L – Leadership Skills


Photo adapted from klimkin @ pixabay.com

When you think of 21st century leaders, what characteristics come to mind? Organization perhaps? Maybe persistence. Quite possibly you think of dedication, ethics, or effective communications. There are many possibilities.
Whether a person is destined for leadership greatness on a political stage or wants to be better at helping others, leadership skills learned through interactions with the natural world translate well to the classroom, boardroom, and beyond. Child development expert Scott D. Krenz in the article “5 Steps to Helping Your Child Become a Leader” sums up the key leadership concepts in bold below. The connection to outside activities in this list is my addition to Krenz’s thoughts:

  • A “Leader” says “Yes, I Can!”It’s called the power of Positive Attitude. —> Anyone on a sports team knows the value of a positive attitude. My sons play soccer and will start practice for the season this week (let’s hope it stops snowing!). Neither are star players, but we reinforce that what makes them good members of the team is their attitudes, their support and empathy for other members of their team and the opposition, and their ability to listen to the coach (and execute instructions). Playing soccer teaches my kids that losing is a reality of playing the game, but that there are improvements they can make to do better the next time around. Leaders understand that a good attitude makes for a winning team—no matter the score.
  • A “Leader” says “It’s not a problem, it’s a Challenge!” It’s called Overcoming Adversity. —> As I’ve written about on this blog previously, my family does a lot of camping in the summer. One goal of mine for this season is to involve my oldest son in the trip planning more. What better opportunity is there for someone to learn about problems like budget, activities, and planning than to get involved? Further, when something goes wrong (as it inevitably does), this is an opportunity to learn how to be flexible and to seek solutions quickly. Even when things are well planned, the unexpected happens. These aren’t disasters; leaders take these opportunities and make the situation better.
  • A “Leader” says “Never give up, never give up, never give up!” It’s called Perseverance. —> Anyone who’s ever started a backyard garden understands that things don’t always go as planned. When we moved to a new house a few years ago, I got my family together one Saturday, and we rolled out fencing, tilled soil, and planted an array of tiny plants. The problem, I learned as summer wore on, was that the giant oak trees in our yard quickly filled the sky with their leaves, blocking sunlight from reaching my little plants. My garden was a spectacular disaster. I wasn’t daunted, though, and tried again the next year, being more careful to plant in areas where the sun might reach through the leaves. I’d like to say things were lots better, but my harvest wasn’t anything to brag about. This year, I’ve got a new plan—and a new location for the garden. Will I have better results? I’m not sure, but I’m willing to try until I succeed. That’s perseverance, an important leadership skill.
  • A “Leader” says “I may fail or make mistakes BUT I always learn and move ahead!” It’s called Commitment. —> My parents love to take my children fishing. My children, however, aren’t so good at the patience it often takes to catch fish. They expect the fish to bite the hook as soon as it’s dropped into the water. They don’t understand why the fish sometimes don’t bite at all—or bite and aren’t hooked. My soon-to-be eight-year-old son told me recently that he’s looking forward to fishing with Grandpa and Grandma this summer. He said he’s not going to cry if a fish steals the worm from his hook or if he has to sit quietly for a long time. He’s committed to doing what it takes to catch a fish. He’s learning how to be a good leader in the process.
  • A “Leader” says “I will always do my best!” It’s called Excellence. —> When my husband was a graduate student, he hiked in the Everest region. He tells the story of climbing to the summit of a mountain (much smaller than Everest but still pretty major in terms of elevation); many in his party gave up and turned back. Back at their base camp, those people were upset they didn’t reach the summit. The reality of the situation, though, was that they did their best; they hiked as far as they could and made a decision to turn back before they endangered themselves—or someone else who would have had to rescue them. A leader does his/her best in the situation—but doesn’t do so at the expense of others.

If you can’t tell already, I’m firmly in the camp who disagrees with the popular statement “Leaders are born, not made.” It has been my experience that while not everyone is born with strong leadership skills, they can be strengthened. Experiences in nature are a great way to grow those skills. What leadership skills have you gained from spending time outdoors?


