Car camping just a short drive away

B.G. site offers taste of outdoors with amenities

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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Battle Ground Lake State Park

Paradise Point State Park

State park reservations

Car Camping Checklist

What you need:

Tent, poles, rain fly, stakes.

Tarps (at least one to protect the tent bottom, possibly a second to cover firewood).

Sleeping bag, blankets.

Jacket, sweatshirt, T-shirt, shorts, jeans, etc. (think layers in case the weather changes).

Rain gear.

Hiking shoes and socks.

Sleepwear (remember you might have to walk to the bathroom area in the middle of the night).

Water.

Garbage bags.

Flashlight and extra batteries.

First aid kit.

Dry food in sealed plastic bags (to try to keep animals from smelling it).

Other stuff to bring:

Sunglasses.

Head lamp, lantern.

Maps of trails, campsite.

Sleeping mat, foam or inflatable air mattress (and air pump).

Pillows.

Towel, swimsuit.

Soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper (just in case).

Wet wipes and paper towels (wet wipes are great after campfire food).

Cooler and ice.

Soda, flavored water, beer.

Wood, kindling, newspaper, lighter (if you plan on having a fire).

Small ax.

Camp stove (if you don’t want to deal with a fire).

Hot dogs and buns, sandwiches, cold cuts.

Chocolate bars, graham crackers, marshmallows.

Camp coffee pot and coffee.

Cast iron pan, eggs, bacon, etc., if you want breakfast.

Tin foil.

Long-handled cooking tools, skewers to easily roast hot dogs.

Utensils and plates of some sort.

Lawn chairs.

Games (horseshoes, cards, etc.).

Insect repellent, sunscreen.

Car power converter (but be careful not to drain your battery).

Giggles and the whir of bike tires peppered the smoke-tinged morning air as families at Battle Ground Lake State Park campground prepared for another day in the wilderness.

Nine-year-old twins Keaneu and Kai Sonia, Alicia Chavez, 6, and Kylie Christensen, 7, ran from their campfire to a picnic bench, climbed on a nearby log, then circled around to show the adults in their group some silly faces.

The scene is similar most days at Clark County’s public campgrounds, especially since hints of summer have finally arrived.

For city dwellers who have never experienced camping before, the thought of spending a night outside to enjoy the wilderness with friends and family might seem daunting.

But beginning camping — in the form of car camping — is actually pretty simple.

And as Keaneu and the other children were quick to point out, it’s a blast.

“You get to go swimming, you get to roast marshmallows and ride your bikes and scooters around trails,” Keaneu said. “And at night, you get to stay up late.”

Finding a spot

Before setting out, first-time campers should remember one critical thing — you should make sure you actually have a place to set up your tent.

Weekdays are usually not a problem for last-minute campers, but campsites often become completely booked on summer weekends, said Jim Presser, park manager at Battle Ground Lake.

“We’re full for the next three weekends,” Presser said on Aug. 5. “It’s best to make weekend reservations at least a couple months in advance for here. For Paradise Point State Park (in Ridgefield), you want to reserve at least maybe a few weeks out.”

Campers at Washington State Parks can reserve spots online at www.parks.wa.gov or over the phone at 888-226-7688.

Fees vary, but at Battle Ground Lake and Paradise Point, it costs between $12 and $36 per night, depending on which type of campsite you choose.

The advantage of developed campsites like those two state parks — especially for new campers — is that they have basic amenities, like water pumps, flush toilet bathrooms and even showers.

They also come with more rules than undeveloped campsites that you have to hike to, but those rules make the experience better for everyone, said Sonny Patterson, 32.

At Battle Ground Lake, where Patterson has been camping with her family since she was a newborn baby, campers must observe quiet hours from 10 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. and they can’t play a radio so loud that people in neighboring campsites can hear it.

“It’s a great place to just enjoy the air,” Patterson said. “I sleep really good out here. The rangers make sure people keep the noise down. We’ll have a couple of beers and enjoy ourselves, but always we try to respect everybody else.”

Most campgrounds list rules on their websites and on informational boards around the area.

Packing up the car

One of the best parts of car camping is that you can bring pretty much anything you want along for the ride.

The most important things to bring are a tarp, tent, sleeping bags and some sort of sleeping mat. You’ll probably also want to bring food, games for the kids and even beer for the adults, if it’s allowed.

“If you’re traveling with kids, you really should make sure they have lots to do,” said Rikyah Sonia, Keaneu and Kai’s mother. “Also if you want to roast marshmallows, you should remember to bring lots of wood.”

You don’t have to have a fire, of course, but it certainly adds to the experience, she said.

Sites sometimes sell out of wood, so it’s not a bad plan to pick some up either at the store or from a roadside wood seller on the way in.

Developed sites have designated pits for fires. To build one, you need wood, smaller pieces of kindling and something flammable — like newspaper or even dryer lint, Rikyah Sonia said.

“Dryer lint works great, actually, it’s extremely flammable,” she said.

You’ll also need some basic cooking utensils — even if it’s just a few skewers to hold hot dogs over your fire.

One of the odd things that Patterson said she usually brings is a broom.

“It’s nice to keep your campsite clean,” Patterson said.

You can sweep the dirt to make the surface more even before putting your tarp and tent down, she said.

Setting up camp

When you arrive, pay your fees and get to your site, you’ll want to do a little planning.

Don’t put the tents too close to the fire pit — they’ll get smoky and its a fire hazard.

You can set up some chairs around the pit, drag out your cooler and, if there’s a table, set up some snacks or small games to distract the kids.

Then, whether you sweep or not, find a relatively flat spot on the ground and lay your tarp on it. You can secure the tarp to the ground with extra tent spikes or rocks if it’s windy.

The tarp protects the bottom of the tent and can keep you dry if it rains and the ground gets soaked.

Once the tarp is in place, set up your tent on top of it.

Then you can arrange your bedroom. Sleep mats are handy, but nothing beats an air mattress for comfort in the great outdoors — just don’t forget the air pump.

Besides the mattress, sleeping bags, blankets and pillows, you also might want to put some water, flashlights and extra toilet paper in a handy spot.

When all that’s done, you can relax, go on a hike, enjoy the water or pull out the bicycles and go for a ride.

Have fun

Camping is a great way to get closer to the natural world — listen for the sounds of birds, smell the woody air, look in the grass for unusual creatures.

Up in the sky, you might even see a bald eagle at Battle Ground Lake.

“We have one that lives across the lake from the landing,” Presser said. “People love to check him out.”

One of Rikyah Sonia’s favorite things to bring for the kids are bug-collecting kits she gets at the dollar store, she said.

“It’s nice to have lots of things to keep them occupied, like coloring books, clay, party packs with stickers,” Sonia said. “It doesn’t cost much. We get a lot of little things at the dollar store.”

Kylie said hunting for bugs is one of her favorite parts of camping.

“I’m afraid of daddy long legs, but I love beetles, ants, rolly pollies,” Kylie said.

Adults can also take advantage of games or activities, Patterson said.

Her family likes to play horseshoes and baseball on their annual trip to Battle Ground Lake, she said.

“There’s so much to do, I just love this place,” Patterson said. “At the end I always feel refreshed. Camping, it really takes you away from everyday stressful life. And it helps keep the family together.”