Sunday, October 2, 2011

Winton Woods Campground Review

This past Friday, we kicked off our fall camping season with a stay at the Winton Woods Campground that is part of the Hamilton County Park system in Cincinnati. It was just about an hour drive for us, and we were immediately impressed with how nice the campground was. The Hamilton County Park system is truly a gem for the Cincinnati resident. They currently sell entrance passes for $10 for one year, with a $5 rebate for available for residents. Otherwise, entrance fees are $3 per vehicle.

We were able to get a campsite rather last minute when a lot of other parks and campgrounds were booked solid. Our campsite (#21) backed right up to the lake, and had a fair amount of level area to pitch a few tents. Sites were generously spaced apart too, so you did not feel like you were on top of one another. In the tent camping area, there were also plenty of tall, mature trees that really added to the camping experience (something many new campgrounds often lack). This campground was quiet, clean and family friendly. There was a playground for the kids and a nice sized bathhouse not too far from most of the sites.

It was a little windy and chilly during our stay (night time temperatures were close to 40 degrees F), but we stayed warm with our wool hiking socks, 20 degree REI down sleeping bags (which were super toasty and comfy), Therm-a-rest sleeping pads and our REI Half Dome tent. We dressed our 15 month old daughter in lots of layers (for sleeping she wore 2 footed sleepers, the outer fleece, with a wool hat and mittens), and she stayed warm as well. We did actually forget our own gloves, but extra hiking socks helped with our cold hands during morning camp chores!

Here are a few things you should know if you plan to camp there:

1. Sites can be reserved online, and there are no minimum night stays. This was important to us since we could only camp one night and it had to be on a Friday night due to Rob's work schedule. During our stay, the rates were $25 a night for the standard electric sites (30 amp), and there are no online reservation fees to mess with either. The nice thing about this campground is that you can view pictures of each and every campsite prior to booking! I LOVE this feature as I am all about getting the perfect campsite. Sites 8, 9, and 10 are very nice and spacious. Sites 22 and 23 are also very nice and preferable if you need multiple flat tent sites.

2. The new RV area is not shaded in the middle section, so be prepared if you get a spot there. Sites 13F through 2F would probably be preferable if you were RVing it, since they back up right into the woods.

3. The campstore sells hot food, including pizza you can order straight to your campsite (I guess this is handy if your campfire goes disastrously wrong, lol). They also have firewood available for sale for $4.99 a bundle. The firewood is not the greatest however, so bring your own (if you live in the area, otherwise don't move firewood!) and plenty of kindling if you can. The campstore is really a very nice building and has all the basics stocked in case you forget something important. The hours were 10am-8pm during our stay, so a late evening arrival still allows you time to get what you need.

4. Reserve online and early. Weekends book up fast, especially during prime camping season such as early and mid-fall. We were lucky to get a site a little over a week in advance, but the next two weeks are already entirely booked through. So book early if you can!

5. They also have deluxe as well as basic camping cabins available for those that prefer that route. I would stay away from the camping cabins 1, 2 and 5 though since they are in a very high traffic area. Although I didn't get to look inside, it appeared that the basic cabins had window AC units in them (check with the campground office though to be sure). This would be a really nice option if camping in the hot summer. The deluxe cabins are open year round, but the basic cabins are not. Price for the basic is $50 a night and the deluxe is $125 a night.

All in all, our stay at the Winton Woods campground was enjoyable and surprisingly quiet despite its proximity to the city. We are looking forward to our next stay, as soon as campsites are available that is! This is definitely a favorite campground we'll be returning to again and again.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wildflowers in Bloom!

This is the perfect time of year to find a large array of Ohio blooming fall wildflowers along trails. Identifying wildflowers help connect a hiker to nature and gives them a sense of belonging. If you're new to wildflower identification, pick up a book or pamphlet such as Wildflowers of Ohio by Robert L. Henn.

Or read about some of the most common ohio fall wildflowers to get your feet wet in flower identification.

Good places to look for wildflowers include open meadows, grassy regions, along streams, creeks and riverbeds as well as marshy or damp areas. Take a minute to slow down your hike and you might be surprised at what you find.

Camping with Toddlers

Camping with toddlers presents its own set of challenges and frustrations, but if careful planning is done it can be a rewarding and memorable experience for everyone. The key to taking toddlers camping is remembering the art of adaptability and slowing down.

