Better Know a Rental: Covered Wagons

Single moms often struggle with camping.

While many are interested in taking their kids into the Great Outdoors, they often don’t have tents or RVs.

But as Marty Baran discovered, campgrounds offer more than just RV sites or tent camping sites. Unique rental accommodations can be found at many campgrounds these days including park model cabins and yurts to teepees and even covered wagons.

Eleven years ago, Baran joined a group of single moms who camp with their children and other family members every fall at Rancho Oso Guest Ranch & Stables, which is located in the oak covered mountains between Santa Barbara and Solvang, Calif.

Part of Thousand Trails Resorts, Rancho Oso features two groups of covered wagons, which are arranged in a circle around two separate campfire rings. The park also offers guided horseback rides as well as cattle herding and bull riding demonstrations every Saturday.

“We started out camping in the covered wagons as a group of single moms with kids,” Baran said. “But our group has grown.”

Indeed, Baran’s latest covered wagon campout in October included 30 to 40 people, more than half of whom were children. While most of them camped in the covered wagons, others rented cabins.

But Baran said the allure of camping in Rancho Oso’s covered wagons goes beyond simply having a camping experience that harkens back to the days of the Old West. Baran and her fellow campers have transformed their covered wagon weekend into a Halloween-themed event that they do every October. Everyone brings pumpkins to carve and they tell scary stories to each other around the campfire at night.

“My son’s 13 and he can’t wait to do this each year,” Baran said.

Baran and her friends also keep their camping weekend simple. They cook most of their meals beforehand at home. That way, they simply have to reheat their food in crockpots when they’re in camp. Get more tips like this from our Food for the Road articles.

Each of Rancho Oso’s covered wagons is equipped with electrical outlets and sleeping cots, so all campers really have to bring is their sleeping bags. But Baran said she also likes to bring air mattresses and portable air heaters for extra comfort.

A handful of other campgrounds across the country also offer covered wagons as unique rental accommodations, including Lake in Wood Resort in Narvon, Penn. and Smokey Hollow Campground in Lodi, Wis., whose covered wagons are equipped with air conditioning, a DVD player, a microwave oven, a refrigerator, a coffee pot, a picnic table and a charcoal grill.

Covered wagons are also available for rent at Frontier Town Campground in Ocean City, Md., which is next to the Frontier Town Western Theme Park. And unlike the covered wagons at other campgrounds, Frontier Town’s handmade “Whipper Snappers Wagons” can be set up on campsites where other family members are camping.

“It was a great way to get the feeling of the old pioneer days,” said Sharon Martin, a frequent Frontier Town camper who tried out the covered wagon for the first time this fall. The wagon was equipped with twin bunk beds and electrical power.

While most family members slept in their RVs, Martin said it was fun having a covered wagon for the kids.

“It was the cutest thing I ever saw,” Martin said, adding that she equipped family’s covered wagon with a little TV to keep the kids entertained.

“Having a covered wagon made the kids think about the cowboys and Indians and a little bit of history. We were able to use it to explain this was how your ancestors got around. It brought everything into perspective for them. The kids really did enjoy it and we will be renting it again.”