Every camping family has a memory of their worst camping experience. It usually involves camping in the rain. Our family groans every time someone brings up our camping trip to Door County, Wisconsin. The first summer that we moved to the Chicago area, we decided it would be a quick, refreshing weekend to head up to Door County. It is about a four-hour drive and full of outdoor activities.
We hooked up the camper, strapped down the bikes, packed up our beagle, and loaded up our girls who were 5, 3, and 1 at the time. I had made reservations at a small mom and pop campground with an indoor swimming pool. The weather was overcast and gloomy as we pulled into our site, but we were excited to explore a new area.
Our site was heavily wooded which I usually look for when booking a location. The shade is nice during the day when the summer sun can be so intense. Mike and I have a system when it comes to setting up our pop-up and getting settled in our site. Mike decided on where to position the camper and I stood in the site and helped direct him where to go.
I was outside only a few minutes to help Mike get the camper backed in and I had dozens of mosquito bites. I am the last one in the family that mosquitoes tend to go after. I quickly got back in the van and Mike tried to set up the pop-up. The mosquitoes were so bad that we decided to burn some of the girls’ energy at the pool while we waited for the site to dry out from the morning rain. We were hopeful that the mosquitoes would die down.
Our neighbor pulled in to their site and set up. He had a fogger that pushed the mosquitoes back into the woods so that we were able to finish setting up camp. The rain continued throughout the weekend. On top of the overcast weather, our beagle got sick, and we could not be outside at our campsite or we would be eaten alive by mosquitoes.
After juggling the girls while camping in the rain, we decided to head home early. I learned a few lessons from this camping trip and now plan better for bad weather.
always bring rain gear
As a family, we have been caught out in the rain more than a few times unprepared. The most expensive time was at Disneyworld in Florida. There was a prolonged downpour, and none of us had jackets. Mike hit up the souvenir shop and came out with rain ponchos for each of us. We store these ponchos in our camper so that we have a backup if we forget our raincoats.
I may have inherited this lack of planning for bad weather from my parents. Ha! We were caught out in the rain while hiking Estes Park.
When I plan + pack for a camping trip, I find it helpful to use a checklist. First, I plan meals, activities, and our itinerary. Then I make a list of all the food, clothes, and other essential items that need packed. To help alleviate some of the packing, I store rain ponchos, bedding, towels, and kitchen supplies in totes. Then I can rest assured we are prepared for camping in the rain.
Since we camp multiple times a summer over many consecutive days, it is inevitable to be camping in the rain at some point. When I choose our campgrounds, I make sure that there are indoor activities within a half-hour drive if the weather isn’t cooperating.
I over plan activities and make sure that we have alternative plans depending on weather conditions. On our way home from Yellowstone, we stopped a few nights in Custer State Park. We had one beautiful day while we were there and two rainy days. The must-see outdoor attraction was Mount Rushmore, so we spent the sunny day exploring there and then drove the Needles Highway to enjoy wildlife viewing.
Near Custer State Park, we went to Jewel Cave, which was an unforgettable experience that was not weather-dependent. We spent the second lousy weather day in Hill City, South Dakota, where we went on a goldmine tour and enjoyed pizza + ice cream. This vacation was one of our favorites. I researched plenty of activities, so we never were left twiddling our thumbs.
Since we have a small pop-up camper, it does not have a TV. We always pick out a few of our favorite games to keep in a cabinet just in case we have a long day inside. Our cabinet collection currently has:
Flexibility and spontaneity may come naturally to many people. As a planner, it is difficult for me to just “wing-it.” I like to have goals for the day and a schedule, so I know what is coming next. Camping has taught me to be more flexible and embrace the moments as they come.
If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!Benjamin Franklin
Planning is still key to a successful camping trip, but now I hold plans more loosely. At the end of the day, if our plans get thrown off-kilter but we are able to make the most out of our day, that is a win. Each day has its tempo, and I have learned to go with the rhythm, not fight it. At times, that means setting aside a National Monument to hang out longer at the campground’s jumping pillow.
When we camp close to Chicagoland we tend to end up around the Wisconsin Dells area. There is a nice mix of bike trails, hiking, and water sports. However, if we find ourselves camping in the rain there is plenty to explore indoors. Indoor waterparks, interactive dining experiences, and indoor arcade fills our days when the weather is questionable.
Places like the Wisconsin Dells are fun no matter what the weather. So do not make the same mistakes I have and be caught unprepared when you happen to go camping in the rain. Pack ponchos, make a plan for lousy weather, and be flexible to make the most out of your camping trip.
What are your tips for camping in the rain?
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