Labor Day is approaching, which will quickly be followed by Christmas shopping. So now is the time to plan your last vacation before your calendar fills with holidays. No need to empty out your wallet, though. “The Heart of It All” has plenty of fun on the cheap, whether you’re looking for relaxation or excitement. So buckle your seat belt for a quick Ohio tour and everything the season has to offer.
I’ve been going to Mohican State Park on Memorial Day weekend for all 24 years of my life. This tradition of my hometown, err…village long predates my existence, even. For one weekend every year, a convoy of trucks and trailers carries nearly half of Arcadia, Ohio’s population (590 in total according to the 2010 census) 100 miles southeast to an oasis deep in the Mohican wilderness. And the best part besides the great outdoors, hot dogs, and excuse to not wash your hair all weekend? You get your kicks for cheap! Here’s how you can stretch $100 to have a truly memorable weekend getaway out in the sticks.
From Columbus, the park is only about 80 miles, so you’ll only have about $20 in gas. Your GPS will wind you through the Amish countryside, down old dirt roads, and through amber waves of grain before you will completely lose cell service—an unsuspecting perk of the trip before you even arrive. There are many campgrounds within Mohican State Park, but over the last several years, we’ve set anchor at Wilderness. (What I actually mean is that the Arcadia group has been kicked out of every other campground over the years. We run a little rowdy, to say the least). Campsites there cost anywhere from $25 to $44, depending on electricity hookup and time of year. So, once you pitch the tent or park the trailer, it’s time to crack open your first adult beverage and let the good times roll.
With traveling and setting up camp, the first day has the potential to bring on some stress or anxiety. Let your problems drift away with a tubing trip down the mighty Mohican River. If you forgot to pack a tube or means to in ate one, don’t worry! Rip off the sheet you just stretched across your air mattress and prepare for the most comfortable float this side of Put-in-Bay’s Jet Express. Climbing up the muddy riverbank to your campsite is probably the closest you’ve come to fulfilling your New Year’s fitness resolution, so you’ll need to eat. Staying with the theme of simplicity on the first night, don your pie irons and make pizza sandwiches! Want to class it up a notch? Swap out Kroger brand shredded mozzarella for smoked gouda and trade pepperoni for Soppressata. Wash it down with an ice cold Busch Light and you’ve got yourself a tasty meal way on the south side of $10. Round out the evening with a friendly game of beersbie, cornhole, or thumper around the fire. You’ll fall asleep to the soothing sound of crickets and tree frogs. Just remember to pack away all your food before calling it a night—the local raccoons are not shy.
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On day two, you’ll wake up with a slight backache from your lumpy mattress, but eager to get the fun started. Head up to the front office and reserve a spot on the 5-mile canoe ride. You may be enticed by the 10-mile trip, or maybe even the 20-mile one, but between stopping off to explore the woods, picking up the wreckage from a tip, and bathroom breaks, you’re still in for a long day on the river with the 5-miler, trust me. Make sure you bring a couple bucks because turning down a Drumstick at a river-side ice cream stand is something you should never put yourself through. If you split the $20 cost of the canoe with your boat mate and factor in $2.25 for treats, you’ve got yourself a 6-hour activity that’ll only bust you $12.25.
Once you’ve finally washed ashore, it’s time for dinner. Rather than wasting precious Mohican time hunched over a cutting board or cooktop, we like to throw a crockpot potluck where each camp brings a dish to share, buffet-style. So far, you’ve enjoyed $92.25 worth of fun. That means you’ve got a whole $7.75 left in your budget to splurge on ingredients for your contribution! So give the people what they want: a dip. Buffalo chicken, Mexican street corn dip, spinach artichoke—it truly doesn’t matter, just as long as the main ingredient is cheese. And just like the melted goodness you scoop out of the crockpot, the evening will slowly stretch into night.
They say the best things in life are free and this is especially true with camping. On your last night in Mohican Wilderness, do absolutely nothing. Sit around the fire with your fellow campers, embrace the sounds of your laughter bouncing off the tall trees lining the riverbank, and really soak up each other’s company; it is then that you will truly embrace the spirit of Mohican camping. You may not come away with the next greatest Instagram photo, or a wildly unique souvenir (although you can dip your own wax candle at the Mohican Wilderness craft cabin), but there’s a reason I’ve visited the park for 24 consecutive years. I hope you find your reason, too.