Two contradictory statements, right? Not necessarily.
My wife and I started camping with our kids in 2007. Got a hitch put on her minivan, borrowed the popup trailer our neighbor’s had just bought (they did offer!), and went out twice with it before buying our own, that we had until last year. Over time with the pop up, we discovered a few things about our likes and dislikes with camping and hiking.
- We like the hiking part; more so if there is water flowing near, or even in, the trails.
- We like more dramatic scenery. Hard to find in the Midwest, but it IS there if you look (see photo at right).
- We don’t like crowded campgrounds, and few people when hiking too.
- Camping at lesser-used campgrounds during the week avoids some of these issues, but there’s only so much vacation time off from work in a given year too
Not a very long list, I know. But then, this post does have an eventual point. Of note to me is that once I started buying tents and less “RV” type camping equipment, our family also stopped really using the pop up trailer. So while some people might cross the threshold of middle age and go out and buy their first RV, my wife and I went the opposite way – we sold ours early into middle age. (I’m not fond of the fact that “middle age” starts at 40, but then, I didn’t come up with the definition). In any case, we’re find with the car camping “thing” and doing so with tents.
Backpacking got added this year courtesy of me, and when my younger daughter’s back heals from her third back surgery, she and I hope to take some short backpacking trips next year. My wife will likely go with us too. I’ve even found a number of state parks here in Illinois where there are “backpacking” sites – you have to hike in your gear, anywhere from 1/4 mile or more to get to the sites. No “drive up” car camping. Granted, they aren’t true “backcountry” sites like a national forest, but it’s close enough in the respect that it gets us away from other people and more into nature itself. That’s a good thing, as we see it.
Backcountry camping numbers haven’t changed much (in the Western U.S.)
What prompted all of this thought? Well, I happened across this interesting statistics graphic from High Country News that shows how visitors have increased and/or changed their behavior in western national parks/forests over time. One thing that hasn’t really changed much? Backcountry camping – that is, backpacking your stuff in, camping, and then backpacking it out. I see that as a good thing, in a way. There just aren’t that many people “out there” in the forest – not that we’re likely to get out west to backcountry camp anytime soon, but that’s not the point. And sure – people still go out that way and trash some places up, regrettably. But the fewer people who do this, the fewer who will mess it up for the rest of us too. (We can always fix some of this ourselves when we see it as well.)
My point is this: I don’t mind seeing people out in nature. I just like to see only the occasional person. So my wife and I have been planning to find places to camp (and/or backpack) where there are few – or no – people around at all, if possible. Some state parks by me are so crowded with people thanks to better-made trails at certain times of year that they attract people who don’t care for the environment they are in. That often destroys the natural beauty of what’s there. I may find places that are less dramatic scenery-wise, but I’m not looking for a party in the woods. I’m looking to be a part of the woods while I’m there – you know, Leave No Trace, take only memories/leave only footprints, that kind of thing. And someday, we do hope to get out west. Knowing that if we backcountry camp we’re likely to have few humans around? That’s a good thing.
And that is my preference of late: Less people, more nature.