This past weekend we took our first family camping trip of 2017. I love it that we’ve already made it out this year. The thought of it happening in mid-February still has me smiling and shaking my head. Winter camping for the whole family is not the norm for us. Typically April or May temperatures bring our first family camping trip of the year. Our current winter has been anything but typical. Ever since I took up snow skiing I like to have some actual winter, for months on end. This year, Mother Nature truly can’t decide if she wants to bring winter to my region or not. On the weekend of February 18-19, we enjoyed temps in the mid 60’s.
There were actually several firsts (for me anyway) on this first camping trip of the year. This was my first time camping in Ohio. My sister lives in Ohio so we incorporated a visit with her on this camping trip. This was the first time I’d ever seen a nearly full campground loop during an Ohio valley winter, and it was also the first time I was ever close to putting my camper in a lake. When I thought I was descending a steep hill to the campground I was actually headed for a boat ramp. The sign stating ‘Road ends in Water 300ft’ was my wake up call! After another check of directions on my phone we eventually arrived at the campground. It was a nice one; East Fork State Park in Batavia, OH.
My sister first told me about this park because she lives only 20 minutes away from the main park entrance. Upon learning of it, I said, “Well, we have to meet there and camp!” It’s been over three years since I uttered that statement. [Side note- my brother, sister and I grew up camping and so I knew my sister wouldn’t be against it. The fact that I grew up on camping was mentioned in a previous blog post but I know it’s been a while. My apologies for this winter hiatus!] When I suggested we camp here I had no idea how popular the park was. For three camping seasons we’d attempted to camp here with my sister and her husband. I’d go online and look out several months to reserve a site, only to find the campsites full. In May you could easily find it booked solid through September. East Fork has over 400 campsites and during the peak season they stay full. Our repeated efforts to camp here became an inside joke between my sister and I. (Example: Hey, it’s Christmas, we better get online and book an East Fork campsite for September!) We had just about given up on ever getting to camp in this park. Now I can say I’ve been there, but I did have to visit in February to make that happen.
East Fork SP is very nice. It is one of Ohio’s largest state parks and is located in extreme southern Ohio, only 25 miles from Cincinnati. The parks proximity to Cincinnati helps explain its popularity. In addition to the large campground there is a 2,000+ acre lake that allows powerboats, a putt-putt mini golf course, multi-use hiking trails and four backcountry campsites. During our weekend here we hiked two loop trails, for a total of about 3.5 miles. The trails were well marked with colored blazes and detailed signage.
One of my favorite attributes in a campground is generous campsite spacing and East Fork has it. There is a nice amount of room between the sites and some are very secluded with good tree cover. A mix of old and new restroom facilities currently exist in the campground loops. The old restrooms are being replaced with modern ones. The old restroom buildings do look dated so the Parks Department of Ohio is doing the right thing. I applaud them for investing in the parks infrastructure. During non-peak season the majority of the campground is closed. Loops A, B and C are the only ones open, while loops D-L are closed. Loop C has the only available restroom facilities during the non-peak season.
Winter camping, aka non-peak season
Where I live non-peak season is typically November-mid April. This timeframe will vary depending on the park and the state. This brings me to my tip for this blog post. When camping in non-peak season pay close attention to what the park has open and available. These details should be spelled out on the parks website, but if you can’t find them call the parks main office and inquire about them. You don’t want to get fully set up on a great campsite and then learn you are a mile away from the unlocked restrooms. Often times campground services are limited during non-peak season as the parks are not busy. At the very least plan on bringing camping staples like water and firewood with you, as it’s possible water will be turned off and park staff won’t be on site on the weekends selling firewood. Some other things to consider when camping during non-peak season:
- Flush toilet restrooms may be locked. If so, the always-lovely vault toilets will be available.
- If flush toilets and showers are available, don’t assume you will be taking a hot shower!
- Campsites might not be reservable and will instead operate on a
first-come first-served basis. Pick a site, set up and then self-pay the fee at the campground entrance, which is likely to be a reduced rate at this time of year.
- There will be campsites, but some sections of the campground may be closed.
- The plus side of non-peak season? The parks are usually not crowded.
To find parks near you that offer winter/ year-round camping, simply do a Google search for ‘(your state) winter camping’