|Dispersed campers below Haystack Mountain|
OK, July isn’t over just yet. We still have three more days, including the 31st which is not only a full moon but a blue moon. But wow, has July ever been busy. From the 4th of July weekend on, our campground has been packed. We’ve been completely full every Friday night and most Saturday nights, and we actually had to put the “Campground Full” sign up on Sunday, July 19.
And it’s not just us. Every campground along the south slope of the Mirror Lake Highway was full last weekend. I spoke with two distraught dads after 8:00 PM on Friday, July 24. The trailer was packed, the family was excited to go camping, and they just couldn't find a spot. I advised them to go up and over the pass and try the campgrounds on the North Slope heading toward Evanston – or to just pull off on a dirt road and camp.
Yes, you can do that. Our Forest Service reps tell us that people are allowed to camp pretty much anywhere along the Mirror Lake highway – which is one of the reasons they instituted the Recreation Fee program. They call it dispersed camping, and a lot of people do it. If you’re self-contained, or at least self-reliant, dispersed camping can be a fun experience. The upside – it’s a lot cheaper than camping in an improved campground. Your $6 Recreation pass covers you for three days. The downside – there are no restrooms, picnic tables, or improved fire pits. Also, no cool camp hosts there to answer your questions and sell you dry firewood.
Campers are actually just a small part of what’s been keeping us busy this July. Washington Lake is located less than a quarter mile from the Crystal Lake Trailhead, which leads to several lakes and is extremely popular with hikers, backpackers, and scout troops. According to the Forest Service, there is room for 57 cars in the trailhead parking lot. It’s usually full by 10:00 AM on Friday.
We were warned by the Forest Service that last year so many cars parked along the roads of our campground that trailers couldn’t get in or out. So we’ve been very proactive about directing hikers to the overflow parking. We answer a lot of questions about the hiking trails, give out a lot of trail maps and sell an occasional recreation pass. Good customer service to be sure, but it’s more for the campers in our campground than for the hikers. And it takes a lot of time.
We finally got a breather on Sunday, July 26. Most of the campers left, and just a few arrived to take their place. We actually had a chance to do some cleanup, and then to sit on our front porch and enjoy the afternoon. We think the worst is behind us – at least until Labor Day weekend. Wish us luck!