Friday, June 18, 2021

Here We Go Again--Finding an Empty Campsite during the Busy Season

Indian Lake in the fall
I've been busy this spring, what with getting my garden in shape and with helping my son start his handyman and remodeling business. Since it was also a wet, rainy spring I didn't get out to camp as much as I wanted to. Now, it appears that we're in a drought in southeast Iowa, with national heat advisory announcements for our area, with temperatures in the 97-101 range today, depending on which weather service I choose to believe. So, several days of really hot weather. As my wife told me, though, "A day camping is better than a day not camping, no matter what the weather." Our plan was to just reserve a spot and take off . . . and then I started looking at the state and national reservation sites. Yikes! 

What I quickly discovered was that folks have been busy making reservations, especially for the weekends. I was right back to where I was a year ago when I wrote the article "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Campground Reservations." You'd think I would have learned my lesson to reserve early, but I've been busy and I have to confess, I am a bit of an optimist. 

Rathbun Lake, Army Corps Buck Creek Campground
Several options were open for me. Checking out the campgrounds at Rathbun Lake, one of Iowa's largest lakes a little over an hour from home, I quickly found that the Army Corps sites at Island View Campground, which is completely a reservation facility, were almost completely booked. I moved to Buck Creek Campground, also an Army Corps facility, and found that they have continued with having a good portion of the campsites designated as "first come, first served," or non-reservable sites. I moved my search to the Iowa Lacey-Keosauqua State Park facility, about a half an hour away, and found that weekends being already reserved were again the "fly in the ointment" for anyone considering a longer stay. 

It was pretty easy to find Sunday through Thursday sites, but then I'd have to find somewhere else for the weekend. An alternative plan would be just to camp five nights during the week and then come home for the weekend. However, although that would be fun for me, since my wife still has an active business, that would disallow her from enjoying some camping off-time. The solution was to utilize my knowledge of local campgrounds, to not "go big" but to consider the more humble city and county campgrounds close by home. 

Tent camping at Indian Lake, before we owned a travel trailer
I've camped quite a few times at a local campground at Indian Lake near the small town of Farmington, Iowa, right on the Iowa-Missouri border. The lake used to be a state park but was let go by the state because there were several other state parks and forests nearby. The city of Farmington picked up the facility and now runs the campground. I've camped there by myself and with my wife quite a bit over the years--bicycle camping, tent camping, and tiny trailer camping in the Green Goddess. How about camping there with the Basecamp? I thought.

Indian Lake Campground has a rustic feel to it. Yes, it has a small Sewer Alley of about ten sites, but it also has tent sites and a campground within a circle of trees that is tucked away from the hubbub. That little campground provides 30 amp electricity but no water. I called the campground hosts (the park has permanent host residents at the facility) and made my reservation! Then I called the next day and moved the reservation to a few days later because of Father's Day and the extreme heat. Now I'll be arriving on a Monday and leaving on a Monday--unless I decide to extend my stay. The host said that an extension shouldn't be a problem. I was also told that they had a "spill-over" site with a nice view of the lake that I might be interested in, one that is usually used when the campground is full. 

If I were traveling on a road trip, I'd probably book some sites in advance and then take my chances for overnighters, knowing that I could find a Walmart or Cracker Barrel or Harvest Host site for the night if necessary. I'm finding, though, that I'm enjoying setting up for longer stays, and I'm just going to have to remember that during the busy season of camping that I have to plan early or to just take my chances on a "walk-in" site, one that I can stay at for up to two weeks once I get my rig parked. I can stay a week and then decide to stay another week. 

Bike camping at Oakland Mills, a campground 25 miles from home
I momentarily panicked because of the intensity of the reservation program; however, camping in a local facility is an easy way to remove any anxiety. There are more than a dozen campgrounds within forty miles of my home. If worst comes to worst, with a full tank of gas I could just take off, have myself a nice drive, and find a nice spot. That's not so bad. A little serendipity can add a touch of adventure to the experience.

I'm looking forward to staying at Indian Lake. I'm bringing my bike, and there are opportunities to ride along the Des Moines River or on trails and feed roads and trails in Shimik State Forest, which is nearby. There is also a great hiking trail around the lake, about a 45-minute two-mile walk. Next week is supposed to have temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s with a chance of rain, but I have my Airstream Basecamp, and I'll take books to read and my Chromebook for writing. The campground has good cellphone receptivity since Farmington is just across the river. My son's going to keep the garden watered if it doesn't rain, so hooray! I'm going camping.

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