CAMPING 101 Getting Back to Nature Without Leaving Civilization Behind

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By Kristina Schnack Kotlus, Contributing Writer

CampingSometimes there’s nothing better than getting back to nature for a few days, at least according to my husband. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing better than an outdoor adventure followed by a long, hot shower and my own bed.

No matter which side of the camping coin you happen to land on in your family, with a little planning, you can enjoy an outdoor adventure with your kids this summer. Here are some tips to help you get back to nature without leaving civilization entirely behind.

Packing: Have a List

My dad always used to admonish me to “measure twice, cut once” when building. When preparing for a camping trip, “check your list twice, pack once” is just as good of advice. Nothing ruins a night faster than forgotten sleeping bags. For a refresher on camping necessities, you can find great packing lists online, but  be sure to remember to think through each event.

If you’re planning a campfire cookout, for example, you’ll need not just the food to cook, but dry wood, cooking utensils, eating utensils, matches to start the fire and a way to clean up your mess.

When planning your clothes and campsite needs, work on the assumption that the weatherman will probably be wrong. It’s better to have a tarp or poncho in the trunk of your car than to have to abandon camp in the middle of the night because that 30 percent chance of showers ended up being closer to 100 percent.

Choosing a Location: Do Your Research

You know what they say—location, location, location. Choosing the right setting for your outdoor adventure is an important step in having a successful camping experience. Before making your selection, go online or call ahead and do a little research on the amenities available, any activities offered and whether reservations are required.

Here are a few suggestions to get you  started:

1. Greenville Farm Family Campground offers camping on a family-owned operational farm in Haymarket. Amenities include picnic tables, fire pits, water and electric hookups and restrooms with hot showers. The campground also has laundry facilities, a camp store and a playground. Campers can visit the farm, fish in the four stocked ponds and enjoy the swimming pool in season. Tent camping is $31 for two people. Add $3 per person under 15, and $5 per person for those ages 16 and up. RV camping with hookups is also available.

2. Oak Ridge Campground at Prince William Forest Park is open to RVs, trailers and tents for $20 per night (no hookups). Each site has a picnic table, parking slip, grill and lantern post. Each loop has restrooms featuring sinks and flush toilets, and the “B” loop restroom has showers. Ranger programs and campfire talks are on summer weekend nights at the centrally located amphitheater. Restrooms are handicapped-accessible. If tents are not your cup of tea, Prince William Forest Park also offers cabins at various rates. Call 703-221-5843 for details and reservations.

3. Turkey Run Ridge Group Campground at Prince William Forest Park is exclusively for organized groups of seven or more, up to 40 people. It offers $40 tent-only sites with picnic table, grill/fire pit, parking area and lantern post. Restrooms feature sinks and flush toilets but no showers. There is an additional $5 fee per private vehicle to enter the park. (It’s $3 per person over age 17 for 15-person vans and commercial vehicles.)

4. Home sweet home is also an option if the idea of packing overwhelms you, or if your children are still very young. The backyard can be a great first campsite. The bathrooms are clean, the fridge is nearby, and if anyone hears something spooky, the teddy bears are just a few feet away.

Dining Outdoors:

Make It Easy

Getting your family involved in outdoor cooking can be fun, too. Our family enjoys bundling cubed chicken, bell peppers, onions, carrots, parboiled potatoes and Italian dressing into tinfoil for easy campfire cooking. Everyone can make  their own foil packet, picking their favorite items for their very own recipe. Use a double layer of foil to prevent burning, and bring a Sharpie® to prevent “whose was this?” after cooking.

While s’mores are a popular dessert, we’re also fans of campfire pies. Pitkin’s ACE® Hardware, at locations throughout Prince William, carries the cast-iron mold you’ll need. Fill it with bread slices and prepared pie filling before roasting over the fire.

After dinner, flashlights and stories are great fun. If you and your family are not big fans of ghost stories, pick up a pack of the fill-in-the-blank word game MAD LIBS™—it’s always hilarious and never inspires nightmares, unless you’re scared of drinking dinosaur juice while munching on eyeballs and spaghetti burgers.

Happy camping.

Kristina Schnack Kotlus is a local mother of three children and the owner of, a resource for parents and families in Prince William County. Visit her site or Facebook page for an events calendar, reviews and more ideas for summer fun.


Greenville Farm Family Campground: 703-754-7944,

Oak Ridge Campground: 703-221-7181 (Prince William Forest Park Visitor Center),

Turkey Run Ridge Group Campground: 703-221-7181 (Prince William Forest Park Visitor Center),


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