K – Keeping it Simple


Photo adapted from mother-1039765_1920 thedanw @ pixabay.com

You ever read something and just find yourself nodding, like “Yeah, I totally get what this person is saying”? I had one of those moments today. The article was titled “Keep it Simple When Introducing Kids to the Outdoors,” and it included a list of things people shouldn’t do when introducing kids to the outdoors (don’t let them play with leeches, for example). After the list, the article ends with this head-nodding gem:

Most of all, just keep it simple and fun.

Well, duh! Why didn’t I think of that? Keep it simple is a mantra for most everything, but for some reason, many of us (yup, I include myself here) overplan when it comes to outdoor activities. When you keep it simple, you’re open to interesting possibilities. You can be spontaneous.

When it comes to getting your family outdoors, keeping it simple should be your goal. If you need some inspiration, check out the ideas at the blogs No Time for Flashcards and Hands On As We Grow.

What simple activities have you used to introduce kids to the outdoors? 

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

I – Imagination

imagination 26 reasons to take your family outside

Adapted from kids-1015856_1920_DeannaChka 2 Pixabay.com

“Mom, I’m bored!”

Spring break was only a few hours old when I heard those words issue from my seven-year-old son’s mouth. I resisted the temptation to get annoyed or angry. Instead, my reply was simple:


There’s an old saying that goes “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In my experience, there’s a useful variation on that saying:

Boredom is the mother of IMAGINATION.

I often talk with parents who say they don’t take their kids outside because the kids get bored. Maybe I’m unusual in saying this, but I believe it’s when the kids get bored that they’re most open to imaginative possibilities. Once upon a time, children played with simple wooden blocks and were happy for hours. These days, unless the blocks walk, talk, and do backflips, kids are bored.

Kids aren’t the only guilty ones in this discussion, though. In general, our threshold for tolerating boredom has decreased substantially. We expect someone—or something—to entertain us. We stare at blinking screens all day, absorbing content. We hate to wait for anything, pulling out our phones even when we’re out for a walk or over dinner with friends. We’ve grown used to constant stimulation.

When we get outside, if we put away those electronic devices and really just be there, we aren’t sure what to do with ourselves. We get bored. I’ve talked with plenty of people who say they hate camping because there’s nothing to do but sit around. That “sitting around” is a gift—a moment away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a chance to reconnect with family, a quiet moment to reflect.

The outdoors present a great opportunity for us to be bored—and for our IMAGINATIONS to do some of the work usually accomplished by those blinking screens indoors.

How Does Being Outside Stimulate Our Imaginations?

First, the outdoors is open ended and never ending. There are no real “rules” as to how to play or what to do. Age limits don’t really exist. The choices are limitless, which gives our imaginations time to kick in and provide all sorts of possibilities.

Second, when we’re outside, all of our senses are engaged, from touch to smell. With so much sensory information, our imaginations can run wild and lead us to explore new places or try new activities.

Finally, our usual forms of indoor entertainment aren’t right in front of us so it’s up to our imaginations to help us provide our own entertainment from the world around us. Suddenly, branches become walls for a castle, feathers adorn the turrets, and shells are a road.

I encourage you to get outside for a while today and resist the temptation to give in as soon as someone says “I’m bored.” Let your imaginations run wild!

(But if you really must give in to that boredom nudge, check out the imagination-spurring outdoor family activity ideas on Pinterest.)

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

H – Humility

Adirondacks 26 reasons to take your family outside

You know that saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees?” Today, I want to talk about the forest… and the trees… and the flowers… and the animals… and EVERYTHING else we might encounter in the great big world.

In fact, it’s that entire GREAT BIG world I want to talk about.

Have you ever taken a moment to consider how tiny and insignificant we are in the scope of the whole world? Even our most significant personal moments are minor when considered on a global scale. I’m reminded as I write these words of my favorite painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Breughel the Elder:

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Look closely at the painting. Can you find Icarus? It’s sort of like those “Where’s Waldo” books that were around when I was a kid. If you look closely, you’ll see that poor Icarus is drowning in Brughel’s painting (we only see his legs). The worst thing has happened to him; he’s fallen out of the sky and into the water. Even so, the world continues around him: The farmer keeps plowing his field, and the ship sails on toward its destination. No one even stops to ask if he’s okay.

The great big world continues onward with or without us.

