Our Favorite Camping Hacks

If you tuned into our most recent episode of Toad Hacks on Instagram, you saw Toads Lindsay and Drew share a few of their most tried and true camping hacks. Because this is prime camping season (changing leaves and fall sunsets, yes please), and we want you all to enjoy it as much as we do, here are those hacks plus a few more.

Bring The Heat

A good central fire is key to any campout. Store charcoal briquettes in a cardboard egg crate before you get to your site, then light it to start your fire easily when you get there. You can also save dryer lint and put it in the middle of old toilet paper rolls.

Camp Kitchen Essentials (aka all the amazing things from home you can reuse)

We’d be lying if we said mealtime around said fire wasn’t one of the main highlights of every camping trip we take. So we mean business when it comes to our camp kitchen setup.

Breakfast – An unexpected plot twist for your condiment bottles: Save them to reuse on your next camping trip. Before you head out, fill them with pancake batter or eggs (shells off and pre-whisked) and pop them in the cooler. Come breakfast at the campsite, you’re ready to go with an easy meal (and impressive too, if that’s what you’re going for).

Lunch and Dinner – We love a meal in a cast iron pan because the possibilities are literally limitless. You can use it on the camp stove or over the fire, and you can cook virtually anything in it.  And anything that’s sturdy, durable, and lasts a lifetime is a win in our book.

Pantry Essentials  – On one of our Toad campouts, someone realized that an old toolbox makes the perfect camp kitchen kit. Who knew? It’s the ideal size for spices, utensils, bottle openers, and mini bottles of booze. Cheers!

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Cleanup – Take an empty laundry detergent dispenser, fill it with water, flip it upside down, and you have a hand and dish-washing station right at the campsite. Put a bucket below to catch runoff water. Whoever’s on dishes duty will thank you.

The Sweet Stuff

We recently learned an epic tip that will flip your S’mores world upside down (thanks to Toad Lindsay’s Mother-in-Law and everyone’s favorite Toad mom Kathy). Put the piece of chocolate in the middle of your marshmallow before roasting. It’s gooey and delicious and trust us, you’ll never look at a S’more the same way again.

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The Every Campout Checklist

Keep your checklist by your camping gear so you never forget the essentials. We don’t leave home without our headlamps – key for keeping your hands free for more fun things than holding a flashlight (see: S’mores and whipping up a stellar breakfast). Also important to the checklist: Mini first aid kit, microfiber towels (compact, quick-drying, and lightweight), and reusable cups and utensils. 

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What We’re Wearing

Lindsay’s favorite is the Telluride Sherpa Jacket – “Not only is it two jackets in one, but it also makes a perfect pillow. The triple threat of eco-friendly jackets.”

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Drew’s loving the Epiq Jogger – “Fitted ankles keep the critters out and the Hemp and Organic Cotton blend makes them cozy enough to double as jammies.”

Epiq Jogger

Camp Kitchen: Pesto Halibut

Words by Kaleigh Wood; photos by Gretchen Powers of Powers Provisions and Johnie Gall of Dirtbag Darling

Aluminum pouches are your best friend when it comes to a camp kitchen. You can prep, season and seal everything before heading out (or bring foil and make your pouches onsite). I grew up hunting and fishing in the Lower 48 and have really enjoyed harvesting my own food in Kodiak, AK this year. (And a major perk of living in Kodiak is receiving wild fish and game from friends.) When transfer season rolls around in the Coast Guard, everyone gifts you the leftover food when they clean out their freezers. With lots of halibut in our freezer and friends coming to visit, our recent camp menu was a no brainer.

The morning we left to go camping, I threw the frozen fish and a jar of pesto in the cooler. I prepped the veggies, hit them with a healthy dose of EVOO, salt and pepper, and sealed them in an aluminum pouch. I grabbed a couple bags of instant rice for an easy starch to round it out. You know, just for the hal-i-but.