We went camping with our young, extremely mobile toddler for 2 nights in the hills of Pennsylvania this past summer. We had a great time and learned some important lessons along the way too. Our next camping trip is scheduled for tomorrow night, so although we had some challenges with the first trip, it hasn't discouraged us from getting out again!

Here are some tips to remember when camping with toddlers for the first time:
  • Short attention spans - Make sure you plan plenty of activity so that you're not just doing the same thing for hours at a time. Toddlers need constant activity change and usually only have an attention span of 15 minutes for every year of age. Choose a camping spot near playgrounds or bring a stroller or bike to keep them busy. A baby carrier is a must for mobile toddlers who might otherwise try to get into fires or mud puddles while the parent is working on camp chores. Don't attempt long hiking trails unless your toddler is accustomed to the time spent in the pack. The limit for our little one seems to be about 1 hour before she gets cranky and wants down for a bit. If you can, let your toddler out of the pack to walk with you rather than riding in the pack the whole time. Sure, you will go slower, but they will love exploring the world around them and it will teach you to slow down and appreciate the little things.
  • Changing body temperatures- Toddlers, like all young children, get hot quickly and cold quickly. Camping does not provide a steady 70 degree environment, so bring lots and lots of clothing for layering. And remember they will get dirty, so bring more than one pair of pants! Make sure and bring appropriate clothing for the weather, and don't dress them entirely in cotton if it will be damp, rainy or cool. A properly dressed toddler is a happy toddler, and the last thing you want on a camping trip is a child complaining or crying over being too hot or too cold. Monitor their body signals and add or remove layers as needed. Don't wait until you are cold or hot to fix their clothing since little ones will likely be very uncomfortable by then. And note that if your toddler is not doing as much physical activity, such as riding in the back of a pack, they won't be hot like you are when hiking, so dress them appropriately.
  • Sleeping considerations- Because of the different temperatures, sounds and lighting, sleeping may be more of a challenge than you planned on. Expect toddlers to stay up later and skip or reduce their nap times while camping. Do try to keep their routine as consistent as possible, but be aware that it probably won't work out that great. Make adjustments as needed. We found out our daughter would not sleep in the tent unless it was dark out. Since we were camping in the summer, it didn't get dark until after 10pm! She ended up napping a bit in the car and not sleeping until much later.
  • The need for munchies- Toddlers are constantly growing and need lots of snacks to keep them fueled throughout the day. This is especially important while camping when they are likely to be exerting more energy than they would at home. Pack plenty of ready-to-eat snacks for munching on throughout the day.
  • Toys and Games- It's a good idea to bring a few favorite toys, but restrain yourself from bringing the entire toybox. Your toddler will likely have so much fun exploring your campsite and the outdoors that they won't be interested in them. However, keep a bag of small toys available for when they need them. Books in particular are essential for our daughter and help her wind down if needed. Plan simple games such as looking together for rocks or sticks and identifying animals together. Get them involved in nature. Preschool books have lots of ideas for structured outside play that can be implemented even for younger toddlers.
  • A safe place- Lastly, plan to bring a blanket, tarp and rain fly for a dry, safe playing area. This is crucial when the campsite might otherwise be wet and muddy or when it is raining. Teach your toddler to stay in the play area while doing essential camp chores. It's also a good place to set up the few toys you brought to keep them busy. Some toddlers might even prefer napping outside in this area instead of inside a tent!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hocking Hills State Park

This week, we are heading out to Hocking Hills State Park for a little getaway. We've booked a cabin near the park and plan on doing lots of hiking throughout this beautiful region. Although we had originally planned on going camping, the weather turned cold again and we didn't feel it would be much fun to camp in below freezing weather with a 9 month old baby!

Hocking Hills is a geological wonderland, an extremely popular hiking and camping spot in Ohio. The cabins fill up fast in the summer months, and crowds can be a bit of a problem if you go on a holiday or summer weekend. Last time we went, it was dead winter and we had the park practically to ourselves. This time, it's still the off-season, so we anticipate a pretty quiet park again.

Grandma Gatewood Trail, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Some of the trails we plan on hiking include...

Ash Cave to Cedar Falls -Last time, we hiked from Old Man's Cave to Cedar Falls and back, a roundtrip of just around 6 miles. For a winter hike, it was beautiful and peaceful. We want to finish the Grandma Gatewood Trail and hike from Cedar Falls to Ash Cave this time. The roundtrip for this hike is 4 - 5 miles.