Sounds a bit depressing, doesn’t it? So where am I going with this? Why am I focused on this sad reality of our insignificance in the world?

Simply put: HUMILITY. Recognizing how insignificant and weak we are in the world allows us to ask others for help when we need it. Rather than having the attitude that we can do anything on our own, humility reminds us that we are just one element in this great big world.

Speaking of that great big world, we want our kids to grow up to be self-confident. To that end (rightly or wrongly), we award everyone trophies to help build up their belief in themselves. Self-confidence is only one pillar of a strong foundation, though. Self-confidence without humility results in hubris, the excessive pride that leads to disaster in just about every Greek tragedy (and a lot of our own personal tragedies, too, if we’re being honest). Instead, let’s try a different formula:

Self-Confidence + Humility = Balance

Humility isn’t boastful. It isn’t “in your face.” It isn’t meek or timid either, though. It’s the quiet strength that will see us through even those moments when we’re having a hard time seeing the forest for the trees.

Lessons Nature Teaches About HUMILITY

  • You won’t always be the winner: You build the perfect sandcastle—only to have the tide wash it away. You organize the most beautiful campsite anyone’s ever seen—only to have a wind storm blow your decor into the lake. These things happen when you’re outdoors. They remind us that it’s not all about us.
  • Good leaders don’t need praise: There are plenty of opportunities to act as a leader in outdoor settings. You could lead a group on a hike or organize a flag football game at the park. In the end, it doesn’t matter how good you were as a leader; what matters is that everyone has a good time. Good leaders understand and accept this.
  • Service is its own reward: Picking up trash along the highway, planting a community garden, or raking the neighbor’s leaves are all tasks that take time. This is time we could be spending doing other things we enjoy. However, there is inherent reward in helping others.
  • The natural world has value: It’s easy to lose sight of the value of nature—see the trees and neglect the forest. Just take a walk around the block, though, and count the bird species you see or try to identify trees by their leaves. Each of these living things provides value—to the earth and ultimately to humans ourselves.
  • Admitting when you’re wrong is not a sign of weakness: I wrote a post recently about failure. One of the lessons we learn from outdoor adventures is that failure is a good thing. Likewise, admitting when we’re wrong or when we don’t have the answers or when we’re scared is good for us. When you’re out geocaching and get the coordinates wrong, admitting your mistake is a sign of maturity.
  • Getting out of our comfort zone is important for personal growth: The first time my now-husband took me rock climbing, I cried before I even got into the harness. Yup, embarrassing tears of fear and frustration rolled down my face. I was WAY out of my comfort zone. Sure, I would have liked to stay on my couch and read a book. When I got over myself and faced my fear, however, I found a new hobby I love.


I realize that there are countless ways to learn HUMILITY, and those lessons don’t have to come from being outdoors. However, spending time in the great big outdoor world reminds us how insignificant our own concerns are and gives us the opportunity to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

G – GOOD Food

hot dog campfire A-Z challenge

Adapted from sausage-662049_1920_Pezibear @ Pixabay.com

By now, everyone knows food cooked outside tastes better, right? Honestly, I think the food is the main reason I go camping sometimes. Yes, it takes a bit more effort to cook over the campfire, but there’s something about the relaxed pace of campfire cooking coupled with being hungry from exertion and fresh air that makes food cooked over a fire taste amazing.

Interestingly, the *taste* of the food isn’t the only good thing about cooking outside. According to an H.E. Remus on Medium, “When you cook for yourself, you consume 50% less calories.” That makes sense since when you’re camping, you’re probably meal planning more carefully and are conscious of portion control since storage of food is an issue. Further, you’re less likely to just randomly grab a snack from the pantry, and if you do stock your camping pantry with junk food (s’mores, anyone?), you’re more likely to have exercised setting up camp to burn more calories than you would sitting in front of the TV. As an added bonus, if you’re participating in activities like fishing or foraging (yes, people do that!), you’re probably eating the freshest protein around sans preservatives of any kind.

Finally, if you’re camping, you just have to try one of the incredibly creative recipes you can find in the array of camping recipe books or on Pinterest. In case you need some incentive, here’s my Pinterest camping recipe list:

How is it that the lowly hot dog can taste so GOOD when cooked outside over an open fire? What are your favorite recipes for cooking outdoors? I’m always looking for new things to try on this summer’s adventures!