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Pesto Halibut with Veggies 

2 Large Halibut Filets
4 TBSP Basil Pesto (make it from scratch if you’ve got fresh herbs)
3 Carrots, 1 Red Bell Pepper,1 Zucchini, 2 Shallots – julienned
2 Bags of Boil in Bag Rice
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO, affectionately)
Salt
Pepper
Fresh Basil

Get your grill going then crack a beer or make a whiskey as your charcoal gets going. Take halibut, pat dry, season with salt and pepper, then lay flat on foil that has a touch of EVOO so your fish doesn’t stick. Top fish with a healthy dollop of pesto and seal in a foil pouch. Bring water to a slow boil and add rice bags to jet boil or pot of water. Once grill is ready, place your veggie pouch and fish pouch and let the steam do the work. Take a peek in 10 mins or try a sample to ensure everything is cooked. Plate it up: scoop of rice, scoop of veggies, piece of halibut, topped with fresh basil on top. YUM.

 

 

Doing Good in Yosemite

Sometimes even the most pristine places need a little TLC. Take Yosemite National Park. Nestled among California’s Sierra Nevadas, Yosemite National Park includes nearly 1,200 square miles of tall waterfalls, deep valleys, ancient giant sequoias, beautiful meadows, and a vast wilderness. Much of this land is cared for by a team of incredible park rangers and staff, but with more than 4 million visitors annually, an extra pair of helping hands can make a huge difference.

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One of our favorite annual traditions is the Yosemite Facelift volunteer event, celebrating its 15th year! Each year we send a group of Toads to the Valley to join fellow outdoor companies for a weekend of trash-picking and TLC. The event is organized by the Yosemite Climbing Association, a 1% For the Planet member and longtime supporter of Yosemite conservation.

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We set out early Friday morning – Anthony, Drew, Wendy, Steve, Michaela, and baby Dylan – up Mist Trail. Teetering on the side of rock staircases, we carefully collected forgotten plastic water bottles, flyaway wrappers, and even some very old socks (Cheryl Strayed, was that you?). On a gorgeous hike, we took time to appreciate Mother Nature’s insane beauty and tried to do our part to leave her a little better than we found her.

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All told, volunteers at this year’s event removed a total of 8,745 pounds of micro trash! But it wasn’t all work and no play – there were panel discussions, live music, epic hiking, and family dinners. It was a great weekend spent doing good and sweet baby D’s bright eyes said it all – conservation of our public lands is good for plants, animals, and all living things. See you next year Yosemite!

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PS – Camp tacos are a Toad favorite. Easy, delicious, and as spicy as you want ‘em. Here’s our favorite recipe.

Why We Need Bugs

Fun fact: humans cannot survive without bugs. Yep, those things that creep into your sleeping bags and go splat on your windshield are vital to the health and survival of our ecosystem. The honey bee is a simple example of why bugs are critical to human life: They pollinate plants that produce crops. Without bees, there’s no pollination, without pollination there’s no crop… you get the idea. Bees are just one of thousands of insects that are pulling more than their tiny weight. That’s why we love bugs (from a distance). Here are some of the reasons why:

Bugs add an estimated $57 billion to the US economy.

According to the Cornell Chronicle, insects are a primary food source for fish, birds, and mammals, and they do a heck of a job at keeping things clean. The study found that “native insects are food for the wildlife supporting a $50 billion recreation industry and provide more than $4.5 billion worth in pest control. They also provide crop pollination valued at $3 billion and clean up grazing lands, saving ranchers some $380 million a year.” Well, that sure puts our yearly savings to shame!

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Bugs make great models.

When engineers need to create a spacesuit for Mars, or create a damage resistant car, they look to nature. In this TedTalk, Robert Full explains how examining cockroaches can inform how robots learn to stabilize on rough terrain, walk upside down, do gymnastic maneuvers in air, and run into walls without harming themselves. Way cool.

 

Bugs are highly civilized.

In a human world that can seem increasing more separatist, some insect societies are a shining example of teamwork. Take ants. Ants live in colonies that will grow and flourish for decades. In this TedTalk, Deborah Gordon explores how ants successfully collaborate, delegate, and even multitask – all without language, memory or visible leadership. Understanding these complex systems can help humans better understand our own complex systems from the human brain to high speed computer networks.

 

Bugs are delicious and nutritious.

