Your guide to camping in a forest or wooded area

A night or two in the forest will be an unforgettable adventure for children and a much-needed escape for adults.
March 13, 2018 09:55 AM
Baxter Creek Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

For a camping experience that combines many of the comforts of home with a slightly rugged, wilderness feel, consider pitching a tent at a campground in a wooded area.

Where and when to go
If you’re new to camping, find a close-to-home option that won’t require you to trek too far from the parking lot to your site. The Get Outdoors app can show you your nearest options. Remember, popular destinations fill up quickly, so always call ahead to reserve your stay.

Though a forest’s canopy will help provide shade, you’ll be most comfortable sleeping and hiking during the fall or spring, when temperatures tend to be the most moderate. These seasons also boast beautiful backdrops of fall foliage and springtime wildflowers.

family hike up the mountain

Gear you’ll need
In addition to packing the usual camping, hygiene and cooking necessities, you’ll want to throw in a few extras.

  • Chances are you’ll want to explore, so hiking shoes are a wise choice––your ankles will be thankful.
  • Bring along a flora and fauna guide: When kids are in the group, you can break up long stretches by stopping to observe trees, plants and other wildlife.
  • To help ensure you know where the kids are at all times, pack whistles that they can wear around their neck and blow if they get separated.
  • Cell phone service is often spotty at best in heavily wooded areas, so bring a map or grab one from the ranger station.
family hiking

Setting up your site
Before pitching your tent, look around the space for evidence of insects and animals. You’ll want to avoid areas that show signs of wasps’ nests or berries (which may suggest it’s a spot where bears forage).

Never cut down trees, break branches or disturb any of the plants while setting up camp.

Plants, insects and other critters
Research the types of plants and animals native to the area before leaving home. Show kids pictures of poison ivy, oak and sumac so that they’ll be on the lookout.

Ticks are present in many wooded areas, so wear tall socks and tuck your pants into your socks and boots. At the end of the day, check for ticks, closely examining behind the ears, scalp and under the arms.

Talk to the park rangers about animals you might encounter. Make sure kids know to never approach or feed any type of animal, even small ones. Never bring food into your tent, as the odors can linger and attract bears and raccoons. Overnight, food should be stored either in your car or in plastic, animal-resistant containers.

Hiking in green woods

Hiking basics
There’s no better way to enjoy the beauty of the forest than by exploring it by foot. Just be sure to take into account the ages and skill levels of everyone in your group, setting realistic expectations about the length and difficulty of your trek.

In general, early morning and late afternoon/evening hikes tend to be cooler and more comfortable. Check the sunset time and determine how much time you’ll need to make it back to camp before dark.

Marshmallows and campfire

Campfire advice
For many people, camping isn’t camping without a glowing campfire. But camping in wooded areas requires you to remember important safety rules. Assuming your campground permits fires, plan to purchase firewood onsite; carrying in wood from home can spread outside disease to the trees in the area. You should, however, pack fire starter, as most parks prohibit campers from gathering wood or pine needles.

Once your fire is burning safely, whip up a batch of s’mores and relax around the fire, reflecting on the memories this forest will always hold for your family.


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January 18, 2018 09:48 AM