Saturday, August 18, 2012

Gear Review: Coleman Camp Oven

Since we don't have any trips planned for August, I thought now would be a good time to post about one of my new favorite pieces of camping gear - our Coleman Camp Oven.  It was #1 on my list of items to purchase for the camper in the Spring, however we were lucky enough to receive one as a gift from Uncle Ken & Auntie Barb while we were camping together up at Tolland State Forest this past June - thanks again guys!

Purchased on for a mere $38.99 (with free Super Saver Shipping, of course!) this camp oven is a great buy.  Do a search for "camp ovens" on Amazon and you will see anything ranging from a $30 cast iron dutch oven to the more elaborate $300 propane stove/oven combos.  The reason this particular camp oven caught my eye was not only the low price, but also the rave reviews - 4.4 out of 5 stars from a total of 60 reviewers.  That's not half bad!

The oven measures 12x12x12, which means you can't get too crazy - you've got to keep it small and compact, and you'll need to invest in some 8x8 baking pans if you don't already have them.  Since there's nothing I hate more than washing dishes while camping, I picked up a few foil pans at Ocean State Job Lot for about 25 cents a piece and they were perfect - and more importantly, disposable.

The way it works is simple - place the oven on top of a 2 or 3 burner propane stove and voila - within minutes you're preheating and well on your way to enjoying baked goods at your campsite.  It's important to note that this is NOT recommended for use over the campfire - propane stove only!

Since I'm a sucker for a good breakfast casserole and they are so easy to throw together, I decided that would be the first dish I would try out in the camp oven.  I scrambled up some eggs and threw in some pre-cooked bacon, shredded potatoes, shredded cheese, onion and salt and pepper.  And I mixed them all right in the pan because, again - I just hate washing dishes while camping!

I set the oven on one stove burner and lit the flame to start heating it up.   It began heating quickly, but it became clear after about 15 minutes that the oven wasn't going to go above 200 degrees.  We lit a second burner and moved the oven over a bit so that it sat on both burners.  That did the trick.  After about 10 minutes we had it up to almost 300 degrees.

There are some potential issues with the oven - for instance, on a particularly cold or windy day, it can be difficult to maintain the temperature.  We definitely had a breeze going that morning and I think it contributed to our heating issues.  Reading through some of the Amazon reviews will give you tips and tricks on how to remedy this - some have said they wrapped the oven in foil to keep the heat in.  Another reviewer mentioned that they used automotive heat shielding.  This is certainly not a "set it and forget it" type oven - you have to watch the temp closely.  I recommend purchasing an oven thermometer and placing it inside to get a more accurate temperature reading.

Having said all that, after about 45 minutes I opened the oven door and found this lovely little pan of breakfast deliciousness:

And yes, it tasted as good as it looks.  There was no clean up involved, and one of the best things about this amazing little camping appliance - it folds flat for storage.  Hallelujah!

The Coleman Camp Oven is probably my most favorite new piece of camping equipment this year.  As long as you keep it compact, there is really no end to the baking possibilities - muffins, brownies, cookies, cinnamon rolls, casseroles, a mini lasagna - all while enjoying the great outdoors!  I highly recommend adding this to your list of camping gear.  Happy camp cooking!

Monday, August 6, 2012

West Thompson Lake Campground, North Grosvenor Dale, CT

We had yet another great trip up to West Thompson Lake campground late in July with good friends!  The weather cooperated, Sarah's "mystery camping illness" stayed away, we had water and electric hook ups and the kids had a blast - who could ask for anything more?

Run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (making it a Federal campground, not State owned), West Thompson Lake campground consists of 24 campsites (11 basic sites, 11 sites with water and electric hook ups and 2 lean-to shelters).  They offer bathrooms with hot showers, interpretive hiking trails, a fantastic play ground for the kids, a dump station, a basketball court and horseshoe pits and even sell firewood for a mere $3 a bundle (no ice though!).  While swimming in the lake is prohibited due to water quality issues, a public boat ramp affords boating and fishing enthusiasts access to the 200 acre lake.  The sites can accommodate anything from tents to 45 foot long motor homes.  Basic sites are $15.00 a night, sites with hook ups are only $30.00 a night and the lean to's are $20.00 a night.  Very reasonable!  Reservations (which are offered 6 months in advance) can be made by visiting