In Mexico, you can buy a bag full of fried grasshoppers. In Japanese cuisine, bamboo caterpillars are a celebrated appetizer. And in Sardinia and Corsica, Casu Marzu is cheese that’s inhabited by live maggots, and (apparently) it’s divine. Listen to this TedTalk by Marcel Dicke on why insect delicacies are nutritional and eco-friendly additions to our daily diets. Mmmm.

 

Bugs are beautiful.

There’s inspiration all around, but sometimes it’s the little things that can be the most delightful – seeing the twilight dance of fireflies, watching a spider make its masterpiece, listening to the flight of the bumblebee… Bugs just bein’ bugs are some of Mother Nature’s finest works of art. Whether you capture the magic with your fancy human contraptions or just soak in the moment, pause for a moment to witness the beauty of bugs.

 

Bugs are buddies.

Like even our best friends, bugs can really be a pain in the neck sometimes. When ants invade your hammock or gnats keep you awake (and don’t even get us started on mosquitos), bugs can be a real buzz kill. Luckily, we’ve found a way to coexist: Our Toad&Co Debug styles featuring Insect Shield® Technology. Our Debug styles have a bug deterring fiber woven into the fabric, creating an odorless, non-lethal repellent that’s safe for humans and furry friends alike (and a billion times more pleasant than DEET or Citronella). Now we can appreciate bugs without being their lunch.

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Easter Dinner Around The Campfire

 

Easter Sunday is upon us, and with spring in full swing there’s a chance that you may find yourself pitching tents and gathering wood rather than bellying up to a table full of in-laws. But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat like the best of ’em! Our Women’s designer, Guin, doubles as an expert camp cook and offered up a camp-friendly Easter dinner that will surely leave you just as satisfied as Grandma’s sweet rolls and ham. To make any camp-cooking experience seamless, Guin recommends slipping a roll of tin foil in your kitchen gear. It’s good for layering on the top of the fire ring so you don’t lose any goodies to the embers below. Bring some extra wet wipes  to clean off your hands because you really don’t want to smell fish while you are eating your Easter Reese’s S’mores!

Campfire Roasted Asparagus:

Ingredients:
1 bunch of asparagus, trim by snapping off the bottoms
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Toss in olive oil and salt & pepper
Finish with a squeeze of lemon

Instructions:
An Easter themed dinner should have asparagus roasted with garlic and lots of olive oil, salt & pepper.  Top with lemon and roast until golden brown. Mom will be happy to know you got some greens.

Campfire Cooked Fish:

Ingredients: 
1 large piece of frozen fish (skin on)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of whole grain mustard
3 tablespoons chopped dill
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Ample olive oil
Parmesan packets
Salt & pepper

Instructions:
Pick a nice large piece of fish from the frozen section of the grocery store. Most times they are packaged and frozen on site, and depending on what part of the country you live in, the frozen stuff can taste fresher than something from the refrigerated section. Frozen fish is also great for keeping the cooler nice and cold AND will likely thaw to perfection in time for cooking! Guin’s camp kit always includes fresh cracked pepper because it makes all the difference in flavor. Coat flesh side evenly with whole grain mustard. Apply salt, pepper and minced garlic liberally. Press a handful of herbs fresh or dried on the mustard and garlic. Top with lemon slices.

Depending on how hot your fire is, it may take a while for these bad boys to cook. Flip halfway through cooking. Rule of thumb: It’s done when the fork slides through easily and begins to flake the grain of fish. If you’re one of those people who keeps parm packets from pizza delivery, dump that sucker all over everything.

Campfire Grilled Bread:

Ingredients:
1 loaf of bread of your choice, sliced
Olive oil
Salt

Instructions: 
Coat both sides of the bread with with olive oil and salt. Place directly on grate. Toast both sides. Keep an eye out so these don’t burn. A little char is good, but not too much.

