The Best (and Worst) Parts of Camping With Young Kids

Growing up, camping is what our family considered vacationing and traveling. I come from a family of seven, so camping was the most cost effective way for us to get away for a bit. We had a crusty old motorhome that had the bunk above the driver’s seat. I remember being allowed to sometimes lay up there when my dad would drive and my siblings and I absolutely loved it.

Fast forward to being an adult, I now get to share the camping experience with my children. The first time I shared with our friends that we were going camping, they asked questions about where we would sleep — well in our ten-person tent that we bought second hand! You can imagine the puzzlement on their faces when we decided to take our 130lb Great Dane and our 14-month-old twins camping. Oh, and did I mention that I was also nearly 30 weeks pregnant? 

Mother with baby on a back carrier holds hands with two toddlers

How did we do it? We just did. I think a lot of people overthink camping with children, which I can understand, but in a lot of ways, it’s much easier than being at home. Our children have always loved nature and spending all of their time outdoors. They loved living outside for a weekend because they had unlimited access to all of their favorite things: sticks, mud, and rocks.

Father setting up tent while 2 toddlers watch

The first time camping with them we went to William O Brien State Park in Minnesota. They slept in their pack-n-plays because at home, they were still sleeping in cribs. We also made sure to bring sound machines and their stuffed lovies, to ensure that their sleeping routine was consistent with how we do it at home. Their first time camping was great, we didn’t do much beyond our campsite because the weather was poor, however, I did not leave thinking that I never wanted to do it again. It was fun and overall very relaxing.

Two toddlers sit on a beach

The second time we went camping was last summer of 2020. In the midst of covid-19, we knew that camping was a safe and fun activity for our family, that would allow us to get out of our quarantine for a bit. We went to Willow River State Park in Wisconsin and found it to be so beautiful. The weather was perfect the majority of the trip and the twins really were into “sleeping outside” and understood the concept of camping a lot more. We hiked quite a bit, played in the Willow River waterfalls, swam, and enjoyed running around the many empty campsites. This was the trip that made me eager to do it more because the kids were much older and I was no longer pregnant. 

My favorite things about camping with kids

  1. Easy clean up! It’s so easy to clean up after kids when you’re outdoors. It requires no sweeping or mopping, which is truly a win in itself.
  2. Watching their imagination come alive. I think my kids are their best selves when they’re outdoors. It’s so enjoyable for me to see their creativity come to life.
  3. Tired kids are happy kids. The fresh air, hiking, swimming, and constant running at campsites tire them out quickly, which makes bedtime in a new place a breeze.
  4. Disconnecting. Most of them when we go camping, we have limited cell service and I love it. It allows me to be more present with my children and shut out the outside noise.
Father pulls two young boys in a wagon along grassy trail

My least favorite things about camping with kids

  1. So much laundry. Coming home from camping requires a lot of laundry because you’ve been outside in dirt. Everything is either muddy, smells like bug spray, or is coated in campfire smoke. It’s a lot of laundry, but it is always worth it.
  2. Lack of families that look like ours. I absolutely love camping, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone camping, as a child or an adult, and seen another Black family. This is really hard for me and for us as a family because it often feels exclusive and unsafe. There’s a lot to be said about access to nature and how inclusive the camping world is or isn’t, but I know that I’m very aware of this when we find new places. 
  3. It’s often a lot of work to find a campsite that is suitable for families. For example, not wanting to be too close to water access such as lakes or rivers. It’s important to be close, but not too close to the restrooms. The size of our campsite is a big deal because we are a big family and we love a layout where we sleep separate from where we hang by the fire. Lastly, how close we are to other campsites is very important for privacy and noise. Our crew is noisy so we like to be mindful of others, but other people are also noisy and sound travels well on those still evenings.
  4. The weather is always unpredictable. This may be the biggest drawback to camping when you are in a tent. If it’s raining, you’re stuck in a muggy tent for who knows how long. It’s quite miserable and even more miserable when you have kids. 

If you’ve made it this far and you’re still not sold on camping, allow me to offer some tips that may make you more interested in camping with your kids.

Toddler boy pokes his head around a tree

Tips on Camping With Kids

Pack Lightly

I learned the hard way our first time camping to pack lightly. You’ll be surprised once you set up your tent and get air mattresses, clothes, etc, in there how little room you have. You don’t need much but the essentials and I’m pretty sure camping rules state that you can certainly wear the same clothes over and over again.

Learn From Others

Another tip is to camp with other people who have camped before, during your first time. Not only will this take the pressure of feeling like you need to know everything there is about camping, but it’s a lot more enjoyable when your kids can have playmates and you have other adults to hang out with around the campfire.

Know the Nearest Store

One thing I also did my first time camping with our kids was making sure our campground wasn’t too far from a town. Although you pack light, there may be times that you forget an essential that the campground store does not have. It’ll be a lot easier if there’s a town close by that you can quickly pop into. 

Reduce Expectations & Go With the Flow

Lastly I’ll end with expecting the worse, but hoping for the best. It’s inevitable that one of the times you choose to camp it’ll unexpectedly downpour the whole time and you’ll end up packing up early in the rain. It’s always a bummer, but it’s an even bigger bummer if you’re not mentally prepared for that.

Two young boys sit at a campsite

Camping with children truly is fun and I mean that. It’s a great experience to see your children taking in the knowledge of starting fires, cooking meals over an open flame, and learning about all the fun insects and wildlife you may encounter. It’s a great way to disconnect and enjoy a low-key vacation. Even if you are a one and done family when it comes to camping, I highly recommend it and your children will thank you!

Follow our adventures on Instagram – @raisingtherootsboys!

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