First Time Camping?

By: Owen Gallagher

Always wanted to go camping but didn't know where to start? Relax, and don't be intimidated by all the options open to you in

New Jersey. The experts say it's as simple as deciding what level of camping you want to experience - a tent, cabin, RV -- and making some basic preparations.

Some handy advice for first timers includes: Know your equipment, pick a spot relatively close to home, and don't forget the ketchup. You would be surprised by the number of campers who come looking for ketchup because it's the one thing they forgot to pack, says Michelle Jeffers, of the family-owned Timberland Lake Campground in Cream Ridge, Ocean County. Such problems can be avoided by having a checklist for the essentials, ranging from a flashlight and extra batteries to a change of clothes and even your condiments of choice. Jeffers, whose campground looks to appeal to the entire family with planned themes each weekend, also advises novice campers not to get upset if the weather isn't perfect. There just might be a silver lining in those storm clouds. "Keep a sense of humor about things," she says. "Lots of times something like rain will turn out to be the thing where memories are made. You think it's awful and terrible, but then you find yourself holding a tarp up in the rain, laughing with your entire family, and it becomes a fond memory."

Both Jeffers and Cheryl Robinson, of Four Seasons Family Campground, in Pilesgrove, Salem County, say first-time campers who have a lot of questions shouldn't hesitate to ask staff or their camping neighbors for help. Lisa Torella, The Great Divide Campground in Newton, recommends letting the campground know you are first time campers (tent or RV). "Everyone loves to help newbies because they once were one," says Robinson. She also suggests campers bring along some white decorative string lights. While Torella suggests practice setting up your tent at home. "They look pretty, and everyone can see without having to carry a flashlight every time they move around the site," she says. One of the main decisions first-timers need to make is whether they want to "rough it" in a tent without running water or electricity or stay in an RV or luxury cabin with heat, bathrooms and showers.

New Jersey private campgrounds give you and your family plenty of options for both extremes ... and any level in between. You will also find a broad range in how much camping will cost. There's tent camping which is relatively inexpensive to a bit more

pricier option for convenience and luxury you may want. And you may need to book a cabin months in advance. Some campgrounds offer incentives for first-time visitors, such as a $20 discount for a stay of two nights or more at Timberland Lake Campground. Check with the facility you're thinking about visiting. It doesn't hurt to ask. First[JF1] -timers also may save some money by borrowing equipment from a friend or renting equipment to get an idea of what they like.

Joann DelVescio, Executive Director of the New Jersey Campground Owners Association says a good first step in deciding a location is to think about what activities and amenities are important to you. Are you looking for hiking, swimming, biking, kayaking, music events, antiquing, sight-seeing? If you want to bring along your pet, make sure the location you choose is pet friendly and find out the specific requirements.

Robinson suggests making your first trip a short one, only one or two nights to work out any kinks. She says consider a spot relatively close to home in case you need to retreat to your own bed for the night. If the forecast looks rainy or excessively cold or hot, it might be better to postpone your plans, she says. If roughing it sounds a bit too intimidating, a place such as Pine

Haven Camping Resort, in Ocean View, Cape May County, may be more to your liking. "It's more like glamping here than camping," says Office Manager Danielle Klinger, referring to a style of camping that can offer resort style services. "It's not that you're sleeping in a tent. Basically, it's like a summer home."

Although they do have a few "rustic" options, most of Pine Haven's cabins provide everything a camper could need, including toilet paper and towels. And you don't have to walk to the bathhouse. "It's like staying in a hotel here," she says.

Other campers take a different approach. "You may want all the comforts of home, but you want to get the

atmosphere of it. So, it's a matter of how you want to achieve that," says Catherine Scott, a principal at Jugtown Mountain Campsites, in Asbury, Hunterdon County.

Scott says some campers have pizza delivered to avoid having to cook. On the other extreme, she says she's had people come with literally the kitchen sink."... The white utility sinks that they just plug the hose into and very conveniently wash their pots and pans out. Usually that's more of the larger groups that may come, like family reunions. We may have ten families come together and they have one big barbecue every night and that's their family vacation." Your family camping vacation may not need to include the kitchen sink, but whatever your preferences, a little planning can make it happen.

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