12 Oct

Recipe of the Week: Julie’s Michigan Sauce

Michigan hotdog

We are huge fans of Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood book, a wonderful collection of American roadside restaurant recommendations. No matter where we are traveling, we always consult the book before we leave to see if there are any gems in the region to which we are heading.

Before we took off for Lake Placid last month, we cracked open Roadfood and found that every Adirondack entry referenced the “Michigans” on the menu.

A Michigan? What’s a Michigan?

So glad you asked.

First things first. A Michigan is not from Michigan. It is a dish unique to upstate New York although different versions with different names are found all over the country. Legend has it that a couple who owned The Michigan Hot Dog Stand in Plattsburgh, New York were trying to recreate the Coney Dog when they first introduced it to their menu.

This is the kind of recipe where everything get thrown in the big pan and then you cook it down for as long as it takes, or as long as you have. Here are the ingredients for Julie’s Michigan Sauce:

  • 2 pounds ground meat
  • 4 cups ketchup
  • 2 chopped onions (some reserved for toppings)
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 8 tablespoons vinegar
  • 8 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 12 tablespoons Worcester sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons brown mustard

After browning and draining the meat, add the remaining ingredients and stir until incorporated. Cook at a simmer until the sauce has the consistency of a chili or sloppy joe.

Serve over a hotdog in a bun. Traditionally the hotdogs would be boiled (dirty water dogs!), but grilled ones work just as well and might be preferred by some. Top with chopped onions and extra mustard if desired.

Eat up and go back for seconds.

Thanks to Julie Grundon, manager of the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain for not only making us this yummy dish, but sharing her recipe as well. She was definitely the hostess with the most-ess. 

To learn more about our visit to the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA, read our article here or listen to podcast episode #57: Greetings From Lake Placid.

08 Oct

RVFTA #57: Greetings from Lake Placid, New York

Greetings from Lake Placid

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, Greetings from Lake Placid, New York, we are delighted to share all the details of our recent visit to the Lake Placid region in the Adirondack Mountains. The stunning fall foliage created the perfect backdrop for experiencing outdoor adventure and a bit of Olympic history.

We start the episode by sharing eight interesting facts about the Adirondack region. With 6 million acres of protected and privately owned land, Glacier, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon National Parks could ALL fit inside this area. Listen to hear some other fascinating trivia that will pique your interest.

Then we move on to our recommended activities in the Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain area. We review:

  • The Olympic Passport activities
  • Downtown Lake Placid
  • Hiking Mount Jo
  • The Wild Center

You can read more about these highlights in this post on the campground and activities.

Plus, we were lucky enough to interview two of the most charming campground managers of all time, Chip and Julie Grundon, who share all about the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA in Wilmington, New York.

And we walked away with Julie’s amazing recipe for Michigan Sauce. What the heck is that? You will have to listen to find out! (Or stay tuned for the blog post next week with the recipe)

You may be counting down the days until camping season comes to an end. But we here at RVFTA are seriously considering heading back to Lake Placid for a winter RV adventure.

You are listening to Episode #57: Greetings from Lake Placid, New York!

05 Oct

Falling in Love with the Adirondacks at the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA

The Adirondack Park in New York State is our newest favorite place. Why?  Maybe because of its fragrant and thickly wooded forests of spruce, maple, beech, and birch.


Maybe because of its sparkling lakes, winding rivers, and rocky streams.



Maybe because of its charming lakefront towns such as Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.


Or maybe because the region hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980 and the sounds of supreme, almost mythological, athletic greatness still can be heard if you listen closely. “Do you believe in miracles?”  We sure do.


The Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA is our newest favorite campground. Why? Maybe because we saw deer running through the campground during the Friday night hayride.


Maybe because you can hike from your campsite down to the rushing waters of the Ausable River.


Maybe because of the pancakes and hot coffee served up every morning in the warm and cozy lodge.



Or maybe because this KOA serves as the perfect base-camp for exploring a magnificent region of our magnificent country.




The Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA is a short, river and tree-lined drive into downtown Lake Placid, where we sampled some great food and culture, and more importantly where we started to learn about the region’s incredible Olympic history.  We highly recommend purchasing the Olympic Sites Passport which is a tremendous bargain at $35 and gives you access to the Olympic Museum, the Sports Complex, the Jumping Complex, the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway, and more.

We headed out early one morning for the drive on the Memorial Highway up to the castle at the top of Whiteface Mountain. There were numerous scenic overlooks on the way up and we stopped at each one to take in the sweeping views of the mountains.


The view of Lake Placid from the top, looking down on the clouds, was nothing short of stunning.


There was ice on the sides of the mountain that morning and it was windy and cold. The boys finagled three cups of hot chocolate from the cafeteria in the castle.  We sampled the coffee, of course.

Later that morning we headed over to the Olympic Jumping Complex.  We all loved taking the ski lift and the elevator up to the jump tower and looking out at the mountains around us and down at the jump below us.  If you are not in awe of our Olympic athletes, you should be.  Standing at the top of the jump tower brought their extreme skill and bravery into sharp focus for all of us. For Theo and Max it was the highlight of the trip.


The Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA is surrounded on all sides by endless opportunities for outdoor adventure. If you love fly fishing, then this is the place. If you love kayaking or canoeing, then this is the place.  If you love skiing or snowmobiling, then this is the place.  If you love hiking–and our family loves hiking–then this is the place.

We decided to tackle nearby Mount Jo on our last full day, and it was wonderful.  Our AMC Guidebook called it an easy hike, but clearly the author didn’t do it with children.  Stephanie had Wesley on her back, which made the trail quite a challenge. But Max and Theo were in good spirits and practically raced up the mountain.  They love a hike with lots of rocks and water…this one didn’t disappoint.



The “Short Trail” up and the “Long Trail” down were both lovely–like something out of a book of poetry by Wordsworth or Coleridge.  The summit view of Heart Lake surrounded by increasingly magnificent fall foliage was worth every single step.


After a brief snack the boys got on their hands and knees and howled like wolves as the sun began to set.  It was getting late. We needed to double-time it down the mountain, and we did.


We come home exhausted that night–but deeply satisfied.  Our time at the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA was coming to an end. But our newfound love for the history, culture, and geography of the Adirondack Park was just beginning.






14 Mar

RVFTA #26: Meet Mr. Trailerama

Meet Mr. Trailerama

On Episode #26 of RVFTA: Meet Mr. Trailerama our featured segment is an interview with Phil Noyes, the author of Trailer Travel and Trailerama. We reviewed this great coffee table book on Episode 20 of this podcast and enjoyed the book so much that we wanted to dig a little deeper into the history of the travel trailer. Vintage RVs are all the rage, and Phil Noyes knows pretty much everything there is to know about them. We learned a lot and we know you will, too.

Phil is also the producer of a PBS documentary called Mobile America, which you should definitely checkout after listening to this week’s podcast!

We couldn’t help but replay our movie review of the Long, Long Trailer from Episode 13 of RVFTA. We loved watching this movie and were surprised to realize that even though the campers look different these days, the RV culture hasn’t changed that much at all.

And our last segment is a piece of our own vintage travel trailer history. We are talking about the first trip we took in our own travel trailer to the Finger Lakes Region in New York State, where we stayed at Hickory Hill Family Camping Resort.

Hickory Hill campground

We had an amazing time swimming, hiking, kayaking, and exploring beautiful lakes and waterfalls in three state parks.

Keuka Lake State Park

keuka lake state park

Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park


Buttermilk Falls State Park

Buttermilk Falls Waterfall

cliff jumping buttermilk falls state park

This region is often overlooked as an East Coast RV destination, but we think it is definitely worth a visit!

All of this…and another great giveaway on Episode #26 of RVFTA: Meet Mr. Trailerama!

[contesthopper contest=”4634″]


27 Mar

Planning that Vacation? Let a State Park Surprise Your Family…

National Parks get a whole lot of attention and rightfully so. They are (across the board) breathtaking and phenomenal experiences, and one of the highlights of our national heritage.

State Parks don’t get as much exposure, but over the last four years they have become a foundational part of our family travel. In general, state parks can be more accessible and affordable, offering wonderful hiking, fishing, canoeing, and swimming without the crowds that many of the national parks attract.