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

E – Exercise

beach running

Adapted from sea-412578_1920_Dieter G @ Pixabay.com

Confession time: I hate exercising for the sake of exercising. I have never been a fan of going to the gym or jogging. I have a treadmill that collects more dust than miles. So, if you’re at all like me, don’t stop reading once you see that word EXERCISE. Stick with me for a few minutes…

While I do not like exercise in and of itself, I love getting outside. There’s something about the fresh air and change in scenery that makes me want to be active. Suddenly, I feel like grabbing the rake or trimming a tree. I’m bouncing a basketball with one of my sons while I play traffic cop as my other son rides his bike up and down the driveway. There’s no gym membership required, but just being outside means I’m burning more calories than I would be inside on a chair.

Think those outside activities don’t matter much? Take a look at the list of outdoor activities and their calorie-burning power compiled by Everyday Health’s Jen Laskey:

  • Frisbee: 100 calories
  • Jumping on a trampoline: 100 calories
  • Dancing: 115 to 150 calories or more
  • Snorkeling: 120 calories
  • Horseback riding: 150 calories
  • Gardening: 160 calories
  • Kayaking: 150 calories
  • Swimming: 180 calories
  • Playing tennis: 250 calories
  • Rollerblading: 250 calories
  • Beach volleyball: 280 calories
  • Biking around town: 250 calories or more
  • Jumping rope: 360 calories

*All calorie counts are approximate and are based on a 150-pound person engaging in the activity at moderate intensity for 30 minutes.

The Beyond the Tent blog adds more useful calorie-burning outside activities:

  • Rowing: 250 calories per hour
  • Hiking & Backpacking: 500 calories per hour.
  • Walking: 200 calories per hour.
  • Playing with children: 200 calories per hour.

Those outside activities add up quickly. According to the blog at Eureka Tents, there’s an added bonus to exercising outside:

…People who walked outside walked faster, perceived less exertion, and had more positive feelings than people who walked on a treadmill.

Want an interesting activity that will keep your family engaged while exercising? Try Geocaching! Annette, a mom, reported on the Geocaching Junkie blog that “Every time we mention geocaching, as opposed to just going for a walk, [the kids] are out of the door like a shot! Now they do enjoy the outdoors, but geocaching adds an extra motivation to get out there.”

By the way, if you think you need to spend hours outside to see results, findings show that just 30 minutes of light exercise could improve your health:


Challenge yourself and your family to spend just a half hour of your day outside. My guess is that you’ll all be happier and healthier for it!

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

B – Break from Daily Life

swing reasons to take your family outside break from daily life

Adapted from swint-set-667949_1920_ctvgs @ Pixabay.com

I’m a mom. As such, my normal daily schedule looks a bit like this:

daily schedule

I know many others have schedules that are far crazier than mine, but it’s clear that we have a lot to keep us occupied during the day. Activity-packed days turn into weeks, which turn into months, and suddenly we feel like our days are repeating themselves—Groundhog Day style. We don’t get enough sleep. We don’t eat as well as we should. We cut corners where we can to make everything fit into the schedule. By the time the weekend rolls around, we’re exhausted—and for good reason! We look forward to vacations to “catch-up,” but how many times have you found yourself saying, “I need a vacation from my vacation” when you return?

Let’s face it: We need a break. Our families need a break.

But how do we find time for a break—a really refreshing break?

What most of us forget is that we have a great way to take a break right in front of us: The great outdoors!

Having trouble sleeping?

Current Biology did a study (reported by Fox News) that camping can result in a break from the unnatural circadian rhythms caused by modern life. According to Kenneth Wright, who led the study, “By increasing our exposure to sunlight and reducing our exposure to electrical lighting at night, we can turn our internal clock and sleep times back and likely make it easier to awaken and be alert in the morning.” It took less than a week of camping for study participants to feel less groggy in the morning. Even if a camping trip isn’t in your future, spending more time outside during the day and reducing exposure to artificial light in the evenings can produce results. Starting your day with a walk outside can jumpstart your circadian rhythm.

Feeling stressed?

