As 2021 comes to an end, our readers and team members are chiming in to reflect on all the camping adventures (good and bad) that made this year fun, exciting, and memorable.
From Thanksgiving dinner with family in the RV and camping with strangers in Mexico to close calls with snakes and bears and wrong turns on the hiking trail—these travel highs and lows kept us on our toes in 2021 and taught us lessons you can only learn from life on the open road.
Best Camping Memories of 2021
“The memories that stand out the strongest are when things don’t go according to plan and you just adjust your expectations and roll with it. Accidentally booking the ADA group campsite at a campground in Plumas National Forest was a happy accident—while it was more expensive than the other regular sites, it was a blessing to have so much extra space and our own private bathroom block.” —Erin Thiem
“I solo roadtripped up and down the West Coast from California to Oregon, back down to California, through Oregon, and then to Washington in my van Nyxie in the month of August. In that time, I solo backpacked the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood and took a wrong detour up the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) going toward Washington, hiking a total of 23 miles on the fourth day to make it back to my van in the parking lot.
Before that, I hiked sections of the PCT around Mount Hood, falling in love with this section of the trail. Since Mount Hood was unusually bare without snow, I hiked as far up as I could go which was around 9,000 feet. I visited Crater Lake National Park for several days and did several hikes, of course. At one point, I hightailed it to Yosemite to get on a Half Dome permit last minute but missed the crew due to no cell phone service in the park, so I hiked Cathedral Lakes and Clouds Rest instead. I even broke out my tube to catch some water play and sun at Tenaya Lake.” —Jessica Lawson
“I made a traditional Thanksgiving meal in our small motorhome kitchen for our family of five. It’s a small space so I cooked the pumpkin pie early and began a turkey breast in a crockpot. I made green bean casserole and crescent rolls in our tiny oven, and noodles and gravy on the stove. It was a fun challenge to undertake but we all loved it.” —Rebecca Hazelton
“We spent a wonderful 4 months working and camping in central Colorado, greeting other campers and ensuring their camping experience was spectacular. We made so many connections with other camping enthusiasts. We were invited on hikes, to family dinners, game nights, and story times around campfires. It was a true community experience for us.” —Tracey Russel
“My favorite camping memory of 2021 was our family vacation to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. A special highlight of the trip was our stay at a glamping location where my boys were amazed by the nightly Milky Way display. We also adored our quaint cabin in Grand Teton National Park. Other highlights of the trip included wildlife spotting in Lamar Valley, the Cody Nite Rodeo, and hiking the Jenny Lake Trail.” —Stephanie Puglisi, VP of Content
“Our favorite camping memory of 2021 is also our worst camping memory. We spent a week in Texas learning how to take care of our rig. We pushed up our arrival date in an effort to beat the snow that was coming. Not that it helped. When we arrived, the water at our site was already frozen. After an hour with a blow dryer, we were finally hooked up.
After the snow and ice hit, we spent the next week with intermittent power, trying to stay warm. The next week was the class and we learned a lot and met awesome RVers from across the U.S., including many that we’d talked to online. We left Texas feeling more confident about ourselves and our ability to care for our rig. Before the class, we were very hesitant about trying to do repairs to our rig, but during the class, we learned that it’s really not that difficult.” —Julie Ryan
“In June I met up with friends for a weekend camping trip near Pilot Mountain State Park in North Carolina. We hiked, camped, off-roaded, and enjoyed the epic view of Pilot Mountain from a nearby spacious private campground. Although it was peak camping season we only encountered a few other campers and no one out on the trails. We also enjoyed an ice cream in the nearby town on Main Street. Sadly, there was a forest fire caused by an escaped campfire at the mountain this fall that burned more than 1,000 acres. The state park is reopening this month as the fire is contained.” —Ashley Rossi, Managing Editor
“Camping in Mexico with an absolute stranger was hands down one of the most fun things I’ve done and I would 1,000 percent do it again. I had met this person only briefly on Instagram but she had a break from school and I live on the road so we quickly hatched together a plan. She flew from Seattle to San Diego, and together we drove to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.
