How to Camp in the Woods With Young Kids

I know people do this all the time.  We're really nothing special in the camping world.  But this past weekend was we hit a big milestone in the rhymeswithsmile family - our first camping trip with two kids!

We picked our spot (Taconic State Park in Copake Falls, NY), reserved a site, and loaded up the car.  By "loaded," I literally mean, loaded.  It was a tight squeeze, folks.  Our sweet pooch had a 1'x2' landing for the 60-mile trip.

Partially unpacked car.  The dog got half of the towel for the ride!
On a side note, the towel was also a diaper changing station.
It was a good trip though it started off with a rocky arrival.  We pulled in at dinner time, with an infant ready to nurse, a car to unpack, firewood to purchase, and a dinner to cook - on the coals of a fire that had to be lit with wood we had to purchase once we emptied the car of all the stuff that was in it so we could fit three bundles of wood in there.  One member of the family burst into tears immediately.  One began unpacking the car.  One sucked her thumb and fell asleep, and the other started putting rocks in her pocket.  I'll let you guess who was who.

I don't really have any recipes to share, because we ate typical camping food - foil dinners, pancakes from a mix, eggs and bacon, picnic lunch of summer sausage and cheese, and grilled bratwurst (yep, heavy on the meats).  But I do have a few tips to share for those out there who may find themselves camping with young kids (of the toddler variety and younger.)

Prepare - fires, tents, poles, camping stoves, and head lamps are cool gadgets for us adults.  But for a kid who's never been camping before, those things are scary.  Take some time in the days leading up to the trip to show your kids what you look like when you're wearing a head lamp (and assure them you're not putting on another eye).  Take them outside to roast marshmallows over a fire pit so they can see the flames.  Basically, don't assume that they have any idea what those things are for.  Set yourself up for success by introducing them to the gear and the activities ahead of time.

Here I would like to give a big shout out to my cousin Becky in DC.  The girls and I visited her last month, and on a simple walk around her neighborhood my potty-training toddler said she needed to go.  Yikes!  What does a mom do in the city when the girl says she can't hold it?  She asks Cousin Becky, nurse and former camp counselor, for help.  Becky came to the rescue and taught my firstborn how to pee in the grass - an accomplishment she was so excited about that it was the first thing she told her daddy when we skyped later that evening.  Turns out, that lesson was really a valuable one for camping in the woods.  Sure, we were close enough to the bath house that we could've run down there in a jiffy.  But what's camping if not a little extra practice for those skills that don't get used much?

Snacks - not just for the kids.  Pack enough snacks for every snacking member of the family to have two sustain-you-for-a-good-while snacks a day.  Because, dinner might be late, or it might rain when you're trying to pack up, or your toddler might need a distraction from the poison ivy that is surrounding the campsite.  Some of my favorite snacks to bring along are nuts, cheeses, avocados, crackers, dried fruits, granola, and beef jerky.

We are happy!  We have recently had snacks!
Divide and Conquer - This will probably get trickier for those who are camping with more than two kids, but the Mr. and I adopted the "you take one kid, I'll take the other" approach.  This is especially helpful when there is a copious amount of poison ivy around the majority of your campsite.  Someone needs to keep the toddler from picking pretty leaves and sharing them with mommy.  But it's also good at mealtime and those "perfect storm" moments when both kids are hungry and need a diaper change just as it's beginning to rain.  Talk about strategies with your co-camping adult before you go, if you can.

Lighten up - We had a discussion about this.  Seriously.  Because I was falling apart instead of enjoying this trip for what it was.  So what if our camping trips aren't what they used to be ... so what if I forgot to bring the potty seat and the kid has to go 4 times an hour ... so what if my infant screams at me every time I set her down.  We're not choosing to go camping because it's the easiest way to spend our weekend.  We're choosing to go camping because it's an activity that is important to our family and that grounds us in reality and beauty and reminds us of the joys and surprises of the created world.  The challenges will pass.  Really, what we will remember is that we did it.

I'm sure there are lots of other things that we have yet to learn about camping with kids.  So we're going to try a few more times in the coming summer months, and I'll be sure to share what I've learned.

Just a few more pictures of the camping adventures ...

If you've made it this far into the post, I figure you can take one more reminder to go enter my giveaway in honor of another milestone (300 posts!) that is open until tomorrow at 5 PM!


  1. Thanks for sharing! What did you put MG in to sleep? We have the camper and I am thinking of bringing the pack n play did you find it useful?

  2. You inspire me with every post! : )

    Dee & I have been wanting to go camping, & we only have a dog to consider; so how about some tips for camping with a dog? ; )

    Thanks for sharing this camping adventure with us; your family is so beautiful & awesome!

  3. Mandy - she still sleeps well in her infant car seat, so we had that in the tent with us! She stayed pretty warm in there. We've used a pack n play before, and it's great for kids who are a little more mobile or too big to sleep in the carseat. This time around, the pack n play was set up outside so that we had a place we could lay her down if we needed to!

    Lauren - go camping with the dog! Our dog is the best foot warmer on cold nights ... he loves sleeping in the foot of our sleeping bag :) Watch out for poison ivy for him/her though.
    Oh, and different campgrounds have different rules about what kind of documentation is required for dogs - we typically bring his rabies vaccination records.