We arrived on the first day of fall for our first foray into camping (for myself and my kids at least). A friend of ours’ from school invited us and several other families for a weekend of outdoor fun in Pennsylvania at Gifford Pinchot State Park between Harrisburg and York, and just an hour and a half up I-83 from Baltimore.
We each rented neighboring campsites for about $50 along a peninsula overlooking Pinchot Lake. Most of us were clustered next to each other, with a main headquarters where we usually all ate by the fire together while the kids played together. Everyone watched everyone else’s kids. We had a fun little community set up.
There is a nearby bathhouse (not my germophobic cup of tea, but I have seen worse) with electrical outlets and showers and a small beach for swimming. The park’s site has a list of fun things to do that is worth checking out.
The weather was unseasonably warm, which was a good thing, since I forgot to bring a sweatshirt. Or pillows. The first night was comically bad as our air mattress slowly deflated and I became stuck in a steep ditch against my husband and struggled to pull myself up and roll over onto my side only to slide back down. I eventually gave up and “slept” on the floor of the tent with just the sleeping bag. The next night was better since there was a Target about 20 minutes away where my husband was able to find a couple inflatable camping pads.
The kids woke up at 4 am to pee, one with a missing flip flop who I carried all the way to the bathroom and back, being sure to only let him down in front of the toilet to avoid his bare feet touching the rest of the bathroom floor, of course.
This was also the first time they slept in a tent on little inflatable mattresses, similar to inflatable pool rafts. As I tried to get them ready for bed and set up their also slippery probably polyester sleeping bags, they bounced around like monkeys and I felt like I was stuck in a bounce house with a task to complete. This bedtime gauntlet felt so futile at some point that I just lost it and started laughing uncontrollably. If felt like I was reliving some distant childhood memory of being on a trampoline or bouncy house with my brothers jumping around while I struggled to get up. Or that time an old high school boyfriend showed no mercy in a bounce house boxing ring at some random festival. That did not end well. At any rate, you could imagine Mommy laughing hysterically didn’t help the bedtime situation much either.
Alas, the kids still managed to wake up at the crack of dawn. Thankfully, their school friends were on a similarly cruel sleep schedule, so they all got up and went biking in circles on the road next to the campsites.
On the plus side, I got to experience the morning mist rising off the lake. There was even a guy fishing in a boat just off-shore, as if he was taken right out of a painting.
The kids were occupied with a trip to the disc golf course, a playground on the sand beach and swimming, and paddle-boarding (thanks to one of the families that brought them).
A few caveats if you are considering camping here…alcohol is prohibited. Quiet hours are from 9pm-8am, which they seem pretty strict about. A ranger was actually giving one of the families, including their 6 year old, a hard time because she was making some slight noise while they were trying to get her to bed (cue righteous indignation from parents everywhere trying to get their kids to sleep). Friends at the site next to them could barely even hear her so she was certainly not being loud.
Some guy was spotted in handcuffs for what sounded like “a small amount of marijuana.” Evidently, the police were not happy he only brought enough for himself.
They also seemed to be giving families with dogs a rough time even when they were in the dog area. They did not find it to be dog friendly.
All in all, we had an amazing weekend with friends. No screens, fresh air, and a beautiful view. This was a great place to start for a first camping experience and now my alpine husband thinks he has upgraded to wife version 2.0.