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North Hills Monthly

From Primitive Camping to Car Camping, Nature Lovers Have Many Options

Mar 30, 2020 02:59PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Photo by Luci-Jo DiMaggio

Sleeping under the stars, looking for constellations, listening to night sounds. Camping is a wonderful way to connect to nature and each other.

Luci-Jo DiMaggio and her husband, Jason Palm, often tent camp in the summer months with their children, Noah, 13, and Anna, 11. The couple each grew up enjoying nature and often camped as a young couple prior to having children. When their kids came along, it was important for them to also grow up appreciating nature.

“I love all the little things about camping. I love cooking over a fire, and going to sleep to the sounds of the woods. I love waking up and getting the fire going again and making coffee on the little camp stove,” DiMaggio said.

The family usually travels to campgrounds via car and then stays in a tent, which is often referred to as “car camping” or “tent camping.” According to DiMaggio, they enjoy using a tent for their temporary home.

“You buy a good tent and it will be good to you for years. For me, I like the simplicity of the tent. I like the idea of my husband and I setting up our home for a few days, and having everything we need in the trunk of the car,” she said.

In the state forest setting, primitive camping is the most basic, according to Rachael Mahony, environmental education specialist for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Forbes State Forest. Primitive camping is backpack-style camping.

“This type of camping requires that you carry your equipment on your back to where you plan to sleep and there are no modern amenities available, such as running water or latrines,” she said. Most primitive campers use a tent.

That’s not to be confused with folks who camp in more primitive-style camping sites, but drive in.

“Another type of camping that is popular on state forest land is motorized camping. This type of camping requires reservations for a campsite, but often these campsites are primitive in that they lack modern amenities,” Mahony explained. “Motorized camping allows a vehicle, or in some cases, a small RV/camper to access a campsite.”

Many campers also choose to spend their outdoor time utilizing an RV—a motorhome, van, camper, trailer, or tent camper. The vehicle will have sleeping areas, often a refrigerator and stove, and a small bathroom area. Those who use an RV may also want electrical and sewage hookups, which aren’t available at every campground.

The Laurel Hill State Park Complex is home to three state parks and campgrounds, with varying forms of amenities, according to Park Operations Manager Mike Mumau. Laurel Hill State Park has 264 sites that range from primitive to those with electricity and sewage hookups, bathhouses, multiple playgrounds and other extras. Laurel Ridge State Park has only primitive camping sites with pit and flush toilets and water available in limited areas. The third, Kooser State Park campground, is very unique.

“It is one of the original car camping campgrounds in Pennsylvania that came about when people began utilizing their cars to tour in the 1940s,” Mumau said.

The park has been totally transformed in recent years and now includes options from tent sites to camping sites complete with electric, water and sewage hookups for RVs. Like its sister campground, it also has bathhouses with showers, playgrounds, fire rings and other extras.

Campers should know and understand the different types of campgrounds, Mahony suggests, as well as brush up on the many state forests and state parks. Every park has different rules and regulations, reservation systems and policies and additional amenities including playgrounds, pools, beaches, and recreational rooms.

Bear Run Campground, which borders Moraine State Park in Portersville, is privately owned by the Wehr family. Close to McConnell's Mill, Bear Run offers RV and tent camping sites as well as cabin rentals. While owner Todd Wehr said that they see a high percentage of baby boomers, they are seeing another trend as well.

"We are definitely seeing a nice increase in multigenerational, multicultural guests, especially millennials and Gen Xers,” he said. “They are attracted to the abundant recreational opportunities of Moraine State Park and our bordering natural settings for tenting, cabins and sites for smaller RVs."

He added that there are a lot of reasons that people camp.

“The appeal of camping is to be able to relax and gain real perspective; to forget about your daily worries and enjoy refreshing, much needed recreation,” Wehr said. “It’s a time for friends and family, and making new camper friends.”

For DiMaggio and her family, camping provides a real escape. 

“As my children have gotten older, camping is a beautifully tech-free zone,” she said. “I love that they totally accept this without question in the context of camping.”

She added that camping is also very affordable, with very few sites costing more than $45 a night for tent camping.

For more information on the state parks and forests, visit 

To learn more about Bear Run Campground, visit