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The Joys of Holiday Camping and RVing

Are you looking for a way to put the magic back into your holiday celebrations? A camping trip might be the answer you're looking for! Camping during the holidays is a great way to get back to the basics, to celebrate nature, and remember all you have to feel grateful for. It's a way for the family to spend quality time together, away from the pull of video games, TV, and cell phones. Most importantly, being outdoors is the perfect way to mark the passing of the seasons, and toast the season or the year to come.

Many RV parks and campgrounds host special holiday events. All over the U.S., you'll find campgrounds that put on special programs for Mother's Day, Father's Day, and July 4th. In fact, Independence Day is one of the biggest camping holidays of the year. If you're thinking about camping during the July 4th weekend, be sure to reserve your campsite well in advance, as they tend to fill up quickly, especially at campgrounds that put on fireworks shows or are near towns with big fireworks displays.

The winter holidays are an especially fun time to go camping. If you're in the northern half of the state, you'll want to check first to make sure that your campground is open year round. If it is, you can look forward to a holiday trip that's full of winter sports like skiing and snowshoeing. Even if there isn't snow in your area, you can still enjoy an invigorating winter hike followed by an evening around the campfire. Be sure to pack and plan for the cold, and bring plenty of treats!

If you're heading to a southern campground for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's, you can enjoy the sunny weather while you check out the local display of lights or join in the campground's potluck Thanksgiving dinner. Nearly all campgrounds that are open for the holidays put on some kind of a special group meal or event.

To make sure your camping holiday is as fabulous as possible, take a little time to brainstorm ways you can adapt your at-home rituals to the camping environment. If you won't have a Christmas tree, can you bring peanut-buttered pinecones, birdseed, and suet to hang on a living evergreen in your campground? Can you re-create your Thanksgiving dinner with dishes made over the campfire or in a Dutch oven? Maybe this will be the year when you hearken back to old-fashioned traditions, like baking apples, roasting nuts, and decorating with paper chains rather than electric lights. You can sing carols over the glow of your lantern, take a hay ride at Thanksgiving, or visit a farm to meet real rabbits and chicks at Easter.

Holiday camping can be a memorable, bonding event for the whole family. You'll always remember the year you climbed Green Mountain at Easter or snowshoed to that waterfall at Thanksgiving. It's spending time together that makes the holidays special, and there's no better way to do that than by getting back to nature.

Farm Camping

In our hectic, fast-paced world, getting back to nature can mean many things. For you and your family, it may mean spending time in the woods, far from the sounds of highways and cell phones. Or your family outings may have an educational purpose. Maybe you’d like your kids to know where their food comes from and to learn about growing fruits and vegetables. If that’s the case, then farm camping is your ticket!

Farm camping is less about where you camp and more about what you do during your days. Whether you camp at a nearby RV park, campground, or right on the farm grounds, what’s important is the time you spend exploring the farm during the day. Many family farms are happy to welcome visitors and to show them the ins and outs of the farming life. You and your kids might get to collect eggs from the hen house, watch the cows be milked, and pull fresh carrots from the garden.

If you visit a region that’s known for a particular farm product, you can probably find tours that include behind-the-scenes looks at the animals and plants that make the product possible. For instance, you can often meet the dairy cows on cheese or ice cream-producing farms. Farms that specialize in goat cheese or sheep’s-milk yogurt may have animals for the kids to pet. And many stables are happy to introduce kids to a friendly horse or two.

A great way to start out your farm camping adventure is by adding one or two discreet activities, to see how your family responds. You might go to a pumpkin patch to pick your Halloween pumpkins, or go berry or apple picking at a u-pick field in the summer. Make a habit of stopping at farmer-owned fruit and vegetable stands and asking how the crops are doing that year—your kids will pick up on your interest and they’ll become curious, too. Farmer’s markets are also a great place to introduce your kids to vegetables they might not have encountered before. They can see Brussels sprouts still on the stalk, garlic with the stems still attached, and carrots with their feathery green tops.

Festivals that celebrate farm produce are also a great way to have a farm experience during your camping vacation. You might head to the famous Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, to the Tyler Texas Rose Festival, or the Georgia Peach Festival in Byron and Fort Valley. No matter how obscure the fruit or vegetable, you can bank on there being a festival somewhere in the U.S. that celebrates it.

