets leashed, as well! Sure, you know your Great Dane is a sweet, dopey love-muffin, but the little kids playing in the next campsite won’t know that, and they may be frightened when your pup dashes over to investigate them. It’s also for your pet’s safety, as well – you don’t want him chasing after that too-tame raccoon or squirrel and end up getting lost – or even bitten.
Don’t arrive after dark. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but setting up a tent in the dark is difficult. It is also a noisy process and other campers are trying to enjoy a peaceful evening. If you have kids, assembling your campsite will leave them at loose ends, and they may decide to start running around or shouting – not something other campers who are trying to sleep want to hear.
Speaking of noise, be considerate – not everyone loves the music you are blasting from your speakers. They also don’t want to hear your dog’s constant barking, your toddler crying, or your cell phone going off every five minutes. Some of these things can’t be helped, but try to deal with the situation quickly and keep the noise down after dark. During one unfortunate camping trip, we were set up near a very large, noisy family reunion – complete with a karaoke machine. The bad singing carried on well past midnight, keeping the entire campground awake. While you’re there to have fun, please be aware that you are in a public space – and tents aren’t the least bit sound-proof.
Follow campground rules. They are there for the safety of all campers – if the water pump is labeled “non-potable” – it isn’t drinkable. Dispose of soapy water, etc. in the proper locations to avoid contaminating nearby rivers and streams. Pick up your trash and dispose of it properly. Don’t wander off marked trails, and let someone know your itinerary if you are planning a backcountry hiking trip.
Leave no trace – the saying “leave only footprints” means leaving the environment exactly as you found it. Not just your campsite, but everywhere you go within the park. Don’t leave your soft drink or beer cans by the water where you were sunbathing, don’t toss that plastic bag aside on the hiking trail, and don’t leave fishing line tangled up in the grass at the edge of the lake.
Take a first-aid kit, rain gear, and extra clothing. Emergencies do occur, so be prepared. Even if it is just a scraped knee on your four-year-old, you’ll both be happier if you are able to clean, apply ointment, and bandage the injury.
Keep a few back-up supplies in the car. We’ve camped through many thunderstorms. One struck unexpectedly during the middle of the night and the bottom of our tent was soon covered in water – so was everything else. Luckily, I had an emergency bin in the back of the car with extra clothing and supplies. (Don’t forget extra shoes – especially if you have kids. My sons can’t go on a camping trip without someone’s shoes getting stuck in the mud, getting soaking wet from leaving them out in the rain or stepping in water, etc.)
And finally, be careful with fires. Keep your fires in the fire ring and be sure to put it out before you turn in for the night. Don’t toss trash onto your fire, and remember – you don’t need to build the world’s greatest bonfire. Keep your fire small and don’t leave it unattended.
Where is your favorite place to go camping? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook!