No-Cry Tips for Camping with Babies and Toddlers

OK, I’m sure half of you are laughing at the very title of this article – camping?! With an infant, crawler or toddler? The little humans that are nothing if not predictably unpredictable? Noooothankyou.

Wait, wait…come back. We’ll break this down and I’ll see if I can convince you. Because maybe there’s some little part of your pre-baby self that does want to sleep beneath the towering evergreens, the scent of fir and campfire enveloping your soul.

(I know, I said the word “campfire” and now all you can think about is your toddler playing with the embers.)

We took both kids camping at an early age – my daughter at 8 months on Mt. Rainier and my son starting at 12 months, on the Hood Canal. I’ve compiled a list of recommendations and tips from myself and Jennifer Aist, blogger at Wilderness for Kids and author of the excellent Babes in the Woods: Hiking, Camping & Boating with Babies and Young Children.

1. Try the tent. Camp in the glory of your own backyard, just to give your family a trial run. Some children have easy-to-transition personalities that won’t screech at a new sleeping spot. Others – well – let’s hear a story from Kelowna, BC-based mom Bobbie-Sue Menard, whose first four kids slept well in tents between 12-24 months. Then her fifth child put the established pattern to the test.

“My last baby pitched a high- frequency panicked fit at the top of his lungs on our first camping trip – at 3. a.m.,” Menard says. “Since we were surrounded by hundreds of tenters in Banff national park who were being woken up to the sound of screaming baby at 3 a.m., Baby and I slept sitting up with babe sprawled across my chest inside the van for the next three nights.” It happens. (We’ll hear more from Menard later in the week — this woman rocks the camping trip)

2. Pick the perfect campground. “If you are unsure about this whole camping thing, choose a campground that has resources nearby like a grocery store, restaurant or maybe even a hotel,” says Aist. I recommend staying no more than an hour from home, only so you can beat a hasty retreat if necessary (see point #1 above).


Even if you were an avid, hardcore backpacker before kids, don’t beat yourself up for taking the car-camping or “glamping” route with little ones. I hold off on the backpacking, at least until kids can help carry items back and forth to the car. However, other families certainly pull can this off with panache. (If you’re a backpacking-with-babies family, I’d love to hear from you)

Aist points out that busy campgrounds can be stressful; smaller campgrounds offer a calmer environment for young children. I prefer campgrounds stocked with additional attractions, such as a lake, beachfront or easy hiking trails. My other must-haves include running water — it makes for easier clean-up of easy-mess infants — and modern flush toilets. Pit toilets can be intimidating (and mega stinky) for adults, much less a potty-training toddler.

3. Select your site carefully. Avoid sites near rivers or lakes (to prevent wandering catastrophes), entrance/exit points for the campground (too much car traffic), or even a site without much privacy.  “Pick a site that backs up to the woods rather than another campsite so you won’t fret over keeping your neighbors up all night with a fussing baby,” Aist says.

If you’re with a potty-training kid, sites near the bathroom and running water are solid options; bringing along a portable potty isn’t such a bad idea either (we brought a Babybjorn Potty Chair).

4. Pack right. “Toddlers are very sensitive to their routines,” Aist says. “Keep the routines going even when you are camping,” and incorporate expected customs around sleep, comfort, food and play. Pack favorite snacks (Cheerios, Goldfish crackers), beloved stuffed animals, books they can practically recite from memory, Tylenol for teething infants and a camping lamp that can run all night (if your child loves his bedroom nightlight). One note — if you do use cloth diapers, you might think about switching to disposable or Gdiapers for the duration of your camping trip. Or figure out a good solution for dealing with dirty dipes (stay-dry stuff sacks are a good option).

To keep baby out of the fire or food prep area, use a pack ‘n’ play-type playpen from home, which can double as a nap and nighttime solution. “Daytime naps are critical to good night sleep,” Aist says, so don’t skimp on this part. With a baby monitor, you can listen in on your tent-napping babe, while you relax with a book by the fire.

