In the next few weeks almost one-third of the U.S. population will take to the fields and woods in the biggest exodus to the outdoors this nation has yet seen. Loaded with confidence and thousands of pounds of comfort-promising equipment, 50 million campers are preparing to move out on foot, by car, trailer, bicycle and horse to tramp, ride, swim or just relax in the unequaled beauty of our nation's mountains and lakes, forests and parks.
Not all of these modern nomads are ex- Boy Scout miracle workers full of woodlore and what to do with wet matches, or even what might be called outdoor types. The majority of today's campers are average families who will meet the experience of living—and surviving—outdoors for the first time: a new generation of vacationists who have found that camping can be fun.
What has motivated this mass return to nature and the woods? Around the campfire at night, aching a little from chopping wood and pretending not to notice the burn blister on his finger, many a camping father has ruefully wondered the same thing. It invariably begins innocently enough. A childish 9-year-old face—your son's—prompted by who knows what, looks up and in five words—"Dad, I wanna go camping!"—destroys comfort and peace of mind for weeks to come. It can be put off, of course, but only for a time.
The fortunate—or are they?—can pack such childish enthusiams off to professional children's camps like the
one on the following color pages. But many more prefer to do the job themselves and take their pleasures en famille. And so the whole family plunges pell-mell into the excitements of preparation, buys an awful lot of equipment and hurls itself with force and enthusiasm into the wilds.
The surprising thing they soon discover is that they are having more fun together than they ever had before. For no longer is camping a Davy Crockett assault upon the wilderness, a test of endurance and deprivation. It can still be that for those who wish it so, but for most it is a new-found way of vacationing—different, exciting and cheap.
Thanks to our national parks and forests, most of which can be camped in, there is ample virgin territory to be explored. Furthermore, there are now enough of man's creature comforts provided nearby to make life worth living once you get there. Whether it is a weekend jaunt some few miles out from a city's edge or a journey of several weeks across the country, there are today campsites and amenities in varying degrees of luxury to suit every taste.
At the service of this new army of outdoor enthusiasts—60% of whom are family groups—are more than 3,000
supervised public campsites scattered across the nation, which offer every kind of convenience from the barest necessities of life to such things as electricity, hot showers, laundry tubs and bunk-equipped cabins. For those not sure how rough they want to rough it there are campsites where it is possible to sleep under the stars seemingly remote from civilization—and yet always in easy reach of the Sunday morning paper. For the professional outdoors-man, there are innumerable hard-to-get-into and hard-to-stay-alive-in areas which are tough enough to test even the best. And for the majority, a happy middle course: an invigorating blend of outdoor living plus practically all the comforts of home.
Complete listings of available campsites can be obtained from the National Park Service, Washington, D.C. or from state park services, and smart campers plot and plan their trip down to the last detail. In addition to the parks 150 national forests in 39 states offer to campers some of the wildest and most ruggedly beautiful country in the land. Every state has at least one public campsite; California has 671, all carefully maintained.
Most campers today travel to their destination by car. The vacationists, in fact, consider camping as the best way to live while en route. Trailer camping is rated next in popularity, but hiking, pack trips, canoeing and bicycling tours all have their adherents.
Certainly one of the biggest reasons for camping's present boom is that it is fantastically cheap. Many campsites are available with all amenities at no cost whatsoever; at others fees range from 250 per car of four people, per day, up to $1. Some charge only when campers stay three days or more. Typical of most campgrounds is Castle Crags State Park, six miles south of Dunsmuir on U.S. 99 in California. For $1 a day per car ($1.50 per trailer) campers have the gratis use of firewood, electricity, fishing, swimming, hiking trails, a wood-burning stove, showers and laundry.