Shari G.

The Dyrt Pro

Boone, NC

Joined June 2016

Environmental Educator, Photographer, Traveler, & RV Adventurer. We found Freedom in Can in 2012 and haven't looked back!

Not Your Average State Park!

The road to Hana is a Maui Island must-do. And lots of people try to do it in a day -- sure it can be done, but why would you want to?  You’ll see so much and won’t take any of it in. So, slow down, take a minute between stops on your itinerary and stay a night or three in Wai’anapapa State Park.  We stayed 3 nights and wished we'd had 1 more.

This park is known for its amazing black sand beach and offers visitors a 4-hour permit to experience the beach, the cove and coastal trail through rugged a’a lava fields. However, if you camp there your permit is good for the whole day and into the next to make the most of your visit. The park closes at sunset for all the other visitors, but campers can come and go and feel like you have the place all to yourself at sunrise just before the early permit holders arrive. 

The current camping area isn’t much more than a big patch of grass with trees around the perimeter. Things might open up again once the pandemic regulations subside. A small area, perhaps 50 yards by 20 defines the camper van camping area and there are only 6 loosely defined sites. The bathrooms old and well used, showers are the outside beach variety with cold water and spectators. Potable water is available as well as a few Coke machines. 

We had a problem charging up our electronics and assumed that we might find electricity at the state park just like back on the mainland -- we were wrong. There wasn’t an outlet to be found either in the park or even in the beach park down in Hana – this one got our hopes up because they have outlets which weren’t hot.  So bring your solar panels!  Plan ahead, or go to the coffee shop five miles back up the road.

The road to the SP has at least 3 fruit stands and you’ll find another dozen on your way into Hana town. There is a small grocer as well as a handful of good restaurants associated with the local inns or guest houses. Gas is also easy to find in town as well as a small hospital. There is also a spouting hole in the lava which erupts with the incoming waves very close to the main beach -- this is fun for the whole family. Snorkeling is pretty good in the cove, especially on calmer days. Body surfing is fun when it’s less calm as this beach has a black sand break rather than reef. 

Hiking in the park is totally worth it. The trail winds along the coastline high above the water, allowing amazing views of the lava structures, arches, tubes, coves and caves that the sea has shaped. The trail is strenuous and footing can be tricky in places, but the views, especially on a south eastern swell are amazing. Give yourself some time to check it out.

Gorgeous but NOISY!

The outdoor showers at Camp Olowalu resort are worth the stay in and of themselves. They are works of art, frankly. The tent sites are amazing, though perhaps spaced a little close together between the main camp and the shoreline, but with beach access so close, and the surrounding environment so beautiful it’s easy to forget. The glamping tents, complete with fresh pineapple upon arrival, are something to behold. 

However, we stayed in the camper van area, and while there was plenty of room and a nice picnic table, but it was exactly like camping on the perimeter of a large parking lot. Since all the tent sites are walk-in, those guests frequently return to their vehicles to retrieve belongings, luggage, or drive off to a restaurant at all hours. We found it to be noisy and distracting. 

The location for the camp is beautiful, and it is close to the busy road on the west side of Maui. Between 12am and 5am were the only hours that things seemed to die down– this isn’t the campground’s fault of course, just be aware of this.  Then, about 5am, the feral roosters chime in to have their say, and the traffic begins.  Long story short…bring earplugs!

Right across the main road you’ll find a huge fruit stand market with lots of options, and within a few short miles there are dozens of restaurant options, and grocery stores. This part of the island is heavily residential so there are many services which cater to the locals. The camp store has a few touristy items for sale, ice, sunscreen, firewood and marshmallows in case you forget these.

Tiny Campground, BIG Experience!

The 6 sites in the only developed camping area in the park offer a great place to stage your morning sunrise experience in Haleakala. They are popular and very inexpensive($5 per night). The campsites are clustered into a small lawn area on a gently sloping hillside. While each tent platform is level, the parking lot definitely is not. So, if you plan to bring a camping vehicle, van, platform tent truck, or small camper, get there early to grab the most level spots (there are 2). And if your tent platform folds out to the side of the truck- please don’t take up two parking spots, figure it out so that others can also enjoy a good night’s sleep. Yes, this happened to us– ugggh! 