Owls Head State Park, Maine

Owls Head State Park, Maine

Camden Hills State Park, Maine

Camden Hills State Park, Maine

High Point State Park, New Jersey

High Point State Park, New Jersey

Two summers ago we set off for a 16 day jaunt through New York State. I didn’t realize at the time that I was pregnant, but that fact might explain why I had done little to no preparation for our trip. I was definitely in the tired and cranky for no apparent reason stage.

We spent one of our first days in the Finger Lakes Region at Keuka Lake State Park and had an amazing time swimming and kayaking. We ended up leaving the park that day with an Empire State Pass and a plan for the rest of our trip. We would hopscotch from state park to state park until we landed at Niagara Falls.

Buttermilk Falls State Park

Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park, New York

Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls State Park

North / South Lake State Park

North / South Lake State Park

This was definitely an ‘aha’ moment for us as a traveling family. Most state parks charge a day-use fee, so a season pass can be a budget friendly way to plan out a vacation if you are going to be exploring a few of them in one trip. State parks also have great educational programs, so you can pair a hike with an activity and everyone is happy.

The prices vary dramatically from state to state, so you definitely have to crunch the numbers and see if they work in your favor. South Carolina has a 7-day pass option, so I am looking into that for our trip to Myrtle Beach next month. However, New Hampshire’s pass for out-of-state residents is pretty steep, so we probably won’t purchase one for our trip this summer.

We bought our New Jersey State Park Pass a few weeks ago on a sunny day in February when we were feeling hopeful about spring being right around the corner. For $50 we gained unlimited access to 50 state parks for the next year. Feels like a bargain to us.

A funny thing happens when you buy a pass to anything. You try to use it as much as possible, right? I think about a pass as a form of encouragement. Once you have it, you look for opportunities to use it. If that pushes you to explore a new park, take a guided wildflower walk, or get that kayak down to the boat launch, it is worth every penny.

We would love to hear about your favorite state park. Near or far, we will put it on our list. After all, we plan on getting there one of these days.

Think Spring.

28 Mar

Mad Squirrels and Free Coffee: Rip Van Winkle Campground

Rip Van Winkle Campgrounds: Saugerties, NY
Before we officially move on to Season 4 we would like to recap a few of our adventures from last summer and fall that didn’t quite make it onto the blog.
We wrapped up our three stop trip to New York State with a four day stay at Rip Van Winkles Campground in Saugerties.  Our last stop, at Branches of Niagara, was pretty awesome: zip lining, fishing, kayaking, and, well–Niagara Falls.  So the bar was set pretty high for the last stop of our grand tour.
When I booked Rip Van Winkles back in the cold of winter I had been seduced by their website’s description of a “clear mountain stream” and “an old fashioned swimming hole.”  Unfortunately, when we checked in at the camp store and asked for directions to the swimming hole we were told that it had pretty well run dry.  Man was I bummed!  But fortunately, the friendly worker behind the front desk proceeded to ask me if I wanted a cup of coffee and then informed me that it was free all day everyday for registered guests.  The river may have run dry but the free coffee was flowing!  And I must say–they made a pretty good brew…
The campground itself was huge, and it was a surprisingly long drive just to get to our site.  This was both good and bad.  Our sites were incredibly spacious and private.  They were more like the kind of sites you would get at a state park, not at a private campground with full hookups.  If you take a look behind Theo in the picture above you can see our camping buddies RV at the adjacent site–if our site was spacious then the two sites together were huge.  It actually took a little stroll through the woods to get to their site.
But the hugeness of the campground was also a disadvantage–particularly when it came to entertaining the little campers.  We couldn’t walk to the pool–we had to pack up the crew into the truck and drive.  The playgrounds, which they called “fun zones” were also spread throughout the campground–and were not exactly in great shape.  There were more snakes playing at the “fun zones” than there were children.
But the natural setting of the campground was woodsy and lovely and deeply relaxing.  If you are camping without kids I would highly recommend Rip Van Winkle.  If you are camping with kids just don’t plan on spending much time utilizing their amenities.  You won’t really have to anyway.  Downtown Saugerties is lovely and the campground makes a great base camp for exploring the Catskills.
If you go you also need to watch out for the mad squirrels.  These energetic critters ate through the screen on our camping buddies hybrid and reeked complete havoc inside.  They had the munchies something fierce!
They must have overdosed on the free coffee back at the camp store.  I know I did…