Vineyards are also great places to get in touch with the land. Many vineyards give tours of their fields, allowing you to stand in a field of grape vines and soak in the scents, views, and serenity the farmer feels every day. You might find terrific wildlife viewing at the vineyard—ask if you should watch for hawks, eagles, foxes, or deer. The vineyard you visit might grow a small amount of a side crop like tomatoes, vegetables in a garden, or a specific variety of flowers.

You can also get a taste of the farm life by visiting the state or county fair in the area you’re visiting. Whether you’re headed to Saint Paul, Minnesota (home of the largest state fair in the country) or are just taking in the local fair in a small county, you’ll find plenty of animals and farm products at the fair. Look for 4-H activities and strike up a conversation with the kids. You’ll learn all about how they raised their goat or chicken or rabbit, and you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of animal husbandry. At some fairs, 4-H volunteers run a small petting zoo, where your kids can touch friendly pigs, geese, goats, and sheep.

No matter what approach you take, you’ll be enriched by your contact with farms and farmers. Farms represent the source of life, a place where nature’s cycles are played out every day. It’s a phenomenal learning-place for kids, and a soothing experience for adults of all ages.

Experience the Past – Try History Camping

Nothing brings history to life like a visit to the actual place where great events happened. You can’t get the scale of the past without standing on the battlefields, seeing the forts, or viewing the endless stretches of prairie that the pioneers had to cross. Maybe you love to visit living-history centers, where people dress and work the way their ancestors did, wearing bonnets and churning cream into butter. Or maybe you like to tour restored homes, so you can see how people lived in the 18th and 19th century. Whatever your historical interest, there’s a camping destination that’s perfect for you.

If you’re curious about Revolutionary War history, you can head to Boston for a tour of Bunker Hill and the famous Old North Church, where Paul Revere saw that crucial message in 1775 – “one if by land, two if by sea” – that signaled the arrival of the British. You could camp near New York’s Fort Ticonderoga or head to New Jersey to visit Washington Crossing State Park, where General Washington and the Continental Army landed after their crossing of the Delaware on Christmas Day, 1776. From Valley Forge to the Brandywine Battlefield Park, there’s no shortage of Revolutionary War-era destinations in the northeastern corner of the country.

Civil War buffs can explore the sites along the Civil War Discovery Trail, stopping off at battlefields, army camps, and the places where key decisions were made. You could follow Sherman’s historic march to the sea or visit Atlanta and replay Scarlett O’Hara’s flight from the burning city in Gone with the Wind. More than thirty states, as apart as Minnesota and Louisiana, Maine and California, have Civil War sites to visit.

You may want to visit the home of your favorite American author on your next camping trip. In the east, you can see Edgar Allen Poe’s home in Richmond, Virginia or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts. The Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead in South Dakota is a popular destination. And of course, you can visit the areas featured in these writers’ books as well. Take a riverboat cruise along the Mississippi, remembering Huck Finn, or head to Mesa Verde, the setting for Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House. Every state has its great writer who evoked a true sense of the place in their work.

Perhaps you’d like to follow one of the historic pioneering trails, such as the Lewis and Clark Trail or the Oregon Trail. When Lewis and Clark set out to find a water route to the west coast in 1804-1806, their path took them through some of the most scenic territory in the west. Following their trail will lead you from their starting place in Missouri through Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, northern Idaho, and along the Columbia River that separates Oregon and Washington State. Much of this route is dotted with signposts and historic markers that explain important points in their journey. You can learn about their wise guide Sacajawea, President Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, or Lewis’s trusty dog Seaman.

No matter what part of American history you want to explore, you’ll find a destination to visit. Goal setting is a great way to plan a camping trip that pleases everyone in the family. You can get all the fun of camping in new and unusual places, with fascinating daytime stops at historical sites along the way.

Winter Camping

There's nothing more peaceful than standing in the woods during a soft snowfall or watching a white hare hop through the snow near a frozen lake. These are just some of the things you can experience on your next winter camping trip. Whether you're dreaming of a camping trip in the deep snows, the dry winter prairies, or a damp coastal forest, don't let fears about cold weather stop you from getting out into nature this winter. With a few precautions and well-chosen gear, you can have the time of your life, camping in the winter months.

