Camping/Campers/Trailers/Cabins

I’ve been poking around at the idea of getting a camper, a trailer, or perhaps just a spot of land with a small cabin on it.

My kids are getting to the right ages for camping/outdoor activities. By the end of summer, they will be 8, 6, and 2.

Last fall we went to a state park and stayed in a cabin there - some friends of ours (with similar aged kids), stayed in another cabin in the same place, and we all (kids and adults) had a lot of fun. This was our first time doing anything like this with the kids, but I think we’ll do similar stuff a few more times this year.

When I was a kid we camped a fair amount, and for a few years owned some land in the woods (mostly) with a creek running through it. No cabin or anything - we’d use a big tent and that was fun. Later, my parents sold that land and bought a weekend-getaway type place in a much fancier development - a plush A-frame in the woods, next to a man-made lake and close to a golf course, but it didn’t feel like camping - more like a second house. Too much maintenance and too dull for my tastes.

BTW, we live in a suburb of St. Louis - there’s lots of campgrounds reasonably close, and rural land can be bought at a reasonable price, too.

Anyways, after the camping last fall, our friends and us both got interested in getting a bit deeper this - maybe buying land or something else. They jumped first - they just bought a new pull-behind 28 foot trailer. It’s pretty cool. It sleeps 7 or so. The side electrically slides out to make it bigger inside when it’s parked. It has a stove, oven, fridge, toilet, and shower (all small-ish, of course). The price was reasonable, too - about $13K. They just bought it and don’t really have any feedback on it yet, but it sure seems cool.

So of course, that got me thinking about this a bit more. I probably wouldn’t get serious about anything for a year or so, until we’ve gone through one more camping season. But I also don’t want to wait too long if I were to go for one of the more expensive options - I suspect the kids’ interest in camping with mom and dad will start to fade around age 16, so we’ve got maybe 8 or so decent years for this before the oldest starts to lose interest.

I have fond memories of tent camping as a kid, but then, my dad did most of the work setting stuff up and breaking it down. I’m not sure I would enjoy it as much if I had to do all that myself. Plus the missus is down on options that lack a toilet.

I never did the (rough) cabin thing (owning one, I mean). Seems kinda cool, but I wonder if it would get broken into by drunk hunters and the like, when it’s only occupied perhaps 5-8 weekends a year.

My parents had the plush A-Frame thing, but it didn’t float my boat. Also, they’re very expensive.

Finally, the trailer thing is interesting, but I’m curious what people think who’ve owned one for several years, after the novelty of it wears off. The big 28-foot pull behind is very nice inside, but the idea of driving that thing around and trying to back it into a parking spot intimidates me. Pop-up campers seem much easier to drive with, and I think our current minivan could tow one (full trailers are much more doubtful), but the campers are much more basic. Probably good enough for me, but I’m less sure of approval by my wife.

Share your experiences, either as an adult, or as a kid, about any of this stuff, or camping in general.

When my mother remarried, I was ten and my new stepfather had a camper/trailer. Big one too. Like you, we were in the St. Louis area (St. Charles, to be exact).

As cheezy as that whole trailer thing sounds, those weekend camping trips (and a couple of once-per-year extended week-long vacation trips) were some of the happiest memories of my childhood. We never had a space or anything–we just would go to one campground one weekend, and then maybe a few weeks later go to another, re-visiting favorites, crossing un-favorites off the list for future consideration.

Anyway, my own memories were that those camping trips were all about cooking outdoors (stepdad had been a boyscout troop leader for about 25 years with his own sons, and then did the same with me), campfires, fishing, learning to shoot a bb gun and then rifle safely, swimming in pools and swimmable lakes (and there are a bunch of choice spots on the Mississippi and Meramec rivers if you’re careful and the rivers aren’t bloated and swift). Jack Buck and the Cardinals were always on the radio, and my parents were always encouraging me to invite my friends to come along (and they always thought it was totally awesome like I did). My mom and stepdad would take of work early on Friday and we’d load up and hit the road by 3-4pm, get to where we were going by 6:30-7:30, and have time to set up in summer daylight and have a nice first evening of the weekend.

Dunno if times have changed since then, but man was it fun–just enough “outdoors” roughing it for Mom, and my stepdad and my friends and I got to do all the other stuff that was really outdoorsy as well.

Your location is pretty ideal. Lake of the Ozarks is a 3.5 or 4.5 hour drive. There are a ton of solid campgrounds there. There are definitely some good places along the Meramec, and you can also use your trailer as a home base for a Saturday float trip on the Current or Jack’s Fork or Meramec when your kids get a little older. For longer vacations, I can’t recommend Table Rock Lake anymore (too overbuilt) but Bull Shoals is tree-mend-ous, and only another 45-minute additional drive to the Arky border.

Hope that helps some?

EDITED: Our camper was a 32-foot behemoth, with 2 bathrooms. The biggest recommendation I have if you go that route is to rent a storage space away from your home. When we first moved into our new home after my parents got married, we had the camper in a custom-designed space next to our house, but we found that we were pretty much advertising to everyone on the planet that we were gone for the weekend when we left, and the trailer was gone. Neighborhood kids broke into the place about three times before my stepdad got sick of that. Most storage places have “Pull through” option so you don’t have to back the thing up, and many campgrounds do too.