Just being outside can act as a stress break. In a Landscape and Urban Planning study reported in Prevention, scientists measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in 25 healthy adults in Scotland and discovered that participants living where green space was in abundance had lower cortisol levels and fewer complaints of stress. If you think this means you have to move to the country, there’s good news. Environmental Science & Technology reported that people showed improved mood and self-esteem after only five minutes of light exercise outdoors.

Life’s routines and never-ending to-do list too much for you?

When things feel hectic at home, I find myself yearning for the routine break of a camping trip. Yes, we still have to set-up the campsite, make food, etc. However, doing these things away from home is a nice change of routine. When we’re camping, I’m not thinking about the laundry that needs to get washed, the bills that need to be paid, or the vet appointment I need to make for the dog. I talk with my family around the campfire, go for walks in the woods, and play games at the picnic table. For that brief time, I relax.


Next time things feel hectic and you notice you’re not sleeping well, stressed, or overwhelmed with life, take my advice and get outside. No, time spent outside won’t get those bills paid, but my guess is that you’ll return to those tasks with more focus and a renewed spirit.

How do you take a break from daily life?

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

I Pledge to Help Women & Girls Achieve Their Ambitions – IWD 2016

International Women's Day

Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 8, is International Women’s Day, a day set aside to recognize women’s contributions to the social, economic, cultural and political health of our world. The theme this year is gender parity. The IWD website notes

The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.

While I’m realistic in knowing that I can’t make any sort of major steps toward achieving gender parity, I’m taking up one of the IWD pledges in my own little corner of the world:

Pledge for parity

One way women can continue to push the boundaries is through improved self-confidence. There are few things better for building a person’s sense of self than getting outside and active. According to a March 6 article, from the Couer d’Alene Press, “…There is some research that suggests outdoor play leads to overall well being, which ultimately leads to higher self esteem and confidence.”And right now, according to Jill Sanford at The Clymb, is a great time to be an active outdoor woman:

…Most mil­len­ni­als were raised by women who had the oppor­tu­nity to be active. We grew up with pro­fes­sional female ath­letes as role mod­els. We played sports and went hik­ing with our dads and broth­ers. Life wasn’t always like this for girls, but slowly, the norm has shifted and women are allowed, even encour­aged, to be active par­tic­i­pants in all things athletic.

Organizations have popped up all over the country to give women and girls a chance to get active and play outside. Here are just a few:

  • Women Outdoors: A network where women can meet other women who share their outdoor interests and values. We provide a place for women who, through the outdoors, build bridges among members of diverse outdoor skills, ages, lifestyles and cultures.
  • Outdoor Women’s Alliance: The nonprofit media and adventure collective that encourages, educates, and engages females through adventure sports worldwide.
  • CLIPPED Outdoors:  community organization with a passion for engaging women in active outdoor pursuits. Through community building, programming, networking and partnerships, we enable women to advance and excel as leaders and mentors in their active outdoor goals.
  • Girls on the Run: A 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.

If you’re still on the fence, many states, including Illinois and Ohio, have programs designed to introduce women to outdoors activities.

Okay, I fully acknowledge that getting outside will not in and of itself reduce gender parity. However, I know from experience that the problem-solving skills, resilience, determination, persistence, and adaptability I’ve learned from participating in outdoor activities have prepared me well for the challenges I face on the job and in my social world. If I’m pledging to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, I think getting outside is a great first step.

How will you help women and girls achieve their goals in 2016? Will you take the IWD #PledgeforParity with me? 

**A special thanks for Sayanti aka Shine at the blog Close to you for the reminder of IWD’s approach!



Escaping Expectations

creek escaping expectations

Adapted from Unsplash @pixabay.com

The sun was shining over the weekend, and the unseasonably warm winter temperature reduced the piles of snow in our yard to puddles. As anyone with spring fever might do, I rounded up the family and headed outside to do some geocaching. At first, everything went expected.

We found the first cache with ease, and it felt great to get outside and stretch our winter-weary legs.

It was when we got to the second cache that everything went downhill.

I can’t tell you exactly what the trigger was. Maybe it was the fact tht we couldn’t get the GPS coordinates for the next cache to work. It could have been that my oldest was running through the woods swinging sticks at everything. It’s possible it was my youngest who was bent on destroying as much of the surrounding trees as he could. It may have been my husband who wasn’t helping me with the GPS problem or the kid problem fast enough.