5. Sleep tight. “For small tents, the pea pods (example: KidCo PeaPod Portable Self Inflating Travel Bed – Lime) are popular,” Aist says. She also recommends bag doubles like the Functional DesignSleeping Bag Expander for co-sleepers — the expanders make one parent’s sleeping bag wider, so baby can snuggle in with you.

Another option (our family’s choice) was to cosleep on a queen-size air mattress, bringing sheets, pillows and a lightweight-but-superwarm blanket along with us (I love our wool Pendleton Blanket— 10 years old and often all we need on a camping trip). We dressed ourselves warmly and outfitted our daughter in a fleece bunting, (like this Columbia Snowtop II Bunting) so she stayed warm all night — even after kicking off the covers. The bunting also served as a warm romper during a chilly alpine morning.

Before bedtime, remember what we mentioned about routines. “Look at your home bedtime routine and see how you can modify it in the field,” Aist says. “For example, if you read a book before bed at home, do it in the tent too. If you use a white noise machine at home, download a white noise app for your iPod and play it in the tent.” Don’t skimp on the pre-bedtime snack or feeding, and don’t keep your baby up late hoping they’ll be so pooped they’ll pass out. “Put them down for bed before they are overtired,” Aist suggests.

6. Reframe “camping.” The pace is slower, and there won’t be as much sitting around, reading magazines and books or chilling out by the fire — except during naptime. You may have to plan activities for your toddler or spend more time entertaining them, as on an airplane — but without someone glaring from the seat in front.

Order a book on local flora and fauna (we use National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest), as toddlers enjoy identifying and naming objects — why not the stinging nettle (ouch) or huckleberry? A few more fun toddler-ready ideas: Heading out on a trail ramble, looking for crabs (under rocks) at the beach, using a magnifying glass to get up-close to bugs, throwing rocks into the lake and collecting seashells. Playing with some of the food-prep equipment is always a great option – a toddler, a small fry pan, a tin cup and a spoon can last longer than you’d think. You could even bring a few toy trucks from home for hauling pebbles.

7.  Worst case scenario. We know what this looks like. Your infant or toddler hates camping. She hates being cold, she hates the weird noises and she really, really hates that icky campfire smell. You have a few options – pack it up and go home (we know people who’ve done this), sit in the car with your baby until she calms down or….pack it up and go home.

But don’t give up on the idea yet. There’s always next year, when the kids are a little older and more flexible.

“The benefits of getting kids outside far outweigh a bad night’s sleep,” Aist says.

Readers, do you have any tips for camping with babies or toddlers? Any favorite toys, campsites, must-bring items from home?

Camping with Kids in British Columbia

Looking for a BC vacation deal? British Columbia offers pitch-perfect camping options for every family: seven national parks, 900 provincial parks and hundreds of private campgrounds and RV parks. BC’s provincial parks typically only charge between $10 to $24 per site for car campers.

Jayne Seagrave is an expert on BC camping, and a mom to two boys (aged 10 and 11) — two lucky boys who’ve been camping since birth. She’s also the author of Camping British Columbia and Camping With Kids: The Best Campgrounds in British Columbia and Alberta.

Let’s find out what Jayne recommends for BC family camping.

1. For families visiting Vancouver, can you recommend a close-in campsite with a playground or other kid-friendly features?

There are no provincial park campgrounds within Vancouver. The nearest is Porteau Cove, about a 30 minute drive away. There is a small beach here (on the road to Whistler – Highway 99). (Lora’s note: I love the dramatic viewpoint at Porteau Cove — check out the photo at right).

Better to drive 90 minutes up to Alice Lake. Alice Lake is near Vancouver and the town of Squamish, so if it rains or you decide you don’t like camping, a Squamish motel is only 10 minutes away. Alice Lake offers a great kids play park, very safe beach, easy hiking trails, and a play park.

2. If a family wanted to take advantage of Whistler’s fun but didn’t want to pay for a hotel, what would you suggest?

Nairn Falls Provincial Park is fine and is the nearest to Whistler and there is a great 30 minute return trail to the falls, but no flush toilets, nor kids play area (although they can cycle around the campground). Nairn is about a 20 minute drive from Whistler, Alice Lake about 40 minutes, and there is so much more to do at Alice with children.