This campground is pretty close to immaculate.  We saw the bathrooms being cleaned twice daily by the campgrounds hosts, and while most campground bathrooms come standard with spider webs/moths/creepy crawlies I found myself searching and searching the bathrooms for insects of any sort and would often come up empty handed.  I'm not sure how they do it, but I think they even clean the vaulted ceiling in there.  The Army Corps members are also very attentive to the park - they patrol the campground regularly and are extremely helpful and friendly.  It was obvious our site had been meticulously raked and cleaned before we arrived.  All of the sites here are very level, private and super easy to get into, particularly the ones on the water/electric side.  The sites with no hook ups are a smidge smaller but still a nice size.  And one of my favorite things about this campground is the interactive campground map offered on their website - they have pictures of all the campsites!  It's every trip planner's dream!  Click here to check it out:  West Thompson Lake Interactive Campground Map

The playscape at West Thompson Lake campground

We arrived mid-afternoon on Friday, driving through some pretty heavy rain.  But by the time we pulled into the campground the rain had stopped, meaning we didn't have to get soaked while setting up - always a plus!   Our friends Jen & Art and their 2 boys had arrived just before us and the kids were thrilled to see each other.  We were on Site 5, the same site we stayed on last year.  We like it because it's extra large, close to the bathrooms and close enough to the playground that we can still see the kids from our campsite.  Jen & Art were nextdoor to us on Site 7 with their 33 foot travel trailer and still had a ton of space.

Our set up on Site 5
All 24 campsites were booked this weekend, mainly due to the fact that there was an antique camper club rally going on.  We had a great time watching all the unique campers come in and set up and the club members were very friendly.  On Friday night we walked the campground loop and I couldn't help but take some pictures!

A flag pole and an entire set of Scottish plaid luggage set out in front!

Quite a few very cool tear drop campers!
This one was so small it fit under an EZ up tent!

The dads took the kids fishing every day down at the nearby boat launch and they caught a TON of fish!  This was particularly exciting for my kids - though we had tried and tried on previous trips, they had never caught any fish before this weekend!   Big thanks to Art for bringing REAL worms - I think that did the trick!

We hiked along the lake on Sunday, saw some great scenery and ended up tracking down a couple of geocaches.  These were the same 2 caches we had found last time were there, but it was fun to track them down again and see all the new "swag" that had been placed inside since the last time were there!  Jen, Art and the kids had never gone caching and thought it was great - who doesn't love a good treasure hunt?

Sifting through the geocache goodies

Scenery hiking along West Thompson Lake
Sunday night one of the Army Corps members came around and told us they were going to be hosting an outdoor movie ("Up", complete with a campfire and s'mores) at the amphitheater, so we headed down there with the kids just as it started to get dark.  We didn't make it through the whole movie because the kids were wiped out from the days' activities, but they loved it nonetheless!

And every evening right around dinner time we were visited by this gorgeous guy - a red-tailed hawk that must live in the area and be pretty used to the campers because boy did he let me get up close and personal for a good picture!  The other birds in the area definitely were not happy that he kept stopping by, but we thought it was pretty cool.

I really can't say enough good things about West Thompson Lake - this one is a must do for us every year.  The only thing this place is lacking is swimming and waterfront sites, but there are so many other great things to see and do that you almost don't even notice it.  This is the only campground we visit that has water and electric hook-ups so it is always a treat for us!  We'll be back next year for sure!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tolland State Forest, East Otis, MA

Our most recent camping trip brought us up to Tolland State Forest in East Otis, MA.  This is hands down my favorite place to camp!  I like it so much that I had actually considered coming here and writing a terrible review, just to throw everyone else off the scent and free up more camp sites for us in the future.  Ha!  Fortunately for you guys though, I play fair.  :)

Otis Reservoir, Massachusetts largest recreational lake, is truly awesome.  It's huge!  And the campground is located on a small little peninsula that juts out into the lake, meaning they have plenty of waterfront sites.  Some are better than others, some are tent only sites and ALL of them are popular.  Watch the 6 month booking window closely and have a plan in place and you should be able to get a pretty decent site on the water.  Photos of all the sites at Tolland State Forest can be found at

We arrived on Thursday on the tail end of this year's first heat wave.  Setting up in 90 degree heat is NOT fun.  Having a waterfront site during a heat wave is though!  We were on site 23, the same site we stayed on last year, and it was great.  The site slopes a bit toward the water though so it took some handy work to get the camper level, but once we had everything set up we were pretty happy with the results!

