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Picking a Campsite

By Kevin Callan

Campsite choices are crucial. They're the places that usually stand out as the fondest memories of a trip. They're more than simply punctuation marks in the journey; campsites are special places to reminisce about and where you long to return to. However, they can also be dreaded nightmares; places where the bugs ate you alive or nuisance critters kept you awake all night.

The perfect scenario is to have a scenic spot nestled in some trees to protect you from high winds, but still enough in the open to snag a breeze to keep the bugs down. It's also best to have the site facing west-southwest to catch the morning sun as well as the last rays of the evening glow. The tent spot is back into the woods to reduce lightning strikes and is slightly higher up in elevation to reduce dampness forming in the tent at night and a thick wet dew covering the tent fly in the morning. Cold air gathers in meadows and travels down water corridors and settles in low lying areas.

Tent sites should also be segregated so everyone has their own bit of privacy, and away from the fire pit so some campers can go to bed early and others can sit by the campfire all night singing songs and toasting marshmallows without disturbing others.

There should be no stagnant water close to the site - a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. There's no evidence of nuisance bear activity such as fresh scat or rocks and logs being turned over, or better yet fire pits disturbed. The site is clear of tall stand-alone trees that make perfect lightning rods or half-dead trees and branches just waiting to fall and land on your tent. There's a good supply of wood for the evening campfire and a fresh water supply nearby. Tall grass areas attract ticks and chiggers, and open rock slabs are great hang-outs for biting red ants.

And best of all, the site is unoccupied when you get there after a long day of searching out the perfect site. If you are lucky, of course, you have a spot in the woods you like to call your own. A "secret spot" that you return to time and time again, either alone or with best friends and family - all of whom are sworn to confidentiality.

Mine is a small pond not far from where I live. It's nothing special; just a cozy corner in a vast woodland. There's a rustic campsite on the southeast corner of the pond, a perfect spot that gets both sunrise and sunset. It's not the most scenic wonder or known for its natural beauty; it's more of a refuge for me and whoever wants to share it with me.

I've gone there to think about my past, and my future. I go there to release my stress at work and to rethink the present. I went there a couple of days after my father died and a couple of days before my daughter was born. I even spent Christmas Eve there once, after having enough of all the consumer hype, family politics and overindulgence. And I've gone to my special place whenever I feel blessed about the treasures given to me in my life.

What better place to go and reflect on life? I think that's why we truly do love camping in wild areas. Eventually, the more you camp, the more your life spent roaming the woods becomes a comfort. There's nothing better for the soul than an oasis.

What's your favorite campsite? Please share and let us know why.


Here's a short "Happy Camper" video clip on picking campsites:




Kevin Callan is the author of 11 books including "Wilderness Pleasures" and "The Happy Camper." A regular keynote speaker at major North American canoeing and camping expos for over 20 years, he has received three National Magazine Awards and four film awards, including top award at the prestigious Waterwalker Film Festival. Callan lives in Peterborough, Ontario, birthplace of the modern-day canoe.


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