What To Do
Winter camping offers a huge number of outdoor activities. If you have the gear, you might bring your cross-country skis or snow shoes with you and take a trip on a snowy trail. In a hilly area, sleds, inner tubes, and toboggans are a ton of fun. You can bring your ice skates and find a well-frozen pond, do some ice fishing on the lake, or look for wildlife tracks in the snow.

On family vacations, one of the best activities is to build a snow fort or snow tunnel. Bundle yourselves up in snow pants, hats, waterproof gloves, and warm coats and use your hands to dig out a tunnel or build a snow wall for snowball fights. You can build snowmen, make snow angels, or borrow a block form and pack in snow to make your own igloo.

What To Bring
Food and warm drinks are crucial to any winter camping trip. Because of the low temperatures and the high calorie-burn of winter sports like cross-country skiing, it's important that you bring a lot of carbohydrates. Drinking water is very important, even if you don't feel thirsty. To help yourself stay hydrated, try making warm drinks that sound good, like hot cider, warm lemonade, cocoa, and hot soup. (Water mixed with Gatorade or a juice mix won't freeze as quickly as water.) You can keep a hot drink in a thermos and take it with you on any day hikes or trips you take.

For clothing, leave your cotton shirts and socks at home and opt instead for wool, polypropylene, fleece, and gortex. All of these fabrics stay warm when they get wet, and they wick sweat away from your body, helping you stay warm even when you're active. Always wear a hat in cold weather. More than half of your body's heat escapes through your head! And make sure your socks are dry (bring plenty of extra dry socks with you).

Dressing in layers will keep you warmer, since the pockets of air between your clothes warms up and acts as natural insulation. Three layers are usually plenty on top: a long-john layer, fleece or a wool sweater, and a wind-proof jacket.

Staying Warm
While you're in camp, use your insulate sleeping pad as a seat, since this will keep your pants dry and your rear end insulated. If you can, bring an extra sleeping pad that you can dedicate just for sitting. At night, always use a pad underneath your sleeping bag. Two will keep you even warmer! If you fill a water bottle with warm water at night, you can put it in the bottom of your sleeping bag and use it as a hot-water bottle.

Important Note
If someone in your group becomes very cold or lethargic (and especially if their speech becomes thick and slow), they may be on the verge of hypothermia. Stop your activity immediately and set up camp. As quickly as you can, get this person into a sleeping bag and give them a warm drink. If they aren't warming up, put another person in the bag with them, ideally in very few clothes. Hypothermia is extremely dangerous, so be sure you know the signs before you go.

Snowbirding - Snow Bird Destinations

If you've ever spent a winter in the northeast or northern midwest, you understand the allure of heading south for the winter. The birds do it, so why shouldn't people? That's the attitude of a fun-loving group of retirees from states like Maine, Minnesota, and Michigan, folks who love nothing more than packing up their belongings and hitting the road in search of a little sun and warmth.

This footloose attitude is made possible because of RVs, those homes on wheels that can be tailored to fit the owners' needs and tastes. A couple or small family can live very happily in an RV together with their pets or visiting grand children. Most snowbirds find that they can get most of what they need on the road, from cooking ingredients to rental DVDs and books from the library. And if the weather is good, the great outdoors provides endless hours of entertainment.

Where do snowbirds go when they head south for the winter? That often depends on their starting point. Many northeasterners have long made a habit of frolicking down to Florida in the winter. Midwesterners often favor Texas and the Gulf Coast, while westerners head for southern California and Arizona. Still, the beauty of living on wheels is that any snowbird can go to any destination. Some couples even shift their winter spot every year in order to get to know new parts of the country.

Many snowbirds enjoy the cost-efficiency of staying in one place all winter long. A number of southern RV parks that cater to snowbirds offer special winter rates for campsites that are rented by the month or by the season. Because most of the guests are there for the entire season, these parks have active social scenes with regular activities like potluck suppers and ice cream socials. Some snowbirds make such great friends, they agree to rendez-vous in the same spot again the following year to keep the gang together.