On the other side, I hate hate hated camping as a kid. There were video games and books, but noooo, stay in the middle of nowhere next to some fetid pond.

I suspect in the next decade or so gas prices are going to make hauling enormous trailers all over creation unfeasible. If I was going to flee power plugs in favor of roughing it, I’d just rent one of those cabins at the state parks.

We went with a boat that we could sort of comfortably sleep in (open v, seats went down), but was great as there are a ton of decent sized lakes around cleveland. Just take it out, go fishing, sleep when you can’t stay up anymore, water ski when the sun wakes you. If your friend has the camper, a boat would make a good compliment. Added bonus, I pretty much never grew out of it and still went boating/camping with my dad through my twenties until someone hitched the boat up from in front of my parents house and drove off with it…

Chet

Yeah, gas prices were a little less a hit on the pocketbook back then, although by CPI, not as much as you’d think.

…and before anyone poo-poos the whole “fake” camping bit, trust me, I do real camping better than anyone non-military I know. I did two summers at Philmont.

Back in my youth as a Boy Scout, we camped out a lot, the traditional way - you hiked someplace and put up some tents. Did the camps and whatnot… for sure it was great fun, enjoyed it, and still do that every once in awhile, though I wish I did more of it but need to get back in shape a bit.

Last year was up in the Washington State area with my best friend (from the same scout troop) and we went camping with his parents and some of their friends near the Cascades (eastern side, closest town I think is Leavenworth). This was car-camping - you park on a pad, set up your tents in the designated area (or in your own camper) and just hang out for the weekend. You can do stuff too - there was a nice big nearby creek/river and lots of other stuff - but mostly we just took it easy.

He and his parents had tents, the friends had a camper - 20-30’, nice, “transformable” - that is, you pull everything out and rearrange when you set up. While it has a sink, etc. and several sleeping areas, he said they used to have an RV I think, but thought it was a huge hassle with various water tanks, etc. It didn’t take more than 30 minutes or so to compact it all and get everything packed, seemed like it was pretty easy. Moving in and out on the pad I guess is the hard part, but when you get experienced I guess, and there’s someone else to guide you, shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I’d think a minivan could easily tow one around.

The camper was a nice compromise he thought - running water was nearby, and you had most of the things you’d want. My friend’s parents are still thinking about what to get.

In its own way car-camping isn’t bad - you don’t have to strenuously hike anywhere, you just set up right there and most of the supplies are very close by. There’s built-in fire pits (hopefully), and this location in particular had an assload of good wood to burn (though of course there were huge fire restrictions, everything was bone dry, fuels were all in terrific shape and we all had to be very careful). Hell we spent a lot of time getting stuff to burn, because building and maintaining a nice fire is a lot of fun.

If you wind up getting your own tent… learn all about it before you go camping. How to set it up, properly secure it, etc. do in your backyard or something. Camping gear, etc. you should also be familiar with - even if you are car-camping.

Expect it to get expensive either way you go, you’ll always end up paying more overall than you expect.

Outdoor gear has gotten very fancy, a far cry from my boy scout days almost 20 years ago… boy have times changed. That’s another topic though…

— Alan

Have no idea what this means.

You could be talking about clarinets and band camp for all I know.

— Alan

Philmont is the Nirvana of the Boy Scouts of America. So yeah, it’s band camp, but for Boy Scouts. It’s rough.

http://www.philmont.com/page.php?page=site/home.php

We used the RV to haul the boat. Camped at places that had RV facilities and boat docks. It was awwwwwwwwwwwesome.

I’d do it now, with friends, if I had a place to store all that stuff, rather than on the street.

Our friends rented a spot in what I guess is an RV parking lot - a big gravel lot with a barbed wire fence around it. I think it’s costing them $319/year.

I just checked, and our minivan (a 2000 or 2001 Ford Windstar) does not have a towing package. I remember that it was offered as an option for a few hundred bucks, but we didn’t buy it. The minivan has a V-6 and an ok towing capacity (3500 pounds, I think), but I wonder if one can add the towing kit aftermarket at a reasonable price. Has anyone done this?

Eh, I was a Boy Scout for many years and never even heard of the place.

Sounds pretty cool though (link is broken, should just be http://www.philmont.com).

— Alan

Towing kits can always be after-market additions far as I know especially if it was already a pre-purchase option. Cost should be below $1000, but have no experience with it (heck I think usual factory-mounted or dealer-stuff would be around $500).

— Alan

You’d prolly be better off buying a different vehicle. I think the towing package is a bigger rear-end/differential and maybe a different transmission. That’d cost a lot.

I’m a backpacker. I did half of the AT in 98 (Georgia-Pensylvania). Working keeps me from doing too many long trips these days. Colorado has a huge number of camping options for weekend trips. We tend to do mostly car-camping these days. Most state run campgrounds accomodate trailer-type campers.

If you go the route of buying land. May I suggest a Tipi or a Yurt. Great alternatives to trailering. Very large and comfortable accomodations. You could always build an outhouse. With eiter of these options you can take them down at the end of the season and not worry about vandals.

