Danielle V.
Wexford, PA
Joined June 2016
Ranger Review: Roanline clothing at Topeka / Capital City KOA

Campground Review

We stayed at the Topeka / Capital City KOA campground for one night on our way home during a 3-week road trip. We had a water / electric pull-through site around the middle of the campground. It’s a small campground for a KOA, but still has all of the great amenities that you expect from a KOA: extremely clean bathhouses, nice playground for the kids, beautiful pool and connected pavilion, small fishing pond, etc. The campground hosts were very friendly and helpful and the atmosphere was quiet and peaceful. The kids really liked playing on the playground as we got the pop-up situated, but we did not have the chance to check out the pool since we were only there for one night. Everyone enjoyed taking a nice stroll around the decorative pond and fishing pond (which are separate) that night, and we saw a bunch of frogs, fish jumping, and two ducks that followed us around for a while.

My husband and I got up early and took the rods to the fishing pond prior to packing up and heading out in the morning. Though the fishing is usually pretty limited, we still really enjoy having a small fishing pond at a campground. It’s nice to be able to walk to something in the morning or before bed and get some relaxing fishing in. The fish we caught (about 1/2 a dozen bluegill and 1/2 a dozen bass) were all pretty small, but still fun and they’ll be a decent size in a few years.

Product Review

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I occasionally receive products to test or gift cards for new companies to check out. Prior to heading out on our 3-week road trip, I received a gift card to Roanline.com, which is an e-commerce company specializing in outdoor clothing and accessories for men and women. The company is based in North Carolina, and the first thing you notice when you hit the website is the focus on high quality outdoor clothing brands, some of which I had never heard of before. I love supporting new, smaller outdoor clothing brands, especially niche brands like Parks Project that prints high-quality t-shirts representing our National Parks or Free Fly who makes high performance, bamboo based clothing popular with the flyfishing crowd. The website is stylish and easy-to-use, and I like the clean interface that allows you to filter by just about anything you can think of. The ordering process was straight-forward, I received a pleasant confirmation email, and my order arrived even earlier than expected - which is exactly what you want with an online retailer! Roanline went above and beyond with order fulfillment with the package presentation, which I did not expect. My order came wrapped in a ribbon with a hand-written letter from the fulfillment team. Who does that in 2017? Great online retailers that want to let you know that they appreciate your business! Shopping at Roanline was a great experience, and I have added additional items to my Christmas wishlist for myself and others, so they definitely have a return customer.

My favorite purchase from Roanline was the women's Free Fly Bamboo Shade Hoody. I'm glad that I ordered a small because the shirt is pretty long for me (I'm 5'2" so I'm on the edge of petite in terms of sizing). I really love the design of the shirt, with thumb holes and a hood that inlcudes neck cover. The shirt has UPF 50+ sun protection, which made it perfect for flyfishing in the rocky mountain parks (Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain National, etc) where the elevation is high and the sun exposure is certainly more than I'm used to. This quickly became my go-to flyfishing shirt, and it will stay that way for most trips as I would much rather wear long sleeves than lather on a ton of sunscreen. The material is extremely comfortable, so much so that I even wore it to sleep at night a few times when it was very cold in Yellowstone - very cozy. I also love the color of the shirt, and the overall fit is nearly perfect (just a bit long, as I mentioned, but I'm sure that's perfect for most women). And as you can see from the photos, clearly this shirt is lucky as it helped me land this MONSTER at a campground fishing pond… but seriously, this is the nicest and most comfortable fishing shirt I've ever owned, and I will be looking to purchase at least one more!

Ranger Review: Mountain House Lasagna with Meat Sauce at Oil Creek Family Campground

Campground Review

I can honestly say that Oil Creek Family Campground is the best private campground that we have ever camped at. Especially if you’re camping with kids, it offers everything that you would want for a ‘great American summer’ style camping experience, without being a cookie-cutter big-name private campground chain. They have a large pool; a few llamas that the kids can feed and pet; a 27-hole disc golf course (recently expanded from 18 hole) primarily in the woods near and around the campground property; a small pond for sunfish / bass fishing; a dog ‘playground’ (enclosed area with some obstacles); a well-maintained hedge maze; a pavilion with ping pong, a pool table, and foosball; a DVD rental program at the main office with about 300 movies; and a small camp store with a small selection of books that you can borrow. They also provide weekly entertainment for the kids, e.g. rock painting or special guests. This weekend, for instance was ‘Jungle Terry and his amazing exotic animal family.’ We don’t typically spend a ton of time actually AT the campgrounds when we’re camping, but we did this weekend - and we had a blast on the disc golf course, fishing in the pond, and playing ping pong. The kids had an awesome time in the pool for hours and running around with the other kids in the maze. And everyone agreed that it was a perfect way to wrap up the summer before the school year starts.

We have a pop-up and my parents (whom we were camping with for the weekend) use a tent, so we had two water+electric sites in the tent camping area away from the RVs: sites A7 and A8. The sites in this area are well-maintained and LARGE, with plenty of room for a pop-up or multiple tents plus one or two vehicles, plus lots of room around the fire ring. There are smaller bathrooms placed around the campground as well as a center bathhouse located adjacent to the pavilion with 2 shower stalls and an additional toilet per gender.