Night time temperatures can be in the 30’s and 40’s and we found that the bedding provided in our rental camper was not enough. Fortunately, we brought along our down sleeping bag and puffy jackets(they were definitely needed during January), but could be needed at any time of year as the campground is at 6K above sea level. Also, temperatures at the summit for sunrise and sunset are cold- at any time of year. We wore multiple layers, hats, gloves, and winter coats and still froze up at the summit. The wind was gusting over 30 knots, and the wind chill was in the teens. So, plan ahead! The campground has a covered picnic area, as well as 2 pit toilets with a handwashing sink outside. There are also water spigots in the campground which have potable water. 

One thing we didn’t know is that if you have a reservation for Hosmer Grove you don’t need a reservation for sunrise, because you are already in the park and past the entrance station. It’s still a long drive (around 30 minutes), up to the summit but it’s a bigger head start than most people who are coming from hotels and such farther away. But the rising and setting of the sun shouldn’t be the only thing you hope to experience while in this amazing park. Hiking and backpacking through the crater are spectacular. Some of the most unique and long range views we’ve ever experienced!

There are a few neighborhood markets nearby, gas station, restaurants and a farmer’s market, but the larger grocery stores are located down the mountain in Kahului. There are no eateries or shops, other than the summit gift shop(which offers very limited snacks) in the park so come prepared.

Quiet, Rustic, & Beautiful

This is a lovely piece of property on the north side of the Big Island. The land owner runs a small yoga retreat center and offers this small camping area as an alternative lodging.  She is very sweet.  Overall, the camping area is a good start, but needs a bit of improvement to make it workable for more than 2 people.

The approach to the camping area is through the retreat property and can be a bit slippery during the rainy season, so be careful with those rental cars, but ours made it up with a bit of luck. The campsites are down a short but steep walk from the ridgeline. There are 6 tent platforms which keep you level and off the ground, nice during any part of the year. We also saw a camper van parked up top, so that is an option if you are camping in a vehicle. 

There is a very small kitchen area with running water and a biogas stove.  It's big enough for 1 person at a time to cook, not at all a group kitchen.  The biogas comes from the toilet digesting tank and is a pretty cool idea. When we were there the tank wasn’t producing enough so they also had some small propane canisters and a burner for our cooking. The toilet and shower were functioning, but were pretty basic with very cold water and an exposed roof. Don’t expect luxury here…as we said, it’s a good start. 

The nearby town of Hawi, which is the turn around for the bike leg of the Ironman Triathlon, offers grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and some amazing hiking areas along the north coast. It is a stunning area with lots of things to do. Since we were busy each day, we didn’t mind that our lodging was a little rough– all we needed was a flat place to pitch our tent and lay down for the night.

Hammock Cabanas, Hawaiian Style

This guest house offers a wide array of lodging opportunities, but the most unique are their hammock cabanas. These elevated, screened and tented porches offer one a pleasant and inexpensive (for Hawaii) night’s sleep. Rather than providing a bed or cot, each tent has two sleeping hammocks, a small cooler, secure gear locker and some basic lighting and electricity.  Note, the power goes off at 10pm, as the whole compound runs on solar power and batteries. It was raining buckets the night we stayed there, but we were dry and comfortable, although torrential rain on any small structure might make sleeping a challenge. 

The guest house at the top of the property has a great covered back porch with some great cooking, food preparation, and washing up options. Also the bathrooms and showers are lovely, especially if you’ve just come from a backcountry trip in the National Park!  

The guest house also welcomes the small herd of local stray cats to roam around outside and get an evening meal. It’s so cool if you like cats, but could be a bit of a nightmare if you do not. These furry guests are not allowed inside so no worries there, but they will investigate your food bag and meow like crazy should you be trying to make dinner outside.

