By Mike Willis
Whether you are heading off to Elk camp, or you’re in desperate need of some social distancing, the fall is the perfect season for camping. Spring usually brings a lot of mud and bugs, and the summer, sweltering heat. The fall, however, offers the ideal conditions for your next camping trip.
During the fall, the bugs are more than manageable. Tourists have surrendered to their parental and professional responsibilities and migrated back to their urban-dwelling places. Campsite availabilities are in abundance, and ideal temperatures and weather await. As occasional rain showers pass through, much-needed dust control and fire suppression arrive right on time.
During the fall, campers can do much more than take in the beautiful landscapes. Every critter in the field, bird in the sky, and fish in the water receives their orders from something much greater than ourselves. Winter is coming, and everything knows it. If you place yourself in any location occupied by wildlife, you can observe their seasonal preparations fueled by an intense instinct to take action.
Whether fleeing, breeding, or feeding, everything that wildlife does during this season is on strict time. During every other season, time all but stands still in nature. As a camper present for this paradigm shift, encounters with wildlife can be especially powerful.
If you take advantage of this perfect season for camping, remember to bring your camera. While camping is the perfect excuse to ditch electronics, photographic opportunities like none other await you in this season. If your cell phone is your camera, put it in airplane mode or camp in areas without the service that will create distractions.
Planning — Fire
In the early part of the fall camping season, fire danger is still a very real concern. Before heading off to your favorite camping spot, check for forest fires in your area. Always have a plan for an alternate route out of the forest in the event of a forest fire. A good resource for monitoring fire activity is the USDA Forest Service fire map website.
In addition to checking for active fires, be sure to check for local burn bans. If you have had an exceptionally dry summer, you may not be permitted to light a campfire. These bans will quickly begin lifting after the initial rains of the early fall. If you are not backpacking into your camping location, consider bringing a propane fire pit. A propane fire pit is a great way to get around a burn ban restriction while still being a responsible camper.
Planning — The Weather
If you want to camp in the high country, keep in mind that weather patterns can begin to get pretty volatile as you progress deeper into the fall. In higher-elevation areas, it is common to awake to a couple of feet of fresh snow. To avoid unnecessary risks, consider staying at lower altitudes as you approach winter. Your chances of getting caught in a dangerous situation go up exponentially each week approaching winter.
Planning — Safety
Fall campers need to be mindful of the presence of bears during the fall. As the bears get closer to the hibernation season, their willingness to take chances increases. Be sure to store your food in bear-proof containers and keep your campsite clean.
When packing for your camping trip, consider bringing an orange hat or vest with you. With all of the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors this time of year, you should be prepared to encounter hunters while you are out exploring.