Our family recently returned from a 3 week 2400 mile camping trip. We traveled through northern California and Oregon. It was our best ever family camping trip as it was well planned with enough wiggle room for spontaneity. We spent the first 4 days in a remote cabin in the Shasta Trinity National Forest. We did not hear or see another person for a full two days. I have yet to experience this kind of solitude on week long back packing trips in extreme wilderness areas. The cabin was called the Post Creek Guard Station (see photo to your left) and it was an amazing little 2 room cabin. The bedroom had full lattice windows on 3 sides over looking the most beautiful mountains. The night viewings of the stars were amazing because this area is so remote that the nearest large metropolitan area was 300 miles away to the north and south. The Pacific ocean was to the west and nothing but mountains and wilderness lay to the east. A forest fighter/ranger visited us on our 3rd day and gave the boys several flying discs to toss around the area.
I want to call attention the fact that great family camping vacations can accomplished on a budget if you do your home work on advance. I booked this cabin 4 months in advance through Recreation.gov and paid $149 for 4 nights. I think that is fantastic deal considering the exceptional views. I need to tell you that there was no hot or potable water. We carried 12 gallons with us and filtered our water when we ran out. But for $35 a night, who is complaining? That was five bucks and change per person per night!
We invited my wife's girl friend and her two kids to spend the four days with us. What a trip with 4 young boys all tens years and younger screaming in the cabin and sliding down the hill side. A mother's nightmare! I just chuckled and remembered how rambunctious I was at their age.
National Forest cabins are such a great deal that I almost hate to tell you about the ones in my area because we will be competing against each other for reservations. Our family has been staying at these types of cabins for the past 6 years and we have never been disappointed.
Do you want to know what the biggest highlight for myself was at this cabin? It was doing absolutely nothing. After doing an hour workout in the morning before everyone else got themselves out of bed, I would make up a huge cup of French pressed coffee and watch the sun rise. It was so pleasant. We had no electricity and no cell phone coverage. All the electronics that we depend on so much make slaves out of us. It was total freedom. I have to admit it would have been fun to make Facebook updates to let my friends and coworkers know how much fun our families were having. But not having to do that was even more fun!
After 5 days and 4 nights in the cabin, I had spent less than $200 total not counting food. Who counts food as a vacation expense since we cooked everything ourselves?
How To Make Easy Healthy Camping Meals
I have rarely used so called "back packing" or "camping meals" because they are usually very costly, full of salt, and do not taste that great. Look no further than your favorite health food store to put together tasty meals at a fraction of the cost of pre-packaged meals. Avoid eating out even if it's for convenience because it will break the bank and it's hard to find healthy eating choices on the road.
When we book National Forest cabins, I look for facilities that have wood burning or propane stoves so I can cook up a storm. I will make yeast crust pizza, fresh cinnamon rolls, and other healthy baked goods.
My wife packs a mini kitchen pantry several days before we depart on our trip with the basics like whole grain flour, salt, pepper, dried fruits, nuts, and few emergency cans of pacific salmon from Costco. This year she made about 10 pounds of granola that was lightly sweetened with organic wild honey and maple syrup. She packs everything in 4 clear Sterilite latched bins that we purchased at Walmart. Every bin is labeled. Our cooking arsenal includes a dual fuel Coleman stove, stainless wok, stainless steel pressure cooker, stainless pots, and a caste iron crepe pan that we use for grilling and making omelets. A favorite hit with my 2 boys is to pack a few pounds of fresh frozen wild salmon that traditionally eat on the first night. They always remind me to buy salmon the week before. We always pack rice, lentils, black beans, rice, and garbanzo beans. We use a pressure cooker to ensure that the beans are fully cooked before eating them. My wife lists her favorite camping recipes on her cooking blog, Tealightfullyours.
When it comes to camp meals, we are not your typical eaters. We dine on healthy whole grains, fresh chicken soup, grass fed organic beef, tasty humus made from garbanzo beans, and lots of fresh fruits. Our typical morning breakfast was sliced in season fresh peaches, cherries, blue berries, and a cup of yogurt topped with my wife's home made granola. This meal usually took less than 10 minutes to prepare and less time to clean up. We snack on raw nuts and fresh food all day. When we made soup for dinner, we usually heated it up and ate a bowl for breakfast to warm ourselves. We find that we eat less food when we consume healthy foods such as fresh fruits that are in season and native to regions that we camp in. We do not fill up pre-packaged trail mixes that full of roasted nuts and sugary chocolates. While we indulge occassionally on sweets, we prefer natural sweets such peaches, nectarines, wild blue berries, dried fruits, and yogurt topped with fresh berries.
I brought along a hot air popper that I used to roast my own fresh coffee and make pop corn for an evening treat around the camp fire.
Where To Find Inexpensive Food
We love adventure while camping. I am always on the look out for u-pick berries and farm fresh eggs. What is even better are u-pick wild berries. While camping in Oregon, we picked pounds wild huckleberries, black berries, salmon berries, and thimble berries. We stopped to pick cherries, peaches, and organic blue berries. We do this because we enjoy picking and eating fruit. Most of the time, the farmers let you eat as much as you like while you pick. While camping in central Oregon on the east side of Mount Hood, we found a local map that highlighted a route called the "Fruit Loop". We stopped and picked picked cherries and blue berries at two different farms. What was even more fun that picking the fruit was talking and learning about the farms where the fruit was harvested. The owners delighted in telling us their stories and sharing their lives with us. Some even sent us on way with little "extras" that made the trip so special.
Eggs are full of great nutrition and can be prepare in so many different ways. We used eggs to bake healthy cakes, make omelets, and hard boil them to eat on our hikes. I was happy to find "fresh eggs for sale" signs on several occasions. We never had to purchase eggs in grocery stores.
How To Find Cheap Campgrounds
I usually spend about $30 at Amazon on local campground books before any of my camping trips. My favorite books so far have been Foghorn Campground books. Some of the best campgrounds have been local city parks where you can camp for free or less than $20 which includes free showers, a gazebo, local walking distance to quaint historical towns. We stayed in the city park in the historic town of Brownsville, Oregon for $10 and had nearly the entire park to ourselves. In the morning, I discovered a huge patch of ripe wild blackberries. I was able to pick several pints. The campground was located adjacent to pleasant river that lulled us to sleep. The kids ran around for hours in the playground. My wife and I relaxed with our books in our camp chairs. The cheapest campground used to be run by the National Forest Service. Because of budget cuts, they have been taken over by private management companies and cost nearly $20 a night and you never get a hot shower or a flushing toilet. My kids and wife are never looking for the most beautiful campground. My wife likes running water and a shower. My kids like play grounds. I like a happy family. If I had my own way, I would be strapping back packs on them all and getting free accommodations in remote campsites.