“Lancaster has lots of overnight options, including the open-air fun of our many campgrounds. There’s nothing more natural than a restful stay at one of these well-maintained properties in a tent, RV or cabin,” spins Joel Cliff, director of communications and advocacy at Discover Lancaster. I couldn’t agree more.
To say I grew up in a campground is a bit of an over-statement, but my grandparents did operate a camping resort in Lancaster County during my formative years. Since then I’ve “glam-camped” up and down the eastern seaboard, first in my father-in-law’s 1969 Winnebago Chieftain – the interior of which we gutted down to the studs and then rebuilt – and on to my mother’s permanent site on the Maryland banks of the St. Mary’s River. I’ve cabin camped in historic Gettysburg, relaxed in a 28-foot Dolphin within walking distance of the tidepools on the shores of Maine, and even tented in my own back yard (nicknamed Swollen Swale Campground).
I’ve even visited a few of the campgrounds here in Lancaster County over the years. From large resorts to “mom-and-pop” clearings, there are more than 20 campgrounds in the 984-square-mile county.
Location, Location, Location: Old Mill Stream Campground
There’s an old adage in the real estate industry: location, location, location! The prime location can mean the difference between success and failure for an aspiring business. While Route 30 East might not sound like a bucolic spot for a campground, Old Mill Stream Campground has stood the test of time and may just benefit by being different from its chain hotel competition up the road. Plus, it’s associated with Dutch Wonderland!
Earl E. Clark created the Dutch Country meets medieval fun amusement park in 1963 and shortly after incorporated the grounds of Mill Stream Campground into the 70-acre destination. When I first started visiting Mill Stream – as we affectionately called it – the facility had a mom-and-pop, no-frills feel. Part of the fun was trying our hand at outdated video games or simply checking in on the ducks making their way along the northern edge of the property in Mill Creek (a tributary of the Conestoga River).
Today, following a change of ownership in 2010, the grounds have a more modern feel; even the entrance to the campground has moved – it’s now closer to the amusement park.
With modern ownership came modern changes. Mill Stream was one of the first campgrounds in the county to offer free Wi-Fi (making it much easier to access discounts for those outlet stores up the street). Management installed permanent, authentic teepees, but after a few years of use, weather and wear took their toll, and the four-person sleepers were removed in 2016. Going from rustic to convenient, the camp now offers Family Cabins (sleeps 4) and Park Models complete with all the amenities of home.
Old Mill Stream Campground at Dutch Wonderland. 2249 Lincoln Hwy. East, Lancaster. 717-299-2314. oldmillstreamcampground.com
Into the Woods: Adventure Bound Oak Creek
A lot has changed since I’d last visited this camping resort nestled in the forested, boulder-strewn hills between Bowmansville and the Berks County line. The resort aspect of Oak Creek comes from the campground’s fun zone, themed weekends, and plethora of activities like Candy Bar Bingo and Gaga Ball.
“If someone says they don’t know what gaga is, then they are too old. All the kids know it,” explains Michael Schaden, general manager at Adventure Bound Oak Creek. “Essentially, it’s dodgeball in an octagon, where you have to slap the ball instead of picking it up and throwing it.”
When I was a lad, the pool at this campground only had a diving board; the sensation of a small slide made a splash sometime over the pre-millennium years. Now, practically a mini-waterpark, the spacious pool features a three-tubed water tower slide – installed in 2013 – and a Jump N Splash Castle for the little ones. The pool is heated now, too, making it perfect for those early spring and fall evening swims.
Probably the biggest draw to Oak Creek is the family-friendly themed weekends. Every weekend has a theme, and the end of April brings a wild west flair with Western Weekend (April 21-23), followed by a favorite with the little ones, Pirate & Princess Weekend (April 28-30), when kids get to dress the part and participate for awards.
“The one weekend people comment on the most is our Wet & Wild Weekend,” says Michael, who warns that almost everyone is outfitted with water guns and other soaking mechanisms. He went so far as to buy an old fire engine to douse the crowds. “I tell people, ‘If you do not want to get wet, do not come camping that weekend.’ Expect to get wet is the motto.”
Adventure Bound Oak Creek. 400 E. Maple Grove Rd., Narvon. 717-445-6161. abcamping.com/aboakcreek
Sites with a View: Starlite Camping Resort
The year was approximately 1991. After arriving and leveling the camper, before we got the camping lights lit and the chairs set up around the fire pit, my father-in-law directed me to the camp store at Starlite one late spring Friday evening. He told me to look for David Letterman and ask for a guest pass. He meant Dave Kitch, owner and operator of this mountain-top campground south of Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area. Dave runs Starlite, and yes, he does bear a remarkable resemblance to the former talk show host.
This campground prides itself on offering an escape from the everyday routine … with a view! For the best view, pull the camper into a site on the Plateau Area (sites 150 and 151 get a touch of shade in the morning) overlooking the fertile valleys of Clay Township. The view is a wonder for those looking to enjoy the tranquility of our agricultural heritage. Situated below the Plateau Area, even the pool has a view! If a more secluded spot is desired, Starlite offers more than 100 wooded spots intermixed with friendly seasonal campers from all over the United States.
Like Oak Creek, Starlite carries the moniker of “resort” by offering more than just a place to drop an RV. Starlite has volleyball, tennis and basketball courts, but one of the greatest attractions is the mini-golf. Located near the property’s entrance – across from the office/gift shop and game room – mini-golf is a favorite of all ages.
After opening the first week of May, Starlite hosts many on-premises activities like the Campground Flea Market through which campers can buy and sell crafts, clothing, tools, toys, antiques and whatever else they bring to the table on the main driveway.
Starlite Camping Resort. 1500 Furnace Hill Rd., Stevens. 717-733-9655. starlitecampingresort.com