Camping on the Edge of a Ancient Crater

We spent two nights at the Napau Crater backcountry camp. The hike-in was remarkable with many sections crossing extensive lava flows and through sections of tropical rainforest. The campsite itself had a small pit toilet but no water- so we carried in 18 liters for our multi-day adventure. Let’s just say the hike-out was a bit lighter. 

We did find several puddles along the trail that must have been created by feral pigs in the park, where we could have filtered water– but I wouldn’t count on them. Additionally, these are watering holes for wildlife so we shouldn’t be competing with them for water, so plan on packing in the water. We had the whole place to ourselves, we didn’t see any hikers until day three when we were on our way out. It was a lovely break from an island that can seem overwhelmed by visitors sometimes. 

Hiking across the lava flows offers no discernable trail except for the regularly spaced ahu stone piles(cairns) which are the only way to navigate. Should the weather turn or fog roll in visibility can be greatly reduced. Backcountry permits were available at the backcountry office near the visitor’s center and the ranger was incredibly helpful. Water was also available there so you can fill up on your way.

Away from the crowds

If getting away from the crowds is on your list at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, then this primitive camping area is one of the places to do it. This lovely primitive camping area has 9 designated sites, 1 pit toilet that was kept clean and well-stocked, and an ADA accessible paved path that accesses many of the camping sites. The sites are a short walk from the parking area so you have to carry your gear to the site. There is no water available at the campground so be prepared. Water is available at the visitor’s center up the hill about 7 miles away.  

The campground offers expansive views of Mauna Loa and the surrounding area including some pretty cool night-time glow of the eruption in Kilauea crater. One of the great benefits of camping in the park is the proximity to many hiking trails, but also to some of the better night time viewing. The popular Kilauea overlook is packed like a rock concert as soon as the sun goes down. Parking is a disaster, and the overlook is simply too crowded. If you can wait until around 9-10pm until you arrive you can have a much easier time finding parking at the trailhead and space along the overlook. Then it’s just a short drive back to your tent, and not an hour’s drive back to your hotel in Hilo. Just outside the park is Volcano Village with a small market and gasoline station for groceries and limited camping supplies. For something specialized like camping gas we had to drive to a hardware store outside of Hilo. The Volcano House Lodge near the park visitor’s center offers two restaurants with the same menu, one is more of a bar and grill, the other a sit down style. 

Hiking is extensive in the park, and many trails will carry you far from the crowded center of the park, but be sure to be prepared with layers, water and snacks. Hiking across the lava flows offers no discernable trail except for the regularly spaced ahu stone piles(cairns) which are the only way to navigate. Should the weather turn or fog roll in, visibility can be greatly reduced. Cycling is also a great activity along the park roads, but be ready for a great deal of elevation change.

Note:  This campsite is NOT free. It was $10 per night.

Something for Every Type of Camper!

This campground has a little something for everyone, from full hook up sites neatly stacked next to each other, to quiet patches of grass next to the river. After spending two nights up in the electrical hook-up area closest to the train tracks, we decided that we needed a better night’s sleep. Yes, the trains run all night long, and no, we don’t have air conditioning so couldn't just close the windows. So, we moved down to one of the primitive sites next to the river and enjoyed ourselves much more, plus all the solar we needed. 

With all the options within this resort, I can understand why it is so popular. Plus, there’s the whole Hershey Park with shuttles running to and from the campground all day long. So, it’s got that going for it. As a campground resort this park aims to serve everyone. If you need your trash picked up, just leave the garbage bag in front of your site, and someone will be along soon enough to collect it. The bathrooms are immaculate, air conditioned, but many of the showers had wonky temperature controls so check it out before you commit.  Each bathroom building also offers laundry machines to take care of those necessities as well. The campground has a large playground, game room, gift shop and a large outdoor pool. 

Nearby, closer than you might even want, you can find food, groceries, gas, booze and traffic (at least during convention center event weekends). But there are also some really cool mom and pop restaurants, some craft beverage drinkeries, and places to walk, bike and get into some disc golf. This is close enough to be a bedroom community of Harrisburg, so the park is basically located in a tucked away corner of suburbia. If you have the time, go to the Grandview Winery nearby they have a lovely selection of vintages which really hold up to this wine snob’s approval. 

