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Tips & tricks: Camping with kids

June 17, 2015 | Dave Criswell

Camping is dirty.  There, I said it.

Close your eyes, and think about camping with your kids.  Do you envision the adventure unfolding neatly before you?  All the camping gear is exactly where it’s supposed to be stored, making packing a breeze.  Your family gets to the campground when there’s still plenty of light to find that perfectly flat site, and you all help to set up the tent with ease.  Wood is plentiful, the fire blazes with one stroke of the match, you grill the perfect open fire meal, and sit around the bug-free fire pit making s’mores, singing songs, and gazing at the clear, starry sky.  The night ends with yawns and the sounds of crickets lulling you to sleep until the smell of coffee wafts through the tent in the morning.  You know, whatever the Norman Rockwell equivalent is in the outdoor world.

Sounds totally amazing, right?  Well, based on my family’s camping experience, the reality may be a tad different.  The campsite will be moderately flat (well, as far as you can tell in the last bits of daylight).  The tent will go up, but not without a few choice words being muttered while your kids run amok.  The fire will be lit . . . eventually . . . and there will be dinner, but it’ll be charred on the outside, and frozen on the inside.  Your kids will want to save their s’mores, so they’ll put half in their pockets, which you won’t know about until you’re back home doing laundry.  You’ll hear thunder, and corral the kids into the tent.  Around 3:00 a.m., your air mattress will spring a leak as you climb over sleeping bodies, trying to get to the “bathroom.”  Morning will come way too soon when you realize the smell of coffee is coming from another campsite. DSCN4899 Even though it can be tough, there are SO many reasons to take your kids camping – from creating memories to helping build a foundation for active, healthy lifestyles – read on to see what you can you do to make camping with kids a little easier.

Let’s talk tips and tricks.

  1. Practice at home.  Head into the backyard, pitch a tent, and let your kids (and maybe you) get used to sleeping in a new environment.
  2. Plan.  Plan.  Plan some more.  Figure out what you need, what you already have, and what you have to buy.  Read on for great planning tips for camping with the kids below.
  3. Choose a family-friendly spot.  Remember what may sound idyllic might not be practical for your family.  Camping by a gorgeous body of water may not be the best idea if you have a toddler who roams.  Also, think about whether your kids (and even you) would do better with bathroom facilities.  Figure out what’s going to work for your family. Check out our suggested places in Colorado and California for family-friendly outings.
  4. Pack extra.  Of what, you may wonder?  Just about everything – clothes, water bottles, bug repellent, food, wipes, first aid kit, etc.  Need suggestions? Our Pinterest site has examples of a camping packing list.
  5. Check fire restrictions.  Be sure to check ahead of time to see if there are any fire restrictions where you’re headed. (Our resource section below as an example of a great interaction map on restrictions in Colorado!)
  6. Pack games.  Bring things to amuse your kiddos – especially during down time.  How about a favorite game, a deck of cards, a ball or make your own nature scavenger hunt!
  7. Practice Leave No Trace.  Learn about Leave No Trace and why it’s important on our blog.
  8. Be safe.  Walk around your campsite, and make sure your kids know where you are.  Have each child carry a whistle and a flashlight – and practice the buddy system.
  9. Keep trips short & close to home.  There’s no need to go on a long trek into the wild for your first foray into camping.  Keep it simple and short to start. Needs ideas? See our Resources section below.
  10. Research.  Almost all National Parks have activity-based Junior Ranger programs for kids to “Explore, Learn, and Protect.”
  11. Plan for Plan B.  Weather could leave you with more down time than you anticipated, so be prepared with some rainy day activities.
  12. Relax.  Let the time and fun unfold. Enjoy time spent outside with your family! So what if your kids look like filthy urchins, I bet they’re having a blast, and because you made a camping checklist, you remembered to pack extra wipes . . . right?

DSC07338 Resources, anyone? We’ve put together a few resources to get you started:

For our Colorado Families – check out 10 of the best places to go camping with kids in Colorado

For our California Families – Best spots to camp in California

Aside from having quality (“Yes,” quality) family time, camping teaches kids to love nature and appreciate everything it offers.  Kids learn skills that they just can’t grasp from books.  Can you imagine learning how to start a campfire by just reading about it?  Let them experience a whole new world and create extraordinary memories to last a lifetime or at least until the campfire smell no longer lingers!

Once you establish the foundation in valuing time spent outdoors as a family from a young age, empower your child to begin camping on their own.  Skills learned at our Teen Leadership Program at Colorado Mountain Camp helps teach skills like trail navigation, leadership, equipment maintenance and packing. photo (9) Lastly, check out our board Tips & Tricks on Pinterest for some awesome ideas on camping, hiking and getting outdoors with the whole family!

About the Author: Lynne Marsala Basche spent most of her career on the island of Manhattan at two New York publishing companies.  A multi-year Avid4 Adventure mom and a new contributor to the Avid4 Adventure website, Lynne’s writing adventures also take her to championing volunteerism and regional recreation stories as a staff writer for the Castle Pines Connection newspaper, as well as supporting separate large corporate communications programs.  By trying to keep pace with her mountain biking, rock climbing, snowboarding, lacrosse playing, unicycling, tae kwon do-loving 11-year old son, she, like most Avid4 parents, loves sharing the value of outdoor recreation and its positive influence on children’s health and confidence development.  Lynne lives in Castle Pines, Colorado and regularly immerses herself in outdoor activities with her family where she also runs her freelance writing company, Blue Spruce Creative

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