3. Can you recommend a campground on Vancouver Island for families? Why is it fantastic?

Rathtrevor Beach has everything for families and is close to the popular town of Parksville. You’ll find a huge beach, showers, easy paved roads to cycle upon, nature house and programs.

4. Any other favorite BC campgrounds for families with kids?

All campgrounds offer own personal attributes, below is a list of those I feature in Camping With Kids as they are the better ones for children, in that they might provide playparks, showers, flush toilets and kids’ programs.

Lower Mainland campsites:

1. Alice Lake Provincial Park
2. Porpoise Bay
3. E C Manning Park

Vancouver Island campsites:

1. Rathtrevor Beach
2. Gordon Bay
3. Miracle Beach

Okanagan campsites:

1. Ellison Provincial Park
2. Bear Creek
3. Haynes Point

Northern BC/Rockies campsites:

1. Kokanee Creek
2. Lalelse
3. Kikomun Creek

5. Why is camping in BC such a great experience for both BC families and visitors to BC?

Larger provincial parks have Jerry’s Rangers Programs specifically for kids which teaches nature courses, safety outsides, talks on bears and insects and frogs and fish and beaches, depending where the park is located. Only the larger parks offer these.

There are also evening talks and interpretive programs suitable for all age groups. Most of the campgrounds I recommend will have the talks but only in peak summer months and some only on certain days. I’ve attended loads, the evening ones are an easy way to pass an hour in the early evening and usually involve audience participation, which kids really like.

At a BC campground, you can get away from electronic devices and can explore in a very safe environment. Camping is also very reasonably priced in BC. Make sure to use the reservation system to avoid disappointment at www.discovercamping.ca. You can reserve most of the best family campgrounds.

6. And I understand that you suggest new-to-camping families might try taking a spin in an RV first. What was your experience with an RV rental?

I used Go-West Campers, we flew to Calgary and “delivered” an RV back to Vancouver. When the kids were under 2 you are only paying for adult flights to Calgary and the Camper was free as we were delivering it back for rental company. BUT the gas was VERY VERY expensive. There are millions of RV Rental companies. Cruise Canada RV Rental and Sales and Fraserway RV are both well-known.

Thanks, Jayne! I can’t wait to make my reservations for a BC camping vacation with my kids.

Read more about camping in BC with kids at The Travelling Mom’s The Best Campgrounds in British Columbia.

Camping with Kids in Washington State

camping with kids in washington state

Camping with kids in Washington state

 

Recently, a reader requested an article on family-friendly Washington campgrounds. You ask and I deliver! I pestered the Washington State Parks Department for insider hints and tips on finding great Washington State kid-friendly campgrounds.

Of course, all Washington campgrounds welcome families. But we want the best campgrounds for kids in Washington. Campsites that the kids will remember, and beg you to reserve next summer — even if the mosquitoes ate you alive and the water was too cold to swim in. (Photo at right, our family’s annual campground destination, Penrose Point State Park)

Here’s our Q & A with Linda Burnett of the Washington State Parks. Please note, these are car-camping sites.

Best campsites with kids in Washington State:

Q: Are there any unique family-friendly features at Washington State campgrounds?

Burnett: We have several parks that offer a Junior Ranger Program in the summer. Junior Ranger Programs include campfire stories, beach walks, nature walks, art activities and wildlife talks. The Junior Ranger Program is an interactive activity between park staff, volunteers and visitors. Kids have fun and learn to be good park stewards in the process. Activities and awards are the central feature of the program. The Junior Ranger Program is for kids as well as parents and guardians.

Q: Can you suggest a destination near Seattle that would be a great choice when camping with kids?

Cama Beach State Park offers visitors a chance to step back in time to a 1930s-era Puget Sound fishing resort complete with waterfront cedar cabins and bungalows. These have been refurbished, with modern conveniences added, and are available for rent year round to individuals and groups. Call (360) 387-1550 for reservations. (Lora’s note: These cabins are a stunning $31-82 for waterfront views!)