Whatever the reason, I got angry. I yelled at my family and then stomped back to the car. I sulked for the rest of the afternoon. Not a pretty picture.

After calming down, I did some thinking about what went wrong. It wasn’t that I hadn’t planned the day well enough. I’m definitely an overplanner, feeling the need to know just how things are going to go.

That’s when it hit me: My unrealistic expectations got in the way of a great day outside.

If you think about it, an expectation is just a strong belief something will happen the way we anticipate it will. On our outdoor adventures, we expect good weather, for our kids to behave, for the perfect campsite, for a bug-free hike, for a fun-filled vacation… But more often than not, something happens that upends those expectations in a second.

How do you react when things don’t go as you expect?

Are you like I was over the weekend and have a ruined day?

Do you feel disappointed or let down?

Or do you roll with it when the rain drops fall, delighting in the chance to go stomping through mud puddles on your hike?

Managing Expectations

As you can see, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about escaping from expectations this week (at least, the unrealistic ones), and I thought I’d share my take-aways with you so that your family time outside isn’t ruined:

  • Plan–yet be flexible. I don’t think planning itself is the problem. Most good outings require some degree of planning. What I sometimes forget, though, is to plan for flexibility. If everything is planned in detail, the littlest thing going wrong can wreck the day. However, if the plan includes some flexibility—like including multiple options or some time to explore and relax—it’s easier to roll with the unexpected.
  • Remember you can’t change reality, but you can change how you respond. I’m slowly realizing that happiness isn’t about expectations; it’s about reality, enjoying the moment. I can’t anticipate when the tire will go flat or how much damage a freak hailstorm will do to the camper roof, but I am entirely in charge of how I deal with those situations. Instead of letting them get me upset, I can choose to find the silver lining, making the best of the situation.
  • Evaluate how significant the expectation is. I honestly don’t think it’s possible to eliminate all expectations—and maybe it wouldn’t be a good thing if we did. However, some expectations are more reasonable and significant than others. Yael Kaufman wrote in an article titled “How Eliminating Unrealistic Expectations Can Make You a Happier Person” that some expectations are just unnecessary. It’s not easy to do, but we need to be asking ourselves if the day will be *ruined* if the expectation isn’t met. Was my day really ruined after the geocaching debacle? Of course not!
  • Acknowledge that unrealistic expectations cause stress. Who needs added stress in his/her life? No one I know, for sure! When we have these expectations for how everything will go, we’re living in the land of worry, anxiety, and stress. We’re focused on events in the future we have little control over. Letting go of those expectations means letting go of some stress—sounds like a good thing to me!
  • Become aware of your expectations—so that you can loosen your grip on them. Each of these five “take-aways” overlap, but I think this is the one that overlays all the rest.  The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying, “I am open to the guidance of synchronicity and do not let expectations hinder my path.” It sounds so simple when he says it. The first step to escaping from those unrealistic expectations is to recognize them. It’s hard to stay “in the moment,” though; instead, I’m usually a step ahead, planning—and yes, making expectations. I need to work on awareness of my expectations so they don’t get in the way of living.

Okay, I’ve confessed my embarrassing weekend tantrum and what I’ve learned as a result. Have you ever had these moments where your expectations got in the way of enjoying reality? Any tips?

Essentials for Making Campground Reservations

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Making Campground reservations campsiteLast year, I made a big mistake.

We were making the transition from camping in a small pop-up to RV camping. Previously, we’d gone to little “in the middle of nowhere” campgrounds that were just numbered pads of gravel in the middle of a state forest with a hand pump for water and a pit toilet. With our new trailer, though, we felt the need to try out all the amenities, like water, electric, and dump stations. However, we still wanted to feel like we were really camping, so we steered away from any campground with the word “resort” in the title.

Here in Michigan, we have some of the most amazing state parks, so those seemed like the best option to meet our new camping wish list. With that decided, I sat down at my computer when the weather started getting nice in May to make reservations for our summer camping.

Big mistake.

