Filed under: Campgrounds & RV Parks, Family Camping, Family Weekend Trips, Kid-Friendly Trips, RVing with Grand Kids, Tent Campgrounds
10 Quick, Easy Weekends
Winter break is gone and the kids are back in school. Your vacation time has all been used up. You are getting that head-down, slumped-shoulders sort of posture that clearly indicates you’re in serious outdoor-recreation withdrawal. But what can you do? Between parents’ job commitments and the kids’ renewed academic and sports demands, there’s little time left for camping trips.
However, there are some great places to go camping that are closer to home than you might have thought. We’ve highlighted more than 25 fun places within a couple hours’ drive of 10 major metropolitan areas across the United States. Any of these can make the perfect, quick and easy weekend getaway!
Weekend Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota Camping
The “Twin Cities,” as this Minnesota metro area is referred to, lies in the heart of one of the great outdoor-recreation states. Within minutes of downtown St. Paul, you can be at Lake Elmo Park Reserve Campground, a 105-site (80 drive-in, 20 equestrian, 5 walk-in) camp located on 206-acre Lake Elmo. You’ll find wide open spaces, rolling hills, and small stands of woodlands in this pleasant park.
Lake Elmo Park Reserve: 651/430-8370; co.washington.mn.us. Other favorites close by are Wild River State Park Campground, situated along the beautiful (great for canoeing and fishing) St. Croix River; and the Red Pine Family Campground, a full-service county park well suited for kids, but with a wild Northwoods flavor.
Wild River: 651/583-2125; 866/85-PARKS; stayatmnparks.com. Red Pine: 763/559-6700; threeriversparkdistrict.org.
Weekend Seattle,Washington Camping
This is too easy! All you have to do is step outside your home and you’ll practically trip over a great place to camp this weekend. Our top picks in the area, though, would have to be the Kanaskat-Palmer Recreation Area, Sequim (pronounced “squim“) Bay State Park, and Olympic National Park. Kanaskat-Palmer Recreation Area, a part of the Green River Gorge Conservation Area, offers steelhead fishing, rafting, tubing, kayaking, hiking and wildlife watching in a dense, second-growth forest.
Kanaskat-Palmer: 360/886-0148. You’ll have to hop the ferry out to the Olympic Peninsula to get to Sequim Bay State Park and Olympic National Park, but it’s well worth the effort. Sequim Bay is a seaside camp with boating and fishing access; the Olympic offers a wild coastline, huge stands of “old growth“ forests, and the only “temperate rain forest“ in the continental U.S.
Sequim: 888/CAMP-OUT (888/226-7688); parks.wa.gov.
Olympic: 800/833-6388; nps.gov/olym.
Weekend Los Angeles, California Camping
It’s the city everyone loves to hate, so much so that they just keep moving there. If you do find yourself a resident,the natives will tell you about two great places to go for weekend camping trips: Joshua Tree National Park and Leo Carillo State Beach. Joshua Tree National Park defies notions of what a desert is supposed to be. Sure, summers are hot, but this high-elevation park offers lush wildflowers and abundant wildlife during the spring months, cool breezes in the fall, and snow on the nearby peaks during winter.
Joshua Tree: 760/367-5500; nps.gov/jotr. At the other extreme is oceanside Leo Carillo (pronounced “kaw-ree-o“) State Beach, about an hour north of the city. You can hike in the sycamore- and oak-lined canyon, splash in the surf, sun on the beach, or explore the sea caves.
Leo Carillo: 800/444-PARK; parks.ca.gov.
Weekend Denver, Colorado Camping
Located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Denver has much to offer the outdoor-enthusiast family. Within a few hours you can be in one of our personal favorites, Rocky Mountain National Park. Once there, you’ll find sky-scraping peaks and crystal-clear streams and lakes all about you.
Rocky Mountain: 800/365-2267; nps.gov/romo. A trio of exceptional state parks is also within easy driving distance of the Denver metro area: Mueller State Park, Steamboat Lake State Park and Golden Gate State Park. Of these, our favorite is Mueller State Park (east into the mountains from Colorado Springs), as it glows golden with autumn-kissed aspens in the fall, and is close to Pike’s Peak, a great daytrip for the entire family.
Colorado State Parks: 800/678- CAMP; coloradoparks.org.
Weekend Boston, Massachusetts Camping
Beyond the historic avenues and boulevards of Boston, you wouldn’t expect to find anything so uncivilized as a great place to go camping. But luckily for those tired of dealing with Boston’s snarled traffic, there are a couple of excellent quick getaways close by. Harold Parker State Forest and Waquoit Bay Nature Preserve will help unwind your tightly sprung mental clock. Harold Parker State Park is just minutes from town, but miles away in character. The 90-site campground features a pond full of life and is located in a forest of white pine and mixed deciduous trees that are, in places, so dense as to feel primeval in its thick cover and dark, cool, dampness.
Harold Parker: 978/475-7972; 877/422- 6762; reserveamerica.com. Waquoit Bay Nature Preserve on Washburn Island is located in the mouth of the Childs River near shore on the northern tip of Cape Cod. It’s quiet and remote, normally easy to boat or paddle to, and can be reached in a hurry.
Waquoit Bay: 508/457-0495; 877/422-6762; reserveamerica.com.
Weekend Las Vegas, Nevada Camping
One of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and party capital of the world, the megatropolis of Las Vegas is also neighbor to the second highest peak (Mt. Charleston at 11,918 feet) in Nevada and some of the most dramatic red-rock scenery in the world. Our favorite “off-the-strip“ camping spots take advantage of these two features. There are five campgrounds (we most like Fletcher View and Kyle Canyon) in the Spring Mountains shadowed by Mt. Charleston. It can be 20 degrees cooler up there than down in Vegas. Valley of Fire State Park, an hour north of the city, is a wonderland of magenta-hued stone gardens. Be in Valley of Fire for sunset.
Spring Mountains: 702/515-5400; reserveamerica.com.
Valley of Fire: 702/397-2088; parks.nv.gov.
Weekend Atlanta, Georgia Camping
This down-South hot bed of culture has its fair share of great quick-and-easy getaways. One of the most magnificent is the monolithic mountain top sticking out of the Earth’s surface called Stone Mountain. The park’s pine-wooded grounds are prime camping country. The mountain and its massive, 400-foot-high carving of three Confederate Civil War heroes, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall“ Jackson, is awe inspiring.
Stone Mountain Park: 770/498-5690; 800/317-2006; stonemountainpark.com/. One of the closest is Sweetwater Creek State Park, just a dozen miles outside the city limits. This wilderness park offers nine miles of hiking trails; the ruins of a textile mill burned during the Civil War to explore; a 215-acre lake with fishing and boating; and playgrounds great for kids. Some other favorites a little farther from town are woodsy and cool Vogel State Park, and breezy seaside Fort McAllister State Park.
Georgia State Parks: 800/864-7275; gastateparks.org.
Weekend New York, New York Camping
Who would have known? Great camping within arms’ reach of the “Big Apple.“ One of these greats turns out to be the highest point in a neighboring state — High Point Monument, New Jersey, at 1803 feet above sea level — less than 60 miles outside of the city. High Point State Park offers 50 tent-only sites in an area of rocky ridges and scenic views overlooking the Poconos to the west and the Catskills to the north.
High Point: 973/875-4800; state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests. A few other nearby gems are Wildwood State Park in New York, about 70 miles away from the city and overlooking Long Island Sound, and Hitcher Hills State Park all the way out at the tip in Montauk, offering remote woodlands and beaches.
New York State Parks: Long Island Region info; 631/669-1000; nysparks.state.ny.us/parks.
Weekend St. Louis, Missouri Camping
After you’ve “done“ the famous Gateway Arch and Museum of Western Expansion on the riverfront, grab some takeout ribs and head out of St. Louis for either Klondike Park or Cuivre River State Park. Klondike Park is new (2004) and occupies the site of an old quarry. The now re-forested St. Charles County Park is simply gorgeous and offers 41 tent-only sites. A catchand- release lake is adjacent, and five miles of hiking trails lead through the wooded park.
Klondike Park: 636/949-7535; stccparks.org/klondike.htm. Cuivre River State Park is nearly 7000 acres of ridges, hollows and streams more typical of the Ozarks in the southern end of the state. Facilities include 52 basic, 28 electric, 34 full hookup and 14 equestrian campsites.
Cuivre River: 636/528-7247; mostateparks.com/cuivre.htm.
Weekend Chicago, Illinois Camping
You don’t have to blow too far from the “Windy City” to find great camping. The Indiana Dunes are indeed in Indiana, but within an hour’s drive of Chicago. The campground lies behind the huge moraine dune left by glacial retreat at the foot of Lake Michigan. From the top of the dune you can see for miles across the lake, and the shoreline is your playground.
Indiana Dunes info: 219/926-1952; in.gov/dner/parklake/index.html. Reservations: 866/622-6746; camp.IN.gov. Other close retreats in the state of Illinois are Kankakee River State Park and Starved Rock State Park. Kankakee provides access to 11 miles of its namesake river for boating and fishing, and features a waterfall and dozens of trails.
Kankakee River: 815/933-1383. Starved Rock has more than 100 campsites and is remarkable for its high bluffs overlooking the Illinois River. It offers a wide variety of hiking trails among the steep canyons.
Starved Rock: 815/667-4726.
DNR/Illinois State Parks: 217/782- 6302; dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/PARKS.
Story courtesy of Camping Life Magazine.
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