28 Aug

Campground Review: Branches of Niagara, Grand Island

Three generations of my family recently enjoyed an action packed, two week RV trip through upstate New York.  We kayaked and swam in the Finger Lakes, hiked past 19 waterfalls along the gorge path at Watkins Glen State Park, cliff jumped into a crystal-clear swimming hole near Buttermilk Falls, felt the rush of cool mist blowing off of Niagara Falls, and toured lighthouses and ate like kings and queens in Woodstock and Saugerties.
The highlight of our trip, though, may have been the time we spent at one of America’s most exciting new campgrounds.  Our three day stay at Branches of Niagara, in Grand Island, managed to be both thrilling and relaxing.   Branches is only a ten-minute drive away from America’s oldest and wettest state park, but an even greater adventure can be had right on the grounds of their activity-filled property.
The 70 acre campground has 80 sites and 14 log cabins situated around a surprisingly lovely 8-acre man-made lake that is rimmed with wild flowers and marsh grasses.  The camp store, activity center, and bathhouse are also log cabins, and they give Branches a warm and rustic look and feel.  The sites where our party camped, numbers 22 and 24, were spacious and well shaded, backing up to deep and quiet woods.  Both sites included water and 30 Amp service, and both felt secluded and private but were just a short walk to all of the amenities.  Full hook up sites are also available throughout the park.
 During our first day at Brancheswe headed into Niagara Falls State Park.   We purchased Discovery Passes and proceeded to work our way through all of the major attractions.  We started with the Maid of the Mist boat ride, which comes astonishingly close to the base of Horseshoe Falls.   Then we proceeded to get completely soaked on the Hurricane Deck during the Cave of the Winds tour along the edge of Bridal Falls.  Both of these activities were awe-inspiring and invigorating…and we should have stopped there.
Unfortunately, we decided to head over to the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center and the Aquarium of Niagara—which were mildly interesting—but not worth the walk.  Then we finished our day by watching the corny and disappointing Niagara: Legends of AdventureIMAX movie.   Our entire family was exhausted by the time we ended up sitting around the campfire back at Branches.  So we decided to spend the next day relaxing at the campground.  That is, if you call zip lining with three year old twins relaxing!
The next morning, after eating a healthy breakfast, the entire group headed over to the Eagle Zipline and the adults proceeded to take turns soaring over the lake and hamming it up for the cameras.  Then, after a solid hour of zip lining, we decided to get the kids equipped for some nice, relaxing fishing.  The lake was well stocked and the boys were thrilled to catch a couple of fish with their new poles. After lunch, we saw two staff members bringing the zip lining equipment over to the Hummingbird Line which is designed for younger campers.  I was a bit scared to bring our boys up there but Mom was confident that they would be brave and have fun.  She was so right—but what else is new?
When the boys glided across the lake their gigantic smiles lit up the whole campground.  We finished our day off with some lake swimming, kayaking, and a trip to the on-site Wildlife Show.  It was a great day of camping and we packed in enough adventure for the entire trip.  The Activity Center at Branches of Niagara is clearly the beating heart of the campground.  I highly recommend that you buy the activities pass, which costs an extra 20 dollars per night, per site, but includes unlimited group access to canoe and kayak rentals, and more importantly, to the aforementioned Eagle and Hummingbird zip lines.
Branches of Niagarais a beautiful campground and its Activity Center is world class—but I was even more impressed with the young staff of the campground.  Each staff member made us feel like they were there just to make sure that our family was having a great time.  Not a good time—but a great time.  When we showed up late for the hayride and the tractor was full the driver promised that he would take another trip around just for us.  After exiting the bath house one evening a staffer asked me if anything needed to be cleaned up.  When we showed up at the Activity Center on our last morning another staffer offered us free coffee and asked us about the next leg of our trip. The spirit of this place was just fantastic.   After three years of extensive RVing I would clearly call it one of our family’s favorite campgrounds.
If you go, bring citronella candles to ward off the bugs and, more importantly, bring a sense of child-like wonder and adventure.  This campground felt like our personal playground during our too short, three-night stay—and it will feel that way for your family too.  When my boys get a bit older I would like to show them Niagara again—and I would also like to take them back to Branches. I can’t wait to show their older selves the beauty and grandeur of the falls, and I also can’t wait to watch their smiles light up the campground again when they graduate from the Hummingbird to the Eagle.
27 Aug

