Fall is the perfect season to take in the great outdoors. If the crisp kiss of autumn has you dreaming of a campfire and s'mores, you won't have to go far or break the bank to get your wish. Carey Smith outlined many of the closest campground options in a recent issue of IT ("Camping in the Land of Lincoln," June 30).
In addition to conventional campgrounds, camping on private land is possible through the use of apps like HipCamp. Camping options range from working farms to wooded sites and many offer basic shelters or fully furnished cabins.
Matt Daniels and his wife, Debbie, have been renting out sites on their sustainable 100-acre farm in Palmer, Illinois, through the HipCamp app for five years. "We've just had a blast with it! We've got three tent sites near the pond as well as a 1,200-square-foot cabin available," explained Daniels. "There's plenty of hiking trails and also lots of animals on the farm — we raise chickens and grass-fed beef, and we've got a certified kitchen on site where folks can purchase eggs and produce."
Just like conventional campgrounds, the amenities offered by hosts on HipCamp vary, so it's important to research the offerings carefully so you can pack accordingly.
While it's true that good-quality gear makes for a more comfortable camping experience, it's possible to outfit yourself appropriately on a budget. A tent is likely the most expensive item you'll require. Decent tents can often be found for under $200, though they may only last a season or two.
When purchasing a new tent, it's important to practice setting it up first at home, and make sure all the pieces are there. Figuring out a brand-new tent in the dark with a flashlight between your teeth is not a pleasant experience.
Top-notch sleeping gear can be shockingly expensive, but unless space is at a premium, you can stay quite warm with regular blankets and fuzzy sheets on an air mattress. It's a bulky option, but the price is right. Old-fashioned hot water bottles are wonderful to tuck into the foot of your bed at night and will keep your toes cozy all night long.
Cooking and eating supplies are likely the most involved part of planning and executing a camping trip. It's critical to think through every aspect of what you'll be eating and how you'll prepare it, lest you end up with a variety of canned foods and no way to open them.
Over my years of camping, I've continued to simplify my meal choices, placing a premium on speed of preparation and ease of cleanup. After a day of hiking, I want to settle down around the campfire with a glass of wine, not washing dishes. To this end, I try to avoid planning meals that require any pots and pans at all, but instead, can be prepared directly over a campfire.
Note that most campsites do come with a firepit, but not all will have a grill grate, so it's important to check ahead. Pre-baked waffles, pancakes and bagels are delicious toasted over a campfire for breakfast, and crisp, cooked bacon is shelf-stable and can be warmed up on the grill over indirect heat. Foil packets are arguably the pinnacle of easy campfire cookery and make for delicious cleanup-free meals from morning to night. From bacon and eggs to huevos rancheros to herbed salmon, foil packets are one of the easiest ways to eat well under the stars.
While it's not a good idea to bring your own wood when camping (transporting firewood from your backyard risks spreading tree-killing diseases and insects to the woods you're visiting), it is helpful to bring some fire-starters along to speed up the fire-making process, especially if it's rainy. You can buy fire-starters or make your own by rolling up dryer lint in waxed paper and twisting the ends like a piece of taffy.
If all this sounds like too much hassle but you're still yearning for a campout, there's even a "glamping" service that will set up a spacious, weatherproof tent complete with air mattresses and fairy lights. Under the Stars Springfield travels within 30 miles of Springfield and offers a variety of packages and add-ons, including charcuterie boards or a projector set-up for movie night.
Whether you're an experienced camper or a novice, there are plenty of different ways to enjoy camping in central Illinois this fall.
Campfire huevos rancheros
Olive oil spray
2 six-inch corn tortillas
1 cup refried beans
½ cup cooked chorizo sausage crumbles
½ cup shredded cheese
Chopped green onions and cilantro, sour cream, salsa and avocado, to serve
Lay the foil on a flat surface and spray it lightly with the oil. Place a tortilla in the center of the foil and put ½ cup of the refried beans in the center of the tortilla. Spread it out, leaving a ½-inch border around the edge of the tortilla and use a spoon to make a well in the center. Crack an egg into the well, then sprinkle the egg with half the crumbled chorizo and cheese. Bring the sides of the foil together and fold, making sure the foil doesn't touch the top of the egg, then fold up the short sides and crimp the edges together to seal up the packet. Repeat for the remaining packet.
Transfer the packets to a medium-hot grill and cook over direct heat for about 10-12 minutes, until the white of the egg is set and the yolk is still runny. Serve with chopped herbs, sour cream and salsa as desired.