We arrived at the first campground of our 38-day journey to find that there were no sites available, all were taken. The sites are first-come, first-served so reservations weren't possible. We had banked on the fact that on a random Wednesday, off season for camping, we’d have the grounds to ourselves. What we didn’t realize was that Spring Creek Campground, located in the Wallowa Whitman National Forest, is a choice location for hunting Rocky Mountain elk and mule deer, and its huntin’ season!
So we had a choice, we could take this opportunity to explore cold-weather dispersed camping (camping with no campsite), or try to get in to one of the other two campgrounds in the area. Since we were on national forest land, dispersed camping was allowed, and we decided to set up camp just outside the campground. The pro's: not having to drive a half hour plus in either direction to seek another site at grounds which might also be full, getting to use some of our more intense new gear (after all, we prepared for this!). The cons: no fire pit in temps that would drop below freezing after dark, and no picnic table.
It ended up being a positive, though intense, experience. Bowls of chilli kept us warm for dinner, and we turned in early to watch a movie bundled up. The biggest challenge was packing up icy gear in the morning, a task that took 3x as long as normal.
PRO TIP for COLDWEATHER CAMPING: Grab yourself an inexpensive stainless steel water bottle with no insulation. The kind with a warning label that reads something like "Not meant for hot liquids, it could burn your hands off." Use it as your cold water bottle on the trip, and at night, carefully fill it with boiling water, wrap it in a towel, and tuck it in with you as a makeshift heater. What a treat for my feet while falling asleep - and the bottles were still lukewarm at 6am.
Lessons learned: When camping in cold weather, pack up all gear the night before. We thought we would use our table and chairs, etc. for breakfast - ha, not. Lounging around for a bit in 20 degree weather wasn't quite what we felt like doing at 6am. What we really wanted to do was hop in the warm truck and hit the road; instead we were dealing with icy gear and fumbly gloves.
It's a beautiful day on the road today. Next stop: Craters of the Moon, ID
Type: National Park
What we're looking forward to: hiking around a surreal lunar landscape