We chose this campground due to its proximity to Oil Creek State Park. The state park itself does not have a campground, and OCFC is right next door - in fact, the campground hiking trail loop has a very short connecting piece to the 36-mile Gerard hiking trail that runs through the park. The park is beautiful with a lot of history (it is the site of the world’s first commercial oil well, and where the oil industry began in the United States around 1860) and Oil Creek - which is really a river - runs right down the middle of the park. It is a stocked creek and it’s great for both trout and bass fishing. Some parts of the creek also have a lot of northern water snakes (we saw 4 near the Blood Farm day use area) which was cool to see.

Overall: fantastic campground in a beautiful part of Pennsylvania - and we will absolutely be back.

Product Review

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get occasionally receive products to test or gift cards for new companies to check out.  Over the past weekend, we tried out one of the Mountain House favorites, freeze-dried Lasagna with Meat Sauce in the #10 can. Lasagna is not exactly a typical camping food, so the fact that we could easily make enough lasagna to feed a group of six people (4 adults and 2 kids) just by heating up some water was wonderful! We made the entire can (boil 8 cups of water, pour it into the can itself, stir a lot to mix up all of the freeze-dried ingredients, and let it sit for ten minutes - EASY) along with some crescent-roll wrapped hot dogs over the fire and it was like a gourmet camping meal. Everyone loved the lasagna - even the two picky kids!

Enormous campground right next to Holiday World

Wow, Lake Rudolph Campground is huge! So huge in fact that we only ever saw 1/2 of it - we never even ventured into the other 1/2 of the campground (the top half of the map, which is probably MORE than 1/2 of the campground). We stayed in a water / electric site in Ornament Circle which was perfect because it was very close to the fishing ‘lake’, bathhouses, mini golf, and tram stop for Holiday World (which is, of course, why we were there). The mini golf (9 hole) was actually a lot of fun, and the fishing pond has a ton of fish in it. We caught crappie, bluegill, and a few smaller bass - but there are definitely some larger bass in there. The bathhouses were relatively dirty, but had free showers and plenty of stalls. We did not visit the campground store or anything in the upper 1/2 of the campground, as I mentioned, so we did not go to the in-campground pool or mini waterpark. The location of the campground is perfect if you’re visiting for Holiday World / Splashin’ Safari.

Speaking of which, I was a little hesitant about Holiday World as it sounds a little cheesy, but I think it’s one of the nicest amusement parks we’ve ever been to - and we’ve been to a lot! The theming is awesome with each section of the park entirely entrenched in its given holiday (different colors used on fences, the theming of all of the rides themselves, the concessions available, special characters, etc), it was just a ton of fun. We got to the park shortly after it opened, which means we had about an hour in the main park before Splashin’ Safari opened (which was our main focus). I had the grand idea to head straight for The Voyage, which I had heard was the top-rated coaster in the park, and grabbed the seats at the back of the coaster (it’s a wooden coaster, right? you’re supposed to sit in the back).

Ho-Lee Crap.

That thing was insane! I have never been on a wooden rollercoaster anything close to that extreme - in fact, all 3 of the famous wooden coasters at Holiday World obliterated most other wooden coasters we had been on. The Voyage in particular, though, is intense. I would not recommend sitting in the back of the train.. hah. The Legend and The Raven are both AWESOME and we enjoyed those more than The Voyage. The new (steel) coaster, Thunderbird, is extremely smooth, especially after riding the old wooden coasters, and it was fantastic - one of my favorite steel coasters that I’ve ever ridden. We spent most of the day at the water park, which was also a great time. The Mammoth in particular was a ton of fun, and unique - it’s a ‘water coaster’ but you sit in a large circular raft (with nice individual seats) instead of the typical in-line 2- or 4-person tube. We really enjoyed that one, though it did break down a few times that day which increased the wait times. The food was decent for an amusement park, and we definitely felt like we got our money’s worth.

We will definitely be back, and will stay at Lake Rudolph when we return!

Perfect private campground near Pike's Peak & Colorado Springs

We stayed at Lone Duck for a single night in the beginning of August because we wanted to check out Pike’s Peak before starting the drive home from our 3 week road trip. It’s a relatively small campground, but extremely welcoming and one of the best campgrounds that we stayed at during the trip. It’s located close to the main route through the area, but not level with the road so you don’t hear the road noise at night. Our water / electric site was level and backed up to a small brook, which was peaceful and full of little critters (squirrels, chipmunks, woodpeckers). The heated pool is awesome (and pretty darn warm!), the little trout pond is nice for the kids (you have to pay $6 for each fish that you catch, though, and there is no catch and release), and they have a really great arcade in the main office game room. About 15 arcade games total, 1/2 of which are pinball machines. The restrooms have large shower stalls and are well-maintained and clean. There is a smaller camp store and fishing equipment that you can borrow if you did not bring your own. They also have a small grill and they do breakfasts some mornings and I’m assuming some dinner options some evenings as well. We opted for the $5 pancake breakfast in the morning which included 2 large pancakes, side of meat (bacon / sausage), and coffee / juice, which isn’t bad. The campground hosts (who cooked the breakfast as well) were very nice, and the overall atmosphere of the campground is quaint and welcoming.