In case you’re wondering, the big mistake wasn’t sitting at my computer or trying to make reservations. The big mistake was thinking I’d still be able to find available sites at the popular campgrounds in May. Whichever state campground I tried, I found no availability—or only sites that didn’t meet my search criteria. To say I was disappointed and frustrated would be putting it mildly.

Since camping is such a popular activity in Michigan—and perhaps because summer is so short—campgrounds fill very quickly. I’ve learned my lesson, though, and this year things are different. Here are my plans to ensure we get the camping reservations we want this summer.

Research Campgrounds Ahead of Time

Many people know exactly where they want to camp. Maybe they’re camping with friends who always go to the same place, or they want to camp near a specific place (like Sleeping Bear Dunes or the Mackinac Bridge). What’s harder to know is the specific site within the campgrounds in which we want to stay. For example, we’ve unfortunately ended up with the campsite closest to the dump station and sites closest to the main road with cars rushing in and out. To avoid this problem:

  • Do a drive through: The best option is to see the campground yourself—if that’s an option. My family has been known to stop at campgrounds we’re not staying at to ask if we can drive through. Most places are more than happy to allow us to take a look. We like to get a map of the campground, if they’ll give one to non-paying guests, so we can mark down sites we like. Then, when it’s time to make reservations, we pull those maps out of the glove compartment (where they always end up) and know which sites are the best.
  • Check out reviews: In the 21st century, it seems everyone writes reviews. While I’m not always sure that’s a good phenomenon, it can help you determine if a campground is the one for you and your family. From reading reviews on Trip Advisor, for example, I’ve found out valuable information like which loop is the busier one and which campground bathrooms need upgrading.
  • Check out photos: These days, many campgrounds are posting photos of each site on their websites. Typing the name of the campground into Google Images will produce photos that others have taken of the campground (and often surrounding attractions). Further, if you’d like a bird’s eye view of the place—maybe to see how close the sites are to one another or how much undergrowth separates each site, use Google Earth to get a look at the place.

Doing your research ahead of time can make all the difference in how successful you camping trip will be.

Find Out When Campgrounds Begin Taking Reservations

I never expected that I’d need to make my camping reservations when there’s still snow on the ground, but that’s the case in the most popular campgrounds here in Michigan. Another part of the research you should be doing is to find out when the online reservation systems will begin accepting reservations for the year to come:

  • Michigan State Park Campgrounds: According to the Michigan DNR, reservations for state park campsites can be made six months in advance—not a day before. If you want a prime site at one of the popular state parks like the Porcupine Mountains SP, Ludington SP, or P. J. Hoffmaster SP, you’ll need to book pretty close to six months out of your intended reservation.
  • Private Campgrounds: Reservation systems can vary wildly for these locations, so it’s good to call ahead. One popular private campground my family likes to visit in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has beautiful Lake Superior overlook sites—but only if you book when reservations open in October of the year before.
  • Recreation.gov Campgrounds (National Parks): According to their website, reservations are available six months in advance , with notable exceptions like Yosemite National Park. Group facilities are available 12 months in advance.
  • Reserve America Campgrounds: Acknowledging how tough it can be to get “the good sites” at popular campgrounds, this website includes a list of the Top 5 On Sale Secrets, including synchronizing your clock with the online reservation system to ensure you’re making your reservation at the soonest moment possible. They also suggest setting up your login and password ahead of time and even practicing the reservation procedure so you’re ready the instant the booking window opens. This is serious business!

Knowing when you can begin making reservations is key to getting the campsites you want.

The Exceptions

If you’re like me and don’t get around to making all of your reservations way ahead of time, there’s still hope:

  • Cancellations: There’s always a chance  a campground may have a cancellation. Some campgrounds keep a waiting list, if you call to check their availability.
  • Nearby Locations and Campgrounds: Often, there are county park campgrounds or private campgrounds in the vicinity that have openings.These locations may be less known so therefore have more availability.
  • First Come First Served Campgrounds: If you arrive right at check-in (or even a bit before if check-out is earlier in the day), the odds of getting a prime site are good.
  • Being Nice: I’ve had some luck with just calling the campground directly and being as polite as possible to the person on the phone; when campsite demand is high, politeness can go a long way to getting you an open site.

What are your secrets to ensuring you get the campsite your family wants each year?