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Forum File Photo Camping can be a fun, inexpensive way to bust out of your everday life. Coincidentally, North Dakota offers plenty of opportunities to do just that. Forum file photo.

Open Season: Camping the answer to tight budgets, $4 gas

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I can still recall my first "real" camping adventure (you know, beyond merely pitching a tent in the backyard).

I was 8 or 9 years old. My father, Bret, had long-term plans of taking me up to Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area when I was old enough. Until then, and as a sort of precursor, we went on a weekend trip to Echo Lake in the state's northernmost reaches, and just on the edge of the BWCA.

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We drove the five-ish hours to the lake, picked up a cord of wood from the front office, and then parked our car within feet of our campsite. It was, admittedly, a simpler trip than a portage-ridden furlong into the BWCA, but it was an adventure for us, nonetheless.

Now, much older and a bit wiser, I once again turn to camping as the perfect way to find adventure and be as close to the outdoors as possible. The beauty of it all, however, comes down to the impact on your wallet. Camping, at least compared to spending a weekend in a hotel room, can be a fairly cheap and fun way to enjoy a vacation.

And according to Gordon Weixel, Public Information Officer with North Dakota Parks and Recreation, the state has a lot to offer in that avenue.

"Our parks are full most weekends during the summer," he said. North Dakota, it seems, is a premiere destination for tent-lovers and outdoors enthusiasts.

According to the North Dakota Tourism website (www.ndtourism.com) there are more than 1,300 campsites in the state. It boasts 14 State Parks and Recreation Areas and numerous local camping facilities.

The North Dakota Parks and Recreation website (www.parkrec.nd.gov) said summer camping reservations opened Feb. 15 (except for Grahams Island, which is being postponed until May 1 because rising water levels of Devils Lake could potentially limit park access).

Chances are good that there is a place to camp close to home. For example, Turtle River State Park is within minutes of Grand Forks, and Fort Ramsey south of Valley City is Fargo's closest locale.

Weixel said most parks are first-come, first-serve when it comes to camping reservations. Holidays are especially busy, so it's prudent to get your name on the list as soon as possible.

"Most people go online and book that way, but we also have a call-in center," he said.

Campers can book up to two weeks at a crack, but no longer, Weixel said.

It's the perfect way to stay budget-friendly while getting away for a while.

"The last few years, because of gas prices, people are staying close to home," he said. The state's parks received more than 1.1 million visitors last year, of which 62,769 were campers. That number is up from 58,984 in 2009.

"Whether its canoeing, bike riding, hiking or horseback riding, the state's parks offer something for everyone," Weixel said. "It's what you want to do. If you want to get outdoors, you can do it here."

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