As the weather begins to get warmer and the sun stays high in the sky longer, we hope your thoughts turn to camping and outdoor activities on your national forests and grasslands.
Whether you are camping on the ground, in a tent or in a recreational vehicle, whether it’s your first time or you’re a seasoned recreationist, there are ways to prepare before heading outdoors to create an unforgettable experience.
Much of your preparation depends on the type of camp setting you choose. Options range from primitive – meaning no amenities such as toilets, potable water or electricity – to highly developed sites with running water, showers, full electrical hook-ups and other modern conveniences.
You should also be aware of your own outdoors skills when selecting a site or activity. That could mean the difference between relaxing by a solitary campfire roasting marshmallows as you listen for a coyote howling in the distance or a more social setting with a sense of safety and security in a large developed site with creature comforts.
For any recreationist, planning is the key to ensure an outing with lasting memories. Whatever outdoor recreation setting you choose, the U.S. Forest Service has the variety. The agency has more than 10,000 developed sites across the nation, it hosts millions of acres that allow camping in less developed or primitive sites and it manages 36 million acres of designated wilderness but with more restrictions on how you use the land.
Before your trip, research which forest or grassland has the setting you seek. You also should be highly aware of weather conditions for the time of year and elevation of your destination, and prepare accordingly. In Colorado’s Pike National Forest for example, it’s not unusual for snow to fall in spring or summer nor is it unusual for a hail storm to pelt unsuspecting recreationists, so dressing in layers and carrying extra clothing is a must.
Recreation.gov is a smart starting place. This website is a one-stop shop for trip planning, information sharing and reservations; it’s the federal government gateway to discover America’s outdoors. The site offers advance reservations at 2,500 federal areas for more than 60,000 facilities.
Once you have your destination in mind and have made appropriate reservations, it’s time to check your equipment.
You should know exactly what to bring and the condition of your equipment before leaving home. Are your clothes, tent and sleeping bag suitable for the elements? Does any of your equipment need to be repaired? Have you put fresh batteries in your flashlights and do you have a backup? Does your first-aid kit need to be replenished or refreshed? The Coconino National Forest in Arizona has published the Safety and Outdoor Ethics checklists to help people prepare for outdoor adventures.
Limited or no equipment? That may not be a problem. Cabins are a great way to experience camping without a huge investment in tents, travel trailers or motorhomes. Rental cabins are available in some locations. Check with the supervisor’s office of your preferred forest or grassland or go online at recreation.gov to see if there are cabins available for rent.
Plan a menu then buy groceries. There’s nothing better than the taste of food cooked over a camp stove or open campfire. Make a grocery list so you will remember to bring all that you’ll need. In remote areas stores may be a long distance or may not stock the items you want. Many developed campsites provide a grill and fire ring, but you might also want to bring a camping stove. Check on any restrictions before bringing fire wood. On longer trips, ice coolers are a necessity to keep perishable foods fresh.
A very important item to include on your list is any medication you need.
There’s no better experience than sleeping under the stars on a cool spring or summer night to renew your body, mind and spirit.
Your national forests and grasslands are waiting for you to make your own experience.