With the Commonwealth’s abundance of primitive tent sites and RV campgrounds, offering everything from fishing to golfing and horse trails to off-trail family adventure, there’s plenty to please every Kentucky camper.
Besides summer, there’s another season in full swing across the state right now—camping season. And we’ve found some campers who were happy to share their favorite campfire tips and tales with us. So unroll the sleeping bags, break out the marshmallows for s’mores, and gather around to read more.
Lake Malone State Park: Rod and reel rescue
“Lake Malone is a crown jewel in western Kentucky,” says Christy Combs, assistant director of Recreation Parks for the Kentucky Department of Parks.
[pullquote type=”left”]Lake Malone State Park friends are working together to improve the campground while encouraging community involvement. Learn more![/pullquote]Visitors to this small park nestled in the hardwood forests of southern Muhlenberg County will find the tranquil atmosphere offers a more private camping experience. But at the same time, the adjacent 788-acre lake provides water enthusiasts plenty of opportunities for boating, swimming, and fishing.
The Porter family, Pennyrile Electric co-op members from nearby Lewisburg, has discovered this gem of a park and return again and again. Susan and her husband, Scott, both grew up camping at Lake Malone with their parents. Now they camp there with their children, 11-year-old Cole and Holden, 5.
“We are still kind of old-fashioned and do the tent thing,” says Susan. Besides being close to home, another reason the family chooses Lake Malone as their go-to camping spot is the fishing.
One memorable camping trip took place as Holden stood on the rocky shore casting his line. Only this time, he cast more than his bait—his pole plopped right into the lake.
Susan recalls Holden saying, “Mom, I lost my pole! You’re gonna have to get me another one.”
Luckily, big brother Cole was fast-thinking. He cast his own line, hooked Holden’s pole and reeled it back onto shore. After this rod and reel rescue, the whole family had a good laugh. But after losing several poles that way, Susan and Scott now camp prepared with back-up poles.
Family camping trips like this are meaningful to the Porters. “Mainly it’s just getting away with each other and smiling and having fun, which are now moments our kids will never forget,” Susan says.
And for Cole, the camping menu also serves up unforgettable memories. “I love roasting hot dogs on the fire and s’mores,” he says.
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park: The missing marshmallows
Tri-County Electric member Susan Hornek, husband Gary, and their daughters, Alayna, 16, and Allison, 14, of Edmonton often pitch their tent at state resort parks like Dale Hollow Lake and Barren River Lake. Besides the convenience of checking out the campgrounds online, Susan says, “The facilities are good, and there’s usually a lot of things to do.”
Cumberland Falls was the scene of the family’s latest camping adventure last November. They enjoyed hiking, especially the view from Eagle Falls Trail. And Susan describes the moonbow over the falls as “spectacular.”
However, it wasn’t the beautiful fall scenery that made this particular camping trip one of the Horneks’ most memorable yet. It all began as the family assembled their tent. Drizzling rain dropped the temperature to a chilly 37 degrees. Not easily deterred, the Horneks built a campfire, anticipating gooey, hot s’mores. That’s when Susan discovered she’d forgotten to pack marshmallows. She sloshed through the rain to the camp store, only to find they were sold out of marshmallows.
“So we heated graham crackers on a rock next to the fire and laid pieces of chocolate on them,” Susan says. “That didn’t turn out so well. They tasted like burnt crackers.”
Later, as the Horneks turned in for the night, they realized their sleeping bags weren’t well-insulated. And instead of a sleeping bag for himself, Gary only had a couple of blankets to keep warm. Susan heated a rock on the campfire, wrapped it in a towel, and tucked it in with Gary.
“Turns out he was the only one who got any sleep because me and the kids nearly froze in our ‘warm’ sleeping bags,” Susan says. By dawn the next morning, the family waited at the DuPont Lodge door for some much-welcomed heat.
Susan laughs when offering this tip to other campers: “Check the weather before you go camping.”
Kendall Campground: Bingo bounty for all
This summer, the McClellan family, South Kentucky RECC members from Albany, plan to spend a lot of time together in their 25-foot travel trailer. Avid campers, Tammy and husband David share their love of the outdoors with their daughters Carrie, 16, and Emma, 13.
“We give up the electronics, and we just like to get out and enjoy nature and sit around the campfire at night and tell stories,” Tammy says.
While unplugging, Tammy plans activities for her children, such as campground scavenger hunts. And she once took along some paint for the girls to design their own tribal-themed hiking sticks for some extra fun while exploring trails.
But one of the McClellans’ favorite camping stories began as an activity that not only included their family, but several neighboring campers as well. It all started a few years ago as the family huddled around their campsite picnic table to play bingo at Kendall Campground. Suddenly, everyone wanted to play.
At first, with about 16 kids gathered around, Tammy was unsure what to give away for prizes. Then she got an idea. The other campers could all get one snack each from their own campsite to offer for a prize.
“So they all rushed to get their snacks,” Tammy says. “When they came back, we had this huge bounty of anything from Little Debbie snack cakes to bananas to Hershey candy bars that moms and dads were going to make s’mores out of.”
Emma says they play bingo in a variety of ways: covering four corners only, covering all the numbers, and regular bingo. But no matter how they play, nobody loses.
“We always play until everybody wins something, which is really fun,” Emma adds. “And you never know what you’re going to get.”
With several campsites reserved in the coming months, the McClellans’ bingo set is already packed in the camper, ready for the next impromptu game.
First, make reservations
Before grabbing your camping gear and heading out with your family, there are a few things you can do beforehand to help ensure a good time is had by all.
“In the state of Kentucky, there’s a whole lot more campers than there are campsites,” says Elkhorn Campground owner Bo Sutherland. “So I always advise everybody to make reservations.”
When booking a reservation, Carter Caves State Resort Park manager Chris Perry recommends campers pay close attention to the distance between their newly reserved campsite and electric and water hookups. “It makes them (campers) realize how much water hoses and electrical cords they will need,” he says.
After that, a successful camping trip requires planning ahead. Sutherland says most people forget things like cooking oil, charcoal, and basic toiletries. For that reason, camping checklists come in handy.
Melissa Smith, manager of Rudy’s Ranch & Horse Camp in Salt Lick, believes campers should also anticipate changing weather conditions. “We live in Kentucky,” she says. “Be prepared for all weather when camping because you never know when it’s going to be raining one minute, or the sun shining the next.”
Smith also advises equine campers to pack a poncho before hitting the trails, as well as packing extra clothing. “You never know, you may come off a horse and into a mud puddle. It happens,” she says, laughing.
Once you arrive at your campsite, it’s time to relax and just have fun with your family in the great outdoors. Charlie Logsdon, manager of Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Area, says, “The thing is to get out and be able to slow down, explore nature, and see things with your kids. Or let your kids just explore, and we have a lot of opportunity for that.”
And finally, don’t forget this important advice from Allison Hornek: “Remember the marshmallows!”
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