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Discover the Joys of Camping in Pennsylvania Parks

June 17, 2013 By:
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A grand vista on the Appalachian Trail is one thing, but bend down to visit a world of strange flora and fauna living at your feet. Pictured are Indian pipes in Colonel Denning State Park. Photo courtesy PCDNR.

Want to instill a love of the outdoors in your kids and grandkids? Camping — whether you’re into the rustic or posh versions — makes for a great vacation experience.

Pennsylvania has 120 state parks, and almost as many ways to customize the camping experience to a family’s interests and needs. For example, Benjamin Rush State Park in northeast Philadelphia is the recipient of a $4.7 million improvement project that began in November 2012 and was completed in the spring of 2013. “This park prides itself on encouraging community involvement,” said Bureau of State Parks director David Kemmerer. “Local civic and recreation groups and other day-use visitors will all benefit from the improvements we’re making.” Those improvements include construction of a new trail, comfort station and information kiosks; sanitary sewer and water line installation; garden hose connections; and electrical service.

Which state park is right for what kind of campers? Start by deciding on a style of campsite: The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources describes eight different types. Walled tents are built on platforms and have electricity. Cottages (which sleep five) and deluxe cottages (which sleep six) have wooden walls, bunk beds, electricity and a cooking stove. Yurts have the same amenities but are round with canvas walls. Amenities? Who needs amenities when camping? Well, then it comes down to the proximity of restrooms. Flush toilets and hot showers are available near “modern” campsites; “rustic” campsites have toilets but not showers; and “walk-in” means that a short walk is required to get to a restroom. Still too fancy? Look for shelter areas, which are clearings frequented by backpackers who carry their own tents or rent lean-tos.

Want one of the campsites? Reservations are strongly suggested during the summer months. Go to www.pa.reserveworld.com or call 888-PA-PARKS (888-727-2757), Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Prices range from $15 to $86 per night for Pennsylvania residents.

Being in a Pennsylvania state park means abiding by the rules — and there quite a few of them, from a prohibition on alcohol to restrictions on firewood and quiet times. To make all of that easier, the state created a smartphone-friendly website atm.dcnr.state.pa.us.

Private campgrounds are another option. They are not in the lush environs of state parks, but many are near them — and near areas of historical and cultural interest, like Valley Forge National Historic Park, Lancaster County’s Pennsylvania Dutch communities and Longwood Gardens. Private campgrounds offer amenities like pools with water slides, miniature golf and game rooms. Most have tent sites, cabins and facilities for RVs. Check out each campground’s calendar of events to find events of specific interest. For example, the Philadelphia/West Chester KOA in Coatesville has live music on several summer weekends. Colonial Woods Family Camping Resort in Upper Black Eddy has, on various weekends, a carnival, country picnic and the Redneck Olympic Games, complete with toilet seat horseshoes, watermelon seed spitting, a mud-pit slip-and-slide and more.

Find private campgrounds at www.visitpa.com/pa-campgrounds, Pennsylvania’s tourism website, and pacamping.com, the website of the Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association.

What should campers bring along? Go Camping America (www.gocampingamerica.com), an online database and resource guide run by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, offers a comprehensive list of essential gear that includes everything from a first-aid kit to a fire extinguisher and a shovel. Camping Pa. (campingpa.com) has a minutely detailed checklist that covers food and cooking utensils, linen and personal care items. The website also has user-generated articles offering tips on a multitude of camping topics.

Don’t forget the dog! Many campgrounds, including some state parks, allow pets to accompany their human families.

Melissa Jacobs is the senior editor of This SummerThis article was originally printed in This Summer, a Jewish Exponent magazine.

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