By Wade Ellett, Let’s Move Quad Cities Outdoors Blogger
The cool nights and twinkling stars are calling. Let’s go camping!
I definitely have favorite cool campsites in the QC and even have a list of cool “glamping” sites with cabins in both Iowa and Illinois. They all have advantages and disadvantages, and one of the things that distinguishes them is whether they offer “designated” or “non-designated” (also called wild, dispersed and primitive) campsites.
Today we’re going to look at the positives and negatives of both kinds of camping.
1. Designated Sites:
These include most campsites where you can reserve a spot, like in our camping post from last year.
The best thing about these sites tends to be the amenities. Flush toilets, showers, fire rings and grills, boat docks, and sometimes even camp stores are readily available. Many sell firewood, have well maintained trails, and many even offer boat rental or host evening campfire programs on the weekends.
Another great thing about these sites is that there are few limits on what you can bring. Since you’re car-camping (as opposed to carrying everything in a backpack to your site), you don’t have to worry about pack weight or size; just bring whatever you want. I’ve even seen people that have strapped air conditioners to their tents!
That’s a little much for me, but I enjoy taking a camp kitchen, cooking a delicious meal in my Dutch oven, and making morning coffee in the percolator. I also enjoy reaching into the cooler and cracking open an ice cold drink after a long hike. These are things that I’m not likely to be carrying when I’m backpacking out to a site.
Especially on the weekends, most designated sites don’t offer seclusion, quiet, or privacy. It’s not unusual to have camp neighbors on all sides.
Sometimes this is fun; I’ve met some interesting people this way. I’ve also camped next to people who stayed up until dawn listening to music and laughing loudly. It’s a mixed bag. Good or bad, count on being around people.
All those people contribute to another downside: light pollution. If you’re hoping to do some star-gazing, you won’t do much. The flashlights, lanterns, and even street lights at designated sites are going to impair your night vision and keep you from seeing all the amazing stars of the night sky.
2. Non-Designated Sites:
Here we’re talking about places like our Wildlife Management Areas where you can go and camp in the wild.
You are going to be alone. Unlike a designated site, you’re not going to find a lot of people camping out in these spots. If you want to get away from people for a few days, this is a place you can really do it.
You’ll be around tons of wildlife too! All the people in designated sites tend to keep fauna jumpy and quick to run away (unless they’re trying to steal your food). That’s not the case in these areas, where if you’re patient you’re likely to see all manner of wild animals.
Light pollution is minimal at some of these spots, so you’ll be able to star-gaze, and maybe even do some night sky photography, with pretty amazing results.
There aren’t any amenities out here. It’s you and the woods. Sometimes, there aren’t even clear trails.
This is wilderness, and you have to be ready for that. There are no bathrooms or fire rings, so you’ll need to apply Leave No Trace principles to your camping here. That will mean carrying everything in, and then back out again. That might mean foregoing a campfire and instead using a small backpacking stove, especially in dry conditions. You may need to filter water, as there won’t be any faucets.
You can only bring what you carry, so you’ll want to pack light. No cooler, no ice, just light food. If your tent weighs a ton, you won’t be happy after hauling it on your back; small and light is the way to go, even if it isn’t as roomy.
Remember public hunting is allowed in Wildlife Management Areas, so during hunting seasons you will hear shots, and will want to wear lots of bright clothing.
Obviously there are pros and cons to each kind of camping, and I do both as often as I can. If you feel like you want to go a little more primitive, but aren’t quite ready to leave behind all the amenities, here are a few places that bridge the gap between the two.
In Jackson County, Iowa, roughly an hour to an hour and a half away, this wildlife management area does in fact have a simple camping area.
If you park in the lot at the end of the Buzzard Ridge Access Road, then hike down to the Maquoketa River, you’ll find a small site with a fire ring, picnic table, and even a pit toilet. It’s all very simple, but it has a few amenities that bridge the gap between designated and non-designated camping.
In Mason County, Illinois, Sand Ridge is a bit of a haul (roughly 2-1/2 hours away), but in addition to its designated camping sites, it has twelve “back-country” sites that you can reserve. They’ve got concrete pads for campfires, and although you have to hike to them, there are bathrooms and water sources available.
Regardless of whether you love camping with amenities or packing out into the middle of nowhere, the time is right to get out and go! What are some of your favorite spots to camp?
|Meet Wade Ellett, Let’s Move Quad Cities Outdoor Blogger. Wade is an outdoor adventurer who shares his passion for QC outdoor adventures here! Read his other posts by clicking here.|