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I live in Northern California and the weather is beautiful, if you can even call it weather. It is pretty much the same all year round, sunny and cold in the winter, with rain if we are lucky, and sunny and hot in the summer. There is not much in-between, spring and fall are cold in the morning, dying of heatstroke in the afternoon because you wore a sweater (this is where we are now). Our leaves don’t really change colors like they do in New England, we have deciduous pine trees and redwoods, or the trees just drop all their leaves at the first windy day. We are the Golden State, a.k.a brown in the summer…however, we are a beautiful green in the winter. I love California, don’t get me wrong, but camping when it’s over 100 degrees outside is not my favorite. I am very much a cold weather camping girl. It is much cozier by the fire if you aren’t sweating and it’s a lot easier to grill and barbecue when it’s not 100 degrees.
That being said, there are lots of perks to off season camping. I am sure that personalities will differ in their opinions of camping in the weather or off season, but here are a few of my favorite reasons we love camping in the off season.
Camping in a travel trailer opens up the opportunities for camping year round. Curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee while the rain pitter patters on the roof is so relaxing and cozy. Even sitting outside under the awning (strategically placed next to the warm air outflow from the heater) and watching the rain with the drink of your choice while your dinner sizzles on the grill is relaxing.
Being stuck inside the trailer allows you to connect better as a couple or family because you can’t really go anywhere. This is when we bring out the boardgames or movies and popcorn.
Anyone that knows me knows that I love the quiet. I don’t mean complete silence, but I am not a big fan of chaos, which can easily happen at a campground in the summer with all the kids on their bikes and dogs running around (usually because it sets my dogs off and then they drive me crazy). My absolute favorite part of camping is waking up super early, which either happens because of the sun, or because of my husband’s internal clock, and enjoying a cup of coffee with my husband or by myself before the kids and dogs get up and before I have to make breakfast.
Lately, I have always had homework or work with me on our trips so this quiet time in the mornings have been a good time for me to be productive before everyone gets up. I try to emulate this at home too, but it’s so nice to sleep in a little, in fact it’s been harder to get up early camping, but I always have the opportunity.
This one goes hand in hand with quiet. I love that campgrounds are less crowded in the off season. It’s like having the whole place to yourselves. This is useful if the site assigned to you at reservation doesn’t quite work with your rig. With a half (or more) empty park you can usually request a site change with no problems. In addition, the staff has more time to be helpful if you have a problem.
My favorite reason for no crowds is our dogs. I love our dogs and they are well behaved when we travel, but we do have a pit bull and I find that we meet a lot of resistance from other campers. Because of her breed, we don’t bring her to dog parks unless the campground dog park is empty. Most importantly, we have found that most campgrounds do not strictly enforce their own leash rules. We have had multiple instances of having our dogs on leash and being approached by another dog off leash at a full run. At that point, regardless of the breeds of our dogs, any dog would be defensive and protective of their owner(s). We like to avoid any type of doggy confrontation, and it is just much easier when there are less people, and subsequently less dogs, at the campground.
A big perk to camping in the off season is the lower rates! This is what started our off season camping, but has now taken a back burner to the reasons above. One of our favorite parks is Casini Ranch Family Campground. My husband found this campground and booked a trip and we have been back at least a half a dozen times in the last year. I discovered that if we have the PassportAmerica membership (only $44 per year), we save 50% off the regular rate per night. It’s normally $66 per night, but in the off season, and with PassportAmerica, it’s $33 a night, so two nights pays for the membership and saves an $22. We have saved so much with PassportAmerica that we have been able to spend more weekends camping. What we love about Casini Ranch is that it is on the Russian River and is near the ocean so it is fairly temperate all year round. It doesn’t get very cold, but can get really wet. We have learned to embrace and love camping in the rain. We highly recommend PassportAmerica. We are also looking into other campground memberships for the future, hopefully when we can spend several months out of the year on the road, so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
We have only done this once, but we have actually spent Thanksgiving in the trailer at a campground near Mendocino, CA. Holiday weekends are usually solidly booked and blacked out for discounts, which takes away from almost everything I discussed above. However, it is still pretty quiet, and there is a silent type of camaraderie that comes with camping during holidays because it is so non-traditional.
When we spent Thanksgiving in Mendocino, it was during a cold snap (like 20s at night) so that was an adventure. But I planned all the food in advance, I did not want to be stuck with no grocery stores open on a holiday, or any day for that matter. We smoked a whole chicken on the Weber, I bought a pie, made twice baked potatoes ahead of time, and baked brown and serve rolls in the oven.
We probably didn’t need to make a meal that resembled Thanksgiving, we would have been just as happy with steaks or a tri tip, but I think it made such a non-traditional trip slightly more traditional. I hope to spend more holidays camping, at least for the holidays that we can spend away from extended family.
Why you should try it!
My suggestion to everyone is to try it once! During the fall or early spring, try and spend a weekend in your trailer, or rent a campground cabin or trailer if you are a tent camper. I suggest going no more than two hours away from home so you know the weather patterns, for all of you that actually have weather and have to worry about snow or ice. Also, not going too far allows you to get home easily and quickly if you absolutely hate it. If you love all of the activities that go along with camping, try choosing a campground that either hosts activities or is near activities that pertain to the season. For example, near an apple orchard or farm in the fall so you can participate in the harvest and get warm cider or hay rides. I challenge everyone to get at least one off season trip in this year and let me know how it goes!!