The area is cool and we enjoyed going up to Pike’s Peak. My family thought it would be better to go up on the cog railway train rather than driving the auto road, so that’s what we did. I would have preferred to drive at our own pace and be able to take pictures and really enjoy the mountain views, but my husband and two kids (8 and 10) loved the train ride. It was pretty expensive for the tickets, but the ride up was peaceful and informative (the announcer speaks quickly and is difficult to hear sometimes, but is a wealth of knowledge) and we saw a ton of marmots, some pika, some deer, and some bighorn sheep. The weather was not fantastic and we couldn’t see a darn thing at the peak, so it was OK that we only had 45 minutes at the top to scarf down some donuts, take some pics, and hop back on the train.

We ate dinner at Colorado Mountain Brewery (NOT the Roundhouse location) and it was horrible. The service was terrible, the food was awful (except the pretzel appetizer, which was great), and the beer was the worst. Would not recommend!!

However, the campground was GREAT, and I would definitely recommend it if you’re in the Pike’s Peak area.

Nice campground with very clean facilities

We stayed at Chief Hosa for 2 nights in early August. There was a fire restriction in place and the campground hosts had spotted a black bear in the area a few days earlier. The campground is small, but very well maintained and the sites are large. They use a keycode system to restrict access to the centrally-located bathhouse (there is only one in the campground), which I thought was clever. We were lucky that our site was relatively close to the bathhouse, but some of the tent sites on the perimeter of the campground would have a decent trek to use the restroom in the middle of the night. The bathrooms were VERY clean and seemed to be pretty new - plenty of bathroom stalls, sinks, and large showers. They were quarter showers for 2 minutes of hot water, so basically less than $1 per shower, which is great.

The campground is close to the highway and even with the fans on at night in the pop-up we could still hear some of the highway noise, but it wasn’t a big deal. I’m sure it would be a bigger deal to tent campers. About a mile up the highway there is an exit with a Wal-mart, a Soopers (local grocery chain), a McDonald’s, etc. With the fire ban in effect, we couldn’t use the Biolite to make coffee in the morning, so it was nice to be able to drive to McDonald’s in 3 minutes in the morning to grab some coffee.

From Chief Hosa, you’re about 45 minutes from downtown Boulder, 25 minutes to Denver, and 35 minutes to Water World, which is the reason we stayed in the area for the night. There are closer Denver Parks and campgrounds, but in the summer their sites are reserved well in advance. Water World was a ton of fun for the whole family and we went into Boulder that night for dinner. We ate at Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery, which was delicious and extremely reasonable for the beers, the amount of food that we ate (their burgers are awesome), and the fact that it’s Boulder, which I heard was relatively expensive.

Pretty nice campground close to Estes Park

We stayed at the Yogi Bear Jellystone Campground outside of Estes Park for 3 nights in early August. We had a water / electric site with our pop-up and it was in a perfect location near the bathhouse on the upper part of the main loop. I was surprised at how large the campsites are - lots of room around the fire pit and picnic table even with our camper and main vehicle. The location approximately 4 miles outside of Estes Park is great - it took us

Pretty nice campground, amazing National Park

We stayed at Gros Ventre for 2 nights at the end of July as part of a 3+ week road trip. We had a non-electric site (324) in Loop F. Even in the middle of the summer, we had no problem getting a walk-up site after arriving at approximately 2 PM (though they were running out), probably because it's a pretty large campground and not one of the 'prime time' ones like Jenny Lake or Signal Mountain. We really liked this campground because it is centrally located between Jackson and Moose Junction and the park itself (darn mountain in the way…). It's also very close to the Mormon Row historic district which we happened to drive down ONLY because Google originally mapped us down that dirt road in order to get to the campground (which I would not advise, unless you had already planned to visit Mormon Row). The campground itself was adequate, with nice, level sites, so-so restrooms, and access to the Gros Ventre River for fishing if that's your thing. 

Jackson is a nice cross between a typical just-outside-the-park-boundaries tourist trap town and well-to-do vacation destination so that there is really a nice mix of something for everyone. After spending 4 days in Yellowstone, we were hungry - literally - for something other than really terrible NP food, and thankfully Jackson delivered. We had a fantastic meal (and LOTS of beer) at Snake River Brewing, and I highly recommend it. Cowboy Coffee is an awesome coffee shop and cafe right on 191 (and, bonus, they serve pastries from Persephone Bakery) - their smoothies were a big hit with the kids, and their breakfast burritos were a delicious way to start the day. If you like tea, get the London Fog - delicious.

For hiking in the area, we did the full Taggart Lake loop trail and it was wonderful - I really liked the fact that the trail TO Taggart Lake was so different than the hike FROM Taggart Lake (we went counter-clockwise around the loop). The ranger at Moose did say that several people reported seeing bear along the trail the same way that we went, but we were looking for them (while singing and clapping loudly for most of the hike) and did not see any. There are connecting hikes to Bradley Lake and beyond, though most of the 'beyond' connections get very steep, very fast. We also did the Hidden Falls hike after taking the boat across Jenny Lake, and it was beautiful! The kids enjoyed playing on the rocks and getting to see climbers coming off the mountains.

