Attractions in and around Topeka this summer include bare-bones campgrounds where participants strive to leave no trace, cabins with enough beds for large families, and luxury RVs that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Campgrounds and RV parks often have inviting swimming pools, playgrounds, and recreation areas. Bathrooms are in many ways as beautiful as those found in hotels.
Roughing has evolved into a variety of experiences. And it’s growing in popularity.
Emporian Brian Muench, camping at Lake Shawnee Campground, is traveling with a camper in a Sun Lite trailer. In the back of his truck, he carries two mountain bikes (just for show, he said) and canoes that he and his wife can use to hit the water.
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Camping allows him to get away and let go of his worries, he said.
“When I’m at home, I always have the feeling that I have to do something,” said Münch. “I get out here, when I have everything set up, I can paint, listen to music or read a book.”
Camping’s popularity grew shortly after Kansas became a state
Although it wasn’t that long ago that settlers actually plundered it, recreational camping first became popular in the United States towards the end of the 19th century.
Essays by Scottish-American naturalist John Muir, who lived for a time in Yosemite National Park, and Thomas Hiram Holding, who wrote The Camper’s Handbook, helped spark interest.
Shortly after the first automobiles were built, leisure vehicles entered the scene. One of the first models was a 1915 Ford Roadster Model-T.
Campgrounds in and near Topeka in 2022
Fast forward to today, where dozens of RV parks and campgrounds in northeastern Kansas alone offer places to unwind and enjoy the great outdoors.
That doesn’t mean that campers can just drop in and find a spot.
“It’s always best to have a reservation,” said Charlie Reaser, co-owner of Topeka/Capital City KOA Journey. “In recent years, the increasing number of campers on the streets and even tents has meant that without a reservation it is often difficult to find a place.”
In addition to Lake Shawnee Campground and Topeka/Capital City KOA Journey, Topeka has Deer Creek Valley RV Park, Forbes Landing RV Park, and Topeka Hilltop Campground (actually in Grantville but only 9 miles from downtown Topeka).
Further afield are several locations at Lake Perry, Clinton Lake, Milford Lake and Pomona Lake. Prairie Band Casino & Resort also has its own RV park.
Blackthorn Retreat, just north of Randolph, offers primitive camping, maintained and semi-maintained campgrounds, and cabin rentals. Of particular note are the glamping sites, which take pitched tents to a whole new level of luxury.
More:Primitive Camping: What is it, why do you do it, and what gear do you need to do it right?
Dealing with mobile home technology
Glamping tents come already assembled, making this experience a breeze. Living in cabins usually means bringing some bedding and a few other small items.
Camping in tents requires more planning. Online checklists help with the preparation.
Motorhome driving, on the other hand, requires a lot more knowledge. Drivers must be willing to take care of maintenance.
“A guy told me that the best day of his life was when he bought an RV and the best day of his life was when he sold his RV,” said Muench, the Emporia camper, with one To smile. “There are some attitudes. There are some cracks. It takes some time. But it’s not terrible. You can learn it. You can google it.
“I’ve used a few Google sites to get things done, specifically to winterize them. It’s a little intimidating.”
Deer Creek RV Park manager Randy Whistler recommended RV 101 classes, which can be found online. He said drivers need to be prepared in case problems arise.
“When we traveled by RV, we traveled in the spring or fall,” he said. “The weather was good. You know when you’re driving down the street it’s hard for your vehicle to drive in the heat.”
Reaser, the co-owner of Topeka/Capital City KOA Journey, recommended camping first.
“Make sure you’ll enjoy it,” he said. “It’s not for everyone. It’s for most people, but not for everyone. When it comes time to buy an RV, it’s best to buy something that’s newer.
“They have fewer problems with major components, refrigerators, air conditioners and the like. And when you find a way, first experience actually renting one.”
Be prepared like a Boy Scout
Whistler said things as simple as buying an extra set of dishes, linens, silverware, cookware and salt and pepper shakers to store in the RV can help.
“You end up lugging that stuff around every time,” he said.
Whistler said a stun gun, mace, or gun are things campers should also have on hand, especially when camping in areas with large predators.
Münch has had a few tight deals with unexpected four-legged visitors. Once a raccoon ate his groceries.
On another occasion, “a family of skunks just walked up to us,” Muench said. “It makes you terribly nervous. But they didn’t do anything.”
That hasn’t stopped him from surrounding himself in nature.
“It’s kind of a grounding exercise. I work for a mental health center. I’ve been there for 28 years,” he said. “I think it’s good for mental health to just go back to basics.”
Catheryn Hrenchir is a feature writer for Topeka-Capital Journal. She can be reached at email@example.com or (785) 817-6383.