The view from Site 23

Knowing ahead of time that we would have good access to the water, we decided to bring along the canoe. The kids had a great time paddling around the lake with Dad.  The bigger boats going by can make it challenging, but it was well worth it.  We will definitely be bringing it again next time!

Ed & Alex, canoeing!
We dodged a HUGE weather bullet Friday afternoon when severe storms passed to our South.  This meant cooler weather for Friday night and Saturday, which was wonderful!  On both Friday and Saturday we spent time at the beach.  Dogs aren't allowed, so one of us always had to stay behind with Shelby, but we took turns.  The beach was very nice - sandy and the swimming area was pretty shallow which was perfect for the kids.  The many boats going by during the day made for some fun waves too!  

But when we weren't at the beach, we spent time swimming off of our campsite.  Shelby was in heaven!!!  She spent so much time in the water on Friday bringing back sticks that I had to carry her into the camper later that night.  She was so tired she couldn't make the leap up the stairs!

Ed, Shelby and Alex swimming off of our site

Shelby and Alex

Another thing we did on both Friday and Saturday was visit Katie's Country Store in East Otis - not only because I needed eggs for breakfast the next morning, but also for their fantastic ice cream!  They have a cute little fast food take-out stand around the side of the building that serves breakfast items, sandwiches, burgers, wings, ice cream and all kinds of fried goodness.  Here's a picture of Alex enjoying one of their ginormous hot fudge sundae's:

We were hopeful and pleased when we were finally visited by the ducks on Friday!  They came around several times last year and we made sure to bring an extra loaf of bread for them this time.  Mom came by with 7 "barely" babies and we had fun feeding them for the 1/2 hour or so while they stuck around!

And we finally got in some geocaching!  There were 3 caches close by - 2 were on an island out in the reservoir and we didn't get out there. But that's ok, because it just means we have something to look forward to on our next trip!  The other was a micro cache down by the boat launch that we decided to check out.  There were no goodies inside because it was so small, only a very wet cache log, but we still had lots of fun tracking it down! (I'll be honest, we never would have found it without using the "hint" feature!)

When it came time for us to leave on Sunday morning, we were all dreading it.  We packed up reluctantly, but knowing that we will be back for Columbus Day weekend helps!  This is one of those campgrounds that I see us going back to over and over again.  We have several favorites, but for me this one takes the cake.  I'll be honest - the interior sites don't do it for me.  The waterfront sites are where it's at.  Watching the boats go by all day and swimming at your leisure in this spectacular lake for $14 a night is such a treat.  I promise you if you visit you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Venting - in a good way!

Raise your hand if you get abnormally excited about camper modifications!  *waves hand wildly* ME! ME!! I DO!!!

As of Friday all of the parts needed to install our new roof vent fan had arrived, so we (and by "we" I of course mean Ed - I just got in the way a lot and took pictures) decided to finally take on the task of removing the old air conditioning unit from the top of the camper.  The a/c has never worked and to be honest, we would rarely use it even if it did work - 9 times out of 10 we don't have the electric hook-ups to run it at our camp site.  Essentially we've just been towing about 80-100 pounds of dead weight for the past couple years.  So the decision to go ahead and add the roof vent in place of the a/c unit was a no-brainer for us. 

The problem with making a modification to the roof is that you run the risk of leaks - and leaks are bad.  I'll admit, we were hesitant.  Therefore we did lots of research ahead of time and tried to take the steps necessary to make sure the vent would be sealed well and be free from leaks.  And aside from having to raise and lower the camper several times on a hot day, this project was very easy and we didn't run into any surprises.  We purchased our roof vent on Ebay for around $40, which makes this a relatively inexpensive project as well.

A/c Unit - Before
To start, we (again - this is all Ed) opened the camper and removed the interior ceiling assembly (which was held in place by a few screws) and disconnected the wiring.  The unit only works on shore power, not off of the 12 volt battery, so we removed the electric cord completely from the track it ran through along the ceiling and caulked the hole where it went outside.  

Once the wiring was removed, we unscrewed the four bolts holding the air conditioner in place on the roof.  The camper then had to be lowered to remove the (quite heavy) air conditioner.  This part I actually DID help with - it took two of us to slide it off and lower it to the ground.  Aside from finding lots of dirt and leaves underneath it, we were pleased to discover that there was no caulk or silicone that needed to be scraped away.  The unit itself sat on just a gasket and once gone revealed a nice, neat, roughly 14 x 14 opening.  Exactly what we had hoped to see.

