Family Camping - Make it cheaper, make it easier, and make it fun!
The economic downturn brought a noticeable up-tick in camping, making it even tougher to secure spots at local gems like D.L. Bliss, Meeks Bay, Nevada Beach and others.
The game now is to be online when the “window” opens six months in advance of your target camp date, and competition is fierce. Also, camping isn’t quite the inexpensive outing it once was.
But don’t let the competitive frenzy and cost discourage you: consider Forest Service campgrounds, with nearly 100 in El Dorado National Forest alone, most requiring no reservation.
As a family, we have two campground requirements: the first is water—the kind you can get into, whether lake or river. Second, fire. It’s just not camping without a campfire.
Forest Service campgrounds offer lower fees, but usually come without showers. Hence our water requirement!
Packing Efficiently and Economically:
To avoid frustration, compile and save a packing checklist. As long as there’s water, bring water shooters, float tubes and a hand pump to inflate them; sunscreen, hats, water shoes (for rivers), towels, beach chairs—and plenty of drinking water.
Over the years, we added to a hanging mesh bag for essential medicines, first-aid, toothbrushes, aloe, batteries, bug sprays, hand sanitizer, quarters for pay showers, and other small items.
Headlamps are ideal for setting up sleeping arrangements, reading, visiting the restroom in the dark, and even playing table games.
Meals: pack simply for grill-able or single-pan meals, with as little cleanup as possible. Elaborate camp meals sound great when planning, but aren’t much fun to clean up. Pre-cooked and simple ingredients are key: brown a couple pounds of ground beef at home, put it in a freezer Ziploc, and then add seasoning and water to heat for tacos. Bag tomato, lettuce, cheese and other toppings to round it out. Same goes for pasta: pre-cook, bag, and reheat, adding sauce, pull-apart bread and fresh veggies. Non-perishables go well in one vinyl “food bin”—including a plastic container of pre-ground coffee and simple water percolator. And s’mores!
More savings? Bring your own firewood! A five-gallon bucket carries newspaper, hatchet, matches, kindling, trash bags, and other tools. Rather than a full camp stove, consider the simple two-burner attachment to propane tank, or even a screw-on single burner that takes hardly any space.
Focus on Fun:
Water-play is your built-in fun factor and one reason we prefer lake or river access. And back to that shower issue? One last dip in a river or lake does the trick at the end of the day to wash away camp dust.
Arguably the best part of camping is the campfire—for kids probably the most magical time of the day. No need to pack a lantern for games that require only fire or flashlights: charades, twenty questions, telephone, flashlight tag, and others you invent.
So get camping! It’s still affordable family fun and will provide forever memories. The Tahoe area—from Ice House to Hope Valley, from Boca to Donner, and of course around the shores of this amazing lake—offers enough options to last a lifetime.
Mike is a long-time resident who grew up in So. Cal. and came to Tahoe for the lakes, rivers, trees, the four seasons, and to teach English at South Tahoe High School. He enjoys the outdoors, from snow sports and activities, to fishing, hiking, camping, enjoying the lake, and everything else the Sierra has to offer.