It Takes Multiple Days to Explore Your Freedom, Meaning You Should Plan to Stay Over
The accommodation options in Valley Forge and Montgomery County, Pa., range from luxurious hotels to homespun B&Bs. But for this edition of The Pursuit we dial things back to the true basics: Camping.
Green Lane Park is a great option for sleeping under the stars (for other sites, see the sidebar). Park Supervisor Pam Murray describes the set up: "We offer what we call ‘primitive camping,'" she says. "There are no electrical hookups or water. But we do provide a fire pit and a grill at each of our 25 sites. Reservations are requested, and the fee to stay is $20 per night. Our camping season runs from April to October."
She tells me that Green Lane draws campers for all kinds of reasons: "We have a woman who comes every year from Schwenksville, which is only 12 miles away. Why would someone come such a short distance just to camp? Well, she arrives for a week with a stack of books and just reads. She's by herself, no kids, no spouse, and she spends her afternoons lost in a good book."
I am no stranger to camping. It was a frequent vacation option as a kid, often with the extended family (see photo below). Understanding that "roughing it" is an experience best shared, I search for company. My immediate family, hesitant about even one night without electrical conveniences, is uninterested.
But my buddy JT is up for it. We coordinate dates and divide up the required equipment: He volunteers a tent and sleeping bags; I handle the chuck wagon.
Our schedules allow a two-day, Friday-Saturday excursion. When departure day arrives, I leave the office and head to the northwest section of the county. I pull into our assigned slot at Green Lane, check in with the management office, set up as much as possible and wait for JT.
To pass the time, I take a short hike. Deep Creek Lake is beautiful this late-summer afternoon, and the park is busy with fishermen, dog walkers, runners and picnickers.
I've brought my bicycle and decide to enjoy the low temps and cool breezes with a ride. Under the leafy canopy of the nearby Perkiomen Trail, it's a comfortable and easy 12-mile jaunt.
Just as I arrive back at the site, JT's SUV pulls in. "Great timing," I call. He pops the hatch and we unload.
The tent springs to life in seconds. While JT unfurls the sleeping bags, I take control of the onsite grill and prep the charcoal. JT stokes the fire pit, and as sunset approaches and the temperatures dip, it's clear we're going to be spending a large part of the evening there. Once my coals are gray and glowy, it's time to slap on the burgers and the corn I've brought.
We eat around the fire. The skyline darkens. Our nonstop conversation joins the general murmur of the campground as the other outdoorsy folks settle into their evenings.
We move onto dessert. To mark August 30 as National Toasted Marshmallow Day, I bring the fixings for s'mores, including a bag of mega-marshmallows that, should the need arise, could also double as pillows. We make two monster combos of sticky deliciousness.
As has been done for millennia, we tell stories while bathed in the orange light of the flickering flames. We are alternately silly, falling over with laughter, and heartfelt, talking health, kids, family and life in general.
It is full-on dark now. The stars are revealing themselves, and I see the familiar W of the constellation Cassiopeia up in the heavens.
We turn in. Sleep comes easy, the result of an active day and the lull of the cicadas. At 3:30 a.m. or so, I awaken briefly, just enough to check the time and temp. It's 54 degrees out there. I cocoon myself further into the sleeping bag.
The next morning, the campground is shrouded in fog, but the sun is up, guaranteeing that the haze will burn off quickly.
I have reserved a trip on a pontoon tour of the Green Lane Reservoir, new this season (along with stand-up paddle-boarding). We jump in JT's SUV and take off for the departure point. There is some confusion about directions, but we eventually find the launch.
Ned, our captain, chugs us out into the open water. He guides the one-hour tour, pointing out natural phenomenon such as trees that have been chewed by beavers. "They're trying to build a dam there," he says. "But the cove can't be blocked. So they're working and working but not getting anywhere."
Ned is a font of facts: The deepest point of the reservoir is 80 feet. It was created by a dam that was built in the 1950s, and it covers 800 acres of the total park footprint of 3,400 acres. The fall foliage will be stunning from the water, and the park staff hopes to maintain its boat-tour schedule after Labor Day.
Once we return to dry land, we drive back to the campsite.
Other responsibilities are calling for the rest of the day (my cell phone has already begun to buzz), so it's time to break camp and head home.
Camping is one of those activities that, in some ways, has changed a lot over the years (tent-assembly technology, for one, has well evolved past the stake-and-pole days). But in others - the scent of burning wood, the flicker of fireflies, the whisper of the trees - it has not.
And isn't that a good thing?
If camping really isn't your bag, no worries. Locating a recommendable hotel in Valley Forge and Montgomery County, Pa., is not like trying to find a (pine) needle in a haystack. Use the list of options on our website. And if sitting around table sounds better than sitting on a rock while you eat, hike yourself over to one of our fine restaurants, such as the Garden Grille & Bar.