A Scenic View
If you're looking for a great snowbirding spot, take a minute to consider your priorities. Do you like boating or fishing? Are you an avid bird watcher who would love exploring the Rio Grande and Gulf Coast birding trails? Or do you prefer being near a large city? Being close to Mexico can have surprising side benefits beyond the tourism opportunities. At Gold Rock Ranch RV Resort near Yuma, Arizona, you can step across the border into Algodones, Mexico. This is a center for dental and medical offices with a number of discount pharmacies in the four-block square downtown. Every year, large groups of Americans and Canadians flood the Algodones streets finding deals on medications, glasses, and dental work.

The next time you heave a sigh as you think about the coming snows and cold temperatures, consider taking a snowbird trip. If you can rearrange your schedule, you just might find that there's nothing more relaxing than spending the colder months horseback riding in the desert or golfing in the Carolinas. You're sure to make lasting friends as you get to know a new corner of the country.

Just as long as it's a sunny corner, right?

Enjoying the Magical Colors of Fall

When the trees burst with gold, orange, and crimson, autumn is in full glory. Nothing is more gorgeous than a hillside full of changing leaves, each one perfect on its own -- while as a group, they create a symphony of color. In your daily life, you may not get to see massive swaths of trees. If that's the case, then this is the perfect time to plan a trip to see the leaves change. This is a great way to celebrate the turning seasons.

Where to Go
New England is famous for its fall color. With acres of deciduous trees and the early cold snaps that make the foliage pop with color, New England is a perfect place to visit for the leaves. If you can manage a trip to Vermont, New Hampshire, or Pennsylvania this fall, take a drive through the countryside and soak in the atmosphere. You might stop off at a cider stand for some fresh apple cider or crisp fall apples, or visit a small town for a bite of lunch. In Pennsylvania, tour Pennsylvania Dutch country and explore the array of homemade crafts, tasty baked goods, and stunning hand-made quilts.

The rest of the country enjoys a burst of color in the fall, as well. The Great Smoky Mountains blaze with color in the fall, as do many parts of the South. In Colorado, quaking aspens turns golden-yellow, looking dramatic with their white trunks. The Pacific Northwest and Alaska keep their carpet of evergreen trees, but when patches of maples and alders turn yellow and red, it can make a colorful splash.

The Great Lakes region is a terrific place to enjoy fall. As farm fields turn tawny-gold and corn stalks grow heavy with fruit, you'll find blue lakes surrounded by bright yellow and orange leafed trees. This is the time of year when early settlers would go "sugaring," tapping maple trees for their precious sweet syrup.

A Scenic View
There are two perfect ways to enjoy fall color. One is to walk or drive directly through it, admiring the boughs as they curve overhead. Walking a trail that's covered in yellow and red leaves is a special delight. With the smell of wood smoke tinting the air, you'll build up a hearty appetite for a lunch of butternut squash soup or minestroni. Watch for wildlife as you go. You might even see squirrels and chipmunks stashing away nuts for the winter.

After you've taken your walk or drive through the woods, see if you can get up high for a panoramic view. An overlook, vista point, or mountaintop will give you an eagle-eye view of hills and valleys, all rippling with color.

Leave-No-Trace Camping

For those of us who love spending time in the great outdoors, wild spaces are very special. These are places we visit to recharge, to fill our hearts with natural beauty. We hate to see them cluttered with litter, graffiti, or any reminders of the people who visited before us.

If you feel this way, then you're the perfect person to promote and practice Leave No Trace camping. Leave No Trace is a philosophy as well as a nationally-recognized outdoor skills program. Every year campers and outdoor instructors are trained in the art of leaving no trace, but you can practice it yourself without any lessons beyond this article. The mindset is simple, and if you already love to see nature in its pure, unadulterated form, then you're already a believer!

The principles of Leave No Trace are to treat the wilderness the way a courteous visitor would and leave everything just as you found it, with no evidence that you passed through. This is also called "low impact" or "no impact" camping, because your visit makes a minimal impact on the environment. You can carry out these ideals in a number of ways. Begin by packing out all your litter. Whenever you go camping, take an empty trash bag with you and put all garbage, including toilet paper, into the bag‚then take it to a dumpster at the end of the trip. Teach your kids about the garbage bag and make it a game to keep on the lookout for litter to put in the bag.

