Hitch a ride on the author’s first-time RV adventure amid a record-breaking year for recreation.
Story and photography by Karen Hendricks
Brian Yingling can pinpoint the exact weekend his business exploded: April 2020, about a month after the coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation.
“I read an article in The Wall Street Journal that basically showed examples of why RVing was the safest way to travel. I told my wife our phone would start ringing that Monday, and, sure enough, we’ve been booked solid ever since,” he says.
Yingling is the owner of Capital Rentals and Sales, and an independent dealer for Cruise America—offering RV rentals—in Carlisle. It’s one of four Cruise America locations across the state.
“It’s been absolutely unprecedented,” says Yingling, who has been renting RVs for nearly 10 years.
RV stands for recreational vehicle and includes campers and trailers pulled by trucks, as well as self-contained motorhomes—the type that Yingling rents.
“An RV is basically a house on wheels,” he says.
I can attest to the demand. Like many families facing a stay-at-home, vacationless summer, we craved a little adventure. So we investigated renting an RV from Yingling at Cruise America. It was mid-summer, but the earliest weekend we could secure both an RV and a spot at any of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks that offered camping was Thanksgiving weekend—November 27 to 29.
Crossing our fingers that it wouldn’t be bitterly cold, we booked both. It was one of about 10 RV campsites available in the entire state that weekend, and the next-to-last one at a park we were excited to visit—Bald Eagle State Park, located between State College and Lock Haven. We’ve loved visiting dozens of different state parks through the years, but we’d never been to Bald Eagle. Not only were we going to be RV rookies, but Bald Eagle first-timers too.
Hit the Road
We rented a 25-foot-long standard RV, and every bit of space was maximized. The RV featured a tiny kitchen, an even tinier bathroom, and three beds—one in the very back, a bunk overtop the cab, and the convertible kitchen table and benches. Plus there was a generator and heat, which came in handy as (spoiler alert) temperatures dipped to freezing overnight!
Yingling gave us a 20-minute tour of our RV, showing us every feature, button, and switch. His tour included how to use the gas stove and how to connect the water and electric hookups, as well as the gray and black water hoses—which carry the used sink water and toilet water, respectively—all important stuff.
We had company for our adventure: Our 20-something daughters who were home for Thanksgiving, plus our family dog. Considering the close quarters, it was a good thing we all got along so well!
Pre-planning was key. We had everything packed and ready to load onto the RV, once rented. We each packed a backpack of multi-layered outfits plus essential toiletries. We brought fitted sheets for each of the beds, sleeping bags, and wool blankets. Our RV, like most rentals, did not have a water filter. Since the water is not considered potable, we brought a large water cooler for drinking and cooking. Our groceries, organized by bag for each meal, went into the small kitchen pantry. And we stocked the small on-board refrigerator with staples like milk, orange juice, apples, eggs—and even ice cream.
My husband did all the driving; the biggest adjustment was making sure to take every turn much wider than you would in your car.
It was an easy two-hour drive to Bald Eagle—a bit bouncier and noisier in the RV—but also a novelty. We laughed at our dog’s alert, watchful pose between the front seats as she kept her eyes on the road ahead. She was just as ready for adventure as we were.
Success! Just before dark, we arrived at the park, located our campsite, backed into it successfully, and hooked everything up. The setting was beautiful and peaceful; Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir, the park’s large sparkling lake, was nearby, and we had a view of Bald Eagle Mountain.
Adventure and Simple Pleasures
From the home base of our RV, we explored two hiking trails—a woodsy and hilly path on Saturday and a gorgeous lakeside trail on Sunday. Other activities included a Saturday evening campfire complete with s’mores and simple pleasures like watching the sun rise while walking the dog and card games inside the RV at night. On Saturday night, we simultaneously watched the sun set while a gorgeous full moon rose in the still-rosy sky.
Back to reality: If you’re wondering about expenses, the RV rental ultimately cost about $650 (we received a $500 deposit back upon its cleaned return—whew), and the campsite cost just under $100 for both nights (keep in mind this included full hookups; tent sites cost much less).
RVing provided the best of both worlds—most of the conveniences of home parked within a beautiful natural setting. Besides a fun weekend escape, we had another ulterior motive for the getaway;
owe are considering purchasing an RV of our own, so testing the waters with a rental seemed like a good idea. And I guess you could say we passed the test. We learned a lot about what we want and don’t want in an RV, and—no longer rookies—we are now actively searching for our very own tiny home on wheels.
My grandmother was notorious for moving often throughout her lifetime. Perhaps there’s a bit of that Bohemian lifestyle in me too.
If you love nature, you’re in the right place.
“Pennsylvania has one of the largest state park systems in the nation, with 121 state parks, and we believe we’re on the frontline of helping people deal with this pandemic,” says David Sariano of the Bureau of State Parks, under the umbrella of the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
And people flocked to the parks in record numbers in 2020. Looking at 11 months’ worth of data (December 2020 figures weren’t in yet), more than
49 million park visits took place in 2020—over nine million more than 2019—for a 26% increase in visitation. In terms of overnight campers, there was a 48% increase in reservations in 2020 compared to 2019.