Deviled Eggs:

Ingredients: 
12 eggs
Chopped herbs
2 mustard packets
1 packet hot sauce
Salt & pepper

Instructions: 
Coming from the Midwest, deviled eggs are a holiday favorite and Guin is an expert. This would be a great thing to prep at camp breakfast after you make coffee.  Place a pot of cold water on your camp stove. Drop enough eggs in for the group and bring to boil. Turn off and cover for about 17 min. Once finished, pop these in the ice chest for later. At dinner, peel and halve. Empty cooked yokes into a bowl. With a fork, mash the yokes and add a hefty portion of salt and pepper and a handful of chopped herbs you have with you. Add a squirt of mustard and combine. Spoon mixture into the halved eggs. Sprinkle a little cayenne pepper on top if you have it or add a dash of hot sauce. BOOM deviled eggs.

Reese’s S’mores:

Ingredients:
Graham cracker
Reese’s Egg
Marshmallow

Instructions: 
Nothing says Easter more than a Reese’s Egg. Why not combine this with the S’mores camp classic? Toast your marshmallow over the fire until it has a crispy brown layer all over it (or just light it on fire, however you roll it’s cool with us). Trap the marshmallow between two graham crackers and carefully add in the Reese’s Egg. Smash it down and enjoy!

5 Popular Campsites Within 60 Miles of San Francisco

 

Technically, Summer ended on September 21st, but if this California heat wave is any indication, the summer weather is far from over. Sea, sand, or hills, California’s terrain has a lot to offer the Indian Summer adventurer. In association with our friends at TheDyrt.com (think Yelp for public campsites), we’re highlighting some of the most popular camping spots in our California Camping Series. Part I focused on Los Angeles, and Part II focused on Santa Barbara. In Part III, we’re highlighting 5 great campsites within a 60 mile drive of San Francisco, reviewed and photographed by real campers in the Bay Area.

1. Kirby Cove Campground
Distance from San Francisco: 7.4 miles

★★★★☆

“Very easy to get to from San Francisco. We had amazing views of the bridge and the city and were lucky enough to have a clear day (which is rare in SF!). We biked across the Golden Gate bridge and back. We hung out on the beach and had amazing views of the Golden Gate bridge from there. We had a great time in this area and would definitely recommend.” – The Dyrt user Ethan K. See more here. 

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2. Anthony Chabot
Distance from San Francisco: 18 miles

★★★★★

“Amazing urban get-away. We love Anthony Chabot! The eucalyptus groves make the air smell wonderful, and there is so much wildlife to see (deer, turkeys, owls, etc.). It’s a great natural area that is so conveniently located in the Bay Area. There is an extensive network of trails accessible from the campground. It’s popular, especially on the weekends, and I’d recommend reservations. Restrooms are fairly clean, there are showers, and recycling collection, which I appreciate.” – The Dyrt user Amanda P. See more here.

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3. Steep Ravine Environmental Camp
Distance from San Francisco: 22 miles

★★★★☆

“Incredible views, hiking, and hot springs, BUT: bring layers of functional clothes since the weather on the coast of the SF bay can be anything from roasting to foggy frigid cold during the day and night year round. Don’t just look at weather online and go. Be ready to ACTUALLY camp, not just glamping drive in, unless you have one of the cabins. Many people have less than stellar experiences due to being underprepared.” -The Dyrt user Patrick O. See more here

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4. Mt. Diablo State Park
Distance from San Francisco: 30 miles

★★★★☆

“Great campsite near San Francisco/Berkeley. This was a great campsite for people that want to go hiking near Berkeley or SF and have a car. They had a good number of spots to camp with grills at each site. Our site had some good trees as well to hang up our hammocks. Great hiking in the area through desert terrain although be ready for some hills. It was very hot on the hikes as their was not much sun coverage. Would definitely recommend. No open fires allowed when we were there because of the dryness of the area.” -The Dyrt user Ethan K. See more here.

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5. Point Reyes National Seashore Campground
Distance from San Francisco: 37 miles

★★★★★

“Point Reyes is breathtaking… If you go camping one place this is it. Point Reyes is HUGE! There are a half dozen camping spots in this beautiful park. Tomales Bay is a boat in only campground on Indian Beach a unique experience if you have access to a boat. There are plenty of drive or walk in sites if you don’t have a boat. Pick your terrain the coast, meadow, or woods and there is a campground for you. You can easily spend a week here with all of the trails, horseback riding, mountain biking and kayaking options.” –The Dyrt user Kayko S. See more here.

