By Jennifer Carroll | @twinningtheweekend
Even for the most seasoned camper, the thought of camping with young kids can be daunting.
When you start thinking about packing, how you’ll get your kids to sleep in a tent and what you’ll feed everyone, it’s easy to be overwhelmed.
My husband and I both have decades of experience camping and backpacking in remote areas of Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. But, even as veteran campers, it was intimidating to take our toddler twins on their first camping trip.
Fortunately, some family friends invited us for a weekend of camping not long after our twins turned two. Armed with their encouragement and moral support, we headed out. It wasn’t perfect. It never is. But, we had a great time. And, best of all, we wanted to go again.
Camping is a great way to spend time together as a family. New experiences help your child develop confidence and gain independence. Plus, it’s fun!
So now it’s my turn to encourage you…Roll up your sleeping bag and head for the great outdoors.
If it’s your first camping trip, start small. Choose a state park or other campsite as close to home as possible – an hour away from home is more than plenty. Make your reservation for 1-2 nights. Car camping (where you drive up to your campsite) will keep things simple. This doesn’t need to be an episode of Survivor: Family Camping.
Choose Your Campsite Strategically
Almost every camping area has a playground. Choose a site as close to the play area as possible. Your kids can play and meet new friends while you set up your tent, cook or simply relax. A play area provides hours of entertainment and also creates a physical boundary for kiddos who tend to wander.
Bring A Scooter Or Bike
Bathroom facilities may be a short walk from your campsite. Make it fun with a bike or scooter. Campgrounds are great spaces to practice new skills or explore a paved trail. Older kids will love to make a loop around the camping area. They feel like it’s a big adventure but you can still keep an eye on them.
Visit The Visitor Center And Meet Park Rangers
Visitor centers offer a wealth of resources. You’ll find information about your area, trail maps and a schedule for family-friendly activities. Most state parks give out books with Junior Ranger programs and activity ideas. Camp hosts and park rangers are friendly people who are there to help and offer ideas.
Pack A Camp Toy Box
The next time you go to donate or give away a few toys, stash a few in a tub or bag. These are your “camping toys.” Balls, digging tools or other open-ended items are perfect for a camping trip. The novelty of “new” toys will hold their interest and you won’t have to worry about a prized possession getting dirty or lost.
Keep Meals Simple
Worried about toddlers around the campfire? Don’t want to drag all of your cooking utensils to the campsite? Just don’t cook. It’s really okay. A Lunchable is a gourmet meal when enjoyed under the trees. Turkey roll-ups, peanut butter sandwiches, and cheese and crackers are perfectly fine for any meal. Don’t put pressure on yourself to cook unless you want to.
Borrow What You Can Or Buy Used
You don’t need a lot of expensive gear. Kids grow quickly and your family’s needs will change too. Borrow a tent from a friend or shop secondhand. Facebook Marketplace is a great way to score all kinds of camping gear like hiking carriers for toddlers. Yoga mats make great camping mattresses. A large bucket with a lid can double as a camping stool for a kiddo. Get creative and build your gear up over time.
Lower Your Expectations
Toddlers are going to have meltdowns whether they are at home or out having fun. If we can go into the weekend with that mindset, it’s easier to “parent” when we need to.
You WILL forget something. Laugh about it and make it memorable. Kids will think it’s silly to eat without silverware or sleep without pajamas.
Doing anything with young kiddos can be a challenge. Embrace the chaos.
Remember, when you’re out camping you can’t mow the lawn, you can’t organize the playroom closet and (best of all) you can’t do laundry! Enjoy your time together trying something new.
Good campers aren’t born, they’re made. Start small and slowly work your way up to bigger adventures. It’s okay to use the plastic, to stay in a cabin or to head home early in a rainstorm. There is no right way to camp.
Bonus Tip: Kids tend to wake up with the sun. Send them to the playground in their pjs and embrace your early start with your favorite homemade coffee.
Jennifer Carroll | @twinningtheweekend
Jennifer is a mom to four-year-old twins and a very large Weimaraner. Before kids, she worked in television and advertising. She paused her career to be a stay-at-home mom only to discover she loved freelance writing. You’ll find her family camping, chasing cows or at the lake on weekends. Follow their adventures at @twinningtheweekend