Out of the 3+ week road trip we were on, we really enjoyed the Grand Teton area - the mountains are gorgeous, and it's just staggering how suddenly they jut out of the landscape. We saw our first moose in this area, and just had a wonderful time all around. We will be back!

Best first-come, first-served campground in Yellowstone!

OK, so let's be clear - camping in Yellowstone is a bit of a pain in the neck if you don't plan months in advance. There's a total of 12 campgrounds throughout Yellowstone (some of which may be closed during your visit, so check the website) including 5 campgrounds with ONLY reservable sites operated by Xanterra (a company that is completely unrelated to the NPS) and 7 first-come, first-served campgrounds operated by the park service. The Xanterra campgrounds are generally the most centrally located options, but if you don't plan in advance and reserve a site, there's no way you're getting one in the summer. If you're coming to Yellowstone without reservations, your best bet is to stay at a campground as close to the park boundaries as possible and get to your preferred campground no later than 8 AM. As another reviewer noted, some people start lining up as early as 6 AM. Keep in mind that Yellowstone is enormous, and the park access roads are limited and often times blocked by tourists, the ever-present and always-obnoxious bison, and stupid tourists in the middle of the road taking pictures of stupid bison in the middle of the road. Oh, and lots of traffic. So plan accordingly and wake up extra early, unfortunately!

We stayed at Wapiti campground in the Shosone National Forest about 1/2 an hour from the east gate entrance and started packing up at 5 AM. We got to the east gate entrance at 6 AM and the ranger at the gate told us we may as well swing by Bridge Bay to see if they have any available campsites… which illustrates an interesting point about Yellowstone in that the NPS rangers at the gates and elsewhere in the park literally have no idea what the camping conditions are within the park, either at the Xanterra campgrounds OR at the NPS-operated campgrounds. Not a clue. I find this strange since it's 2017, but that's reality. We arrived at Bridge Bay at 6:45 AM and waited patiently at the park office for a Xanterra worker to open the reservation window - not a second before 7 AM mind you - to promptly laugh at me when I inquired about a campsite, stating that they were actually overbooked. Waste of time. We continued driving to Norris, which is where we had originally hoped to get a site, and arrived about an hour later at 7:40 AM.

At 7:40 AM, we were the 26th group to arrive and join the line waiting for a campsite - it was quite the eye-opener to be honest. 25 groups ahead of us already, all freezing their butts off in line! Thankfully, the campground hosts were AWESOME and did a wonderful job keeping everyone extremely informed of availability throughout the morning. There happened to be 42 sites that they were expecting to be available sometime that morning, though current campers always have the option to renew / extend their reservations through the morning that they are scheduled to leave. The crowd that morning lucked out that so many sites were becoming available, and out of everyone that joined the line, only the real late-comers (those that showed up after around 9:30 AM) were finally told that they were not going to get a site. We did end up waiting in line until approxiamtely 10:20 AM to get our site, since campers have until 11 AM to officially check out of their sites, so even if you get there early, you should plan on standing in line for quite a while. Despite the waste-of-time aspect of it (especially if you only have a few days in the park like we do), we had a great time talking to the other folks waiting in line with us and learning where they were coming from, where they were going next, etc. It was a very pleasant atmosphere and everyone was extremely nice (and also thankful for the great communication from the hosts!).

The campground itself is pretty basic, which is typical for all of the NPS-operated campgrounds in Yellowstone. The sites do not have water/electric and the campground does not have showers, but the restrooms at least have flushing toilets and running water (most NPS campgrounds do not). We stayed in site 26 in B loop. All sites seem spacious and come with a fire ring, picnic table, and bear box for storing all cooking equipment, food, and generally anything that smells like a delicious human to grizzly bears. Each loop has its own restroooms as well as the main ones near the office, and they are well maintained.

Norris is the most centrally located NPS-operated campground, and a great choice if you're primarily interested in visiting the various geyser basins within the park. There is a trail connecting Norris Campground to the very famous Norris Geyser Basin, the park's largest collection of hydrothermal formations - which is AWESOME. As a trade-off, the entire campground smells like rotten eggs (sulfurous gas) pretty much 24-7, but you get used to it. The Solfatara Creek runs right by the A loop and entrance to the campground, and offers some decent flyfishing in the meadow. It's also an excellent area to spot wildlife, and we literally had a lone coyote trot right in front of us near the bridge that crosses the creek. I would also recommend checking out the Museum of the National Park Ranger which is actually on the main entrance drive for Norris Campground - it's small and quick, but full of a lot of great information to make you appreciate the park and the NPS in general.

For us, Norris was the perfect base of operations for our visit to Yellowstone, and while it was anonying to spend essentially 1/2 a day waiting for a campsite to open up, I can definitely understand the problem considering the ridiculous demand for campsites in this incredibly beautiful park.