Within a 90-minute drive of Seattle, Cama Beach offers day and overnight visitors alike a “time capsule” experience. The historic fishing resort was a favorite summer getaway for families for more than 50 years. The area, used for centuries by Native Americans for fishing and hunting, looks out on sweeping views of the Sound, with Whidbey Island and the Olympic Mountains beyond.

Camano Island State Park is a short drive from Cama Beach for the families that prefer camping. It is connected by a mile-long trail to Cama Beach. Both parks are open for day use or overnight stays year round. This is a first-come, first-serve park.

Both parks offer an active Junior Ranger Program.

Q: Can you suggest a family campground along the Washington Coast?

A wonderful kid and family friendly park on the Washington Coast is Cape Disappointment State Park. Don’t let the name fool you, this park is anything but a disappointment.

This park is a 1,882-acre camping park on the Long Beach Peninsula, fronted by the Pacific Ocean. The park offers two miles of ocean beach, two lighthouses, an interpretive center and hiking trails. Visitors enjoy beachcombing and exploring the area’s rich natural and cultural history. The nearby coastal towns of Ilwaco and Long Beach feature special events and festivals spring through fall.

The park has old-growth forest, lakes, freshwater and saltwater marshes, as well as streams and tidelands along the ocean. Three vacation house rentals are available.

Interpretive opportunities include the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center tells the story of Lewis and Clark on their journey from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean. The North Head Lighthouse is also open to visitors (tours cost $2.50 per adult, free ages 7 to 17). Call the center at (360) 642-3029 for hours and tour information.

Other interpretive opportunities, such as the Fort Columbia Interpretive Center and the Fort Columbia Commanding Officer’s House Museum, also are in the vicinity.

Campsite and vacation house reservations can be made online www.parks.wa.gov or by calling (888) CAMPOUT.

Q: There are no guarantees, but is there a location known as a calm, mellow Washington campground?

Twanoh State Park, situated on the shoreline of Hood Canal, features one of the warmest saltwater beaches in Washington state. This is because Hood Canal is one of the warmest saltwater bodies in Puget Sound. The 182-acre marine, camping park has 3,167 feet of saltwater shoreline. The name of the park derives from the Native American Twana tribes, better known as the Skokomish, who made their home in the area.

Twanoh is popular for shellfish harvesting. Oyster beds are seeded annually, providing for ample harvests. Clam season usually is open from Aug. 1 through Sept. 30 each year, while the park is open to oyster harvesting year round. Visitors also enjoy other recreational activities, including hiking, fishing, swimming, water skiing, wildlife viewing and the kids will enjoy the Junior Ranger program offered every weekend in the summer.

This is a first-come, first serve park, an the park offers a Junior Ranger Program every weekend throughout the summer.

Q: When all campgrounds are booked on popular weekends, where’s an overlooked Washington State campground, still typically offering spots? Where can families go when it seems like nothing is left?

I would recommend making reservations for popular weekends some of our most popular parks are booked nine months to a year in advance of the holiday weekends. All the reservation campgrounds are booked every weekend  through the summer (folks start making reservations for their favorite campgrounds 9 – 12 months in advance). There are still openings for the middle of the week or for fall/winter camping. Here are the first-come, first-served parks where camping groups are able to just show up:

Non Reservation Washington State Camping Parks

1.    Beacon Rock State Park

2.    Blake Island State Park

3.    Bogachiel State Park

4.    Bridgeport State Park

5.    Brooks Memorial State Park

6.    Camano Island State Park

7.    Conconully State Park

8.    Columbia Hills State Park

9.    Curlew Lake State Park

10.   Daroga State Park

11.   Fay Bainbridge State Park

12.   Fields Spring State Park

13.   Fort Casey State Park

14.   Hope Island State Park

15.   Illahee State Park

16.   Iron Horse State Park

17.   Joemma Beach State Park

18.   Kopachuck State Park

19.   Lewis and Clark State Park

20.   Lewis and Clark Trail State Park

21.   Mount Spokane State Park

22.   Old Fort Townsend State Park

23.   Palouse Falls State Park

24.   Rainbow Falls State Park

25.   Rockport State Park

26.   Saltwater State Park

27.   Schafer State Park

28.   Twanoh State Park

29.   Wallace Falls State / Park 2 Tent Sites

Q: Any other favorite family campgrounds along a lake or on one of Washington’s islands?