We placed the new vent in the opening and pencil marked its intended location in order to help with the putty tape application.  We used butyl tape instead of caulk to seal the vent (if you're not familiar with butyl tape you can read more about it here, I promise not to bore you with the details!) and it seemed to do a very decent job.  While it's more expensive and can be difficult to work with, the last thing we want are leaks.  The screw heads and vent flange were also covered with butyl tape.

Once the vent was in place on top of the camper, we then had to pop it back up again so we could get inside and install the new ceiling assembly for the fan.  This part was easy - 4 screws in place and the vent was, quite literally, open for business!  I love how it also doubles as a skylight and lets in more light.

New Vent - Installed!

New Vent - Venting!

We have yet to wire the 12 volt fan.  It will be wired directly into the campers 12 volt system so it will work when we only have battery power.  Ed ordered all the necessary wiring this week to complete the job and it should be arriving in the next few days.  I plan to come back and update this post once we've wired the fan. In the meantime, we've left the camper open in the driveway this week, hoping that it will rain so we can test out the butyl tape seal.  I'm happy to report it's been raining here for about 2 hours and all is dry so far!

Yay for camper mods!!!  And mad props to my husband for an awesome job!!!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Austin F. Hawes Memorial Campground/American Legion State Forest

This was our first trip of the year, and also our first time at American Legion State Forest/Austin Hawes Campground in Barkhamsted, CT - and it was a great start to the camping season!  Despite the minor setback prior to our trip (see previous post below) we arrived at a decent hour on Thursday late in the afternoon and had plenty of time to set up.  We anxiously awaited the arrival of our camping comrades, Auntie Barb and Uncle Ken and then went and got pizza since we were all tired from the drive and set-up - a good first night!

Site 12 - It was enormous!

I do a lot of research prior to our trips and almost always have a pretty good idea of what to expect - I generally don't do well with surprises - it throws my "plan" off.  But upon our arrival at the campground, I checked in at the office and was surprised when I was given a stern warning NOT to leave ANY food outside unattended overnight or during the day, as apparently the black bears in the area have been extremely active recently and visit the campsites quite often, even going into tents!  I had not planned on starring in an episode of Yogi Bear this weekend - but it didn't appear as if we had much of a choice at this point.

A little bit of rain overnight into Friday morning and cloudy skies meant a somewhat damp day on Friday.  But the rain held off during the day which allowed us to walk the campground and check out the other sites.  There are several paths that lead down to the Farmington River and we eventually found our way down there where I got a couple of nice pictures of the kids and the scenery.

The kids also got a chance to do some fishing, though they have yet to catch anything on any of our trips!

The sites at this campground are HUGE.  Some of the biggest I've seen yet.  And they are spaced out so far apart - there had to be at least 100 feet of trees between us and the next site, if not more.  There are a total of 30 sites here and the campground is shaped like a figure eight.  Our site was on the outside edge of the campground, closest to the road - Site 12.  As a result we had a lot of traffic noise.  I would recommend booking sites on the inside, closer to the river.  Of course, with an 11 month booking window you'd better book them early - the sites close to the river fill up very fast!!  There are several sites that have another site directly across the road - these would be ideal for camping with others.  My personal favorite was site 5 - far from the traffic noise, enormous, and a little path that goes down to the river.

The bear warning was on my mind much of the time, of course.  To say that I was a bit "jumpy" for most of the weekend would probably be an understatement.  At one point while Ed was inside the camper taking a nap, he began to snore and I jumped out of my chair and gathered everyone inside yelling "OH MY GOD, WHAT WAS THAT?!?!"  Of course I felt a little silly afterwards, because to be honest Ed sounds much more like a grizzly bear than a black bear when he snores...

On Friday afternoon Barb and I headed to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner.  While we were shopping I received a text from Ed letting me know that the park ranger had stopped by and alerted them that a bear had been seen entering the campground.  We never did see him, but the following day while Auntie Barb was out tag sale-ing a few miles down the road, she snapped this picture:


We had hoped to get in some geocaching and letterboxing, but unfortunately this trip was cut 1 day short because Sarah was not feeling well and got sick Saturday night.  We packed up on Sunday and were on the road around 1pm.  It was disappointing, but then again we were also glad to get home have an extra day to mow the lawn, do the laundry - all that fun stuff.

