The temperatures may not be cooperating but, rest assured, fall weather is just around the corner.

Cooler temperatures are just the inspiration to planning a weekend camping trip or impromptu overnight experience in the backyard.

“I actually prefer to camp in the fall versus the summer,” Christine Maddox said. “I love to sit around a campfire at night, making s’mores in my sweatpants and sweatshirt.”

Maddox grew up camping with her grandparents and parents and has enjoyed everything from an RV at a park in South Carolina to tents and sleeping bags in northern California. While she considers herself a well-traveled camper, some of the best places are close to home.

There are a plethora of camping opportunities around Northwest Missouri, including Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska, she said. Some of her favorites are less than an hour away in any direction. The key, Maddox said, is to know what you want to do and plan accordingly.

“I love to hike and explore, so I definitely look for camping sites that offer nice trails, lots of wilderness and have a rustic feel,” she said. “But there’s other trips that I want to relax more, so I look for places that cater to primitive camping so you don’t get a lot of pavements where RVs would park.”

Campgrounds in the area feature hiking trails, simple campsites, RV options, boating and swimming and sightseeing. Maddox has a list of her favorites that aren’t always the first ones people mention for the area.

AOK Campground, located at 12430 County Road 360 in St. Joseph, is easy to get to and close to home.

“Weston Bend State Park is a must-see,” Maddox said. “There are stunning views, great trails to hike and plenty of opportunities to see nature.”

The park is located at 16600 MO-45 in Weston, Missouri.

Basswood Resort, 15880 Interurban Road in Platte City, Missouri; Big Lake State Park, 204 Lake Shore Drive in Craig, Missouri; and Pony Express RV Park, 4469 MO-33 in Maysville, Missouri; are perfect if you want traditional camping coupled with the comfort of great locals, she said.

“When I look for sightseeing when we’ve got a group of kiddos, I love Watkins Mill and Indian Cave,” Maddox said.

Watkins Woolen Mill State Park and State Historic Site, 26208 County Road RA in Kearney, Missouri, allows visitors to tour the old grounds of a mill operation. The property is large and lends itself to a good hike and self-guided tour, Maddox said.

“There’s also an indoor museum that offers a ton of history and information, so guests should go in there first before venturing outside,” she said. “Our family could walk around that property for hours.”

If you head north, Indian Cave State Park, located at 65296 720 Road in Shubert, Nebraska, offers another look at history, specifically caves that have early drawings from Native Americans.

Maddox said to keep an eye on updates from the state park, however. Flood damage forced the boardwalk leading to the caves to be closed and repair work is expected to start this fall.

For some great hiking, Maddox suggests both Wallace State Park, 10621 MO-121 in Cameron, Missouri, and Perry State Park, 5441 W. Lake Road in Ozawkie, Kansas.

If packing up the car and hitting the highway aren’t your thing, you still can get away by creating a backyard retreat.

Stacey Reynolds enjoys a good campout but prefers to do it 20 feet from her backdoor.

“I’ve never really been camping, but hanging out with my family, roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories is the best,” she said. “We learned how to do a makeshift camping spot in the yard a few years ago.”

Reynolds said the only real expense was purchasing a $50 tent from the store. Other than that, it wasn’t a huge investment.

In the beginning, Reynolds and her husband had young children who didn’t really last overnight.

“They were all about the campfire, the food, stories and yard games, but when it was ‘lights out,’ it didn’t work so well,” she said. “They got a little nervous about all the night sounds and the possibility of bugs crawling in their sleeping bags.”

Eventually, they grew accustomed to the steady buzzing of cicadas, the occasional owl’s hoot and coyote howling in the distance. They became the comforts of nature, Reynolds said.

To make it a true camping experience, Reynolds said her children pack a bag, gather their bedding and pick out their favorite snacks. A big rule is that you don’t go in and out of the house. It’s camping after all.

“We have a great tree line around the house and property so we can see the house but it’s on the other side of trees, so it does feel like we’re camping,” Reynolds said. “We usually only do it for one night so it’s more of an event than a chore.”

The family uses a couple of large plastic totes to keep their supplies in. Those are filled with fire pokers for roasting, a small grill, utensils, a mess kit, bug spray and other camping basics. That container lives in the garage and is pulled out for camping.

Two tents are set up, one for the kids and one for the adults. The family dug a large fire pit to enable them to have a small fire and still maintain a safe distance from structures. They also have a fire extinguisher in the camping kit.

Reynolds said their evenings are filled with teaching the kids how to cook basic dishes, cleaning up using just bottled water and, of course, making s’mores. Last year, the family added an outdoor projector to the mix for a great backyard movie and always tells a ghost story or two.

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