As few words of caution about Yellowstone:

  • Bison are cool and all, but cause hours of traffic jams throughout the park. My family has quasi-jokingly switched to eating bison burgers rather than beef hamburgers because we were so sick of bison after traveling through South Dakota and Wyoming. Don't be one of the people 
  • The food in Yellowstone is some of the most expensive, least satisfying food I've ever eaten in a state or national park. Pack picnic meals instead, and then swing into Fishing Bridge for the ice cream (back of the General Store).
  • If you're not a big fan of crowds but still need to travel to Yellowstone during the summer due to kids being in school, plan to hit the congested areas of the park BEFORE 10 am or AFTER 4 pm to avoid the heaviest crowds. There are similar signs posted throughout the park, and I fully agree - right at 4 PM, it's like someone flips a switch and the crowds start to disappear.
  • Showering in Yellowstone is a bit of an ordeal since the NPS campgrounds do not have showers. On a whim, my husband asked the front desk at the Old Faithful Inn if they have public showers and they do. I believe we paid something like $3.50 for a keycard that grants 2 hours of access to one of the bathhouses within the Old Faithful Inn 'village' of cottages. The showers were fantastic!!! The bathhouse was extremely clean, newly updated, spacious, and contained 3 shower stalls (including an ADA accessible one) that had shampoo, conditioner, and body wash pumps IN the showers so you didn't need to bring your own. I believe you can also purchase showers at: Mammoth Hotel, Roosevelt Lodge, Grant Village campground, Fishing Bridge campground, and Canyon campground - but we did not use those ones and I can't speak to their quality or availability.
OK staging ground for battling for a Yellowstone site

In all honesty, our 1-night stay in Wapiti was kind of a necessary evil. Yellowstone campgrounds are notoriously difficult to get into, and after researching options online I decided that Wapiti - which is within the Shoshone National Forest outside the Yellowstone park boundaries - would be a good place to spend the night prior to actually heading into Yellowstone proper. It's about 1/2 way between Cody, Wyoming and the east gate to Yellowstone and it will take you approximately 30 minutes to reach either. There is a good mix of reservable sites and first-come, first-served sites, and we were able to reserve a site near the river. We camped here in late July and arrived at approx 7 PM and all of the first-come, first-served sites were already taken, which speaks to the popularity of the greater Yellowstone area in summer. Our site (#08) had electric as well, and was close to one of the restrooms. I do have to say, that was the cleanest (single) vault toilet restroom I have ever used in my life, which I can appreciate.

Being so close to the river (North Fork of the Shoshone), this campground was extremely buggy during our visit in July, which is genreally the case for this entire part of the country (especially Yellowstone) - bring a lot of Picaridin! The river itself is very fast through this area, so be careful if you have younger children. We did not do any fishing here, but there was a family fishing from the bridge (Sweetwater Creek Rd.) using pink scented 'marshmallows' (trout bait) that the locals told them worked the best - they had not caught anything yet.

We traveled back through the national forest into Cody for dinner and ate at Millstone Pizza Company and Brewery and I would recommend it. The beer was pretty good (we split a 6-sample flight to taste everything), and the portions were great. I got a meatball sandwich that was huge and delicious, and the specialty pizzas looked fantastic as well.

Great location, lots of amenities

On a 3+ week road trip, we stayed at Beaver Lake Campground for 4 nights and used this location as our ‘home base’ for the entire extended area in South Dakota: Badlands NP, Rapid City, Black Hills national forest, Mt. Rushmore, the very large Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and the variety of scenic byways that connect them. It’s about 90 minutes away from the Badlands, but it was worth it to drive back out that direction rather than a.) having to camp at a separate site for only 1 night and b.) having to camp in that environment, which is generally much hotter and more arid than the Custer area within the Black Hills.

The campground is located about 3 miles outside the main drag of Custer, which is a great location for exploring the area. It is large and predominantly an ‘RV’ style campground, though they also have some small cabins that you can rent. They have laundry on site (which is nice when you’re on a road trip), a small camp store with everything that you would need, and the campground hosts are very nice and accommodating. The bathhouses weren’t the greatest (a little dirty and the woman’s shower stall in the bath room near the pool had a broken shower hose which sprayed me in the face when I was showering - quite annoying!), but they were conveniently placed. The pools looked nice, but with so much to do in the area we honestly did not spend any time in the campground during swimming hours so I can’t comment much on them. In general, everyone that we met at the campground seemed extremely nice, our particular camp site was beautiful, large, and well-situated, and the campground had everything that we needed (and more) in a fantastic location. Pretty close to perfect!

Quiet, peaceful campground and park with great facilities

My family and I stayed at the Lebanon Hills Regional Park campground due to its proximity to the Mall of America about 15-20 minutes away. We did not spend a ton of time in the campground itself as we only stayed 1 night, but I was impressed with the well-maintained and large sites (in the East loop at least, can’t speak to the other one), the wonderful bathhouses / restrooms, and the great playground (with seemingly brand new park equipment) for the kids. The bathhouse even had a separate LARGE family shower & restroom that my girls (8 and 10) used to shower together, which was great. Highly recommend this campground!

And I have to (begrudgingly) admit, the Mall of America was pretty awesome, too.

Great location, close to everything but on a private road away from noise

My family and I stayed at this Wisconsin Dells KOA location for two nights (site 61) as the first stop on a 3+ week trip, and it fully met our expectations. The hosts and office workers were very nice when we checked in and each time we visited the large camp store / office, and the campground itself was one of the nicest KOAs we’ve camped at. Our site was level and had everything we needed (fire ring, picnic table, electric), and was across the road from a wonderful bathhouse / restroom. The facilities were very clean, and we appreciated that the showers (3 or 4, including a handicap one and a family one) each had separate entrance doors - you don’t see that often. The kids loved the pool and splash pad as well.

