aspcabincreekBy Alicia Dziak

For many, Columbus Day weekend is the season’s last hoorah of camping. Allegany State Park’s (ASP) campsites and cabins will be near or at capacity this weekend, full of campers enjoying the sights of the season. A fall weekend at ASP is a great time to explore and enjoy the park.

Hiking in the fall is breathtaking, and no trip to the park is complete for us without at least one meaningful family hike that includes our two dogs. Pick up a park map at either rental office, and select a trail that’s right for you. A variety of terrain and distances provide numerous opportunities for leisurely or more serious hikes. Just take into account an estimate of how long the hike will take, and leave at the appropriate time. It’s no longer light out until 9 pm, so leaving for a long hike late in the afternoon is not the best idea.

For campers, shorter days translate into earlier nighttime activities. Driving around the park with a bright light is always a hit, and entails shining a spotlight (found at any sporting goods store) into open areas of the park in the hope of spying some nocturnal ASP critters. We’ve had the best luck with open fields and in creeks where they cross under the roads. Drive slowly around the park, being careful not to shine the light into oncoming traffic or toward other campers. This activity  has led us to raccoons, deer, possums, skunks and even a bear.

Of course, there’s nothing like sitting around a warm fire when the air is crisp. Be sure stock up on s’more supplies and send the kids out looking for the perfect marshmallow roasting sticks. We like ones that split at the top so we can double up. Now’s a great time to experiment with s’mores, too, as the Halloween candy is taking over the store shelves. Trick-or-treat size candy bars make the perfect substitute for chocolate bars.

If you’re camping with a group of friends, turn it into an event by adding some special activities. We have friends who turn a trail into a trick-or-treat adventure, with each family providing a simple treat or activity along the way. We have other friends who rent out an entire trail and do a fashion show. Or hold a costume parade. A little coordination goes a long way when making fall camping memories.

If nature inspires your kids to unleash their creativity, go with it. ASP can provide endless natural crafts, most that will cost of next to nothing. An annual favorite is pressed leaves, made simply by arranging leaves on a sheet of wax paper, covering the leaves with crayon shavings, adding a second sheet of wax paper, and using a warm iron to make it all stick together. If you don’t have an electric site, tracing around or over leaves with tracing paper and colored pencils makes for great decorations. We also always have paints and pencils on hand, and drawing or writing about the seasonal nature is sure to become a memorable keepsake.

If you have a camper or a camping bin full of supplies, keep a journal in it. During or after every camping trip, have every family member write a favorite memory from your trip. Then tape in a photo once you get back. The journal will provide instant memories as you reminisce about what everyone wrote.

This time of year, the weather can be iffy. Be sure to pack your raincoat and boots, and extra clothes, shoes and socks. Although they take up a bit of space, you’ll be happy you have them if it gets wet and muddy. A little precipitation won’t create a total washout out if you’re prepared. Many of the trails are still fun to explore even in the rain, but if it’s unbearable, you can check out some of the indoor places of interest inside the park such as the Red House Administration Building and the Quaker Museum. It’s also not a bad idea to pack up some board games just in case. Family time spent playing Checkers or Old Maid is still family time, so enjoy it.

ASP campers hail from all walks of life, joined together by their love of nature and of the amazing park we’re lucky enough to have so nearby. Make new friends, catch up with old ones, and enjoy the great outdoors in Western New York. Before long, the snow will be flying and there will be a whole different set of activities to be had, so enjoy the fall colors and light jacket weather while it’s here!