I’m All for Camping If Not for the Overnight


I Visited a Campsite in Punderson State Park

Punderson Lake is seen through the trees along a trail in Punderson State Park in Newbury.

By Anna Krejci

My spouse and I are new to camping.  No matter that I went tent camping as a youngster. It had been a long, long time since I’d spent a night in a tent.  We doubted that we could fall asleep on the ground, so my spouse and I invested in an air mattress.  We have yet to use it. Our attempt at overnight tent camping last spring failed.  We have everything we need for a camping trip. We have a tent, sleeping bags, and a cast iron skillet for open fire cooking, to name a few.  We made reservations at a camp site at Punderson State Park, which is not far from Cleveland.  In fact, we purposefully chose a park that was within an hour’s drive from home so if we had to bail, we could. We could return home to sleep in a bed.  It was smart thinking since we needed to go home early.  The weather in May turned out to be too cold.

I share the story because it was still fun, and elements of the day trip were successful.  We hiked along a trail by the lake.  I love physical activity paired with conversation, so I am happy walking quite a way with a partner.  Our campsite had a fire pit and grill, so we cooked chicken, corn, rice, and beans in a skillet over an open flame.  Everything could go in one skillet, which made things easier.  Cooking dinner in the great outdoors gave me quite a sense of accomplishment.  It took us longer than if we were using a kitchen oven, but I loved the challenge, even though I hoped I wouldn’t have to miss dinner that night if the chicken ended up being undercooked.  We don’t even have a patio grill at home, so the cooking really was a new experience.  We had a backup plan.  We packed ham and cheese sandwiches in case our attempt at starting a cooking fire failed.  I like to be prepared, especially when the alternative to preparedness is missing a meal.  I love cooking so much; I think it must be because I appreciate good food.  Mealtimes with good company is one of my great pleasures in life.  Our entire outing that day revolved around a good hike and a meal, in addition to a lovely ride through rural Ohio to arrive at the campsite.

The sun shined on us the day in May 2023 when we went to the park.  It was too cold at night for us to have been comfortable sleeping in a tent anyway.  That was overly optimistic planning on our part.  Good camping weather will probably start after Memorial Day weekend.  We were out several weeks prior to that.

Camping reservations fill up in advance.  Punderson State Park had a very nice setup.  There was a shower house with plumbing and a spout to fill your jugs with water.  The campsites were close together, but if you are new to camping and the outdoors, it feels more secure to have other campers around.  At least, that is my opinion.  The campsite we had was wooded.  There was room to park a vehicle and there was an electrical outlet at our site. If you sign up for a campsite, you’ll have to pay attention as to whether the one you choose is equipped in the same way as ours was.  We noticed the people who were camping the same weekend in May had recreational vehicles.  We do not travel by RV, but the people who did were probably comfortable and warmer.

Who is to say that my spouse and I won’t make a second attempt at tent camping?  We might.  I just think that it helps to stay flexible and change plans if I learned anything from this experience.  It was an advantage to stay close to home, especially since we were new at camping.  We could focus on the activity outdoors, and we were not weary from traveling.  I enjoyed the physical exercise.

Dinner on the Campfire

One of our favorite summertime recipes is this Foil Pack: Salsa Verde Chicken and Rice by Chelsea’s Messy Apron.  It struck us as a good recipe to try on a fire pit.  We assembled our packs of chicken and rice at home, put them on ice and transported them to our campsite.  In the end, because we wanted to use the cast iron skillet we had, we unpacked our foil packs and cooked the ingredients directly in the skillet.  But this recipe includes instructions for putting the foil packs directly on a grill.  It was a complete and yummy campfire dinner. In researching campfire cooking, I learned that you cook over hot embers and not over a roaring flame. You wait for the flames to die down before you place your skillet over the fire. It was a helpful tip.


Our dinner cooks in a cast iron skillet.

Punderson State Park

There is a message on the park’s website stating the campground and nature center will be shut for part of 2024 due to construction.  The park is in Newbury, Ohio, a 45-minute drive east of Cleveland.