We’ve Come a Long Way Babies: Buttermilk Falls State Park

Jeremy and I took the boys on their first road trip when they were 10 weeks old. The prospect of a 12 hour car trip down to North Carolina seemed daunting to us for sure. However, the idea of spending our summer sitting in the house changing diapers and wiping up baby puke got us in the car and on the road pretty quickly.

We realized early into this parenting journey that babies are babies and toddlers are toddlers no matter where you take them. Whether we are hiking in the mountains or lounging on a beach, an outbreak of whining or fighting is as likely as an afternoon thunderstorm in July.

We choose to place these inevitable hazards of childhood against spectacular backdrops and invigorating experiences. Some people stay home with their kids because the idea of traveling with them is overwhelming. Jeremy and I travel with our kids because the idea of staying at home with them is mind numbing. Our boys have big personalities and big energy more suited to the great outdoors than our small backyard.

This has not always been easy. We viewed the last three years as a sort of early immersion bootcamp designed to teach our boys how to walk for miles, sleep in the woods, and have endless fun with only a stick and huge pile of dirt at your fingertips.

The hard work is definitely starting to pay off. This year the boys were a bit older, a bit more independent, and a hell of a lot easier to manage. We found ourselves relaxing beside pools and lakes instead of hovering at the edge, waiting for a toddler to face plant into the water.

Our trip to Buttermilk Falls State Park was one of the best examples of this newfound flexibility. The hike from the Upper Park Entrance down to the swimming hole was a perfect, kid-friendly mile.


The swimming hole was low on account of our dry summer, but we still had a lovely picnic and swim down at the bottom. See adults relaxing? The boys are not strapped down somewhere…just splashing happily and responsibly along the edge.


On the hike down we were well-behaved and minded all of the ‘no swimming’ signs, knowing that a great swim awaited us at the bottom. We lost all self-restraint on the way back up though and couldn’t help a little off-the-beaten-path exploring.


Our real vigilante moment came when we stumbled upon two college-aged girls cliff diving into a deep pool of crystal clear water. They were screaming and laughing and we couldn’t help but stop and watch the spectacle. It took me a few minutes to realize that just a few years ago would have found me doing the same exact thing. I turned to my husband to inform him that I was definitely going to get in on the action. Me too, was his immediate reply.


The boys patiently watched as we dove again and again, waving and laughing every time we popped back up to the surface of the water.

It was fun. Not ‘family fun’. Not ‘fun for the kids’. Just plain fun, as in ‘this is what life should be about for big and little people alike.’

We just can’t wait for the little campers to jump off the cliffs with us. Maybe next summer.

23 Aug

Watkins Glen State Park: Next Stop on the Great Empire Pass Tour

Once we had purchased the Empire Pass at Keuka State Park, the rest of our Finger Lakes’ itinerary fell neatly into place.We headed off to Watkins Glen State Park in search of the boys’ much-beloved waterfalls. I had originally been angling to camp in the park, but the thought of dry camping after purchasing the new luxury camper sent my husband into fits of despair. If you are in the region, you absolutely MUST make a trip here. It was truly more beautiful than any of us had expected.


Couple of tips…

1. Get there early! There was a huge difference in the crowds when we arrived at around 10 am and when we left around 1pm. This place is best enjoyed with a bit of peace and quiet. You will be in even better shape if Max and Theo aren’t there to practice their ‘echo’ calls. Although I would take them over a tour bus any day, I understand that I may be in the minority.

