Night already had fallen by the time I drove into Wolf Creek State Park last month and slowly turned onto the gravel lane that led to the group campsites.
With no street lights to guide the way, the darkness and a layer of freshly fallen leaves made it difficult to tell exactly where the lane was as I threaded my way between the trees.
Consequently, I was relieved when I saw a lone campfire flickering in the distance. That firelight guided me to the site where I would be camping with the men's group from my church - First General Baptist in Mattoon.
The men's camping trip gave me a chance to try fall camping, something that had been on my to-do list for some time. The trip also provided me with a good opportunity to get to know Wolf Creek on Lake Shelbyville, a park that I had not visited since childhood.
When the Friday night of the trip arrived, I did not get as early of a start toward Wolf Creek as I had hoped. This resulted in me setting up my tent in the dark, a task made easier by the glow of my flashlight and the help of my fellow campers.
With that task completed, I settled down in my folding chair next to the campfire. The evening air temperature was just above 40 degrees, which was cool enough to make the warmth of the fire feel good but not cold to the point of being uncomfortable.
We roasted hot dogs over the fire and had burgers cooked in a skillet on a small gas grill. That skillet produced a mighty delicious cheeseburger. There is just something about eating next to a campfire that makes comfort food taste even better than usual.
There were no other groups using the surrounding campsites on this fall evening, so the woods were peaceful as we relaxed by the fire. Later, the quiet and the cool air made for great sleeping conditions as I crawled into my tent for the night.
After having sweated my way through a couple of summer camping trips last year, it was a nice change of pace to bundle up with a sleeping bag and other warm bedding. I slept solidly throughout the night.
The following morning, I took in the view of Lake Shelbyville that daylight had revealed. We had camped on a sort of peninsula from which the fall foliage along the shoreline, fishing boats on the water and golfers at nearby Eagle Creek State Park could be seen.
I fueled up on fried eggs, sausage patties and bacon cooked on a gas-powered folding grill at our campsite and then headed out to see a bit more of Wolf Creek on the way home.
My first stop in the park was Quigley Cemetery, which sits high above the lake. There, I was fascinated to see a section containing graves that had been relocated from at least two other cemeteries - Carpenter and McDaniel.
Then, I checked out a Wolf Creek picnic pavilion that overlooks Lake Shelbyville. I walked down a short trail from the pavilion to a long stretch of sandy shoreline, which I quickly decided that I wanted to show to my wife and our two children.
I held on to this idea until I was able to return with my family on a Saturday a couple of weeks later. The wind was a little chilly that day, but the sunshine beamed down on us as we hiked along the shore from a wooden overlook platform to the pavilion.
We paused often during our hike so that our 6-year-old daughter could dig in the sand and we all could watch the low waves stirred up by the occasional passing fishing boat. On the way out of the park, we stopped to watch a herd of deer that grazed unperturbed just yards from our car.
Our autumn day at Wolf Creek proved to be fun and relaxing. We usually set aside time every fall to visit a pumpkin patch or apple orchard, watch Eastern Illinois University's homecoming parade and go trunk-or-treating.
Now that my family has experienced how enjoyable hiking can be in the fall, and I have discovered how much I like camping in the fall, we will likely add Wolf Creek or other state parks to our list of must-visit destinations at this time of year.
This column and previous entries in the series can also be read at www.facebook/RobStroud.DayTripper.
Rob Stroud is a staff writer for the JG-TC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-6861.