It was one of the most amazing weeks of my life. We hung out on the beach, enjoyed fresh fruits and yummy food, chased my dogs as they ran off into the desert, and laughed like I hadn’t laughed in a while. On our way back to San Diego we stopped in Slab City, experienced the desert in the middle of March (which I do not recommend), and got to visit the Slab City Library which was a ton of fun for me, a nerd. I haven’t talked to her very much since, which is incredibly unfortunate in my opinion, but if we never talk again, we’ll always have Mexico.” —Jupiter
Worst Camping Memories of 2021
“My worst memory from this year was taking the wrong turn on a detour while backpacking the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood and having to backtrack and hike 23 miles my last day, as my permit indicated. I was having a wonderful solo trip so far, though some of the river crossings were quite challenging, and I ended up having to wear wet socks most of the time.” —Jessica Lawson
“My worst camping memory of the year was winter camping at an Oregon ski resort and being surrounded by a bunch of drunk partying campers in below-freezing temperatures all night long.” —Erin Thiem
“I almost got eaten by a bear while car camping in Colorado. Hottie, my RV, was in the shop having some carburetor work done, so I rented a car and decided to car camp. How different could it be from vanlife? I quickly learned that it’s nothing like vanlife and my Texan self was not prepared for bears. I kept food in the car. Bear canister? Never heard of it. Windows? Cracked, because it was hot for some reason. This went as one might expect.
I woke up in the middle of the night because my Great Pyrenees would not stop barking, and I looked up and down the forest road to see an adult bear ambling toward the car. A few minutes later we heard our neighboring campsite yelling and banging pots in the way that one allegedly does to scare bears away. We made it out alive and our neighbors were unscathed, but I will forever be skeptical of camping in bear country.” —Jupiter
“While leaving a central Colorado fuel station, I turned out of the exit too sharply and destroyed one of our baggage doors. I shipped the damaged baggage door to an RV repair shop in Indiana to have a new ‘skin’ replaced and they accidentally threw my damaged door in the trash. The repair shop replaced my damaged door with a new door but failed to ship the new door to us. The shipping delay caused us to remain at a campground for an additional 2 weeks and when I finally received the door, the paint lines didn’t match the existing paint schemes.” —Tracey Russel
“Our worst camping experience of 2021 was finding ourselves in the middle of the Texas Snowpocalypse. We were luckier than some as we were at a campground that had propane on-site and the power rolled off and on about every 30 minutes to an hour. This lasted for 4 to 5 days before the power finally stayed on. However, it was another 2 or 3 days before the roads were clear and the town re-opened.” —Julie Ryan
“I live in Southern California and in the winter I regularly head to the desert to camp and ride dirt bikes. During one such recent trip, I had one of the scariest experiences of my life. My friends and I typically camp and ride on public land in Imperial County, near the Mexican border. It’s a sprawling area perfect for dispersed camping. It’s also a popular spot for target practice, and it’s not uncommon to hear the sound of gunshots or see discarded bullet casings on the ground.
On this particular day, we were looking for somewhere to set up camp. We drove to a spot where we’ve camped before, a small open area surrounded by hills, and parked our trucks. Before unloading our dirt bikes or any of our gear, we heard shots being fired nearby, just over the ridge. It can be hard to judge distance in the desert, but this sounded a lot closer than we were comfortable with. We couldn’t see the shooter, so one of my friends went off to see if he could track them down and let them know we were there.
Two of us remained in place and were talking while leaning up against our respective pickup trucks when suddenly a bullet came out of nowhere, ricocheted off the ground, and struck my friend’s truck. He was standing mere feet from where it hit. In a collective moment of panic, we ducked down behind our vehicles and yelled “HEY!” in the general direction of the shooter. However, the shots kept coming, so we got back in our trucks and drove out of there as quickly as possible. We found another camp spot and everything was fine in the end, once we managed to shake the unnerving feeling of having literally dodged a bullet.” —Sanna Boman, Editor in Chief
“On one camping trip, we encountered a large snake—my worst fear—on an overgrown trail that caused me and one of my friends to have a slight panic attack and turn around before we could finish our hike. At least we weren’t at the campground!” —Ashley Rossi, Managing Editor
“We drove our 32-foot motorhome from Ohio to Georgia with our three kids and two of their friends. Because we were going to one location and staying for a week, we decided to buy a car dolly and tow our van, which made this trip nerve-wracking. One of the nights we couldn’t find anywhere to park. The spot we had planned to stay at looked fine from the satellite map view. However, after pulling in we were told they didn’t have a space large enough for us and that the only way out was to back out.
This campground’s main road was so small, and it was going to be impossible to back out. I ended up backing our van out of the car dolly, my husband unhooked the car dolly and moved it by hand, backed our rig out, then reconnected the dolly and drove the van back into place. It was embarrassing but taught us that we don’t fit everywhere, and we should always check before we pull in.” —Rebecca Hazelton