camping with kids

As I've mentioned, we went camping in Lassen Volcanic National Park a couple of weeks ago. It's the third time my son had been camping and the first time for our little Miss. So, I don't claim to be an expert, but I have learned some things from taking such young kiddos out into the wild.

1. Prepare
This might seem obvious, but being as prepared as possible will make things go much more smoothly. You know what they say, "If you fail to plan than you plan to fail"; this is especially true when little kids are involved. Start packing (or at least writing a packing list) days in advance so you're not driving to your destination thinking "dang, that would have been nice to have" or "oh no! I forgot that!". Perhaps most importantly, prepare yourself mentally. Going camping with kids will likely be much different than camping with friends or your spouse. If you go into it figuring that it's not going be much of a vacation, then you'll have a great time! Okay, maybe that sounds a little pessimistic, but you get the idea. If your young ones are anything like mine, you'll spend a good portion of your camping trip saying things like: "Come back here please", "You need to listen to me", "Do you want to go to time out?", and "Okay, you're going to time out". And just like at home, consistency is key. Sure, you're on vacation and you can relax a little bit, but follow through with what you say. Also, a word of advice, camping is not the time to let your kids stay up all night because there's a good chance they'll be up with the sun, and a well-rested kid is a happy kid (and mommy).

Carlsbad Caverns KOA
2. Picking your campground
Once, when I was looking at campgrounds online I found one I really liked and went to check it out on Yelp. The reviews were really great until I got to one that mentioned that they had to keep their dog leashed because of all the poison oak everywhere [insert sound of brakes screeching to a halt here]. Um, yeah, I don't think I'm going to take my rambunctious toddler to a campground with poison oak around. Try to see the campsite through your child's eyes. Although your idea of a good time might be hiking around all day, then getting back to your primitive campsite and having a cold dinner, is your kid going to be having a ball too? Not to say you can't rough it with little ones, but if you want to have fun on vacation, don't you think your kids do too? Lots of campgrounds have pools, horseshoes, planned activities, playgrounds, etc. Find a campground that has some fun things you can do as a family! KOA's have locations all over the country and not only have fun stuff to do, but usually have bonuses like laundry facilities which are nice to have in case of a potty training emergency. :) And with little rugrats, showers are always a nice plus, although baby wipes and hand sanitizer can work wonders too.
I am a big fan of National Parks, I think these are great places to go as a family. Beautiful places with well-maintained trails (some that are accessible and easy to take a stroller on!), and bathroom facilities with drinking fountains. Plus, great museums and information centers for the whole family to enjoy and Jr. Ranger programs for the kiddos.
Don't be afraid to pimp out your campsite once you're there. Anything (within reason) that will make your life easier or more comfortable while you're camping you should consider bringinig! This last time we requested a tent site with water and electric, which we were able to use to blow up our Aerobed mattress that we brought along. It. Was. Awesome. We also made sure to bring our daughter's high chair so we could all eat at the same time. It was also a nice place to keep her contained while we were busy setting up camp and cooking food.

Fire pit at Shingletown/Mt. Lassen KOA.
3. Chow time
One of my favorite things about camping is planning fun meals we don't normally get at home, like foil wrapped dinners. And why is it that everything always tastes better when it's cooked over a fire? Here are just a couple of ideas and tips that are good whether or not you have kids.

One of my favorite breakfasts while camping is crescent rolls wrapped around sausage and cheese, then cooked over a fire. It takes awhile to cook it so that it gets cooked evenly, but it is oh so good!

Prepare everything you can before you leave home, it means less time and less cleanup. I prepared our foil dinners the morning before we left so I didn't have to cut potatoes and deal with raw chicken at our campsite. For our pancakes in the morning I measured out the amount of mix I needed in a Ziploc bag, then wrote the ingredients that I needed to add in Sharpie. Then it's super easy to mix right in the bag by mushing it with your hands, then cut the tip off a corner and use the bag to pour the batter onto the griddle. PS- we got our small cast iron griddle from Ikea awhile ago for way cheaper than most stores sell them, and it works great!

4. Have fun!
Remember to enjoy yourself! Stop on the way at a yummy food place you've never tried before or at a roadside oddity. Do a Google search, see reviews on Yelp, or check out {this} website. Geared towards foreigners wanting to visit America, it's a great catch-all  list of roadside oddities, state and national parks, as well as a list of "The Top 100 in the USA", which is comprised of the top 10 amusement parks, top 10 bridges, top 10 monuments, etc. Lots of great things to see and do!

I've heard lots of people say that it seems silly to take young kids camping or on trips in general until they're older, so much effort and expense for something they probably won't remember; that may be true, but you will. You'll remember how excited your 3 year old was the first time he saw a bear without the safety of a zoo fence. You'll remember how funny your 13 month old daughter thought it was to walk through  a pitch dark lava tube and how she just laughed and jibber-jabbered the whole way. And if you're like me, you'll likely have lots of photographic evidence to help you remember how badly your son wanted to stop on the side of the road and build a snowman.  And all those memories are just from one short trip.

So it might be extra work and frustrating at times, and you might come back feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation, but this time with your young ones is so fleeting. It's a very small window when you can have conversations like this with your child: "Look, poop" "Poop? No honey, that's hot mud, it's called a mud pot." "Oh, mud, we should clean it up!".

**I mentioned a few specific places and websites. This is not a sponsored post and I am not being compensated in anyway. I'm just sharing what I like with you. :)