Learning Ahead: Camping

 Season of Summer Camping

Summer is camping season! Campgrounds are open, tents are aired out, and the makings for s’mores are ready for starry nights surrounding the campfire telling stories and enjoying each other’s company. The smell of campfire and early morning rises in the woods during the cooler hours of the morning define the spirit of summer outside in New England.

Backcountry camping is different from car camping. Car camping allows folks to pack all of their gear into their car, drive to a campsite, and pitch a tent at a maintained campground or an area for camping. Generally, your car is close to where you pitch your tent, and most campground areas have sites and amenities (such as showers, rental equipment, and trails). Backcountry camping involves carrying everything you need in your pack, so you must be frugel with your packing. It also means you might be setting up camp in the woods in an area of your discretion, as opposed to having a site with amenities. It’s a different experience, and both allow for a range of adventure.

Each year, many adventurous folks embark on hiking and camping along the Appalachian Trail (AT). This trail is 2,190 miles, traverses 14 states (Georgia to Maine), and is visited by three million people each year. In Massachusetts’, the AT covers quite a few areas in Western Massachusetts, including our state’s tallest peak, Mount Greylock in Adams, MA. Mount Greylock stands at 3,491 feet. While some attempt to hike and camp the entire AT – which can take several months, others can simply choose to hike sections of the trail closest to where they live and backcountry camp for a few days. In Massachusetts, one can learn more about hiking and camping areas of the Appalachian Trail by visiting the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s website.

Inpired to hike the AT, camp along the trail, or take your family camping? It’s best to make sure you are prepared. There are many local outfitters in our region that can help you get ready and understand the kind of gear and equipment you will need, safety/first aid recommendations, books, and trails that you might need. Be sure to also check your local library or AMC chapter to learn about different courses for backpacking and backcountry camping so you are best prepared.

Local Outfitters

  • The Arcadian Shop – Lenox, MA
  • Berkshire Outfitters – Adams, MA
  • Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters – Hadley, MA
  • Eastern Mountain Sports – Hadley, MA & Pittsfield, MA

Local Campgrounds

  • Tully Lake Campground, The Trustees & Army Corps of Engineers – Royalston, MA
  • October Mountain State Park, The Department of Conservation & Recreation – Lee, MA
  • DAR State Forest, The Department of Conservation & Recreation – Goshen, MA
  • Mohawk Trail State Forest, The Department of Conservation & Recreation – Charlemont, MA

If you’re looking for literary inspiration and a good laugh, read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. This novel describes Bryson’s journey along the AT, hiking with an old friend, and their various comical adventures and difficulties backpacking and camping along the AT. It also provides a good history of the trail and is a great read.

Poetry is another literary point of entry to camping, including “Camping Out” by Edwin Gladding Burrows which you can find at www.poetryfoundation.org. Give it a read and notice how Burrows describes the natural world around him to evoke stillness and simplicity that embody profound memories synonymous with the different plant and bird species he witnesses.

“I listened for the rain at Mt. Monadnock,
for the barred owl on a tent peak
among scrub pines in Michigan.
I can hear my father stir
and the cot creak. The flap opens.
He goes out and never returns
though the coffee steams on the grill
and the redstart sings in the alders.”

The description of his tent and the coffee being prepared are two aspects of in camping in which most campers are familiar; simple moments personified by simple tasks. In Burrows’ poem, the reader has a sensory experience, it’s almost as if you can feel the soft earth, the smell of the pines, or the sound of rain hitting against the tent. Camping allows the senses to become more intune with the natural world, it reduces our living routine to the essentials – to the tasks that remind us of simple living and of the other creatures and plants with which we share our environment.

[Photo credit: (cc) R.E. Barber Photography]


Think about this:

  • How does camping remind us to live simply?
  • Who created the Appalachian Trail? Why?
  • If you were to write a poem about camping like Burrows, what aspects of camping would you focus on? What particular activities or moments remind you of camping?
  • How can camping connect you with a deeper appreciation to your home and all if it’s modern day amenities?

Download our July/August edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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