This was our first time to the Wisconsin Dells area and I’m not a huge fan of ‘tourist trap towns’, so I liked the fact that the KOA was actually located about a mile and a half down a side road off one of the main routes in the area. The main reason we chose to stop here was to visit the water parks, specifically Noah’s Ark, and the ‘largest waterpark in the US’ (and Wisconsin Dells is known as the ‘water park capital of the US’) did not disappoint. It was not the ‘nicest’ water park we’ve ever been to, but the rides were great and everyone had an absolute blast.

On a bit of a whim, I bought tickets to the night-time Tommy Bartlett show on nearby Lake Delton since the water park closed relatively early. They bill it as a “ski, sky, and stage” show; I had never heard of it prior to arriving in Wisconsin Dells, but apparently it’s a bit of a Big Deal for the area. We were a bit skeptical, but honestly everyone in our family loved it - it was a great time. The first hour or so is a water ski stunt show with a bunch of different acts doing all kinds of different stuff on the water and over the jumps (including a clown that was actually funny, and I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever said that about a clown), and the second hour is almost like a miscellaneous ‘talent show’ style production, also with a variety of acts including the famous ‘Christian and Scooby’ from America’s Got Talent. All-in-all, it was just FUN, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

For food in the area, we ate at High Rock Cafe in downtown Wisconsin Dells and the Dells Pizza Lab closer to the KOA, and I would highly recommend both. The cafe is great with reasonable prices and some healthier options and some great draft options. The Pizza Lab I was a little hesitant about because I thought it sounded too kid-oriented, but it was awesome. Really fantastic custom pizzas (and salads), or you can go with one of their own creations. They ALSO had great beers on draft, including our favs from New Glarus Brewing.

Private campground affiliated with Hershey Park - very close to park

I stayed at HersheyPark Camping Resort with my family over the extended Easter weekend this year. For me, there are definitely some decent pros and cons for this private campground near Hershey Park. Like almost everyone else staying here - the official campground of Hershey Park - we were here for the park, not necessarily the campground. We did not, therefore, participate in many of the campground activities that weekend, like the egg hunt or various arts & crafts stuff. We also did not visit the game / arcade room, for the same reason - so I can’t speak to that stuff.

Pros: Proximity to Hershey Park and the town of Hershey itself - this is obviously the big one; free shuttle to the park, and I believe you can get in earlier than other guests; discounted park tickets that make it even more economical to stay here vs. other options in the area; the playgrounds are great and well-maintained with seemingly new equipment; the camp store is large and has everything you could possibly need; if you bring your equipment, the neighboring river is fishable; seemed to be a lot of kids events, though as I mentioned we did not participate; the campground in general is very welcoming with a good atmosphere; clean bathhouses and convenient dishwashing stations; lots of options for how you want to camp - they have huge RV pull-through sites, smaller sites for travel trailers / pop-ups, some tent sites (though that’s clearly not their prime business), and cabins available to rent as well

Cons: Cost, especially in the summer months during prime time, which is understandable given demand; some of the sites are not very level, ours included (which they warned us about when they told us which one it was).

Overall, the pros drastically outweigh the cons, and my family had a really wonderful experience here - and we will be back!

Beautiful state park with lots to do all year long

This state park review is of the state park itself, not the related Kentuck campground. We have stayed at Kentuck, and I have written a separate review of the campground itself. I also wanted to post a review of the park, however, because we have visited many times and it’s one of our favs!

Ohiopyle is a well-known location to any outdoor enthusiast in the Pittsburgh area, in fact it’s probably the most popular destination within a few hours of the city. There are great hiking trails including the Laurel Highlands hiking trail (70+ miles) which is popular with backpackers, fantastic white-water rafting opportunities on ‘the Yough’, and the Great Allegheny Passage or ‘GAP’ biking trail (150+ miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD) runs right through town. In the winter, you’re near the best ski mountains in the Pittsburgh area, and many of the hiking trails become snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails. No matter the season, there really is something for everyone if you like being outdoors. The town of Ohioyle itself is also a cute (though very small) area to spend some time, with a couple of nice outfitters, mostly focused on white water rafting and kayaking. Paddler’s Pizza and the nearby bakery + chocolate / candy shop make for great stops after a hike, bike or paddle, or if you just want to pick up some picnic stuff and head down to the waterfront in town for a relaxing lunch.

Something I didn’t know until the spring of this year (after heading down to this area for years) is how close it is to another gem: the Youghiogeny River Lake and dam area (about 15 minutes outside of town, up the road towards Baughman’s Rocks). This is a beautiful lake for boating or kayaking with great fishing. It’s a little weird to find, as you have to take a side road (there are signs pointing the way to the lake) and you actually end up driving on top of the dam itself (which is crazy! great view though) into the parking area on the other side where the boat launch and beach area is. The dam outflow area (which is in a separate location closer to the main road) is cold water release and offers some of the best trout fishing in the greater Pittsburgh area, along with the resulting start of the Youghiogeny River.

In general, this area is one of the most relaxing, outdoor-focused locations in the greater Pittsburgh area, with a ton of stuff to see and do!

