Camping at Max V. Shaul State Park

For the last few springs, I’ve asked the girls what they’d like to do over the summer, and every year, the first and most enthusiastic response is “Go camping!’

It’s funny, because I wasn’t raised in a camping family. I think I had a single overnight in a backyard with the Girl Scouts, and then my next camping experience wasn’t until college, visiting Cute W’s family. Considering how infrequently we’ve camped, and how consistently each camping trip has been plagued by bad weather, I’m always surprised by how large it looms as the girls’ idea of Ultimate  Summer Fun.

Summer is hurtling toward us, and the schedule’s already getting tight, so I thought it would be less stressful to knock the Single Most Important Thing That We Simply Must Do This Summer (according to the girls, at least) off the list right away. Not that we’re finished camping for the season. But at least this way I won’t be panicking in early August that I’m a bad mother for failing to plan any camping at all.

By the time I arrived at this clever idea, however, all the really cool people–you know, the actual campers–had already settled their tent camping plans, and most local campsites were completely full for Memorial Day Weekend. We settled on Max V. Shaul State Park, because it wasn’t too far (about 50 minutes from us) and there was still space available. We knew nothing about it. It’s a state park, we reasoned. How bad could it be?

The camping was great. Max Shaul is small enough that we felt comfortable letting our kids run free (although, again, I am known among my peers as being a devil-may-care, free-range mama). The campsite area is wooded (unlike our last site at Glimmerglass) and not as densely spaced as Thompson’s Lake, so it felt a tiny bit more private than other places we’ve camped.


There’s a decent playground, a playing field and pavilion, and the bathrooms were pleasant and neutral-smelling. Here’s a cute one:


In fact, the only bathroom complaint was from J, who didn’t like the bugs that collected there. On one of our bathroom visits we ran into a teenage girl who seemed to be an exchange student from somewhere in Asia. She was nearly in tears over a bug who was apparently terrorizing her and preventing her from being able to sit on the toilet. When I asked her what she needed me to swat away, the teen squealed and pointed to a lovely little white moth. “But that’s so pretty,” J breathed, while I coaxed the moth out of the stall. The girl managed to stammer out a thank you while J steeled herself to approach the long-legged, uglier bugs with a greater sense of calm. I think seeing the big girl’s unreasonable fear emboldened her.

There was a hiking trail and an area where the girls could fish, but I think that if we’d wanted to stay on site for the whole weekend, it would have been a bit boring. It’s also close enough to Highway 30 that civilization, in the form of occasional traffic sounds, intrude on the whole wilderness experience. But Max Shaul is close to gorgeous Mine Kill State Park, the New York Power Authority’s Visitors Center, and Lansing Manor, all worth a trip. They’re getting another post later.

Beyond our outings, though, the camping experience is just a lovely family bonding time. The girls delight in setting up our territory, and they make themselves at home right away. Too much at home, really. They brought along one of their most irritating household habits: discarding dirty socks wherever.

With planning ahead, meal preparation feels like its own little adventure. We’d planned a hot dogs/beans/corn-on-the-cob meal for one night, and on the second night we had pre-made burritos that we just reheated in a foil pan over the fire. Cute W had brought along a flint and steel, and taught J and M to start a fire with them. A crucial ingredient was the ultra-dry lint we’d been collecting from our clothes drier to get the sparks started. “Just like the pioneers used,” Cute W quipped.

Continuing with the wilderness skills, Cute W also taught the girls how to cast. I sat and read a book. We could walk to a fishing spot from our campsite, although it wasn’t particularly picturesque. And no, they didn’t catch anything. Actually, by the time they got around to fishing, Cute W was afraid that J would manage to catch a fish and M wouldn’t. J, my 7-year-old, seems to be a natural at this wilderness thing, and she was pretty much kicking 9-year-old M’s butt all over the place. More on that in the next camping post.

We boiled eggs and fried up turkey bacon for one breakfast, but here we’re just heating up bagels. When I left the East Coast to attend college in the Midwest, I totally laughed at how our college grill prepared bagels, by frying them up in a pan with butter. But there’s no denying that it’s freakishly good.

Want to make butter-drenched carbo-loading even worse? Top it with Nutella. Oh, yes we did.

The girls got along like best friends all weekend long. When it’s just the four of us and we’re doing something interesting, they could hang out together for hours without a problem. They loved wandering through the woods, setting up fairy houses, giggling inside the tent, touring the campsites, and, of course, poking at the fire.

So, how about you? Do you have a favorite local camping spot? Or are you camping-phobic? A great way to start is with a backyard campout. Check out my article on the Great American Backyard Campout over at for a little inspiration.


  1. ooooh thanks for the camping tips! We have a site set for late July, but we’ll keep this in mind for another trip! Might need the burrito recipe though!

  2. @Hollow Squirrel: these burritos were very basic, but have I already talked about my new Burrito Revelation? Puree one of those jarred chipotle peppers with some sour cream (maybe Greek yogurt?) and you have a unbelievably-yummy-but-too-spicy-for-the-kids sauce. Then you can throw in, say, some black beans to make it more substantial. And give the kids plain ol’ black beans because they’re lame. Or, at least, mine are.

    Where are you camping? Been anyplace extra-good?

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