The campsites are well spaces apart, unless within the central loop, and give the allure of being tucked away in the forest. Water is well spaced and is close by. The walk to the bathroom however, can be a stretch depending on where you park so plan according to your needs. But the woods provide an easy way to answer the call! : )

The Way State Parks Should Be!

Back to Nature, Baby!   We’ve been to so many campgrounds of all different types that we’ve come to expect that State Parks almost fall into the same category as RV Resorts. 

With their amenities, immaculately groomed landscaping and higher prices, we’ve almost come to think of them less like parks and more like golf courses. However, Hickory Run is taking a different approach and letting the woods and campground be just that.  Lots of space between sites and a ton of privacy.  Completely natural setting, yet bathrooms were updated, immaculate, and spacious…and the showers were hot.

We only spent a night here on our way to Hershey PA, but the list of hiking options was impressive, check out the Shades of Death Trail?  Don’t know what that’s about, but sounds intriguing!  We'll be back the next time we pass through…

Close to DC along the C&O Towpath Trail

If I lived in Washington DC, this is where I would ride my bike to every weekend. Bring the family, bring the fishing poles and forget that there is a hyper uptight city just a few miles away. This is one of the few hiker biker campgrounds with road access. And while this detracts from the privacy and "out there" vibe of so many of the other hiker/biker camps, the views of the river are truly stunning.

This was our final campsite along our 334.5 mile adventure from Pittsburgh to DC. In the morning we were awakened by the resident geese.  We unzipped the tent to see a full moon setting, then later got up to watch the sun burn off the lazy fog on the river.  Our neighbors were camping with 3 kiddos and 2 Great Pyrenees puppies, which made it all the more fun!  And, the afternoon light was perfect for solar charging our power bank.

There are at least 6 separate campsites with their own picnic table and fire ring. Though with the increase in cars, comes a proportional increase in people and their trash. Pack it out people! There is city water access here which is not treated with iodine (like the NPS well pumps along the trail) so the taste is more palatable. The port-o-potties were clean enough. 

The Great Falls of the Potomac area is less than 3 miles away on the trail and makes for an amazing day trip from the campground. There is also a rental Lock House across the trail which can be rented out and would make an easy getaway within 30 minutes if downtown.

Great Drive-in Campground along the C&O Towpath Trail

This is a more traditional NPS campground along the Potomac River and C&O Towpath Trail where you can actually drive in, instead of just hiking or cycling. It would make a great shuttle point, or RV base camp for the weekend if you plan to ride the C&O Trail.  We stopped for lunch at the picnic sites next to this campground.  It was nearly empty in October!

Many sites have a lovely view of the Potomac River. In addition to being situated on the C&O Towpath Trail, you can launch a paddle boat or electric motor, but no gas-powered engines. The sites were clean, the water pump worked well, and the pit toilets were kept clean and well-stocked. There are no electrical hook-ups at this site, so come prepared with solar power.

The nearby town, Little Orleans, offers a few places to eat and grab some minimal supplies. Bill’s Place is a popular eatery just off the trail.

Quiet Spot on the C&O Trail

The hiker/biker campgrounds along the C&O Towpath run the gamut from good to great. Some are inspirational locations tucked away on a quiet bend in the river, others just meet the basic need of being flat enough to pitch a tent. Marble Quarry is a classic example of what most camping spots along the trail look like; while representing the average, it remains special. Take the short path to the river to find a bit more solitude from the bustling trail, or set up a hammock underneath the giant Sycamores here.

This  campsite has ample space for a dozen tents, though only 1 table, fire ring and port-o-potty. When we visited, the pump handle was still on and the water was fine. All the well NPS pumps have been treated with iodine so they leave something to be desired in terms of taste, but it's completely fine for hydration. The biggest plus of this campsite is that there is absolutely no train, so we slept very well and made a hearty breakfast for a long day ahead of us.

