My parents began toting me along to Indian Lake, New York when I was just 6 months old. Since then, we’ve been camping over Columbus Day weekend in our favorite campsite along Indian Lake for the past 24 years. I actually can’t remember a Columbus Day weekend that we weren’t camping, rain (sometimes snow!) or shine. Everyone has their traditional family outings — Indian Lake in the fall is ours.
I always look forward to backpacking and car camping adventures every fall, with one trip in particular — my family’s annual fall camping trip to the Adirondacks.
This year, I’ve realized just how much this trip taught me in terms of my outdoor experience. And after some thought, I came up with five reasons why I’m thankful my parents introduced me to the outdoor world, in particular the Adirondacks during the fall, at such an early age, and why family camping trips are so important.
Our fall tradition in the Adirondacks has given me a deep appreciation of place.
1. An Early Love of Nature
This trip instilled an early love of nature, especially during the East Coast’s most iconic season. My parents are definitely not into camping in the heat of summer, so our camping experiences were mostly dedicated to the fall season, always accompanied by some stellar fall colors.
The first weekend of October is usually about when the leaves reach their peak in the Adirondacks. We always seem to luck out with the colors, and their spectacular vibrance never ceases to amaze me every year. I know I may sound a little biased but if you haven't experienced an Adirondack fall, it's definitely an adventure worth having.
Time your trip just right and you’ll have the luxury of no bugs, less crowds, and perfect outdoor temperatures. Nothing beats returning to camp and snuggling under a Puffin Blanket and sipping some hot cocoa in front of a fire after a long day of bagging some peaks.
I spent my college years in Western New York followed by a year in Colorado and I have to say, any fall season spent elsewhere left me extremely nostalgic for the Adirondacks. Aspens are great, but they're just not the same. Now, when I drive to Indian Lake each year, my heart flutters with excitement for the long-awaited reds, oranges, and yellows.
Some things change, but this view from our same site every year never gets old.
2. Learning for My own Adventures
The Adirondacks can be unpredictable and this annual family camping trip gave me my first real experiences with cold weather camping... preparing me for my own adventures.
Last year, my mom, dad, childhood best friend and I were huddled under our rain shelter for the majority of our Columbus Day weekend. We woke up to rain, ate breakfast in the rain, and ate lunch in the rain. Luckily, the weather cleared up for a few hours every afternoon. We’d emerge from our shelter and hike for a couple hours or kayak before the rain started back up around 8 p.m. each night.
While 90 percent of that trip involved huddling together under a shelter for hours, we weren’t too bothered by it. We were just happy to be there — together, in our favorite campsite.
Through the years, we've had our fair share of “bad” weather. And when I say “bad” weather, it never actually felt bad to us.
When I was seven and my brother was three, our Columbus Day weekend was spent camping with high temperatures of 30 degrees. It even snowed that weekend. Actually, there have been a few of these camping trips where it snowed. There’s something special about waking up in the wee hours of the morning and opening your tent door to a quiet snow, blanketing your campsite.
As two young kids, my parents taught us to be resilient in cold weather. This resilience has carried on in my life today, giving me the strength to carry on in my own adventures.
3. Discovering What Makes You Tick
Visiting the Adirondacks offered a plethora of outdoor activities and I discovered the ones that make me tick.
I had a pretty active family life growing up. By the age of 8, I had my own garage-sale whitewater kayak. Not for actual whitewater kayaking though; my parents just preferred whitewater kayaks. If you’ve ever been in a whitewater kayak, you’ll know you need a good amount of upper body strength because they have a mind of their own. At 8, I didn’t have that muscle. But, I learned the balance of the boat and grew to love the glide of my bright red Dancer on Indian Lake.
Today, kayaking is still very much present in my own adventures in New Hampshire, along with hiking, biking, and cross country skiing — all the outdoor activities my parents introduced to my brother and I early on. Because of them, I’ve always gravitated toward the mountains, which is probably why I ended up in Dover, a short drive from the Whites.
4. A Quiet Respite Together
Away from the stresses of work and school, this trip provided a quiet time to spend with family and friends. For many, Columbus Day is the first break of the school year, a chance to enjoy a brief moment before getting back to the grind. During my tween years, it also meant reconnecting with old friends that we’d only see once or twice a year.
We met these friends at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival and we loved seeing them there every summer. Soon, our friends started following us to Indian Lake! It was a fun time to catch up, build forts in the woods, and play capture the flag. As we got older and sports and school activities entered the scene, these friends stopped joining us. But this didn’t damper the trip. We just got back to our family roots — the way it all started.
When I left for college, I missed a few of these camping trips — it was too hard to travel the 5 hours home, on top of the 2.5 hour drive into the Adirondacks. But my parents continued to go with my brother and sometimes some other family friends. Now, the roles are reversed, my brother is busy with college swimming and can’t make the commitment but I always mark my calendar for my favorite time of the year in my favorite place.
We always seem to make our way back.
5. They Claimed it was easy.
The most common phrase I hear these days from parents with young kids on why they don’t go camping is that it's too hard.
"It’s too hard to pack up the car. Too hard to manage the kids in the backseat on a long car ride. Too hard to..."
And I get it. It can be really hard sometimes. Yet, I grew up in a family that somehow managed it — and somehow my parents claimed it was easy.
Two kids, one tent, sleeping gear, two large shelters, food and cooking equipment packed into large bins, and four kayaks all meticulously packed into two Honda station wagons.
Yep, you heard that right. My parents claimed it was easy. It probably wasn’t at times, but in their minds it was. It’s easy to find time for the things you enjoy. They did, and they even made sure to include their kids — because that was important.
To them, a vacation away was camping with us. Kayaking with us. Hiking with us. Carving pumpkins with us. Enjoying life with us ... and for me, that's made such a difference.
NEMO's Sam Rokos spends her days repairing NEMO gear so it can last you for a lifetime and providing brilliantly friendly customer service. When she's not in the office, she's kayaking, swimming, running, cross country skiing, and finding any way possible to enjoy being outside.