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!