LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Camping was a popular activity last summer as COVID-19 led people to cancel trips and seek safer outdoor activities. Warmer weather means the 2021 camping season will start ramping up soon.

A report sponsored by Kampgrounds of America found that in September of 2020, both campers and non-campers said camping was the safest form of travel. The KOA report also found that a quarter of all North American campers last year were first-time campers, and 82% of those first-time campers have children in the household.

Paul Weiss, parks and recreation administrator for the Lancaster County Department of Parks and Recreation, saw this trend at Mill Creek Camping Area last summer. “We saw a lot of families wanting to camp and a lot of first-time campers,” Weiss says.

With COVID-19 making gatherings between households unsafe, Mill Creek had less group camping than usual. Phil True, fun scheduler at Refreshing Mountain, says the same was true at Refreshing Mountain’s cabins.

Even so, individuals and families filled the cabins and campsites that might otherwise have housed group events. In fact, so many people wanted to spend the night in the cabins at Refreshing Mountain that True says, “We were definitely turning people away that wanted to come up.”

Cabins at Refreshing Mountain (Credit: Refreshing Mountain)

Weiss encourages campers to familiarize themselves with campsites before arriving. Campgrounds offer different levels of amenities, which can be important to be aware of in advance. Some sites, like Mill Creek, are considered “primitive,” meaning they have little more than fire pits and space to pitch a tent. Others, like the cabins at Refreshing Mountain, offer more creature comforts.

True and Weiss also suggest that individuals reserve campsites in advance. “It’s always good to make a reservation. With camping becoming popular [again], a lot of places are full,” says Weiss. And, Weiss says, individuals should only camp in designated camping areas to stay safe and avoid trespassing.

For first-time campers, Weiss suggests practicing with a backyard camping experience first. This could help reveal any missing equipment or potential challenges, and “it’s always easy to abandon a camping trip in your backyard; it’s a little more difficult to do that when you’re camping somewhere else,” he says.

While camping, there are also steps individuals should take to protect the area around them. “I love to encourage people to leave no trace,” says True, “It’s just essentially leave [the campsite] better than you found it.”

Some campgrounds offer trash receptacles, while others require campers to “pack it in, pack it out,” meaning that anything they bring in with them, they also need to take away with them.

Properly securing food and garbage is another important camping tip Weiss offers. This helps prevent litter, and it also prevents nosy wildlife from getting into campers’ belongings. The National Park Service recommends storing food and other scented products in a durable airtight container and/or hanging it from a tree (different campsites may have different rules about this.)

To avoid harming the environment around them, campers should also stay on established trails. And, Weiss says, “I don’t want to sound like Smokey the Bear here, but manage your fire.”

Additionally, the CDC offers recommendations for camping safely during COVID-19. These include bringing disinfecting supplies and practicing social distancing around people from different households.

Now that you have some advice for camping safely and responsibly, it’s time to find a campsite. Here are locations for camping around Lancaster County: