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A Family Backcountry Experience at Orenda


 A Family Backcountry Camping Experience at Orenda

What do you get when you put two young kids, an overworked father and a high-maintenance wife (love you, honey) into an SUV and send them for a camping trip into the great outdoors?  A disaster?  It certainly could have been.  But not at Camp Orenda in the picturesque Adirondack Mountains of New York.

I lived out West for years, camping all around Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and California.  There is nothing like being free in your 20’s and living the single life, free to take off in the Jeep and hit the hills.  What could be better than hiking all day, shooting photos of the panoramic mountain vistas and then settling in for the night by making a roaring fire, a few beers, and a ramen noodle dinner followed by an admittedly hard sleep in a little two-man tent?  I thought that this was paradise and longed to share it with my wife as soon as we got married ten years ago.  I wanted her to enjoy exploring the West and being at one with nature as much as me.  Sure, she had come from a privileged upbringing in Connecticut, but she seemed genuinely excited to share in whatever made me happy…until we went on that first camping trip.  A grueling hike, blisters, mac & cheese (from the box),  a rainy night marinating in the mountain runoff in a leaky tent, and some strange wildlife sounds ended in a disaster not to be repeated again.

A decade later living back in Boston, with a five year old boy and 7 year old girl, I decided it was time to take another crack at it, if only to expose my children to the outdoors early in their lives, hoping to foster in them a kinship with nature that would last forever.  I convinced my wife with some hard campaigning (bribery of a Banana Republic spending spree) which brought about the planning of our next camping trip.  I knew one thing:  there could be no margin of error on this one.

After some online research of the latest gear, campgrounds all around the Northeast, RV’s and a lot of online reviews, I landed on the Camp Orenda website (    Proprietor David Webb, an experienced back country guide, NOLS outdoor educator, and all around outdoorsman had just started his “Adirondack Outdoor Experience”.  He was just finalizing the build out of his site, built on family-owned land in historical lower region of New York’s Adirondack State Park.  Thank heavens for that late night internet search because it made all the difference in the world for this family.  I called, spoke with Webb and booked it the next day.

Upon arrival to the property, we were pleasantly greeted by our enthusiastic host who helped in the unloading process (not shockingly, my wife brought enough gear to outfit an expedition for twelve to Alaska) and were treated to a walking tour of the beautiful property under a canopy of hundred year-old trees with a meandering mountain stream running through the property.  We were each shown our home for the weekend and even my wife was impressed.  Orenda boasted three Canvas Cabins mounted on a raised (several feet off the ground) wooden platform with a veranda and two Adirondack chairs.  Each was inviting, the aesthetic of approaching each tent by way of a wood-chipped path, the rain fly covering the outdoor porch. Tiki torches lit in the twilight gave us a warm and unexpected feel of luxury in this unique outdoor setting.  I certainly had never camped like this.  Each tent had two raised beds with air mattresses, fresh linens, and a small bureau made of 100 yr old barn board salvaged from the area.  There were even headlamps for each guest to use and fresh picked  wild flowers in an antique mason jar.  I realized that I had been figuratively holding my breath since we got to the campground to see my wife’s reaction to our first camping experience in ten years.  It was apparent right away that Webb knew his stuff and had nailed it with his Platform Tents, Rustic Outdoor Kitchen and an open air Pavilion as well as  hammocks arranged along a clear mountain stream.

As the sun set, we reconvened at the outdoor kitchen by a roaring fire.  The kitchen was an impressive open-air structure featuring rustic, thick wooden beams, a tin roof and an island constructed of roughhewn wood (bark still on the edging) and a set of stools that Webb had hand built himself.  Candles were lit, wine was poured, and we were treated to our first taste of the gourmet outdoors:  fire-roasted mushroom caps stuffed with goat cheese and herbs.  Now this was “roughing it”!  We settled in and began to slough off the trappings of the city life.  As we chatted away with our host, the amiable Webb described the history of the land which has been in his family for over 40 years. Camp Orenda was conceived as a tribute to Webb’s brother, Chris, an award winning composer who shared the same passion for this family property.  Webb hand built Orenda in Chris’ honor to fulfill their childhood dream of creating this magical place for others to experience.  We discussed all the local outdoor options we could indulge in for the weekend and feasted on a wonderful dinner of hand-made, spiced Cowboy Burgers (huge and juicy) cooked over the wood-fired grill, fresh, herb-roasted potatoes and cast-iron sautéed vegetables with locally sourced crusty bread.  Replete and satiated after our drive, we were ready for bed.

I slept soundly, sharing a tent with my young son, quietly drifting off into a deep sleep as the nearby stream acted as a real-life sound machine.  Late in the evening I woke up to the sounds of a pounding rain.  My first thought was confusion, the fear of suddenly being soaked taking hold.  As I came to, I realized the best thing about Orenda:  I was camping in the middle of a driving rain, completely dry, snug and warm in my comfy bed.  I went onto the porch of my tent, sat in a chair and listened to the rainfall for a half hour before returning to a warm bed and deep sleep.  It was like camping in heaven.

Upon waking (my children slept later than my wife and me!) and making our way down to the kitchen, we were greeted by our host who had clearly been up for a while.  The fire in the pit was roaring, chairs were laid out around it and a buffet breakfast of fresh fruits and locally-made muffins awaited us.  Webb offered us a steaming camp mug of coffee, and was sensitive enough to know that we didn’t need idle chit-chat until we had downed at least one cup of Joe while warming ourselves by the fire.

Our next two days consisted of an epic, guided hike up Crane Mountain (which my kids loved), a dip in the high alpine lake at the top, a picnic lunch and then more appetizers, drinks and another top tier, gourmet dinner.  The following day we stayed on the property as the children played in the stream, and then we all toured the vast property with Webb, who gave the kids lessons in local horticulture (indigenous plants that naturally repelled mosquitos) and generally entertaining all of us.  Webb knew instinctively when to let us have our family time as he worked diligently in the background, and knowing when to engage with the family.

The measure of a successful camping trip was realized in the glowing smiles as we drove away, kids and wife chattering away about when we could return.  Amazingly, my wife appeared to be the biggest fan, clearly proud of her new found outdoor capabilities and ready to rebook soon.  It was a confluence of Webb’s kind hospitality, passion and love of his family’s property, the gourmet meals, state-of-the art rustic camping facility and host of unlimited outdoor activities that made this such a memorable family experience.  It brought us both relaxation and exercise in the clean mountain air, satisfied my wife’s discerning tastes, enriched and educated the children and allowed us to bond as a family in a natural, healthy and peaceful way.  No phones, no video games, no television. What more can you ask for in today’s frenetic world?

A special thank you to David Webb on his dedication and realization to his and his brother’s childhood dream.  Our magical Orenda experience is something we will always cherish it and one thing is for certain, we’ll be back soon.