Last weekend my husband surprised me by suggesting that he would be open to going camping for one night over the weekend. I was thrilled! I’ve been suggesting (read: nagging) for a long time that we go camping together. I’ve gone with my nine year old and I would love to introduce the kids to more camping/backpacking but I really want my husband to be on board – AND excited – about this type of family activity.
Here’s the deal: you need to backpack with people who WANT to be backpacking. If you force someone to backpack with you and they are not into it, it will be a disaster. How many people looked at me, horrified, when I told them I was spending 13 consecutive days in the woods last summer. It’s just not everyones’ idea of fun. (I totally don’t get this. But I am stating facts.) Anyway: this camping trip felt very high stakes to me.
I started researching locations and planning, but then things got tricky. I tend to use the terms “camping” and “backpacking” interchangeably. Basically anytime I say “camping” I actually mean “backpacking.” IMO, if you can see a car, a road, or signs of civilization while you are in the woods then you are not really in the woods. So when my husband gave me his list of camping stipulations the extent of the errors of my loose language became apparent. He didn’t want to:
- drive too far
- walk too far
- carry too much
- sleep in the state of Massachusetts*
- see other people
- eat any dehydrated meals
- or any meals with Indian spices**
*this is a blog post in and of itself
**this is because my all time favorite backpacking meal is Thai Curry from Good To Go. Best backpacking meal ever. I eat it like 2x a day while backpacking. And I talk about it frequently; maybe too much in retrospect.
In short: we should just stay home. Even car camping (uck) wouldn’t meet all of these stipulations. However, I was determined to have a backpacking experience while meeting all of these criteria. And when I am determined to make something happens it happens. Even if I had to blaze and trail and clear a campsite… it was happening.
Two days and eight hours of internet research later we were heading to Beebe Hill State Forest and Fire Tower. This location seemed to meet all of the stated criteria. It was only about 35 minutes from our house, only about 3/4 of a mile hike in, it didn’t seem to suffer from overuse, it is just on the NY side of the border, and, luckily for my darling husband, I have all the best backpacking gear. Many geese have given their feathers to ensure that nothing I own weighs more than an ounce.
There are really not that many locations close to the Capital District that are short hikes in with designated campsites or lean-tos…like a beginner backpacking location (and if you know of one comment below and share the love!). I’d never been on this hike before and I was keeping my fingers crossed that it wasn’t a dud.
We arrived at the base of the trail and my heart just sunk. The parking area was FULL. There were people, dogs, kayaks, fishing rods, cyclists, hikers…everyone and their mother was there. Fake it till you make it. I smiled brightly and suggested that they were all day hikers. We should go check the trail register and see if anyone else was headed to the Lean To. We walked in to the register and based on the number of people around us, and the number of entries, I determined that at most 2.5% of people were signing in before they hike.!! It might be a long night. At this point there was nothing to do but hike in. And so we did.
We hiked up the .75 miles to the Lean To. The hike was steep in sections but short. Our packs were heavier than they should be because we brought steaks and beers with us. Even on a short hike up you still feel the weight, but, the pain was short lived. We reached the Lean To and found it… EMPTY! phew. “Just as I thought it would be!” I exclaimed.
The Lean To was super cute. Tiny – maybe only a 4 person LT, and mostly clean. There was a nice fire pit and ample downed and dead firewood available. It was a short walk to the fire tower. We dropped our stuff and headed over to check out the incredible view.
The coolest thing about all fire towers is that the view is unexpectededly amazing every time. I mean, you *know* it will be a great view but you are always awestruck when you actually see it. This experience was no different. The fall foliage was in full swing, the sun was close to setting and it was simply spectacular.
We watched the sunset and realized that there was a giant moon rising as well. Turns out it was a super moon night and we had no idea! The moonrise was even more amazing than the sunset. No matter which way we turned we saw amazing colors and fascinating astrological events.
Really, this was even better than I had thought it would be. Eventually we made our way back to the lean to and enjoyed a fire and dinner. Before we knew it it was hiker midnight (8pm for us) and we turned in. Whenever I woke up that night (which was pretty frequently…sidenote: I thought going to ground after sleeping in a hammock would be no big deal. OMG. Who is still sleeping on the ground by choice!?! Hammocks are so much more comfortable.) the forest was illuminated by a giant moon and it was enchanting.
We slept in the next morning but managed to hit the trail by 8:30…and be at the car by 8:45. In all it was a great experience and I can’t wait to go back with the kids.
If you are looking for a great beginner backpacking location near the Capital District, this is it! Short walk, engaging fire tower, ample firewood and close to home. You will not be disappointed.