Fire on grill in front of tent

Find family fun and connection at local campgrounds

“Nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees.”

—Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

I first camped, at Enchanted Rock, when I was nearly 24. The friend who proposed the trip was amused that I didn’t know how to set up the tent. She handled everything—the cooking, the cleaning, the “how about we take a hike”—while I sat by anxiously, wondering whether it was too late to decamp to a hotel room in Fredericksburg.

By trip’s end, I had hiked the domes by starlight, soaked in the warmth of sun-struck granite slabs, and figured out that the armadillo digging under the tent’s edge at night was no threat. Now, I get back to nature whenever possible. And I’m happy to say that my kids are more adept at pitching a tent than I am. Camping with my family, I’ve learned how a single weekend in nature can change our family dynamic. It can change yours, too.

Camping fosters “slow time.” Everything takes longer when you camp, allowing you to let go of the usual “get there now” schedule. Embrace the slowness of cooking over a fire instead of in a kitchen or telling stories instead of watching TV. Nap in the shade (no one will tell). Be present with your family.

Camping fosters “focused time.” Without the distractions of screens, sports, and chores, family members can devote attention to each other. Put away the tablets, handheld games, and camera phones for one weekend. (Okay, you may keep one phone to take pictures for Facebook posts.) Substitute idly winding conversations, silly card games, aimless walks along trails.

Georgetown folks are lucky to live on the edge of the Hill Country, near the pines of East Texas, and in the middle of our own beautiful landscape. What better way to share it with our kids than to haul out the tent, pack up the car, and spend the weekend with family and friends at the lake, by the river, and among the trees!

Pack It Up

Whether you’re camping for the first time or the fiftieth, it’s easy to over- or under-pack. Tame these extremes by keeping a list of basic gear on hand when you pack for a weekend trip.

Kids-playing-cards-in-tent-min

Accommodations: tent, ground cloth, sleeping pads and bags, folding chairs

Personal Gear: two or three clothing changes, hat or cap, sturdy shoes, soft clothes to sleep in, season-appropriate jacket or coat for evenings and mornings, rain gear, sunglasses, toiletries, flashlights, camera

Safety: lantern, sunscreen, insect repellant, hand sanitizer, well-stocked first aid kit (buy one ready-made or make your own)

Entertainment: portable games for down-time (or rain)—such as playing cards and travel versions of popular board games; colors and coloring pages for young children; balls and discs to toss

Cooking Gear: cooler with water (stay hydrated!), snacks, sandwich makings, and ingredients for meals you plan to cook; camp stove (or you can cook over the campfire); plastic or disposable plates, cups, and utensils; paper towels or camp towels; skillet or pan; mixing bowls and foil (handy for many tasks); matches or lighter

A note about costs: Camping gear can add up, if you buy it new and all at once. If you’re just starting out, consider borrowing the big items—the tent, the sleeping bags—from a friend who camps. Scrounge around the house for items to set the picnic table. And remember that used gear is available at thrift shops and online. You don’t have to empty your wallet to camp near Georgetown!

Tent Tips

Father and son camping

“Who forgot to pack the tent poles?”

“Where did all this mildew come from?”

“I thought you said this tent was water-resistant!”

“What—no stakes?!”

Whether you’ve camped before or you’ve never unzipped a tent bag, avoid “tent emergencies” by setting up your tent at home and run this checklist before you leave for the campground:

  • I know how to set this tent up—even in the dark, even in the rain. (If it’s been a while, practice!)
  • I have laid out the sleeping pads and gear and know that they fit in the tent. (Tent packages may claim “Sleeps 6!” when in fact only four people can fit comfortably.)
  • I have every tent pole and a set of stakes. (Be sure to check the rain fly, too.)

Camp Local!

You don’t have to leave Georgetown to camp at the following locations. Check websites for site availability and costs.

Girl blowing bubbles on camping trip

Lake Georgetown

Cedar Breaks—shady tent sites and screened-in shelters, fishing access, water and restrooms with showers on site

Jim Hogg—the largest Lake Georgetown campground, lake access, water and restrooms with showers on site

Russell Park—tent camping, screened-in shelters, and beach access, water and restrooms with showers on site

Tejas Camp—primitive camping by the San Gabriel River, with vault toilets and water on site

To reserve sites at any of the Lake Georgetown campgrounds, visit www.reserveamerica.com and enter the campground name.

Berry Springs Park and Preserve—kid-friendly trails and playground, a pond, primitive and improved campsites, restroom and shower facility, shady pecan trees, and donkeys.

Coming soon! Garey Park

Or Venture Farther Afield:

These Hill Country parks are just close enough for a weekend trip. These parks are very popular, so reserve your site in advance.

Inks Lake—fishing, hiking, swimming, and camping among the granite outcroppings—and Longhorn Caverns is just down the road to provide a cool retreat on a hot Texas day.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area—perhaps Texas’ most beloved state park—camping, hiking the domes, star-gazing, and marveling are recommended activities.

Lost Maples State Natural Area—no need to drive to Pennsylvania to take in some fall color! Campsites book up early in autumn, so plan ahead.

Bastrop State Park—familiarly known as Lost Pines, this park is recovering quickly from the Bastrop wildfires. Check out the CCC buildings and the newly planted pines.

Smokey Says: Fire Safety Basics

The campfire at the end of the day is a highlight of the camping experience. Here’s a review of fire safety basics.

Roasting marshmallows on camping trip

  • Check to ensure that no county or city burn ban is in place. If a ban is in place, don’t violate it. Ever. Even for “just a small fire.”
  • Build your fire in the fire ring if one is provided. Many campgrounds forbid open ground fires.
  • Place a bucket of water (or sand, if you are desert camping) near the fire to use in case of flare-ups or escaped embers.
  • Bring or buy small and large pieces of wood. You can gather tinder—small twigs, dry grass and pine needles—around the campsite. Many campgrounds do not allow you to gather larger branches, however. Check the campground rules.
  • Before you leave home, brush up on fire-building techniques.
  • Never walk away from the campfire. All fires, and the kids and pets nearby, require constant supervision.
  • Model the behavior that only wood goes in the fire. Don’t use the fire to burn trash.
  • When the evening is done, extinguish the fire completely.

REI offers classes on camping, cooking, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Check the REI website for upcoming class types and dates.

Prefer to read up on your own? REI has articles on many camping questions. View the list.

Teach the next generation fire safety, too. Visit www.smokeybear.com for more information and for kid-friendly activities.

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