Poor communication regarding road closures

We camped at Kentuck Campground (site 192) two weekends before the typical summer camping season (2 weeks before Memorial Day), and I was honestly extremely disappointed in the campground, though part of that frustration is probably more appropriately aimed at the state park system as a whole, and their lack of communication.

Prior to reserving the two campsites (we have a pop-up, and we were camping with my parents, who use a tent), I had called the Kentuck campground park office to ensure the campground was actually open, as the reservation system was very confusing (for this park only - I’ve used the state reservation system more times that I can count). There were special notices at the bottom of the site’s page stating that certain campground facilities were closed, and a conflicting message on the reservation site’s page for the campground - which also mentioned a detour that was necessary for ‘big rig’ campers traveling to the campground. I called the office, spoke with a woman who assured me that the campground was open on the weekends (not during the week), but there was a paving project going on and only the largest bath house near the main entrance was open - cool, no problem, that was the closest one to our camp sites anyway. I booked the sites.

No one - not either website or the woman whom I spoke to - mentioned that the main road to the campground from Ohiopyle was also closed due to a separate paving project. This unanticipated road closure with the typically convoluted PA road system detour - coupled with the fact that everyone in the town of Ohiopyle was telling visitors to the area that the campground was fully closed - infuriated my father and husband so much that we almost turned around and drove back home. After finding a local park ranger and getting detailed directions for how to navigate the 30-minute detour (because… Pennsylvania.), we finally arrived at the campground, along with the other 3 cars that had also frustratingly swarmed around the poor park ranger in town for the same reason.

The campground itself was buggy, not well maintained, and covered in poison ivy. The bathhouses themselves (which were almost all open, unlike what I was told on the phone) were great. The roads were torn up due to the paving project, and the playground area did not look to be maintained. I understand that paving projects need to take place, and that it was the best time of year to do them (several weeks prior to Memorial Day when prime time begins) - I don't fault them for that.

Bottom line is that Ohiopyle is one of the premier outdoor destinations around the Pittsburgh area, and the state park (and additional forests and related state parks nearby) are fantastic in every way - and I expected a state park campground that matched the area. Kentuck is not it!

Small, but beautiful park and lake with great facilities

We have NOT stayed in or photographed the cabins at Herrington Manor state park, but I wanted to provide some photos of the lake and a brief review of the park and facilities as we’ve been there several times.

This lake (the main attraction of the state park) is one of my husband’s favorite fishing spots, especially on the kayaks. Even if you’re not kayaking, it’s just a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. The few times that we’ve visited, we’ve caught a bunch of chain pickerel, panfish, and a few bass. A few summers ago, there was a bald eagle nest on the far side of the lake and you could see them circling and hunting every once in a while. There is a really great beach area for the kids (or adults!) to play at, and a general over-abundance of creatures in and around the lake. There are TONS of salamanders along the shore, literally clouds of tadpoles near the launch docks (if you time it during the right part of the year of course), and the ranger showed us where a couple of snakes were currently making their homes near the main building.

The main park building on the lake itself is great, with clean restrooms, a food concession and small store with HM souvenir items, boat rentals with safety vests, and a cozy little viewing room with seating, a view of the lake, and a huge fireplace in the middle. We’ve never visited HM in the winter, but I’m sure it’s awfully cozy when that thing is roaring.

We love this area, and if we ever end up staying in the cabins (which sound like a great deal), I’ll post another review - we love it so much we come back down every other year or so. It’s beautiful!

Beautiful state park with several waterfalls and fun, short trails

We have NOT stayed in or photographed the campground at Swallow Falls state park, but I wanted to provide some photos of the park and a brief review of the area as we’ve been there several times.

Swallow Falls is one of my favorite places to visit in the greater Deep Creek Lake area, especially since I find the hiking directly around DCL pretty lacking. The trail between Swallow Falls and Herrington Manor is nice, but the much shorter main trail within SFSP itself is awesome. Muddy Creek Falls - the main attraction of the state park and the highest waterfall in Maryland - is the main reason to do the hike, and a great place to take an amazing photo. The whole trail - though only 2 miles or so - has a lot to offer, though, with a variety of smaller falls, ‘local’ swimming holes, great rock formations and places to fish on the river, and a lot of places where you can still see the path of Hurricane Sandy through the park.

Definitely a great place to check out if you’re camping in or visiting the nearby area, and I’ve heard the campground is quiet and peaceful, I’ve just never camped there myself. If we do, I will post another review with pics of the campground.

Large PA state park with tons of activities and a huge beach

Gifford Pinchot is one of the largest state park campgrounds (339 campsites) in PA with a lot of different types of camping available: tent sites, RV sites, group camping, yurts / camping cottages / cabins, and everything in between. We had site 108 which is an electric site along the shore and close to the beach, and it was perfect for our needs. It has a small beach area within the campground loop that we camped in, but the main beach is on the other side of the large Pinchot Lake. The bathhouses / restrooms are clean (about average for PA state park system) and the campground has a very friendly atmosphere - we really enjoyed our stay.

