Camping with Tents - Courtesy NPS
Enjoying the Great Outdoors – Courtesy NPS

The arrival of June is a goldmine for outdoor enthusiasts. Not only has June been christened Great Outdoors month, June is also known as National Camping month. I suppose the two go hand-in-hand (unless you subscribe to the whole “camping out in the living room” model), though it appears that National Camping month is the forerunner, having been in existence since the 1970s.

I’m not much of a camper myself. I may or may not own a t-shirt that reads “I’m outdoorsy in that I like drinking wine on patios.” While my family traveled frequently throughout my childhood years, we only attempted to camp on one memorable occasion. My father planned a two-week road trip that would take us throughout New England, painstakingly devising a route and plotting out campsites along the way. After all his hard work, we spent the collective total of one miserable night in a tent. The prospect of spending twelve more nights fighting mosquitoes, trekking 22 miles to a bathroom, and dining on Dinty More stew was enough to prompt a family mutiny. The camping gear stayed in the minivan for the remainder of our vacation.

Years later and I’m willing to revisit the whole camping concept. I’ve learned that camping does not necessarily entail sleeping on the ground. In fact, I’m probably more of a glamping kind of girl. More importantly, I have kids of my own now. And I want them to experience all of the diverse and breathtaking natural beauty this country has to offer. Plus, I’m married to a park ranger and marriage is nothing if not an exercise in compromise.

Setting-up a tent at the beach.
Expectation – Beautiful scenery and family bonding

According to a recent article from Fodor’s , while some folks enjoy roughing it in a tent and others value an RV hookup, “all campers can agree on two things: a good campground should be spacious… and, of course, scenic.” This seems reasonable to me. I might prefer a fancy RV with all the luxuries of home but I still want to feel like I’m soaking up some natural beauty. Hard to do when you’re stumbling over Becky’s camp table propped up in front of the RV next door or listening to Todd’s questionable music selection at the camp site across the way.

Fodor’s lists their top 25 best campgrounds in national parks. Their list includes sites in Yellowstone, Denali, Dry Tortugas, and Acadia. It’s a great looking compilation; there are parks with big campsites and parks with very, very few. There are campsites that are RV free (for all you primitive camping enthusiasts) and sites that are equipped with flushing toilets and RV hookups. If you’ve got some time and flexibility, this list offers a great starting point that covers a range camping preferences.

You can also search for national park campsites throughout the United States using this map. The National Park Service even has a webpage devoted to helpful tips and guidelines for finding and setting up your campsite.

As for me, I don’t think we’ll be taking to the road this month, despite the suggestions that Fodor’s and scores of other websites have to offer. Trust me, a visit to Alaska and Hawaii are definitely on my list. But for now, we need to stick a little closer to home. There are some great campsites at state parks near my house. An hour’s drive will get us into the woods and away from the whirl of activity and endless household “to-do” list.

I want my children to appreciate the importance and fragility of our natural and cultural resources. I want them to understand that the existence of pristine wilderness and dark skies are not a given, and that our irreplaceable resources are at risk due to climate change, pollution, energy extraction, and a dozen other immediate threats. They must be aware and they must work to ensure that their children and grand-children can enjoy the same access to the great outdoors that they are privileged to have. And all of this starts with exposing them to nature and teaching them to find joy in the simple act of a walk through the woods or a night spent under the stars.

Little childern camping in the living room watching TV
Reality – Camping in the Living Room While Watching Cartoons

So in honor of June, I’m going to expand my own horizons and get us outside a little more. For myself, for my children, and for those unknown future generations. We might take a little adventure and drive to a state park for the night. Or maybe we’ll pitch a tent in the backyard. Regardless of how near or far we go, I’m going to give camping another shot. And sip that wine while sitting around a campfire instead of lounging on the patio.