Unexpected Summer Fun

We live on the Lake Michigan coast, within a stone’s throw of dozens of beautiful, popular state parks. So not surprisingly, when we plan one of our annual summer camping trips, we usually just head a few miles up or down the shore.

But while Michigan’s state parks are amazingly well-kept and offer a ton of opportunity to get up close and personal with our state’s natural beauty, they can be a little overwhelming for a family with young kids.

Getting to the beach, playground, bathrooms or general store can sometimes be quite a hike. And fishing or swimming with small children in enormous Lake Michigan can be quite an undertaking! We love it, but sometimes we just want something a little more laid-back.

So a couple of years ago, when our youngest was a toddler, we decided to try something different: instead of heading to the parks we usually visit, we searched for a campground an hour or so inland. We figured a small, private campground with a much smaller lake would give us a different, more laid-back experience. From the description on the campground’s website – fishing pond! Petting zoo! Lake with water trampoline! – it sounded like we were going to have an amazing time.

When we pulled up to the campground, however, we weren’t quite so confident. First of all, the place looked deserted. There was nobody in the general store, so we just slid a check through a slot in the door as instructed.

At first glance “lake” looked more like a pond, so brackish you couldn’t see the bottom, and the “fishing pond” was a muddy stream – albeit, one filled with carp. The playground looked like it had been around since my parents were kids, and the “petting zoo” was actually a ragtag bunch of farm animals running around the proprietor’s fenced backyard.

But we’d already slid our check through the slot, so what could we do? Deciding to make the best of it, we went to our site (we basically had our choice of the whole campground, as there was only one other family in sight!) and set up camp.

And as it turns out? We had an awesome time.

What I’d thought was a murky pond turned out to be a spring-fed lake – cold, but clean – and Jon and the boys had a blast jumping on the trampoline in the middle.

The muddy stream full of slow-moving, curious fish turned out to be a jackpot for the boys, who hauled in – and tossed back – fish after fish. Quite a new experience for a bunch of boys who usually don’t catch anything except seaweed!

And at night, we didn’t worry at all about letting the kids run free and yell as loud as they wanted: after all, there was nobody to disturb.

I learned a few lessons from our unexpected camping adventure:

First, it’s always fun – and usually surprisingly rewarding – to try new things.

Second, while we all have our favorite vacation destinations, there are probably dozens of unexpected and unexplored places to play, spend time together, and get close to nature right in everyone’s backyard.

Third, to have a fun family adventure, sometimes all you need is a small pond, a muddy stream, some fishing line and a few hooks.

Have you ever had an unusual outdoor adventure that turned out to be unexpectedly fun?

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Stephanie Vatalaro

Stephanie Vatalaro

Stephanie Vatalaro is vice president of communications for the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and its Take Me Fishing and Vamos A Pescar campaigns where she works to recruit newcomers to recreational fishing and boating and increase awareness of aquatic conservation. Stephanie grew up in the Florida Keys as the daughter of a flats fishing guide. Outside of work, you can find her fishing and boating with her family on the Potomac River in the Northern Neck of Virginia.