Camping season is upon us

Children will soon be out of school for summer vacation. Temperatures are warming up, and the days are longer. For many, this month will include the first camping trip of the year. Camping can either be a disaster or provide some great memories. What you do to prepare will determine if the experience is a good or bad one.

Make plans

There are no guarantees that your first camping trip of the year will be a good one, but planning in advance helps. Because many families will camp throughout the summer, campgrounds can fill up in a hurry. Try to make reservations ahead of time, which allows you to go straight to your reserved site and not gamble on whether one will even be available.

What you want and need

It helps to consider what you and your family enjoy doing when camping so that you can choose the best campground. If your family likes to fish, a good lake with fishing available is nice. If you would rather hike the trails through the forest, prioritize your search for a campground that has hiking trails. The same is true for campers who enjoy biking and horseback riding. There are plenty of state parks that will have what you are looking for. However, it will take a little homework to find the best spot for you and your family.

To help narrow down your search for the perfect state park, look no further than the Department of Natural Resources website at dnr.illinois.gov. It provides everything you need to know about each park, including activities available and how to reserve a campsite or shelter.

Something else to consider is if you want a campsite with electricity. It does cost extra for a site with electricity, but it comes in handy if you want to use a coffee pot, fan or enjoy other luxuries. Also look at the location of restrooms and shower houses in proximity to your campsite. This might sound minor, but it is nice to be near these facilities.

To research camping sites across the U.S., go to reserveamerica.com and input where you want to explore.

If you cannot get into a state park, there are plenty of private campgrounds throughout the state. Most lakes in the state have campgrounds near the water. Another option is one of the many rivers that wind through Illinois.

With a couple of phone calls, it is easy to gain permission to camp on the banks of a river. Some of my favorite memories have come from camping along the river with family and friends and setting bank poles and trotlines for catfish. Wherever you camp, always respect the land and carry out your trash.

Be prepared

Once you have decided where to camp, you need to make sure you have everything you need. Double-check your camping gear, especially if you have not used it this year. Check your tent, sleeping bags, tarps, cooking supplies, camp stove and other gear to be sure it is in good shape. Also, make sure to bring enough food for the entire trip. I would rather be camping than making unnecessary trips to the store. Also, do not make the mistake of thinking you can catch enough fish to sustain your needs – you might just go hungry.

Final thoughts

A good trip can quickly turn bad. Be sure to pack sunscreen, insect repellent, toiletries, personal camping gear, clothing for any weather changes, rain gear and recreational gear. Camping is meant to be fun. Do your homework to find the best spot for your needs and enjoy the memories.

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