Stay tuned - in about 3 weeks we head up to Tolland State Forest in Otis, MA.  One of my favorites!!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Excitement Never Ends...

It's been a whirlwind of a week leading up to our first trip of the season and it just keeps getting more and more interesting!  After spending 5 days last week at dance rehearsals/recitals for Sarah and barely having time to breathe, let's just say I've been feeling quite under-prepared for camping this weekend.  I'm usually packed and ready to go with everything in order a week in advance and that's the way I like it.  We are checking in this afternoon to American Legion State Forest, so last night I scrambled to get the kids clothes packed, our clothes packed, the dishes done and threw in some last minute laundry.  Ed was outside loading the camper and hooking the bikes up to the bike rack when suddenly I heard what sounded like a waterfall coming from somewhere in the house - I ran to the basement and my worst fears were realized.  Apparently the breaker switch for our well pump had tripped, causing the water that was draining from our washing machine to back up into the house.  We tried resetting the switch to no avail.  The last thing we want to do is wait until we get home (Memorial Day) to deal with it.  After 4 days of camping I'm sure the first thing we'll all want is a good hot shower.  So needless to say, I'll be leaving work a little earlier than planned today to meet up with the plumber/electrician in the hopes that we can get this taken care of before we leave.

A curve ball like this less than 24 hours before we are ready to head out on our first trip is the last thing I want to deal with!  The excitement just never ends...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Opening Day!

Camp Driveway

Today was a gorgeous New England day - the perfect day to pop up the camper for the first time this year and see how she fared over the Winter!  This is always a scary moment, because the threat of mice getting in is in the back of my mind from late October through April every year. You hear the tales of campers opened up after a long winter with shredded canvas, tattered cushions and shattered camping dreams. And out where we live, the mice are plentiful. We usually poke our heads in and look for signs once or twice during the Winter but without seeing the canvas you won't know for sure until you pop it up.  And I'm happy to report that thanks to close to two full boxes of dryer sheets strategically placed in every nook and cranny we could find, the camper looked exactly the way it did when we packed it up in October.  Aside from a few mildew spots on the ceiling that wiped clean with a sponge, everything was perfect.  And the fresh scent of dryer sheets wafted through the neighborhood all afternoon!  We re-packed all of the items we'd removed from the camper last Fall in preparation for our upcoming Memorial Day trip and my husband got started on replacing our non-working air conditioner with a roof vent fan we purchased recently online.  I plan to post pictures later once that project is complete.

The kids helped with the light cleaning we had to do and had fun digging through the game drawer - and Shelby the Camping Dog ran out to the camper with that familiar, maniacal look in her eye and wouldn't come out.

Yep - everyone gets excited when we open up the camper for the first time!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Occupy Hammonasset State Park

I came across a press release this week from state Senator Ed Meyer completely by accident and frankly, it irritated the crap out of me:
Sen. Meyer Leads Passage of Bill That Will Improve Access to Hammonasset Campgrounds
Legislation would allow families to camp for three weeks, take five days off and return for three more weeks
HARTFORD – Responding to requests from outdoor enthusiasts around Connecticut, state Sen. Ed Meyer (D-Guilford) led passage in the Senate of a bill that will let families spend more time camping under the stars in state parks along the shoreline. The bill now goes for a final vote in the House.
Senate Bill 85 would allow families to camp for an extended period in two shoreline state parks if they leave the campground for five days after every three weeks and if the sites are vacant on a first come, first served basis. The bill would also allow for five percent of the available campsites to be leased continuously for the entire summer without limitations. The only parks affected are Hammonasset State Park and Rocky Neck State Park, the state’s only shoreline parks with camping.
“For families who make it a summer tradition to pack up and head for the beachside campgrounds at Hammonasset and Rocky Neck, this bill lets them maximize that experience,” Sen. Meyer said. “In the past, rules for camping at these state parks were not always followed and it caused confusion for campers looking to schedule their summer. Now anyone who wants to enjoy sleeping out under the stars with waves crashing in the distance can have more access to that lifestyle.”
The bill requires the commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to establish a pilot program for the 2013 camping season that allows five percent of shore park camping sites to be leased to the same family without a limit on the number of nights. Anyone wishing to lease a site for the entire summer would be charged a $30 nightly fee.
If the legislation passes in the House and is signed into law, the DEEP commissioner must report back to the Legislature by February 2014 on the program’s impact on camping site availability, reaction of families using camp sites and recommendations for changes.
I'm sorry.....what?  