The state park itself has a LOT to offer, especially in the two main day use areas: the Conewago day use area on the south side of the lake and the Quaker Race day use area on the north side of the lake. Both areas have great access for fishing (bring your license! the rangers in this park check), and we caught a handful of bass and an absurd amount of bluegill from shore. Both areas also have their own 18 hole disc golf course, but I will say: BEWARE of poison ivy!! We played the first 10 holes around the Conewago day use area and I was shocked at how much poison ivy we had to dodge all over the prime walking areas through the course. The course in the Conewago area is relatively flat, whereas the Quaker Race course is built into the side of the hill leading into the QR day use area, so it is a lot more wooded and hillier. I took an early morning hike on the 8.5 mile Lakeside Trail that goes around the lake and it was really awesome to see the lake from all different angles. I also hiked / jogged the Quaker Race Trail and that was nice, too, but obviously much less maintained - it was a little confusing at times as it actually crossed the disc golf course in that area multiple times and it was not well blazed. The LARGE beach area in the QR day use area is one of the nicest I've ever seen at a PA state park, with tons of picnic tables with grills, a playground, a volleyball court, and a special fence solution to keep the stupid geese out of the water in the swimming area. There is also a nice concession area to grab some food, ice cream, and drinks that the kids appreciated.

We also did some hiking and fishing nearby in the Boiling Springs / Dillsburg area, and I would recommend checking that area out if you like either. Yellow Breeches is well known among flyfisherman (bring your waders), and TCO Outdoors on the main drag in Boiling Springs has all the fly patterns and knowledge you could want for the area. Before fishing, we hiked the White Rocks Trail a few miles outside of town, and it was a ton of fun with some cool rock scrambles. It hooks up with the AT going through the area if you want to extend the hike. This area (central PA in general) tends to have a lot of rattlesnakes, and we spotted one about 20 feet off the trail in a downed wood pile - cool, but a little terrifying!

Overall, we really loved the campground and this area and will definitely be back.

Great views of the Cheat River close to Morgantown

We have NOT stayed in or photographed the campground at Coopers Rock state forest, but I wanted to provide some photos of the park and a brief review of the area as we’ve been there several times. I have visited Coopers Rock both in winter (note: not all parking areas are open in winter, especially after it starts snowing) and summer. It's a popular hiking destination that's relatively close to Morgantown, so it gets pretty crowded in the summer and I would suggest arriving early if you're going to do one of the main trails like Raven Rock. The views of Cheat River from both Coopers Rock and Raven Rock are pretty awesome, and it really just depends on whether or not you feel like working a little bit for the view - the Coopers Rock view is essentially right next to the top parking lot (which is also where those cool rock animals are), whereas the Raven Rock view is at the end of the 1.2 mile (2.4 out and back) trail. I would suggest heading to the Coopers Rock viewpoint if you have young kids, as there is a fence built around the viewing rocks - there is nothing between you and the cliffside at Raven Rock.

If you're in the Coopers Rock area and want a great place to eat and grab a beer after a hike, I highly suggest swinging into Morgantown and heading to Mountain State Brewing Co (not to be confused with Morgantown Brewing, which I've also eaten at but prefer Mountain State) which is situated along the Monongahela. If the weather is nice, sit outside on the patio - they have pretty good beer, awesome pizzas, and relaxing view of the (muddy) river.

Beautiful state park in northwestern PA

Unfortunately, Presque Isle itself does not have any official camping options, so while visiting we stayed at the nearby Erie KOA Holiday and I have provided a separate review of the campground. I also wanted to provide some photos and a review of the state park and related Tom Ridge Environmental Center as we really enjoyed both during our long holiday weekend. The park itself is LARGE, and there is easily enough to do for a full day or weekend trip, especially if you have a kayak or boat.

We stopped at the Tom Ridge environmental center prior to heading into the park, which gave us a lot of context and info about the area including the history of the role that Presque Isle / Lake Erie played in the War of 1812. There are a lot of newer exhibits including a strong focus on the different animals and birds that can be found in the area, and even a small gallery upstairs with local artwork that can be purchased. The observation tower was also neat and offered a cool view of Lake Erie and some of the rides in nearby Waldameer Park (which was closed during our visit).

The kids really enjoyed playing in the water at one of the main beaches (I believe it was No. 6) and we all had a good time looking for crabs, bugs, cool rocks, etc along the shoreline. We put our inflatable kayaks in near the canoe and boat rental place near Graveyard Pond, which is well known for its crazy number (and variety) of turtles. Check out the photos and video - there were a TON of them! There is an observation deck if you don't have a kayak / canoe, but the best experience is definitely from the water - just don't be the jerk that scares them away from their log perches. Although we didn't catch any fish on the kayaks, we saw a lot of different kinds of birds along with the massive amount of turtles, including both a green heron and a blue heron.

The walk to Perry Monument was great as it provided additional information about the history of Misery Bay. The monument was a cool photo op, but the really awesome thing that we noticed after hanging out in the area is that the shallow pool surrounding the monument is apparently a breeding ground for frogs native to the area. The pool was full of tadpoles and there were mini frogs all over the brick walkway and along the edge of the monument. If you're visiting in mid- to late August or early September, you should definitely check to see if they're there.

We definitely underestimated the size of this park and the activities available, and did not get a chance to visit the lighthouse, walk out to the observation platform at gull point, visit any of the other beaches, do any of the hiking trails, etc - there is a LOT to do here!! We are definitely looking forward to our next visit.