Family travel on a budget? Try a camping workshop

Nine-Mile Lake in Superior National Forest.

If families are looking for the best vacation deal around, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, teaming up with REI, has been offering I Can Camp! workshops around the state this summer. The new program teaches families everything they need to know for only $55–that’s with equipment provided. It’s one of the best investments you can make in affordable vacations. Even better: you’re teaching kids an appreciation for the outdoors and letting all of you unplug from the daily hubbub.

If teens aren’t sold on the idea, remind them camping may be their best bet for frugal vacations during cash-strapped post-grad years. They can acquire cheap camping supplies at garage sales, Goodwill or invest in a few good pieces. There’s even a new tent you literally throw into the air and watch it pop up and assemble itself. Seriously. We saw a demo at a neighbor’s house last night. As someone who’s tried to pitch a tent in the dark (not by choice), I can vouch that this is an amazing leap forward. Kudos to the creator.

Learn camping basics
The guidance of a camping expert can do wonders. Knowing the proper way to put a tarp under the tent, for example, can make all the difference in staying dry if it rains. And learning how to make a good fire will prevent frustration, conserve firewood and speed up campfire dinners and treats.

There are four I Can Camp! workshops left on Aug. 19 and 20.  Keep the DNR site handy next spring if those dates don’t work out.

Picking a state park
My recommendation among remaining workshops: Flandrau State Park in New Ulm. The man-made, sand-bottomed pool is marvelous. Plus you have vintage WPA buildings at the park and charming New Ulm nearby. You can’t ask for a better place than this German community to pick up tasty sausages to grill and locally brewed beer or root beer. Lake Carlos near Alexandria is another solid choice for campsites near its nice clear lake and sandy beach.
Flandrau State Park’s man-made
beach the day before it opened.
Glendalough State Park sits in Minnesota’s glacial lakes area near Fergus Falls. Wild turkeys and deer are easy to spot in this uncrowded park. Lake Maria State Park is the closest to the Twin Cities, but is more rustic.
More camping resources
If you’re looking for more tips on beginning camping, check out a feature I wrote for  Suite 101 about learning to camp and participating in the annual National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout.
Glendalough State Park
Also head to the library or bookstore for nature guides and Lynn Brunelle‚Äôs Camp Out! book (Workman Publishing, 2007). It’s our favorite resource with a little of everything: advice on setting up camp, tying knots, telling ghost stories, playing night games, star gazing and creative cooking. It even has a guide for animal tracks and figuring out who pooped on the trail.   

Cooking on a Stick by Linda White (Gibbs Smith, 2000) is more narrowly focused but fun for its kid-focused campfire recipe. Snail on a stick anyone? (It’s bread–don’t panic.)

For more family fun, read on to other features, including free Jelly Belly tours in Wisconsin or Devil’s Lake State Park and train rides near Wisconsin Dells.