Obviously the two shoreline campgrounds in Connecticut are extremely popular because of the beach access.  The campsites are able to be booked 11 months in advance and trying to book a site can prove to be quite challenging.  That's why I couldn't help but laugh when I read the title of this press release - how, exactly, would this bill "improve" access to Hammonasset campgrounds?  It's already difficult to book, and now you'll have to deal with seasonal campers monopolizing 5% of the sites and other people staying on one site for weeks and weeks on end.  What is this, the New Haven green?  The original intent of these campgrounds was not for them to be a summer home. They are meant to be enjoyed and accessed by everyone and a continual flow of new campers every week would be a huge benefit to the surrounding communities.  Currently, the maximum allowed stay at either of these parks is 21 days per calendar year.  It can be broken up into small trips or done all once. Seems more than reasonable to me!  But proponents of this new bill claim that those who truly enjoy staying at the campground and are there for extended periods are the ones keeping it booked during the week and taking care of their sites.  So why not just let these die-hard campers stay as long as they please?  In my opinion it just puts further limitations on these already over-priced, difficult to book shoreline parks.  If you want to spend 2 months in the Summer at the beach - buy a beach house, or better yet find a privately owned campground on the shore and get a seasonal site.  Don't monopolize public campgrounds.

So Senate Bill 85 would change the current rules regarding length of stay.  It would allow families to camp for an extended period in both Hammonasset and Rocky Neck State Parks if they leave the campground for five days after every three weeks and if the sites are vacant on a first come, first served basis. The bill would also allow for five percent of the campsites to be leased as seasonal campsites for the entire summer.  Keep in mind that every other campground in CT has a 14 day length of stay rule which, to me, seems pretty darn sufficient.  A 3 week long camping trip in one spot, with the option of leaving for 5 days and coming back for 3 more weeks and doing it all over again?  Don't get me wrong, I love camping as much as the next guy, but isn't that a tad excessive?

This new bill has already passed through both the House and Senate so it's only a matter of time before it's signed into law I'm sure.  Regardless, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this - have you camped at either of these campgrounds?  What do you think about the extended length of stay?  Do you agree that the new law will improve access or do you think CT needs to get its' head out of its' ass like I do?

Oh, and here's a little camping tip for you before I go - if you are lucky enough to book one of the sites with electric hook ups at Hammonasset (frankly I think the odds are better that you'll win Powerball) you'll pay $35 a night as a CT resident.  But if you prefer, you can always head up to Cape Cod, MA, camp at Scussett Beach and get water AND electric hook ups for $22 a night as an out of state resident.   And along with your campground reservation comes the added bonus of not having to swim in Long Island Sound.

I think you already know where I'll be camping this Summer...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Hey Shelby, wanna go on vacation?"

Shelby enjoying Nickerson State Park in Cape Cod, MA

I wish you could see her ears perk up when you say it.  I don't know how, but somehow she has always known what it means.  A car ride!  Walks and hiking!  Snuggling up in the camper!  Maybe even some swimming!  She starts running around the house in a panic, whining and trying to plow past you out the front door so she can be the first one in the car.  It takes her a good half hour once we're on the road to calm down.  She drools, she pants, her breath is awful - the kids start to complain, pretty soon we're all yelling at each other.  Yep, Shelby the camping dog LOVES to camp.

But when it comes to trying to camp with your pet at state parks in Connecticut, you'll find your choices are slim to none.  While pets are allowed in most state parks and forests, they are prohibited from most camping areas.  Of Connecticut's 14 campgrounds, only 4 allow dogs.  (For a complete list of CT State Park camping areas and their rules, use this link  Camping Areas - CT State Parks & Forests ) According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), pets are banned in the other state campgrounds because of their impact on wildlife (dogs may frighten certain animals, such as birds) pet waste, barking late at night and aggressive behavior. DEEP officials have also stated that not all campground visitors may want to camp at sites that allow pets.  Well guess what, DEEP officials?  Not all campground visitors want to camp at sites that DON'T allow pets.  Myself included.

Every Summer my family and I flee to a pet-friendly state to camp.  More often than not, that state is Massachusetts.  Massachusetts state park campgrounds are totally awesome and it's not just because I can bring my dog.  It's actually cheaper for us to camp in Massachusetts as a non-resident than it is for us to camp in Connecticut as residents.  Crazy, right?  Here in Connecticut, I can camp without my dog for around $17.00 a night and pay to board her at the vet while we're gone.  If I want to bring my dog to say, Salt Rock State Campground (1 of the 4 parks that allow pets) and camp without any hook ups whatsoever, the cost is $33.00 a night.  Come again?  Hey CT, you do realize I can hop just over the border to Wells State Park in Sturbridge, MA and pay a mere $14.00 a night, right?  For that $14.00 a night I get no worries, no boarding costs for my pooch and as an added bonus I get a beautiful, well kept park with huge wooded campsites, water access and fantastic hiking trails.  I have to wonder how many other CT residents do exactly the same thing?  While camping in CT probably doesn't generate much revenue for the state, it certainly would help to promote tourism.  But overpriced campsites and pet restrictions are sending those would-be tourists to surrounding states instead.

Shelby taking a swim at Tolland State Forest in Otis, MA

During the 2010 Legislative session, Senate Bill 125 - An Act Concerning Dogs at State Campgrounds, was introduced.  The bill’s amended version would have required the DEEP to adopt regulations allowing dogs at campsites in up to 50% of state parks, limiting the number of dogs allowed at each campsite and specifying rules for controlling or restraining them.  DEEP officials submitted testimony on SB 125 expressing their concerns regarding pets. The bill passed the Senate, but died on the House calendar and after chatting with my State Senator's office, it doesn't appear it will be coming up for a vote again any time soon.  Anyone up for a letter writing campaign?

In comparison to New York and the other New England states, Connecticut’s restrictions on pets at campgrounds sound pretty ridiculous.  All of the concerns raised by the CT DEEP are being successfully addressed by surrounding states.  They all have rules in place regarding proof of vaccinations and the number of dogs allowed on each campsite.  In addition, pets are never to be left unattended and owners must dispose of all pet waste.  Some have certain areas of the campground designated for pets and others, like Vermont, charge a $1.00 per night pet fee which is very reasonable.  And I can attest to the fact that Massachusetts State Park campgrounds are PACKED during the Summer months, and I often have trouble getting reservations.  It doesn't sound like many of the campers there have a problem with pets being allowed.

After learning about CT's pet policy and deciding we weren't going to be leaving the dog behind, we figured if we wanted to camp here we would be limited to private campgrounds.  Most of them do allow pets, however the rules regarding pets at private campgrounds can vary from place to place and can get totally weird.  Take for example Strawberry Park Resort Campground in Preston, CT.  Here are their rules on pets, taken from their website:

PETSThere is no walking or carrying of pets anywhere in the campground at any time.All pets are confined to their owner’s site only. We invite you to use our Pet Park (Strawberry Bark), located across from volleyball and Disc Golf, where you may transport your dog and allow free play with others in a fenced location. Any pet left unattended on site and causing a disturbance will be removed by the dog warden, with any fees being charged to the pet owner. All dogs must be of a friendly disposition, and the following breeds are prohibited: Staffordshire Terrier (Pitbull), Rottweiller, Doberman Pinscher and any specific pet determined by the management to be a hazard or nuisance. Pets may be transported in vehicle to “Strawberry Bark”, our new Pet Park. 

So let me just make sure I have this right - $66.00 a night for a site with no hook-ups, and I can't even take my freakin' dog for a walk???  Thanks but no thanks, Strawberry Park.  That's one huge inconvenience I'm paying for.  Nobody puts Shelby in a corner! 

Strawberry Park is one of the more expensive private campgrounds, so maybe it's not a good example in terms of cost, but in general the camping fees are often up around $50.00 a night depending on where you camp and whether or not you want hook ups.  The expense, combined with the fact that many private campgrounds pack everyone in like sardines, makes them very unappealing to us.  Fortunately we discovered West Thompson Lake Campground in North Grosvenordale, CT (that's up in the Northeast corner of the state, for those of you going "North where??")  It's run by the Army Corps of Engineers, which makes it a federal campground, not a state campground.  Winning!  And not only does Shelby get to come along, but about half of their 30 campsites offer water and electric hook ups for a mere $30 a night.  More winning!  Their website is actually one of my favorites - it's totally interactive with a clickable campground map that allows you to see all the sites and facilities, it's definitely worth checking out:  It's small, quiet, clean as can be, has a rockin' playground for the kids and with the hook ups it's like staying at a 5 star hotel.  Well ok, that's a stretch, but if you camp without hook ups, you know what I mean.  We really enjoy it and it is one of our favorite camping spots.  We'll be camping there in July and I plan to do a more thorough review for you then.

