Topeka-area RV parks and campgrounds let you enjoy nature with some of the amenities of home

·5 min read
An American flag waves in the wind near parked camper trailers at Topeka/Capitol City KOA Journey campground.
An American flag waves in the wind near parked camper trailers at Topeka/Capitol City KOA Journey campground.

Bare-bones camping where participants strive to leave no trace, cabins with enough beds to bunk large families and luxury RVs that can cost into the hundreds of thousands of dollars are among the sights in and around Topeka this summer.

Campgrounds and RV parks often have inviting swimming pools, playgrounds and recreational areas. Bathrooms in many areas are as nice as those found in hotels.

Roughing it has evolved into a myriad of experiences. And it is seeing a rise in popularity.

Emporian Brian Muench, who is camping at Lake Shawnee Campground, is RVing in a Sun Lite travel trailer. In the back of his truck, he carries two mountain bikes (just for show, he said) and canoes for him and his wife to hit the water.

More: Topeka offers plenty of opportunities for hiking and biking. These 9 trails stand out.

Camping allows him to get away and let go of his worries, he said.

"When I'm home, I always feel like there's something I need to do," Muench said. "I get out here, once I get everything set up, I can paint, listen to music or read a book."

Camping's popularity grew soon after Kansas became a state

Brian Muench welcomes other campers to his site at Lake Shawnee Campground with a sign that reads, "the bonfire, where friends become family."
Brian Muench welcomes other campers to his site at Lake Shawnee Campground with a sign that reads, "the bonfire, where friends become family."

Though it hadn't been that long since settlers were roughing it for real, recreational camping first became popular in the United States around the late 1800s.

Essays written by Scottish American naturalist John Muir, who lived for a time in Yosemite National Park, and Thomas Hiram Holding, who wrote "The Camper's Handbook," helped spur interest.

Shortly after the first automobiles were built, recreational vehicles became a part of the scene. One of the first models was a Model-T Ford Roadster built in 1915.

Places to camp in and near Topeka in 2022

Inside a deluxe cabin at Topeka/Capitol City KOA Journey, guests can enjoy all the amenities of a modern home but in a small and cozy wooden camping space.
Inside a deluxe cabin at Topeka/Capitol City KOA Journey, guests can enjoy all the amenities of a modern home but in a small and cozy wooden camping space.

Fast forward to today where dozens of RV parks and campsites in northeast Kansas alone offer places to get away and enjoy the great outdoors.

That doesn't mean campers can just drop in and find a spot.

"It's always best to have a reservation," said Charlie Reaser, co-owner of Topeka/Capital City KOA Journey. "In the last few years, the increased number of RVs on the road, and even tents, has made it to where, if you don't have reservations, quite often you're not gonna find the spot."

Besides Lake Shawnee Campground and Topeka/Capital City KOA Journey, Topeka has Deer Creek Valley RV ParkForbes Landing RV Park and Topeka Hilltop Campground (technically in Grantville but just nine miles from downtown Topeka).

A little further away are several sites at Lake Perry, Clinton Lake, Milford Lake and Pomona Lake. Prairie Band Casino & Resort also has its own RV park.

Blackthorn Retreat, north of Randolph, offers primitive camping, groomed and semi-groomed campsites, as well as rental cabins. Of particular note is its glamping sites, which take pitched tents to a whole new level of luxury.

More: Primitive camping: What is it, why do it and what gear do you need to do it right?

How to deal with RV technology

Camping trailers and recreational vehicles can use spots specifically designed with water and electrical hookups at Topeka/Capitol City KOA Journey.
Camping trailers and recreational vehicles can use spots specifically designed with water and electrical hookups at Topeka/Capitol City KOA Journey.

Glamping tents come already assembled, which makes that experience an easy one. Residing in cabins usually means bringing some bedding supplies and a few other odds and ends.

Camping in tents takes more planning. Online checklists assist in making sure one is prepared.

RVing, on the other hand, takes quite a bit more knowledge. Motorists need to be ready to deal with upkeep.

"Some guy told me that the best day of his life was when he bought an RV, and it was the best day of his life when he sold his RV," said Muench, the camper from Emporia, with a smile. "There's some setup. There's some teardown. It does take some time. But it's not terrible. You can learn it. You can Google it.

"I've used some Google sites to get things done, especially winterizing. It's a little intimidating."

Deer Creek RV Park manager Randy Whistler recommended RV 101 classes that can be found online. He said drivers need to be prepared in case problems arise.

"When we RVed, we traveled in the spring or fall," he said. "The weather was good. You know, if you're driving down the road, it's hard on your vehicle to be driving in the heat."

Reaser, the co-owner of Topeka/Capital City KOA Journey, recommended camping first.

"Make sure you're gonna enjoy it," he said. "It's not for everybody. It's for most people but not for everybody. When it comes time to buying an RV, it's best to buy something that's newer.

"You're less apt to have any problems with major components, refrigerators, air conditioners, that kind of thing. And, if you can find a way to, have an experience with actually renting one first."

Just like a Boy Scout, be prepared

Whistler said such simple things as buying an extra set of dishes, bedding, silverware, cookware, and salt and pepper shakers to keep in the RV can be helpful.

"Otherwise you're going to be hauling that stuff back and forth every time," he said.

Whistler said a stun gun, mace or a firearm are things campers might want to keep on hand as well, especially when camping in areas with large predatory animals.

Muench has had a couple close dealings with unexpected four-legged visitors. Once, a raccoon ate his groceries.

On another occasion, "a family of skunks just came right up to us," Muench said. "It makes you awfully nervous. But they didn't do anything."

That hasn't stopped him from surrounding himself in nature.

"It's kind of a grounding exercise. I work for a mental health center. I've been there 28 years," he said. "I think it's good for the mental health just to get back to the basics."

Catheryn Hrenchir is a feature writer for The Topeka-Capital Journal. She can be reached at chrenchir@gannett.com or (785) 817-6383.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: RVs, primitive camping, glamping can be found in or near Topeka