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Go take a hike!
What you need, what to do, where to go for a good camping experience

By Danielle Komis
dkomis@decaturdaily.com · 340-2447

With sunny skies and warm weather upon us, even folks who aren’t used to strapping on hiking boots and pitching a tent may get an urge to venture outside and enjoy spring in North Alabama.

Outdoor enthusiasts highly recommend camping during this time of year especially, because wildflowers are peaking and humidity is low. Camping and hiking can establish teamwork, as well as increase appreciation for the outdoors.

Plus, camping is a great bonding time for the whole family, said Sam Smith, a sales associate at Wiley Outdoor Sports in Decatur.

“It can bond the family more doing activities like that, rather than watching your kids from the other side of a chain link fence (at a baseball game),” he said.

However, Smith cautions that preparations are necessary to make a night or two of camping in the wild an enjoyable trip for the less experienced camper.

Lamar Marshall, who owns Warrior Mountain Trading Post near Bankhead National Forest, agreed.

Before he became more experienced, he took his family camping and made the mistake of pitching their tents in a low area for the night. The weather turned rainy, the tents flooded, and his family ended up wet and miserable.

“The worst thing to do is take your wife and kids out on your first trip,” he said. “If it doesn’t go well, they’ll never want to go again.”

But as long as you take the time to research the weather and terrain before you head out, camping won’t end up that way, he said.

He and Smith offer the following tips to ensure your camping adventure is safe and fun:

First, map out your route before you hit the woods to prevent getting lost, they said. Be aware, also, that novice campers often overestimate how far they can hike before night falls.

Hiking a mile in unfamiliar, rocky terrain is like hiking three miles on flat ground, Marshall said. Don’t hike more than four to five miles in one day, so that you and your family or friends have time to “stop and smell the roses,” along the way, he advised.

Even if you think you know exactly where you’re going, always carry a detailed topographical map and a compass. Also, make sure you know how to read both before you head out. Global positioning system units are also helpful, especially if you want to map areas that are special to you and plan to return to later, Marshall said.

If you’re afraid of everything from insects to snakes, relax, you can safeguard yourself. To protect yourself from insects, especially ticks, spray yourself with an insect repellent containing DEET, Marshall recommended.

Also, exercise caution to avoid stepping on snakes, the men said. If you come across a snake, stay calm and leave the snake alone.

“They’ll eventually move on if they’re in the way,” Smith said.

Most snakes in the area are not venomous, though you never should get close enough to find out. The only poisonous snakes you might see in North Alabama are water moccasins near large water reservoirs or rattlesnakes on south facing cliffs, he said.

While bears aren’t a concern when camping in North Alabama, Marshall still recommends tying your food up in a bag in a tree if you want to eat the next morning. Raccoons commonly steal food from campers, even when it’s boxed or canned and on a picnic table.

And to record your trip, don’t forget to bring a camera, Marshall said. You’ll be grateful later for your shots of beautiful wildflowers, animals, waterfalls and, of course, shots of your family and friends.

Camping spots

If you’re ready to try your hand at weekend camping in North Alabama, local camping enthusiasts Lamar Marshall and Sam Smith offer some of their favorite nearby spots. Always research these areas, their camping regulations and the weather forecast before you plan a trip there.

  • Borden Creek Trailhead in the Sipsey Wilderness in Lawrence County. You can pitch a tent not far from the parking lot and hear the soothing sound of the creek waters.

  • DeSoto State Park offers a primitive camping campground for those not ready to stray from civilization too far, as well as amazing views of waterfalls and wildflowers this time of year.

  • The Walls of Jericho, called “The Grand Canyon of the South,” offers a 50-yard-wide limestone bowl and 200-foot-tall cliffs on each side. The park straddles Alabama and Tennessee, though public access is only available in Jackson County.

  • Northeastern section of Talladega National Forest north of Talladega — Climb 2,407-foot Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama for grand views of the pine forest below.

    What to bring

    Even if you’re only camping overnight, it’s always a good idea to be prepared, especially if you have children with you.

    Pack these items:

  • A first aid kit,

  • Plenty of water and food,

  • Waterproof matches or a lighter,

  • Prescription medications,

  • A flashlight (Marshall especially recommends headlamps),

  • Extra batteries,

  • A utility knife,

  • Cord,

  • Inflatable sleeping bag pads called Therm-a-Rests for drier, softer sleeping, and

  • A special tarp called a “fly” for your tent that will keep it dry if it rains.

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