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And that wraps up our list of top San Francisco camping spots. With a list this great, you have no reason NOT to get out there and explore the coast! And remember – You could win a $100 Toad&Co gift card when you camp in California and review your campsites on TheDyrt.comContest ends on September 30th!

 

5 Popular Campsites Within 60 Miles of Santa Barbara

 

Summer in California is still in full swing. Make the most of the good weather with our California Camping Series featuring campsite reviews from  TheDyrt.com – it’s like Yelp for public campgrounds. In Part I , we covered Los Angeles, and here in Part II we’re sharing 5 popular campsites within 60 miles of Santa Barbara. All reviews and photos come from real reviews from real campers. Write your own reviews on the The Dyrt and you could win some great gear through the end of September.  

1. Carpinteria State Beach
Distance from Santa Barbara: 12 miles

★★★★☆

“This is a truly unique campground that my family has been visiting for decades. You can walk into town and eat at the amazing restaurants that quaint Carpenteria has to offer. Or you can listen to the waves roll in from your campground as you cook something up over the camp fire. A great home base to explore Santa Barbara or Slovang too.” – The Dyrt user Megan B. See more here.

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2. Refugio State Beach
Distance from Santa Barbara: 23 miles

★★★★★

“Refugio state beach is a popular spot, but still very enjoyable, right on the ocean. Easy camping with flat pads and bathrooms. It was a great place for us to transition from backpacking to car camping after we had our first child.” -The Dyrt user Warren K. See more here.

3. Wheeler Gorge
Distance from Santa Barbara: 38 miles

★★★★☆

“We stayed in Campsite #70 and all the previous reviews said it was going to be terrible…in truth, this was one of the best campsites I had been to in a long time. An awesome creek runs through the middle of the campsite. The reason people didn’t seem to like our site was because of it’s proximity to the highway. Didn’t bother me too much… motorcycles zoom by maybe once an hour during the day. Nothing too crazy. The bathrooms are well kept and YOU CAN BUY FIREWOOD from the camp hosts!! Campsites come with fire rings, a grill, and a picnic table. Enjoy your time in the woods!!” -The Dyrt user Garret M. See more here.

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4. Middle Lion Campground
Distance from Santa Barbara: 50.4 miles

★★★★☆

“A great, secluded camping spot at the end of an old side road, it gets very little traffic. Two out of the three times I have been there it has been almost deserted. It can become busy on summer weekends. There are 9 sites here, each with a table/benches, freestanding grill and a fire pit. (Depending on the drought conditions though, fires may or may not be allowed). The only other amenity is a vault restroom. There is no potable water here, but there is a creek with water in it year round that runs along the east side of the campground if you feel inclined to filter your own. Most of the sites are well shaded by large deciduous trees, and the surrounding hills do a great job at blocking most of the wind, making it a very pleasant spot for a weekend of car camping. All that is required is a forest adventure pass, which can be bought at any near by outdoors store for $5 for a day and a night, or $30 for a year, and can be used at most any site in the forest.” -The Dyrt user Ryan P. See more here. 

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5. Leo Carillo
Distance from Santa Barbara: 56.7 miles

★★★★★

“I had spent many summers camping with friends at Leo Carillo State Park. Various campsites with easy access to one of the best beaches in Malibu. Close to everything fun in SoCal – Close to the pier, Malibu, Hollywood, LA and more. Camping under the oak trees and in a small canyon. Lots of local wildlife – deer, coyotes, hawks, snakes, bugs and tidepools on the beach. Camping in tents and RVs. Cold foggy mornings from overcast however it clears up. Cool or cold nights and mild days. Decent wading into the ocean and good surfing all around. Not too bad with rip-currents and is great for younger kids too! The rangers at this park love to entertain the kids and they have lots of Jr Ranger programs through the local surrounding areas! Look for them! One of the best beach camping locations in So Cal HANDS down! It gets crowded quickly so book early!” See more here.