Jesus. Thanks for kiljoying a fun camping thread with a cost-benefit analysis tied to big oil and your shitty childhood memories.

Yeah but were they the pussy 5 mile weeks or the big ass 25 mile week? :)

So we went tent camping (one night) this weekend, as a family.

We’d been on a few other 1 nighters over the last year and a half or so, but the others were at the local boy scout camp and the scout leaders did much of the prep and so on. This time, we were on our own.

(FYI, we are a family of 5, with 3 kids ages 3 to 9. No dogs.)

Some thoughts/lessons learned:

  1. Campsite was disappointing. We stayed at Meramec State Park - a big state park about an hour (maybe a hair less) from our house. The campsite itself was basically a huge field with lots of mid-sized trees sprinkled in. Not woods, nor an entirely bare field, but something in between. As big as the overall park was, it was disappointing that the camp sites were so focused in this one area. Also, the park itself - the little that we explored of it, was a bit disappointing. I was hoping for the ability for the kids to swim or wade around, and to do a little fishing. But the one water entry point that we found into the adjacent Meramec River was tricky to get into, and led to a very small access point to the water. The river was high and fast (probably because it’s spring), and dangerous enough that the kids only got out a little bit at one spot. Fishing wasn’t really viable - at least easy fishing suitable for our kids. And the fishing spot was too near the swimming spot(s) for real safety.

  2. Still, the overall experience was fun.

  3. But I/we made some mistakes. Forgot towels and camp chairs. Didn’t bring enough firewood (some was available somewhere in the park but I didn’t go get/buy any more). Made a cooking mistake (tried to warm up pre-cooked bacon wrapped in foil, but put the foil on a flame and burned the foil, ruining the bacon).

I’m glad we made it a one-nighter. Lessons learned will be applied next time. We need to find some better campsites - I’ve ordered a book which hopefully should provide decent info on campsites within reasonable driving distance.

FWIW - the idea of getting a pop-up trailer or something like that has receded for us. I think using tents should be reasonable for the level of camping we’re probably going to be interested in. I’d love to have access to some private wooded area with a lake or creek running through it, as we had for a while when I was a kid. But I don’t really want to lay out the money or deal with the hassle of it myself. If we’re really lucky, perhaps we’ll find a campsite that is at least close to that feel somewhere around here.

You might try renting a trailer or RV to see how you like it.

A lot of my memories as a child were of President’s weekend camping trips at Usal Beach in the middle of frigging nowhere up the CA coast from where I grew up. It would often rain, it being the beginning of February and all. But my parents and their friends had this tradition of going up there, so up we went. Sometimes it was awesome, and sometimes it was miserable.

We also did a lot of camping in various parks in CA and up the Oregon coast. I grew up surrounded by state and national parks as it was, so most of my childhood was one long camping trip. :P

I do definitely miss it, rain and all. Camping was one of my clearest memories of childhood.

Edit: one of the times we went up and rented houseboats on Shasta Lake, I was pretty small, but that was very cool. I dunno if there’s any type of that sort of thing in your area, but you might look into that also. It combines camping with floating around on the water! :p

There are various opportunities to rent boats of various sizes (from canoes on up) around here. My wife doesn’t want our 3 year old in a canoe at this point, even with a life jacket, and I’m not inclined to fight her over that one at this point. Maybe in a couple years…

One other thought about the weekend - it was pretty warm for April around here - high 80s or low 90s during the day, and perhaps 65-70 ish at night. That’s a little on the high side for camping, IMO. I am not anxious to camp on a July day with a peak temp in the upper 90s during the day and perhaps in the high 70s at night. Cooler seems better than warmer for camping, and around here anyways, spring and fall are probably better than mid-summer.

Phil: How did the 3 YO do? I’m thinking of taking the 3 YO out for some simple backyard camping (on a blowup mattress now less). But want him to be able to sleep outside some in a tent. I’ve tried to run a family camping trip past the wife unit but we have a 20 month old and she’s vetoed that for now. Do you have one of those massive castle tents with a porch etc?

Nice thread especially the Philmont references. Good times on Phillips, Tooth, etc.

A lot of the people we know own campers.
The trip from here to southern Italy or France is just a couple of days and there’s a bunch of good campsites.
We couldn’t afford one and while the actual camping sounds fun, the driving slowly through Germany part doesn’t. I’ve never been camping (if my 15 months of national service and numerous rock festivals doesn’t count) but my wife loeved it as a kid. For her - and most Europenas - it wasn’t about being out in nature and cooking over a fire (that sort of camping is avaliable too… but Europe is pretty populated) but more about seeing interesting countries and cultures in a very child friendly manner. Everybody who does it always talks about how quickly the kids make new friends and have the runaround of the camp site in a manner you rarely see in some hotel. That’s the huge draw.

We’re doing a long weekend in a rented tent this summer, and if my wife manages to convince me that it’s not too primitive (I like 4 and 5 star hotels, which I can’t afford on my own dime) we’re doing a trip to Italy next year (rented tent or cabin, though).