Camping on the Edge
Our Harpers Ferry campsite didn't quite turn out as we had planned
In Mission: Wanderlust, I write and podcast about our family’s travel adventures and the things that we have learned along the way.
When we decided to cut our summer vacation to the East Coast short, I was suddenly left with decisions to make. We weren’t going to Maine, I had to cancel our stop at Niagara Falls, and our planned last night in Cleveland no longer made any sense. We would be 600 miles from home if we headed straight from the KOA in New Jersey, so we would have to determine at least one stop between there and Indianapolis. And we would be heading home before the weekend, which I naturally saw as wasted vacation days that could be spent finding one more place to stop, a place that would be new for all of us.
I determined that we would stop for two nights in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. We would get one more state sticker on our camper map, we could explore one more NPS site, and I would get my fill of new history after visiting places I had already seen before.
Then I had to find two nights of camping in Harpers Ferry during the Fourth of July weekend. Finding a spot with six months to plan would have been challenging enough, but two months before we would arrive, I managed to find a single spot at a campground that looked reputable enough. The company offered RV camping spots, ropes courses, and water sports, which meant that we would have options for recreation if the national park turned out to be a bust.
If only it had gone that smoothly.
We arrived at the check-in as directed and were told that the full hook-up site we had reserved was still being used by people who had asked for an extension on their stay. This was going to be our last major stop and we were hoping to do a full flush and clean-out before we stayed at a Harvest Host for our last night on the way home, so this discovery was less than ideal. But they agreed to pay us back the money that we owed for the more expensive site and I accepted it as just a slight hiccup in our plans.
We followed the detailed directions to the campground that took us around a narrow tunnel that our camper would definitely not have cleared, and arrived at the campground with plenty of daylight to spare. We figured with it being mid-afternoon, we would get parked and then head into town where we could explore and decide if we wanted to head home a day early.
That was until we saw the site where they had moved us.
It was significantly sloped toward the Shenandoah River behind us, by all appearances too narrow and shallow for both our camper and truck, and we weren’t sure if we would clear all of the branches.
We were not happy.
The campground supervisor tried to get us moved to a different site, but none of the open sites appeared to be any better. She called the front office and tried to get them to put us into one of the full hook-up sites that were still unoccupied. She was told they were reserved for arrivals and could not just be given away. (Of course, this is a fact they completely ignored when they refused to tell the people who had our site that they couldn’t just decide they wanted to stay for longer.)
Had we gotten into tougher sites in the past? Probably. Had we camped in less ideal situations? Yes. Was it the worst situation ever? No, not by a long shot. But we were at the end of our vacation. After trips to Texas and now the east coast our kids were finally tired of summer travel. And we really just wanted a nice and relaxing last full stop.
In the end, the company fully refunded our money so we got two free nights of camping. Our leveling app said that we were still six inches off by the time we were fully parked, but we didn’t slide off into the river, even when a rainstorm came through. Because Jeff didn’t trust the entrance to the dump station, we would bring everything home with us to be dumped over a month later when we finally went camping again.
How far off were we? I think this video does a good job of showing it.
It isn’t how we wanted to finish our vacation and how I wanted to remember Harpers Ferry. Thankfully, we still had a wonderful experience once we left the campground, which I will write about in my next blog post.
Note: I spent a lot of time considering whether I should name the campground and eventually decided against it. While I have no desire to see someone else experience what we experienced, I also believe that the situation was a combination of factors: busy holiday weekend, inexperienced teenage employees, lack of supervision, an economy still recovering from everything that has happened in the last three years. My hope is that ours was an isolated incident and we are thankful that we walked away with a free place to stay and stories to tell.
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