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Reminder – You could win a $100 Toad&Co gift card when you camp California + review your campsites on TheDyrt.com. Learn more about our campsite review contest here. Contests end September 30th!

Feature image Hendry’s Beach, from Damian Gadal

5 Popular Campsites Within 60 Miles of LA

 

It may be after Labor Day, but California summers are long. To celebrate the Indian Summer, we’re launching a three-part camping series highlighting popular campsites across California with help from our friends at TheDyrt.com (think Yelp for public campsites!). In this first post of our series, we’re focusing on 5 popular sites within 60 miles of Los Angeles, reviewed and photographed by real campers in the LA area.

1. Malibu Creek State Park
Distance from LA: 35 miles

★★★★☆
“What I love the best about this place is that it’s local to me as I live in Los Angeles. I was looking for a beautiful picnic spot and found it here….You should definitely come and enjoy this beautiful area. …Even if you have a large group.” -The Dyrt user Roberto R. See more here.

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2. Thornhill Broome Beach
Distance from LA: 49 miles

★★★★★
“Do you like beach camping? I love falling asleep [next] to the ocean. You’re right on the sand. The campfire is in a metal barrel, you have a picnic table and you’re on the beach. There’s rocks to the left and right that are fun to explore. The plots are deep and noise wasn’t really an issue. Heads up, there’s no shade at the beach.” -The Dyrt user Garret M. See more here.

3. Sycamore Cove Point – Point Mugu State Park
Distance from LA: 60 miles

★★★★☆
“We hiked the trails behind the campground and used the facilities while there. Everything is covered by a forest of sycamore trees that shelter and shade the campground and the bathrooms. The trails lead up to a ridge above the ocean that has beautiful vistas and others go across Highway One to the long, wide beach itself. The camping area is small and compact, appropriate for tents, pop-up campers and small RVs. The weather is either cool and cloudy (high fog) or bright, crisp and warm. The area is arid and desert like with sand dunes, cliffs and escarpment, and rocky but easy trails. A small dry creek cuts through the campground on its way to the beach. It was practically dry in May, but probably would be flowing during rainy season months of December to April. Nice family environment and populated with a lot of day visitors over the weekend.” See more here.

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4. Horse Flats Campground
Distance from LA: 58 miles

★★★★☆
“There are a few campgrounds in this area of the Angeles National Forest. Horse Flats is not as popular as Buckhorn, and is a little less “green” with regards to the immediate scenery. It is also quieter for this reason, which is nice. The individual sites are large and spread out from each other, so it is easy to have some privacy. Make sure to get food and firewood before you start the drive up the mountain, as there is no place to purchase such supplies near the camps.” -The Dyrt user Leslie R. See more here.

5. Gould Mesa
Distance from LA: 17 miles

★★★★☆
“If you are in LA and looking for the back-country feel without a long drive, this is just a 3 mile hike or ride up the canyon from Altadena.” – The Dyrt user John M. See more here.

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Reminder: You could win a $100 Toad&Co gift card when you camp California + review your campsites on TheDyrt.com. Learn more about our campsite review contest here. Contests end September 30th, so get out there!

The 5 Best National Parks for Car Camping

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When it comes to camping in the outdoors, it really doesn’t get much better than the national parks. Home to some of the country’s grandest and most treasured natural landscapes, the national parks are simply loaded with gorgeous places to pitch a tent or hang a hammock beneath the stars. And if it’s ease you’re going for, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more convenient method than car camping.

With car camping, you can reap the same benefits of getting away from it all with a fraction of the hassle and way better food. Just pack the car with a tricked out sleeping system, fill the cooler (bring the good beer), and some good company. You’ll be in the mobile lap of luxury. And some national parks are just too big not to have a car; you need to drive across and see all that the park has to offer (like the TWO deserts that converge in Joshua Tree National Park). Camping, road trips and the National Parks go together like red, white and blue. So, without further ado, here are some of our favorite great American parks to hit the road (and then then hay):

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cades Cove Loop Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Cades Cove Loop Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Kevin Kelley

 

At over half a million acres, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park preserves some of the most beautiful forest lands in the East. The park straddles the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, making it a convenient diversion for many East Coast road trips. While there are a number of beautiful campsites throughout this large park, the campground at Cades Cove is our pick for top car-camping destination.