2. Start from the North Entrance and work your way down to the main entrance on the Gorge Trail. It is much more serene at the top and the views looking down the Gorge are stunning.

3. Loop back up the Indian Trail, or if you have little ones like us, get in line at the bottom for the shuttle to bring you back to where you parked. The shuttle was a welcome amenity, however it gets a little tricky…there is not an official line or tickets or anything. So basically people race and shove their way to the front while trying to appear mature and dignified. There are better ways to finish out a hike, but hey, it beat dragging the boys back up the trail.

4. When you are done, go eat at the Glen Mountain Market in downtown Watkins Glen. We had delicious sandwiches here, and the boys devoured their egg and cheeses. The pastries were perfect, and we left with some loaves of bread for our BLT dinner the next night. I wish this deli was in my hometown.

5. Rest up for tomorrow’s trip to another State Park, because you, like us, should eke out every last penny’s worth of value from that Empire Pass. I may have issues, but at least they lead us to some pretty fabulous places…

22 Aug

Hickory Hill Family Camping Resort: Keuka Lake, New York

Campground Review: Hickory Hill Family Camping Resort

Bath, New York

The Finger Lakes region of New York State has a seemingly endless number of beautiful state parks with lovely campgrounds–several of which are located right on the lakes.  But if you are looking for a private campground, with a pool and full hookups, things get a bit trickier.
There are several nice looking campgrounds in the region–but I couldn’t find any gorgeous options that were lakefront.  After camping right on the ocean near Acadia National Park last summer this was a small disappointment. Our Lively Little Campers love water: they love lakes, they love streams, they love rivers, they love the ocean, and perhaps unfortunately, they even love puddles.  In fact, they may love puddles most of all.
So if we can’t find a waterfront campground I start looking real close at pictures of pools.  Because the Lively Little Campers also love pools!  Hickory Hill Family Camping Resort has a lovely pool.  In fact, they have two pools–and a brand new spray-ground.  Bingo!
I was convinced that this was the perfect place for my family and  I spent the cold winter months dreaming about the pool and envisioning Stephanie and myself slicing across the nearby lake on our kayak.
And both of these things did happen–but not without a little irritation first.
While we were on the road en route to the campground our camping buddies, who had arrived early, called us with a scouting report.  They said the campground was lovely–but that the staff wanted all of us to wear paper ID bracelets all week.  We had to have them to get into the pool and we were expected to wear them from check-in to check-out.  They were the kind of bracelets that you get if you want to be able to drink at a concert–you know the kind–irritating and uncomfortable.  I wasn’t going to a concert and I wasn’t planning on saddling up to any bars at the campground to order a drink.  We have seen these kinds of bracelets at other campgrounds recently, and man are they annoying.
Campground owners need to realize that paying customers DO NOT WANT TO WEAR ID TAGS!  They itch and they lower our “vacation mojo” quotient.  When we registered at the front desk we let our complaints be known and the staff tried to explain that they were just trying to keep non-campers (neighborhood folks) out of their brand new splash-ground.  I had no problem bringing the tags to the pool with me but I was not going to wear them otherwise.  Stephanie explained that our kids would probably rip them off while playing if they didn’t accidentally break one of their fingers while rough housing first.  This, for some strange reason, caught their attention (apparently campground owners worry about liability issues).
While we were discussing the bracelet problem two teenagers came in asking for new ones because they had “accidentally” ripped off.  The staff looked befuddled with their own rules.  But they were responsive and agreed that just bringing them to the pool would be fine.  From that point on we had a lovely, lovely stay.  I just hate starting out a vacation with irritations like this–doesn’t everyday life have enough of them? Don’t we go camping to get away from such trivial things.  “Hey campers, enjoy the mountains and the lakes and the pool and the ice cream–just don’t forget to wear your itchy ID bracelet!”  That’s just not for me.
Hickory Hill is located about 10 minutes from Keuka Lake–perhaps the loveliest of the Finger Lakes.  The drive from the campground to the lake was also very pretty–and the roads were filled with wineries and farmers’ markets.  The campground made a great base for our explorations of the region.  It was comfortable and attractive and many of the sites were spacious and private.  We spent our mornings at the lake and our afternoons chilling at their pool and running through the spray-ground.  We kept our ID bracelets in mommy’s purse and it didn’t even matter–no one was checking them anyway.  The friendly staff was too busy making sure everyone was having a great time.
Campground owners beware–ditch the bracelets!  Why not keep a guest list with the lifeguard?  It’s your job to keep unregistered guests out.  I go on vacation to leave my job behind…
11 Aug

