Family fall camping in Maryland

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Thomas Vales on a family camping tripThomas Vales on a family camping tripBy Laura Barnhardt Cech

Camping is a great family activity, and fall is the perfect time to hit the great outdoors and head to a camping spot in Maryland.

When Nicole Vales and her family go camping, she looks forward to burning butter.

It seems silly to pack up the half-stick of butter that inevitably is left in the cooler at the end of the camping trip. So, instead, they burn it in the campfire.

"Now it's tradition," says the mother of three, laughing. "We call it the 'Burning of the Butter.' As it melts, we talk about what our favorite times were."

Her 11-year-old looks forward the independence that comes with the trip. At one favorite campground, for example, the lake is visible in the distance, so he can go fishing alone. Her middle son enjoys the campfires best. And her youngest son, 7, likes the cozy tent and the fact that his big brothers can't say, "Get out!"

For the Vales, camping give them a chance to bond as a family.

"It forces us to have quality time together," says Vales. "In this age of electronics, it's easy, even for adults, to get distracted. There's the iPod, the iPad, the DS, the phone... We can sit in the family room for an hour together and not actually interact with each other."

But around the campfire, on the walks to the bathhouse, or snuggled in their tent, they have conversations, they laugh, and they reconnect.

Not only that, they have family vacation at a fraction of the cost of staying in a hotel.

"I love a change of scenery, but I don't like to spend a lot of money," says Vales, whose family camps several times a year.

It's also a fun way to vacation with other families, says Stacey Scofield, a mother of three from Churchton. "That way, you're not stuck in a little hotel room," she says. "Everyone cooks together. The kids play together... We can chat with our friends, but you don't have to 'entertain.'"

If you've been camping before and were less than impressed, try it again, says Vales. "The more you do it," she says, "the easier it becomes."

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