As one of the most popular gateways to the park, Cades Cove will be crowded, especially in the warmer months. However, a trip to this area provides a fascinating window into the history of Appalachian culture and serves as basecamp for some of the best day hiking trips in the park.

From your campsite, explore some of the most famous park locations, such as Rocky Top, the inspiration for the well-known University of Tennessee fight song. While that’s a strenuous and fairly long day hike (nearly 14 miles), there are great short options as well. The five-mile hike into Abrams Falls is perfect for the entire family, and offers a nice swimming hole to cool off on a hot summer day. And then you can’t forget about cycling the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop; the campground store even offers bike rentals if you don’t have the space to bring your own.

2. Big Bend National Park

Stargazing in Big Bend National Park.
Stargazing in Big Bend National Park. Keith Yahl

 

As the old song goes, “The stars at night / are big and bright / deep in the heart of Texas” and nowhere else in the Lone Star State is that more true than in Big Bend National Park. Big Bend was named as a dark-sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2012, making it one of the few places in the United States that is almost completely free of artificial light pollution. You’ll get blazing views of the Milky Way, thousands of stars and planets, satellites, shooting stars and even the faintly glowing clouds of distant nebulae.

Big Bend is open year-round, with the best camping opportunities in the cooler winter months. There are three established campgrounds in the park, each offering a different perspective. Rio Grande Village is the largest, with 100 sites (43 of which can be reserved) tucked in a cottonwood grove close to the Rio Grande River. Cottonwood Campground is a small 24 site first-come-first-serve area that sits in a shady retreat in the desert. And finally, there is Chisos Basin Campground, perched over 5,000 feet with 60 campsites, 26 of which can be reserved. Chisos has the best access to the hiking trails, including the Window Trail, one of the most popular in the park thanks to its access to scenic canyons and ancient rock formations.

Each campground in the park is a comfortable oasis to immerse yourself into the land. When the sun goes down, the artistry of the night sky illuminates the heavens, bathing the living desert in pale shades of blue and green interstellar light.

3. Glacier National Park

Campsite in Glacier National Park.
Campsite in Glacier National Park. Steve Cyr

 

Known as the “Crown of the Continent,” Glacier National Park is a 1-million acre land of soaring peaks, sparkling lakes, diverse and abundant wildlife, and of course tons of recreational opportunities, with over 700 miles of trails spiderwebbing throughout the park and no less than 13 different campgrounds featuring a whopping 1,000 sites—so you’ve got options to say the least!

The park is also so large that most people visit a section at a time, and could easily spend a whole vacation exploring each one. So, a car is essentially a must-have—especially when you throw into the mix the fact that Glacier is home to some mighty impressive roads. Going-to-the-Sun Road, for instance, is a 50-mile drive through the center of the park, and it’s arguably the most scenic road in the Continental U.S. and hits most of the popular spots.

The Many Glacier Campground is probably the most popular campground in the park. As such, sites tend to fill up very quickly. But if you’re able to snag one, you’re in for a real treat. The Many Glacier area is the heart of the park and is simply breathtaking. One of the most popular hikes here is to Grinnell Glacier. The 11-mile roundtrip starts at the Many Glacier Hotel and heads first to Lake Josephine, then through beautiful meadows to a steady 1,600-foot climb to the glacier viewpoint. Like most other places in the park, the scenery is breathtaking, but it’s also the chance to see a glacier before they all melt.

4. Yellowstone National Park

The perfect setup for Yellowstone National Park.
The perfect setup for Yellowstone National Park. Mia & Steve Mestdagh

 

Yellowstone is the gold standard when it comes to America’s National Parks, thanks to its dreamscape of geothermal features and photogenic wildlife. Camping in the park can be an intimidating prospect because–let’s face it–you don’t want to miss anything! There are 12 established campgrounds in Yellowstone: 5 of which allow reservations (1,700 total sites) and 7 of which are first-come, first served (450 sites). The Yellowstone camping information website has all the information you’ll need, including a very handy chart showing at what time of the day the first-come, first-served sites fill up (in most cases, by about 6:45 am).