Oops. I forgot to plan our trip to the Finger Lakes…

Keuka Lake State Park

Jeremy and I have a well-established division of labor when it comes to our camping trips. He obsesses for months and months over campgrounds and reservations and traveling itineraries while I pointedly ignore any specific questions, offering up irritating shoulder shrugs and grunts in response to his frequent overtures.

I’m pretty sure I know why I do this. As a working mom, my life is full of schedules and to-do lists. I have very little daily mental ‘down-time’ and I guard it jealously. I just can’t think about an enjoyable family activity that might take place a month from now when I am furiously trying to figure out how I am going to get  the boys to their doctor’s appointment on time when they just scheduled a late meeting at work.

Jeremy puts up with my recalcitrant attitude because of this one fact: about a week before we leave on any trip, I kick into rabid vacation planning mode. I search high and low for the best of the best in the region that we are visiting. I find off-the-beaten-trail activities that are just the right blend of fun and kid-friendly. By the time we leave on a trip, my husband and our camping buddies are always confident that I have assembled a daily itinerary that will keep everyone happy.

Except this time I didn’t. For a variety of reasons, the weeks leading up to our 14-day New York State Excursion were jam-packed for me. It was all I could do to get the clothes packed in time for our departure. We left on our trip with exactly one activity planned: a day would most certainly be spent at Niagara Falls. The rest was a bit fuzzy.

Lucky for us, we have gotten pretty good at this game. On our first morning in the Finger Lakes’ Region, we knew that we wanted to spend the day relaxing, swimming, and kayaking so we headed to Keuka Lake State Park, about 30 minutes from where we were camping. The drive to the park was gorgeous, leading us up along the west side of Keuka Lake and giving us a glimpse of the many beautiful houses perched right on the side of the hills and looking like they were about to tumble into the lake.

The state park was perfect: easily accessible with a great recreation area and sparkling clean facilities. The boys spent the day wandering back and forth between the playground and the lake…


…while the adults swam, kayaked, and kicked back.


Jeremy and I found a place to stash the kayak and took a quiet swim far away from the ‘crowds’.


It was here that I finally hatched my plan for the trip. I decided that all of our vacation days must be just like this one. We had paid the daily entry fee when we arrived, but on our way out of the park at the end of the day, we stopped at the ranger station and bought an Empire Pass.  For 65 dollars, this pass would get us into all of the New York State Parks and Recreation Areas for an entire year. We planned on recreating this first day of vacation as we travelled across the state.

And that is exactly what we did. Brilliant planning on my part, don’t you think?

09 Aug

App Review: Campground Owners of New York

The Lively Little Campers recently returned from a 12 day tour of upstate New York.  We spent five days in the Finger Lakes, three days in Niagara, and four days in Saugerties–and made great family memories in each location.  New York state has a wide variety of camping options and it proved to be far more beautiful, and exciting, than I had ever imagined.  We will be spending the next few weeks reviewing campgrounds and writing about our adventures–so please stay tuned for some great posts.

But let’s begin at the beginning.   Our planning for this trip started in the cold winter months with the help of a great new app from the Campground Owners of New York  called the campNYguide.  The app is set up so that you can search for campgrounds under regional headings such as: Catskills, Adirondacks, Finger Lakes, Greater Niagara and many others.

When you find an interesting campground you simply tap their thumbnail  and you are given a description, a list of amenities, a phone number and email address, and a link to their website.  You can also create a list of favorites so that you can narrow your search down after each use.

If you are planning a trip to New York State, or just want to begin exploring its regions and camping options, then this app is highly recommended.  It’s good enough for use on a smart phone, but much better for a tablet.  It’s also absolutely free.  Download it now and start planning your first, or next, Empire State camping adventure.