Spring car-camping tips.
“Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.” —Walt Whitman
At last, after a full winter of being pent up indoors, it’s time again to hit the road and spend some nights outside. Even if the trails haven’t fully dried and the temperatures aren’t yet t-shirt friendly, a good car-camping trip is hard to beat. Heed this advice and it’ll be smooth sailing all spring.
Dos & Don’ts
DO: Plan for inclement weather. Spring is a season of extremes—from warm & sunny to cold & rainy, often in the same day.
DON’T: Be surprised when a sudden snowstorm rolls in. This is Montana—expect the unexpected.
DO: Your homework. A lot of gates don’t open until mid-May or mid-June. Make sure the place you want to go is actually accessible before setting off.
DON’T: Camp in closed areas, or unimpacted sites. Even if you’re not camping in an official campground, look for spots where someone has clearly camped before.
DO: Be adaptable. The luxury of car camping is that it allows you to pack for all the activities.
DON’T: Ride muddy trails because biking was the only thing you had planned, rain or shine.
Water – Where are you going and how long are you staying? Are you camping by a refillable source or do you need to haul everything in jugs?
Kitchen – If you’re planning to sleep in the front-country, you should cook like you’re in the front-country. A fold-out table, two-burner stove, and chairs make the camp experience a lot more enjoyable.
Cash – Bring some. A lot of campgrounds still use drop-boxes for payment. Plus, it never hurts to have, should you get in a pinch, or find a late-night poker game.
Light It Up
A good light source should be near the top of every camper’s list. Bring a backup—as the old adage goes: two is one, one is none. Here are a few that we use.
BioLite HeadLamp 200
This handy light weighs in at a scant 50 grams—about the weight of a golf ball. Throw in a wide, comfy headband and low-profile design, and you’ll wonder if the thing could light up a drawer. But light up it does, and then some, with an impressive 200 lumens and a rechargeable battery. Available at Girls Outdoors; $45.
Princeton Tec Snap Solo
Attached to its harness by magnet, this 300-lumen headlamp slips out for use it as a handheld flashlight or mini-lantern, which you can stick to a car hood, campstove, or other metal surface for constant, direct illumination. There’s also a dimmer for controlling brightness and battery life. Available at Bob Ward's. $35.
This ultra-lightweight lantern collapses flat when not in use, and needs no extra batteries—just set the thing outside during the day for a full recharge. Two attachment loops allow for easy suspension from trees and tents, and when inflated it sets nicely on a table or rock. $30.
Pipestone – Options abound at Pipestone. Load up the bike (motorized or pedal), climbing gear, or simply hiking boots or running shoes. Head west for an hour and enjoy Montana’s drier climes with plenty of space to spread out, and top-notch trails to boot.
Revenue Flats – For climbing bums wanting an early-season weekend on the rock, check out the BLM land west of Norris.
Lower Madison – If you’re looking to wet a line, seek refuge at one of the many riverside campgrounds branching off Hwy. 84.
Upper Yellowstone – For those looking to experience the lull in Yellowstone’s crowds, set up shop at Carbella, 15 miles north of Gardiner, along the river. Get up early, head into the Park, and witness the bustling springtime rituals for all the Park’s wildlife.