As an OSG leader, one of your goals is probably taking the group camping. You probably even know a place or two you can go. However, as your group grows, you are going to want some ideas for exploring further afield. What to do?
Camping in a National Park is a very reliable way to find group camping. The websites usually explain exactly what is at the site, and gives you all the information you need to know. The sites are usually in good repair, and you can call a park ranger if you discover a problem. With National Parks all over the country, all you need to do is know the names of the ones closest to you, This page has a map to get you started: https://www.nps.gov/findapark/index.htm
The only struggle I have with this map, is that once I select my state, the parks are in alphabetical order, not geographic. So, there is some digging to do to figure out how far away these are. It also doesn’t list clearly which parks have camping. However, it is an interesting way to start your research, and you can see what is in adjacent states. Once you find a park, you should find it easy enough to create a reservation. Or you can start from the reservation page https://www.recreation.gov and work from there to find a camp ground.
State parks are also a great way to find camping options for your group. In my experience, state parks have a lot to offer, but also have a lot of variety of accommodations. Most states have a website set up that can help you find parks near you. You may be able to reserve on-line, but reserving a group site may require a phone call, or even a visit in person. However, once you get your reservation set up, park rangers are often willing to do special education units with your group, if you will be there on a week day. Programs specific to your state or county can be a really interesting addition to your camping trip, so be sure to ask what they have to offer. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Consider doing some research into state parks in other states than your own, especially if you live near a boarder. Each state park system is separate, so this requires more research, but may result in options your state doesn’t offer. From where ever your group meets, draw a circle of how far you think parents will drive for camping and then look to see what falls into the range.
Word of Mouth
Some of the best sites we have used, came to us through word of mouth. Ask everyone you know where they have camped. If they have set up a group camping trip of any kind, even better. The needs of a BPSA group are different from those of a family. You need room for scouts to spread out and set up as many tents as it takes. Somewhere to hike, an amphitheater for ceremonies or a field for games may be more necessary for your vision of your group trip. We have learned of special “scouts only” camping locations with economical deals for our group. We’ve also found that at least one of our state parks has a special group site, you can only reserve by calling them, it isn’t on the website.
On our list of other choices for camping, we’ve camped at:
- A Civil War battle field in another state
- A Rails to Trails campsite
- A park owned by the county
- Various suggestions from our own parent’s committee
As an Outdoor Service Guides leader, one goal I have, is that my guides try camping at as many places as possible with different conditions. This means we don’t always go to the same campground, though there is a nice one we’ve used many times. Heading up into the mountains, camping near a lake or river, and trying out different campsites has helped us teach new skills without creating the challenges ourselves. The new campsite creates the challenge for us. You can also create new challenges by changing up what time of year you camp or how long the trip lasts. Longer trips are both more challenging and have more time for working on your scouting goals. You can even change it up and rent a bunk house instead of taking tents, as another different way to let your scouts explore the experience of camping. Not setting up tents and taking the down, creates more time to work on other activities.
To prepare for different camping options, just be sure your scouts have the right equipment. Going from car camping to backpacking requires at least a backpack designed for that kind of camping. If the weather is going to get cold, remind scouts and parents that sleeping bags rated for cold weather and ground mats are necessary. Scouts and parents alike may need to hear several times instructions about upgrading their equipment or doing things differently, so use multiple forms of communication about your camping plans. Say it. E-mail it. Post it in any online groups you have.
Whatever your options, remember to empower your scouts to make choices about what kind of camping they want to do. This is their program. Make sure they know that.