Battle Ground Lake State Park is a beautiful camping park that lies in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Southwest Washington. The lake’s origin is volcanic and is believed to be a caldera, a basin formed when the cone of a volcano collapses.

This 280-acre camping park is popular with anglers with its spring-fed lake that is stocked annually with rainbow trout for fishing. Other fish found in the lake include cutthroat trout, small-mouth bass and catfish.

Visitors may explore ten miles of roads and trails, including a self-guided interpretive trail. The park also offers a variety of recreational activities including horseback riding, boating, swimming and scuba diving.

Another smaller quieter park that offers 25 standard campsites, six hookup sites that accommodate RVs up to 35 feet long and 15 primitive campsites. Campers using the primitive campsites should be prepared to walk a quarter-mile to a half-mile to the campsites.

An interpretive program is offered every Saturday from mid-June through Labor Day. This evening program includes night sky interpretation with a telescope, slide shows and guest speakers. There is a self-guided nature trail in the park.

Reservations for individual campsites and cabins may be made online at www.parks.wa.gov or by calling (888) CAMPOUT or (888) 226-7688.

Check out the cool park-finder form and the map of Washington State campgrounds, read about camping sites with kids in Oregon, tips for camping with babies and young children,  and camping with kids in BC.

Readers, do you have a favorite family-friendly camping spot in Washington State? Care to share your secret? Leave it below!

Brand new! Western Washington State Campgrounds with Playgrounds.

Camping with Kids in Oregon

An Oregon yurt

An Oregon yurt

I loved e-mailing back and forth with the knowledgeable Paul Gerald, author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland. After I looked over his bio a little more, I discovered that he’d also written Best Tent Camping in Oregon (you can order both books from Paul Gerald’s site). So it was obviously time to ask Paul about family-friendly campsites in Oregon!

1. What’s the best thing about camping in Oregon? Why do you love it?

I love it because I love being outdoors: hearing the birds first thing in the morning, sleeping to the sound of a stream, seeing the stars, and being away from electronics and cars. And Oregon is easy to love because of the variety. Within a few hours of Portland we can sleep on the beach, in old-growth forests, way up in the mountains, in a desert, by a trout-filled stream, or a deep blue lake.

2. Can you recommend a great kid-friendly campground along the Oregon Coast?

Cape Lookout State Park has it all: yurts, ranger programs, a fine beach, some easy and scenic hiking trails, showers … and it’s even close enough to Tillamook that you can head into town if you want.
Location: 90 minutes west of Portland.

3. Can you recommend a great kid-friendly campground in a forested area?

I think Lost Lake Resort & Campground can be a great place for family camping. It’s a paved road all the way there, and the lake is beautiful, with an amazing view of Mount Hood. It’s a Forest Service “resort,” which just means it has a store and boat rentals, and the lake is stocked with fish. There’s even a quiet, walk-in tent camping area near the Old Growth Interpretive Trail, and another trail that goes all the way around the lake. Location: About two hours east of Portland, Oregon.

4. How about a family campsite in Central or Eastern Oregon? Anything near Bend?

Try Tumalo State Park. It’s right on the edge of Bend, and it has both yurts and camping, but it’s also a quiet retreat along the Deschutes River, and close to everything Central Oregon has to offer: access to the Three Sisters, the desert, lava beds, and Newberry Crater.

Location: About 15 minutes north of downtown Bend.

5. Are there any other Oregon campgrounds that stand out as being particularly family-friendly?

For quiet, low-tech camping, I really like Riverside along the Clackamas River. A lot of the campsites along the Clackamas get busy and crowded, but Riverside is an exception. It’s only got 16 spots, and you can’t get a big RV in there. And it’s right on the river, with an easy hiking trail leaving from one end of the camp.

Location: About an hour east from Portland, Oregon.

Find more great information about traveling in Oregon from Travel Oregon.

Thanks, Paul!