Shelby taking a break after a hike at West Thompson Lake campground
I'm curious to know your thoughts on this topic.  Do you camp in CT with your pet?  Where do you go?  What are the rules like?  What is your opinion about the other states in New England and their rules regarding pets?  Do you have any favorite pet-friendly campgrounds you like to visit?  I am always looking for trip suggestions so feel free to leave a comment below!

Our first trip of the year over Memorial Day weekend will be to Austin Hawes Campground at the American Legion State Forest in Barkhamsted, CT.  They do allow pets, which is great.  This will be our first time visiting the campground so I'll be sure to report back my findings with a full review.  In the meantime I'm really looking forward to our camping trips in MA this year - and so is Shelby.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How It All Started

I have been camping for just about as long as I can remember.  I must have been around 4 or 5 when we first started going (that's me, the fashionista, on the left) which would have made my brother around 2 or 3.  Growing up my family camped in a 1960-something pop-up camper handed down from my grandparents that had 3 slide out beds and nothing more - it was essentially a tent on wheels.  But it kept us from having to sleep on the ground, and that was all we needed (and by "we" I mean my mother.) Almost all of our camping trips were to Salt Rock Campground in Sprague, CT.  Salt Rock was acquired by the CT DEEP in 2001 and they revamped the campground map, eliminating some of the campsites.  It just isn't the same now.  But back then the campground was privately owned and truly was "the bomb".  It had a few perks without going totally overboard - 2 in-ground swimming pools, a hayride on Friday nights, and a general store that sold Slush Puppies and plenty of candy. What more could a kid ask for?  The sites we always camped on (my parents booked the sites a year in advance to be sure we would get them) had a small stream that ran behind them.  This is where we spent most of our time catching fish, frogs, salamanders, getting dirty and just being kids.  Camping when I was little was awesome, and I was thrilled when my husband and I decided to get a camper of our own so we could share some of that awesome with our own kids.

Over the past 2 years myself, my husband, our twin 7 year olds and our faithful dog Shelby have been camping in and around Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  We purchased our Coleman Bayport pop-up on Craigslist back in 2009.  As luck would have it, it was exactly what we were looking for and the sellers lived merely a mile away from us. At the time we didn’t even have a hitch to tow it with, so we were grateful when they offered to deliver it to us free of charge.  

Before we took it out on our first official camping trip, we did a dry run in the backyard - it was great!  The kids and even the dog loved sleeping in it. Our backyard backs up to a State Forest so we really couldn’t have asked for a better “practice campsite” - here's a picture of Shelby enjoying the fire...

With our practice run having been such a huge success, we decided to venture into the great outdoors.  Even though our first official trip out landed us at a private campground with water and electric hookups, we quickly learned that State Parks are where it’s at.  It's the only place that really feels like "camping" to me. We like big, wooded sites with lots of privacy - none of that RV parking lot/packed in like sardines stuff you find at many private campgrounds.  We are willing to sacrifice unnecessary amenities like swimming pools, arcades and electricity for peace, quiet and tranquility - though with twin 7 year olds in tow that’s often hard to come by, even at the nicest of State Park campgrounds.  

Much of our camping time is spent in Massachusetts - here, almost all the State Parks allow pets at the campsites, unlike CT which only allows pets at 4 of its State Parks (that’s right I said 4! Don’t worry - I plan to do a future blog post on this with more details on how much the State of CT sucks in that respect – but I’ll say it again - only FOUR state run campgrounds allow pets…..REALLY CT??)  Also, Massachusetts State Parks are very well kept, scenic and offer lots of recreational possibilities and many waterfront campsites.  And at around $14 a night, how can you go wrong?

As we head into the 2012 Summer camping season, I plan to keep you posted on our whereabouts, our adventures and any other camping/camper/campee topics I can come up with.  Our first trip this year is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, and within the next few weeks we'll be opening up the camper for the first time this season in order to start preparing.   Stay tuned!