The closest service for food and beverage is the restaurant/ convenience store at White's Landing a mere 2.4 miles downstream. They have really good sandwiches, but the selection of grocery items was pretty small, mostly snack items.

Perfect for Groups!

The regularity of the free hiker biker sites along the trail make riding your own ride super simple.  Not ready to stop?   Press on to the next one, Town Creek is worth it! 

Big expansive lawn with enough room for a dozen tents or more, 3 picnic tables rather than the typical single table, and a couple of fire rings, makes this a lovely place to spend the night…especially for groups!  Gorgeous river front area, too.

The well pump was working when we arrived and the port-o-potty was very clean. One side benefit of this site is that it marked the first of the campsites that strayed from the railroad line, so nighttime disruptions became a less frequent experience than in some other campsites along the path.  We slept well!

Clean, Grassy Site Next to the River

We gave up the thoughts of staying at the first campsite just outside of Cumberland which is only 5 miles out from town because it was just kind of dumpy, too close to town, and the handle was missing on the well pump. We found several of the hiker/biker camps missing well pump handles so always come prepared with water. Irons Mountain was about another 4 miles and the distance was worth it!

There is a lot of grass and plenty of space for dozens of tents, only one grill and picnic table though so make friends. We did and got half a jar of peanut butter out of the bargain. The park service port-o-potty is serviced often enough to be a pleasant experience though that is not always the case along the C&O. The comradery of the riders along the trail is a nice side benefit, so share the picnic table.

One thing to consider with these campgrounds next to the trail is the number of trains that pass by in the night. This camp is pretty close to a huge switching yard, but along a big straightaway, so you’ll hear it but at least there isn’t the screeching brakes all night long like along the GAP trail.  Bring ear plugs for a better night's sleep!  Check out our video for details.

A Big Push Up to the Campsite from the GAP Trail

Logistically, this park can be a challenge to reach for riders along the GAP trail, unless you’re willing to push it. The campground is between 500-700 vertical feet above the former railroad line. Options to get there include the steep walking trail where bikes are allowed to be walked but not ridden, riding the 3.5 miles along the road, also very steep, or taking a shuttle from downtown Ohiopyle.  Let me just preface this with the fact that this was the hardest part of the trail for us.  Maybe it was our low energy that day, maybe we just needed an extra coffee, but with our loaded bike and bike trailer, this hill kicked our butts!  Check out our video for details.

We stayed at the very top of the campground in the walk-in sites. They were fine, tucked into the trees, so we had some privacy although access to other sites lies right along the same trail so you do get to see your neighbors on a busy night.  Most of the sites in this area of the campground lacked level ground for the tent, but if you are as a tired as we were, you'll sleep well anyway.

Bathrooms, well, let’s just say that their heyday was around 1982 and the backlog of maintenance must be high. It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, it’s just in a sad state of peeling paint and cobbled together plumbing repairs. Some things worked well, like the awesome dishwashing sink and the copious amounts of hot water. All the park’s literature claimed that this was one of PA’s most popular parks. If this is their pride and joy, well, pony up tax payers because it’s time to do some work. All this being said, the rest of the campground was in really good shape, and the Yurts looked lovely (and are very popular). 

The surrounding area is truly gorgeous, worth exploring the gorge, taking a rafting/kayaking trip, hiking, cycling, etc.

Just 8 Miles from the Eastern Continental Divide (Along GAP Trail)

We’ve camped in a lot of places, from remote islands, alpine glaciers, to downtown parks, and yet none have displayed the unique mix of this quaint little corner of Meyersdale, PA. Yes, this small homestead, right in the middle of a residential block, hosts the annual March tradition of the Maple festival, and has been crowning “Maple Queens” for 75 years! (Check out the regal photo display in the office for a quick scan of a fashion timeline.) For the rest of the spring, summer, and fall they welcome hikers and cyclists with open arms! 

Set your tent up on the lawn, up on the stage, or under the long lean-to, if you want to get out of the weather. It’s all up for grabs for the night. The neighborhood cat will come to greet you, maybe even curl up on your sleeping bag!  She’s a sweetheart! Bathrooms are just as quirky but clean and functional with warm showers and flush toilets. 

