Getting into the great outdoors

CampingI look forward to camping with my family more than any other summer activity. We’ve viewed landscapes in national and state parks all over California and, in doing so, have picked up tips along the way that have made subsequent trips easier, safer and more enjoyable. (How quickly can you say air mattress?)

There are things you learn quickly as a camping novice, like the ground is hard, cold and damp. Some things, however, take a little longer to discover. The following tips are sure to make you a happy camper this summer.

Book online

Many campsites, such as state and national parks and many privately run sites, offer online booking, but dates fill up fast, especially around holidays. Look for availability starting 6 to 9 months before your planned trip. Sure, there are “first come-first-served” campsites, but do you really want to take your chances in the middle of your getaway?

Print out maps

Print out destination maps beforehand if your campground is at a higher elevation or far off the beaten path. You can’t always depend on your cell phone for directions at locations where cell service is minimal, and you don’t want your long drive to get even longer.

Cook over a campfire

Cooking hot dogs on sticks over a crackling fire is an enjoyable experience unto itself, but, by bringing a cast iron skillet and heavy-duty aluminum foil, you can enjoy items such as pizzas on large pita or naan bread, fajitas, skillet lasagna (with pre-cooked pasta), shrimp and veggie foil packets, grilled cheese – and even fruit cobblers in Dutch ovens. If you need creative cooking tips, an internet search for “camping recipes” returns a bounty of ideas.

Lock up your food

Keep trouble-making wildlife away by storing all food in coolers or locked in sturdy containers. If you’re in bear country, use the animal-resistant lockers that many campsites provide. If there are no lockers, you can hang a bag of food from a high tree branch. The National Park Service cautions against storing food overnight in vehicles while in bear country.

Put safety first

Camping in the wilderness doesn’t equate to spending an evening in your back yard. With a few extra steps you’ll be in the know for nearly anything the outdoors throws at you:

  • Campfires—pack a bucket to douse your fire with water at the end of the night. Use a camp shovel to smother the embers with dirt or sand to ensure there are no sparks.
  • Bugs—use a natural or chemical bug repellent for bugs and ticks. If you don’t like using chemicals, the Centers for Disease Control have information on natural products to help keep ticks away. Speaking of ticks, check your body during the day for ticks, and immediately remove any you may find.
  • First aid kit—cuts, scrapes and bruises are inevitable. Stock a kit with antiseptic wipes, antibacterial ointment, nonstick sterile pads, blister treatment, insect sting treatment, antihistamines, fine-point tweezers and a first aid manual. Include bandages and gauze.

Below are further resource pages to help in your camp preparations. Here’s to a safe and fun camping experience!

Online Campsite Booking—

Camping Safety—




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Lisa Engber-Shomo