Conkle's Hollow State Nature Preserve Gorge Trail - This 1.2 mile trek passes through a beautiful gorge with cliffs towering over 200 ft on either side. We are just doing the Gorge trail since the Rim trail can be a bit dangerous with small children!

Other trails we will decide upon as we see fit. Additional sites we would like to see include Cantwell Cliffs, Rock House and RockBridge State Nature Preserve. I will post a trip report as well as trail reviews upon our return!

Have you ever been to Hocking Hills? What is your favorite trail there?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

John Bryan State Park

John Bryan State Park is located near the villiage of Yellow Springs which locals know as the "weird, hippie" town and also where we happen to spend our weekends when not on the trail. It's just a short hop from Springfield, OH and boasts some great hiking worthy of review.

We hiked the North Rim Trail accessed from the Wingo Picnic area. Our original plan was to hike for 30 minutes and then turn back. We weren't prepared to make a loop hike since we were unfamiliar with the trails and the trail maps provided at the camp office were rather useless. Add to this several un-marked spur trails, and we felt better just sticking to what we knew. However, once we reached the first footbridge at the intersection of Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, Rob decided he wanted to make a go for it and hike the bottom Pittsburgh-Cincinnati Stage Coach trail back to the top. Since we felt pretty good and our 9 month old baby was enjoying the hike, we decided to press on.

According to the trail map, there should be an access trail linking the two trails (the rim and the bottom of the gorge). However, we found no such trail, so we believe the trail map to either be outdated or incorrect. We hiked to the second footbridge and found an access trail that looped back to the North Rim Trail. It did, however, add quite a bit of time to our trek! By the time we reached our car, our baby was fussing after being angelic for the previous hour and a half on trail. It was the longest hike we've take to date with her, and I'm really pleased how well it all went!
We ran into several other hikers, despite the nippy weather of the early morning. Several groups were out hiking and a few looked to be training for backpacking. We did see a camp of boyscouts in the campground on our way in, so it must have been them (we later ran into these boyscouts while lunching at Youngs Jersey Dairy just a few miles from the park). There was even a class going on at the Rim for rapelling, which we passed during the beginning of our hike.

We'll definitely be returning to John Bryan for more hiking and possibly some camping (the camground boasts spacious and well-shaded sites located throughout a hillside). Next time, we may venture into the Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve and over the Little Miami River for additional trails.

With all there is to do both within the park and the surrounding area, John Bryan State Park is a worthy destination for any nature loving person or family.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Moving Again!

Well, it seems this blog is forever changing! Things have been in the works the past few months for us to move back to my hometown in Ohio. We have a lot of family up there, and have even purchased a nice little house for us all to roam around in! Consequently, the intent of this blog will once again be changing. The region we are moving to is right on the edge of both Southwest and Central Ohio, so I will be redirecting my focus to these areas.

Much of what I covered while living in Cincinnati will still be applicable for this blog, and certainly the extended trips are still within reach. I am excited to explore a whole new landscape, as there are some great parks and trails not far from where we will be living.

Photo: Hocking Hills, Old Man's Cave, OH

I have as such decided to change the name of this blog once again, to The Ohio Hiker, which will not only give me a broader area to cover, but will also appeal to more readers.

Thanks so much for following along and being a part of this blog through the many changes!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spring is in the air!

I don't know how long this good weather will last, but it seems to me that spring is definitely in the air! It makes me think of all the wonderful times we spent camping, hiking and backpacking during past spring and fall months! Since we live in KY, spring definitely comes earlier than I am used to, but I'll take it! Even if the temperatures dip back down below 50 degrees, it seems as though the cold frigid months have been left behind for good.

Photo: Brown Park, Louisville KY

I love hiking in the early spring and witnessing all the little wonders of life poking through the previously barren ground. We're planning a short daytrip out to Jefferson Memorial Forest tomorrow, to really get a good hike in and make use of our new child backpack carrier.

We are still searching for a carrier we can take with us on a backpacking trip, but we got a great deal on a used daypack from craigslist. The Kelty Kids 2.1 Carrier:

After we bought it, we realized it was missing the front removable daypack piece, but we figured we would hardly need it anyway. It will just force us to pack light on trips! After trying it on with our daughter inside, we found it was really comfortable, and for only $50, you can't really beat that! Since we saved so much money on the daypack, we can now invest more into a quality backpacking carrier that will last us through the years.

Has spring started to arrive in your neck of the woods? If so, have you got out to enjoy it yet?

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