Downtown has a number of options for food, but don’t expect a lot of nightlife in this quiet place. The train line, and the trail, are a steep hike up the hill from the rest of town, so the noise is much less bothersome during the night. And, you are only about 8 miles from the Eastern Continental Divide!

A Trail Runs Through It: The GAP Trail KOA

The GAP trail rolls right through the middle of this traditional KOA campground. The seasonal RVers and weekend warriors have long claimed their sites, but for through riders on the trail there is a special place to camp, close to the west-bound entrance. The picnic tables and fire rings are surrounded by hammock poles and there’s lots of space for scattered tents. The bathroom and shower facilities are modern and well maintained. And, of course, they have ice cream and laundry available! They also have cabins if you need to get out of the weather. We didn’t check those out, but saw them on the property. 

If you are an RVer and seeking a place to park and ride along this trail, this is a perfect place to have the best of both worlds. This is a very busy campground, nothing like the serenity of the less easy to access sites along the GAP trail, but offers some nice services for those in need of them.

The closest town is Connellsville where you can get everything you might need.  Great restaurants as well!  Check out the Kickstand Kitchen for an ahhhmazing meal!!  Best restaurant along the trail, by far.

Wide Open Space Along the Youghiogheny River

This is one of the only free hiker-biker campgrounds along the GAP trail (mile 99.6), and it is laid out similarly to the Dravo Campground, with lean-tos, picnic tables, firepits and lots of spaces for tents.  While the condition of these sites are not quite as pristine as Dravo, they are more than adequate with a very remote feeling.  The only people you will see are the ones who've biked, boated, or walked in.

The bathrooms are the standard forest service pit-toilet and were certainly clean enough, but the well for the campground stated that it was no longer potable. My guess is that this is simply because the volunteer organization which maintains this campground lacks the funds for testing. We grabbed water at the last town before the campground.  The river is very easy to access for a quick dip after a long day on the trail.

One thing to consider with these campgrounds next to the trail is the number of trains that pass by in the night. It’s not the train horn but the number of turns in the track and the squealing breaks that keep you up -- so bring good earplugs!

Nicely Laid Out Campground Near Town

Ever feel like you’re being pulled in two separate directions? This lovely little campground totally understands you. The office, flush bathrooms, drinking water, washer dryer, and a lovely recreation room with TV and pool table is on one side of the river in the small town of Rockwood, and the campsite is on the other side right next to the trail. If you’ve got your bike, it’s about a 5 minute ride from one to the other, not a big deal but it can be a hassle when you’ve already ridden 6 hours and all you want to do is take a load off. 

The campground is lovely and well laid out, however. The sites are spacious, clean, and each comes stocked with firewood. The shelter sites are pretty cool and allow riders/hikers to go tent free or get out of the rain.  With port-o-potties scattered throughout the campground, you don’t need to go back to the office area just to answer the call of nature.  The price of this campground is deceiving.  It's $15 per person per night.  And, like all other campgrounds along the GAP trail, the train is sure to come through numerous times per night….so bring those earplugs!

More like a Spa than a Campground!

What a treat!  Imagine if a luxury AirBnB and a Hobbit Camp had a baby – this place would be it. The outdoor shower/toilet block is such a divine sight, it makes you crave one whether you’re stinky or not. The spacious and lush lawn has lots of space for tents, but the winner is the covered seating, dining, and cooking area.  Everything is clean as a whistle…pun intended.  Here’s where that luxury kicks in, so much that you’ll wonder if what you’re doing still qualifies as camping.  While not quite glamping it’s the perfect hybrid.

Had we not stopped for the previous night’s camp 8 miles sooner, this would have been our favorite camp along the trail. Glad we stopped to check it out, but next time we will include it for sure! 

Town is a short walk away, with a few restaurants and other options for necessities as well.  But remember, with all this luxury comes an active train too…that's the nature of this trail.  Bring those earplugs for a good night's sleep!