Reservations and planning ahead are a given for a place as busy as Yellowstone. If you’re coming from the northern side of the park in Montana, Mammoth Hot Springs Campground is one of the best locations to set up a tent near the namesake calcified, odiferous hot springs (and amazingly, it’s open year-round). Norris Campground is centrally located in the park near the Norris Basin, home to many hot springs and geothermal features. If you’re interested in the Yellowstone Lake area, Bridge Bay is your best choice. Madison Campground is the closest spot you’ll find near Old Faithful (about a 20 minute drive). And for the southern end of the park and the West Thumb Geyser Basin, check out Grant Village Campground.

5. Joshua Tree National Park

Car camping in Joshua Tree National Park.
Car camping in Joshua Tree National Park. Mark McKnight

 

Probably due to its proximity to the Los Angeles culture machine, Joshua Tree National Park –or at least the namesake tree–has been uniquely influential on pop culture. Bands as diverse as the Eagles, U2, and Selena have recorded near the park. A single visit is enough to understand why this area inspires so much creativity. The cartoonish rock formations at Jumbo Rocks Campground contrast with the dramatic silhouettes of the eponymous Joshua trees. As one of the most popular campgrounds, you will want to show up early (well before sunset) to claim a campsite.

While the park is known worldwide as a rock climbing destination, there are plenty of activities for the entire family. If you’re new to rock climbing, there are guides available. The short but strenuous uphill hike to the top of Mount Ryan affords a 360-degree panoramic view of the entire park, and is highly recommended. A four wheel drive vehicle is required to complete the fascinating 18-mile Geology Motor Tour, an overview of the park’s diverse geological landscape. Don’t miss the brochure kiosk at the start of the tour.

Straddling the Colorado and Mojave deserts, Joshua Tree tends to have very predictable weather, with extreme fluctuations in temperatures from day to night typical of the desert. Be sure to research the conditions before you visit and pack plenty of water. The busy season for this park is opposite most national parks, with visitors flocking to the park in winter and spring, and avoiding the summer heat. If you can handle the heat, you’ll have Jumbo Rocks Campground nearly to yourself during the summer.

If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, head north and visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

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Nothing says road trip like a comfy pair of overalls.

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When picking the perfect shirt for long hours in the car, make sure it’s quick-drying, moisture-wicking, and wrinkle resistant.

Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co. Featured image provided by David Sorich

Camp Kitchen Hacks

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Is there anything better than camp breakfast? Maybe it’s the fresh air or the fact that you’ll eat anything, but something happens out on the trail that elevates simple bacon and eggs into the feast of the century. Ok, maybe we’re hyperbolizing, but there’s an art to camp cooking that, when done correctly, will change the way you camp forever. Take it from us, your compadres will love you when you say, “No instant oatmeal here,” and whip up the meanest breakfast west (or east) of the Mississippi. So don’t bring home the bacon. Eat it. Eat it all. Here are our tips for creating the ultimate camp kitchen:

  • Keep your cooler cold by freezing gallon water jugs and leaving them in there. Bonus: You can drink them or wash up with them later.

  • Use tic-tac boxes as spice dispensers. We suggest adding garlic salt or cajun seasoning to just about anything.

  • Store charcoal briquettes in a cardboard egg crate, then light the crate to start a fire.

  • Got those extra eggs? Crack them into a plastic water bottle. No need to bring a bowl or a whisk!

  • Degrease your camp stove with half a lemon and salt (you’ll thank yourself later)

  • Make single serve coffee by putting coffee in a filter, tie it up with dental floss or string, then drop it in hot water and let steep like a tea bag.

  • You can cook anything in a cupcake tin directly over a fire – eggs in bacon, rolls, muffins, quiche, cinnamon buns – anything.

  • Make pancake batter ahead of time and put into gallon zip-lock bags. Freeze them, and when you’re ready to use take them out, cut a corner of the bag and squeeze into perfect circular pancakes.

  • Bring peanut butter. Just because.