Updated in 2021!
Check out the crazy downpour of rain! We filmed this from our tent at Sandbanks Provincial Park, one of several wet and windy camping experiences we had this summer. And yet we keep coming back for more! So why, exactly, would anyone chose to go camping in the rain? Have you ever read Garth Stein's book "The Art of Racing In The Rain"? It's a terrific read for anyone who loves travel and dogs and it always reminds me that there's a bit of an art to doing just about anything in the rain - even camping! Here are some important lessons I learned about doing it with good grace while camping at Pittock Conservation Area near Woodstock, Ontario.
Study Tents Make All The Difference
Camping without tents? It’s not what you think! I don’t mean sleeping under the stars. As romantic as that sounds, it definitely doesn’t help you out in the rain. What I’m talking about is taking the stress of tent set-up and take down out of the equation entirely and having someone else do it for you.
You don’t have to have a private butler to make this happen. Savvy campgrounds such as Pittock Conservation Area are offering it as a standard service as part of their Step Into Nature program. We were very happy to see that all the tents were large 6-8 person tents that were properly set up, securely pegged, and swept out from the previous occupants. (Update: It appears this particular program has concluded and now all camping at Pittock Conservation Area is via your own tent - hopefully they will bring this program back in the future!)
Arriving during the warm, sunny mid-day weather, not having to set the tent was a nice little treat but we still had the rest of our gear to organize – blowing up our air mattress, setting up our bed, getting our stove and food organized. We appreciated not having to set up the tent but we still weren’t entirely convinced that such a service would make a big difference for the average camper. But then the rain came.
Boy, did it rain! I’d rank our night of camping at Pittock Conservation Area as one of our top three craziest rain storms ever. It even out-rained the rain we got at Sandbanks (as per our video, above.) And we still had an awesome time! The tent was so well set up that no rain leaked in and the roomy interior meant we had plenty of space to move around and set things up so we could be comfortable and enjoy ourselves. We had board games, we had cards, we had books and - of course- we had snacks!
Be sure you have provisions.
What is camping without tons of tasty goodies? We had visions of going for a late afternoon paddle to catch our own fish for an old fashioned camping fish fry dinner (you can rent canoes on site for about $20 for two hours) But the looming clouds in the sky told us that Mother Nature had other ideas in store for us!
You never know when the weather might take a turn when your travels are taking place entirely outdoors and it’s a smart idea to have some no-cook provisions on hand. Our favourite treats this time were the homemade pies and tarts from the Leaping Deer Adventure Farm. (Update! This business used to be a combination of store, bakery, museum, and interactive farm - the owners are now semi-retired but the bakery remains and it is awesome!) We absolutely loved all the goodies from their bakery and general store. They also have a huge assortment of local jams, jellies, condiments, and sauces - perfect for a budding camping chef in finer weather!
It's okay to abandon ship sometimes.
Camping – and travel – is all about enjoying yourself. When the heavens open up, there’s nothing wrong with abandoning ship – or tent as it may be – to head for dryer quarters while the worst passes. In our case, we headed into town for a hot meal. I must admit that I had modest expectations for Woodstock’s Tandoori Knight. You don't always find great Indian food in smaller towns but I’m so glad to be proved wrong.
This was some of the best Indian food we’ve ever had! Their vindaloo in particular won high marks. Ryan is absolutely obsessed with beef vindaloo and he is almost always disappointed. It never carries the heat or depth of flavour he’s looking for and requests to make his dish extra hot are always rejected with a dubious frown. But Tandoori Knight got it RIGHT. His vindaloo had an intense heat that built with every bite but the flavour was never sacrificed. (I also thought my chicken korma was excellent but what is that compared to vindaloo?)
It’s a little less exciting than finding the perfect vindaloo but I was thrilled that Tandoori Knight made the perfect cup of hot, milky chai. The spices were fresh and intensely concentrated and it had the ideal level of sweetness. With our bellies full of warmth and spice, we were happy to head back out into the rain and cuddle up for the night.
Step out of the tent and head next door.
Our biggest regret while camping at Pittock Conservation Area is that we didn’t take the opportunity to get to know some of our neighbours –particularly the neighbours who had a large cauldron style pot of bubbling stew suspended over their fire earlier in the day! I was worried about appearing too nosy (yes, occasionally I do feel self-conscious about this!) and I was eager to get in some nature walks before the poor weather rolled in.
One of the neat things about Pittock Conservation Area is that there is a mix of tent spaces and RV spaces and some of the RV spaces have evolved into semi-permanent structures, complete with gazebos and decks, that are occupied by all-season residents. These guys weren’t bothered by the rain at all! And if it wasn’t for my impending food coma, I might have just gone over and introduced myself. When in doubt, bring beer and snacks (like the butter tarts!) and you’ll always be welcome.
If you’re feeling on the shy side and would rather die than just walk on over to your neighbours’ site uninvited, there’s a nice alternative. Pittock, is like many campgrounds in that there are planned events throughout the week for campers. Activities such as pancake breakfasts and BBQ lunches are a great way to meet other campers and find a few friends to hang out with around the campfire. Plus, if you’re new to camping and lack confidence in your outdoor cooking skills, this is an easy and economical way to get some grub.
Showers, bathrooms, and other practicalities.
Unless there’s danger from thunder and lightning, not much harm can come from frolicking in the rain. So you'll look like a drowned rat and get covered in mud. Oh well! You might as well dive in and try to have some fun!
Pittock has washrooms. REAL washrooms! With private showers with hot water! There are even hot air hand dryers which, with a bit of contortion, you can use to dry your hair. There’s nothing so great as a camping shower. Even if you’re not doing any hard core activities, you’re probably feeling a bit more dusty and sweaty than usual. A long hot shower to clean up and then dry off before diving into bed and butter tarts is the best feeling in the world! PS -Most campgrounds these days also have laundromats so if the downpour comes at the beginning of a long trip you can still have clean, dry sheets and clothing.
(What do I pack in my travel toiletry kit? You can see my list of travel-friendly products here.)
If you're eager to reserve your spot, note that overnight camping at Pittock Conservation Area costs $39, including HST, for a non-electric site. Sites with electrical service cost $10 more. All reservations cost $13. (Prices as of Feb 2021).
Here's to sunnier trips!
One of the best things about camping in the rain is the knowledge that summer rains, while intense, rarely last very long. We were still able to enjoy gorgeous sunny weather during our time at camping at Pittock Conservation Area and we had so much fun relaxing at our site, exploring the campground, and enjoying the Woodstock. So we were rained on for a night - it happens! But we were able to make the best of it. Dare I say it, we even mastered the art of camping in the rain this year. And with a little luck, we won't have to put that knowledge into action again next summer!
How do you make the most of your travel time in the rain?
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