If you're going to be camping where there aren't outhouses, pack up a special toilet kit that will help with your Leave No Trace camping. Keep your toilet paper in a ziplock bag. Also, pack a brown paper sack inside another plastic bag. When you go to the bathroom, tuck your used toilet paper into the brown paper bag, then wrap it all up neatly in the plastic bag. Every member of your party can use the same system, or, if you'd rather, everyone can carry their own personal paper bag. The important thing is to not leave any toilet paper strewn across the woods.

Try not to trample vegetation. Whenever you can, stay on established trails and never cut switchbacks or make your own shortcuts (this will lead to erosion and eventual destruction of the trail). When you pitch your tent, try to find a place that's already bare of plants. If you're in a group and you have to cross a field that doesn't have a trail, spread out to minimize your impact. Wherever you go, think about what your heavy shoes or boots are doing to the plants underneath and try to keep damage to a minimum.

Leave what you find. In addition to not leaving litter behind you, it's important that you not take things away from the wilderness. Rocks, plants, seashells, and arrowheads are all part of the natural landscape. If you take things away, they won't be there for others to enjoy. Also, many animals find homes and food in abandoned shells and flower-heads, and these are things they would miss if you collected them.

Unless you're in a campground where wood is provided, avoid campfires. If you're backpacking, it's always better to use a camp stove than to burn up wood in a campfire. Fallen limbs and driftwood are important parts of the ecosystem. Animals make their homes under piles of dead wood, and decomposed logs are where baby trees often take root. Many wild areas have been ruined by too many people collecting wood for their campfires. If your campground sells or provides wood, you don't need to worry. But if you're in the backcountry, camp stoves are always best!

Have respect for wildlife. This means not intruding on a wild animal's "space" and not feeding it any human food. A good rule to follow is that if your presence is changing the animal's behavior, you're too close. Step back, use binoculars or your camera for a closer view, and enjoy watching the animal live its life.

Last but not least, be kind to your fellow campers. That means keeping noise to a minimum, keeping your group small, respecting private property, and camping away from others.

Leave No Trace camping is about being respectful and thoughtful. It's about honoring the natural world and the creatures that live in it. If you love seeing an untouched mountain stream or a pristine field of wildflowers, then you've already taken the first step. Follow these basic practices and you and your family can be models of the Leave No Trace philosophy.


This lively German festival is a fun celebration of friends, German culture, and the finer things in life. As the name suggests, Oktoberfest traditionally takes place in the month of October, though in America you can find Oktoberfests happening through out the year.

The next time you're camping near a town that's celebrating Oktoberfest, why not stop in and see what it's all about? You're guaranteed to find good food, a beer garden or beer tasting, and other events celebrating German culture. You might learn a German word or two or even spot some young people in traditional German dress.

Oktoberfest has become a German celebration, but its roots are actually in Bavaria, a particular region of Germany. Bavaria is famous for its beer, from the lagers that are popular in the U.S. to darker stouts and ales. This region also serves up delicious food, including the bratwurst and giant pretzels that are typical fare at Oktoberfests. Pile on the sauerkraut or use American condiments like ketchup, mustard, and relish, and you'll have a meal that's fit for a king.

American Oktoberfests
German-American towns all over the country hold Oktoberfest celebrations every fall. You'll also find big-city events in places like Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Newport Kentucky, Anaheim California, and Fredericksburg Texas. Las Vegas hosts its Hofbruhaus (an authentic replica of the original festival that's held in Munich every year), in late September and throughout October. This popular even has been an annual tradition since 2003. The Las Vegas celebration includes premium beer that's brewed in Bavaria, high-quality Bavarian food, and a special Bavarian warmth and coziness.

Cincinnati is so fond of Oktoberfest, they put on two of them every year! This town has a large and proud German-American population that loves toasting Bavarian culture. In September, Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati brings in about 500,000 visitors. That's followed in October by the three-day Donauschwaben Oktoberfest. Dover, New Jersey also holds two Oktoberfests, one in June and one in September.

Hold Your Own Oktoberfest
This October, if you're camping or traveling in a place that doesn't pull out all the stops for Oktoberfest, why not hold your own? Pick a weekend or a special day and throw together a Bavarian-inspired meal that features beer, German sausages, sauerkraut, and pretzels. You might even inspire your RV park to make this an annual tradition!


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