The Pennsylvania State Park System is one of the few in the nation that is free and open to the public with no entrance fees.
Balancing the care of natural resources, staffing, and COVID-19 protocols, including cleaning, was challenging at times in 2020, Sariano says. And he expects that to continue in 2021, due to budget constraints.
“We want people to be aware of our natural resources and their effect on our health and well-being, but it’s also important to protect these resources so they’ll be here for the future. It’s a balance,” says Tara DeVore, assistant park manager at Bald Eagle State Park, where we stayed.
During 2020, Bald Eagle saw a nearly 40% increase in visitation, including many first-time visitors, says DeVore. Nearly every campsite was booked every weekend. Additionally, the park’s boat rental concessionaire saw his business double in 2020.
Many visitors, especially first-timers, told DeVore how much they enjoyed visiting Bald Eagle. She wonders if visitation will stay high, or level off, post-pandemic.
“I think people who maybe normally took the outdoors for granted realized it does something great for them, getting fresh air and exercise,” DeVore says.
Capital Rentals and Sales/Cruise America
1122 Harrisburg Pike, Carlisle
Pennsylvania State Parks
One in four Americans are taking action toward an RV trip or research in the next 12 months, according to a recent survey by Ipsos, a multinational market research and consulting firm.
It’s going to be a banner year for RVs: The industry is on pace for a 20% increase in sales in 2021—projected to be the highest annual total RV sales on record—around 500,000 units.
The demand, according to the National RV Dealers Association, is basically fueled by three categories of people: Those who want to travel relatively safely during the pandemic; people who can work remotely—and want to enjoy traveling while they do so; and families whose children are either enrolled in online schools or homeschooled—and learning from their travels.
Call It a Daytrip
The closest state forests and parks to Gettysburg
Caledonia State Park
Features hiking, fishing, hunting, picnicking, and camping
101 Pine Grove Road, Fayetteville
2019 Attendance: 223,646 Visitors
2020 Attendance: 263,603 (through November 2020)
Pandemic Boost: 39,957 more visitors in 2020—an increase of 18%
Codorus State Park
Features Lake Marburg, fishing, boating, hiking, and camping
Marina Drive, Hanover
2019 Attendance: 1,267,581 Visitors
2020 Attendance: 1,304,375 Visitors (through November 2020)
Pandemic Boost: 36,794 more visitors in 2020—an increase of 3%
Gifford Pinchot State Park
Features Pinchot Lake, boating, fishing, and hiking
2200 Rosstown Road, Lewisberry
2019 Attendance: 525,465 Visitors
2020 Attendance: 679,633 Visitors (through November 2020)
Pandemic Boost: 154,168 more visitors in 2020—an increase of 29%
Michaux State Forest
Features trails, picnic pavilions, primitive campsites,
and a nine-hole golf course
255 Forest Road, Shippensburg
Mont Alto State Park
Features picnicking and trout fishing
Claim to Fame: the oldest park still in the state park system
Pine Grove Furnace State Park
Features Laurel Lake, Fuller Lake, hiking, biking, plus the Appalachian Trail Museum
1100 Pine Grove Road, Gardners
2019 Attendance: 287,112 Visitors
2020 Attendance: 371,662 (through November 2020)
Pandemic Boost: 84,550 more visitors in 2020—an increase of 29%
Cunningham Falls State Park
14039 Catoctin Hollow Road, Thurmont
10 Remarkable Pennsylvania Parks
Cherry Springs State Park
This northern Pennsylvania park is considered one of the best spots on the eastern seaboard for stargazing due to its dark skies.
Kinzua Bridge State Park
Enjoy views from the Kinzua Viaduct, once the longest and tallest railroad structure in the world—now a pedestrian walkway in the Allegheny Mountains.
Ohiopyle State Park
The rushing Youghiogheny River (just call it “The Yough,” pronounced “yawk”) is considered one of the best waterways for whitewater boating in the eastern United States. Or, take the adventure factor down a notch and enjoy the stunning Ohiopyle Falls.
A “Great” Destination:
Presque Isle State Park
Pennsylvania’s only “seashore,” Presque Isle’s location along Lake Erie offers swimming and boating, and it’s home to a greater number of the state’s endangered, threatened, and rare species than any comparable sized area of the Keystone State.
Ricketts Glen State Park
Explore the Falls Trail System through a wild, free-flowing series of 22 named waterfalls cascading through rocky terrain.
Hyner View State Park
A popular hang gliding spot, Hyner View offers a spectacular vantage point of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River—both upstream and downstream—surrounded by mountains, near Lock Haven.
Cook Forest State Park
A National Natural Landmark, Cook Forest
features towering white pines and hemlocks in its “Forest Cathedral.”
Hickory Run State Park
Explore Hickory Run’s Boulder Field, located in the Poconos and strewn with sandstone nearly as far as the eye can see—a natural wonder unchanged for 20,000 years.
In the Heights:
Forbes State Forest
Climb the highest mountain in Pennsylvania, the 3,213-foot Mt. Davis, with an observation tower too.
Tioga State Forest
Pine Creek Gorge Natural Area, also known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, features plenty of scenic overlooks to explore by hiking or driving.