Long Family Camping Trips in Washington State

Seattle-based parenting consultant Jenni Pertuset and her 8-year old daughter Meg like camping. No, scratch that – they love camping. The duo have camped for thousands of miles around Washington State for the past three years. Each year, they wrap a different theme around their two-week camping trips.

The first year, mother and daughter toured Olympic Peninsula destinations Jenni visited with her parents, when Jenni was a child. She revisited these places, in part, to remember her father, who had recently passed away.

The second year followed Lewis and Clark’s westward water route in Washington by road, starting from Canoe Camp in Idaho, following the land along Washington’s Clearwater, Snake, and Columbia Rivers, and ending at Cape Disappointment  on the Washington coast.

Camping with Kids at Cape Disappointment in Washington State

Camping with Kids at West Beach, Deception Pass in Washington State

In year three, the two camped for the entire month of June, with occasional overnight returns to Seattle to connect with loved ones and to wash up. The third camping year focused on water-centric campsites in Washington State, where they could swim. “We stayed at eight campsites, all on bodies of water,” she says. “Considering that my girl will immerse herself in the Puget Sound even in the coldest months, in effect this meant I could pick anywhere with water, as long as it moved slowly enough not to whoosh her away.”

So yes, they love camping in Washington State. Here’s a quick interview to find out how one expert mom camps with her kid.

1. Your Washington State camping trip in year two (following the Lewis & Clark trail) sounds amazing. What was your favorite part of Year Two?

We visited cultural sites, museums, interpretive centers, and Confluence Project installations learning more about the Corps of Discovery and the Native people whose lands they crossed. With a couple of notable exceptions, most were interesting and engaging. We especially enjoyed the Interpretive Center at Sacajawea State Park in Washington State and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in Oregon.

But far and away the highlight of the trip was the interpretive center at Fort Clatsop (near Astoria) where the Corps wintered on the south side of the mouth of the Columbia. The museum itself is nothing special, but the replica of the fort and the living history guides there are remarkable. My then-6-year-old and I engaged with one man in period dress for over two hours, both of us fascinated the entire time while he told us stories and answered questions, offering interesting facts and considered opinions remarkably well-informed by his studies of the Lewis and Clark journals. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.

2. What’s your favorite type of campsite?

I love camping on the salt water best. Whether it’s a sandy beach on the coast or a rocky one on the Puget Sound, my girl and I are content to spend hours toe-dipping, seal-watching, pit-digging, fort-building, crab-hunting, and sun-soaking. I don’t think you can go wrong with a beach.

Meg’s favorite spot was Rainbow Falls State Park, because the Doty General Store nearby sold penny candy.

3. Any tips for multi-night camping stays, particularly for parents trying it for the first time?

Go to one or two sites, and stay put. Stay to see the details of one place. Decide what you care about, and relax about the rest. I love cooking over the fire, and it suits us to spend a few hours a day at the campsite to prepare meals. But you might prefer to pack super easy food so you can get out on a trail.

Expect everything to take a long time. Linger. Let it slow you down.

4. Which Washington State campsite would you recommend for first-time camping with kids?

I think Deception Pass  State Park is a great choice for first time campers. It’s astonishingly beautiful, with beaches and trails for miles, and it’s still close to civilization in case you’ve forgotten something or just need to escape from unexpected rain in a public library for a couple of hours. For Seattleites, it’s a quick trip out of town, and if you go mid-week (or on the spur of the moment early in the season as we just did to catch the pre-summer sun) there are plenty of spaces available. Don’t try to go on a weekend in August without a reservation made well in advance, though. And make sure you get a spot inside the main park, rather than across the road at Quarry Pond.

Deception Pass State Park with Kids

Swimming at Deception Pass State Park

5. Anything you always bring on camping trips that you would miss if you forgot it?

Apart from the essentials required to shelter, clothe, and feed ourselves, I’d be disappointed if I forgot a book. Reading by the fire or in the tent before sleep is one of my pleasures while camping. As for tools, my two favorite things are telescoping roasting forks with a knob on the handle that allows you to rotate the fork (you can get them for a few dollars at Fred Meyer OR Lora’s example: Coghlan’s 9670 Telescoping Fork) and battery powered LED holiday lights for the inside of the tent.

Rain paints! Rain pants are the best invention ever, ever, ever. I’ve spent plenty of days out in a canoe or exploring a beach, or even sitting at the campfire, totally comfortable because my backside wasn’t soaking wet.

Two things I’ve stopped bringing: my camp stove, because I cook every meal over the fire, and my camp lantern, because as retro cool as it is and as much as it reminds me of camping with my dad, it’s a hassle to light and it’s blindingly bright.

6. Which games, activities and songs you both enjoy while camping?

We often drive long distances to campgrounds, so we usually have an audio book going in the car.

I usually bring a handful of things to do — art materials, a card game — and we never use them. We mostly poke around at and around the campsite, often literally. Meg dedicates hours to digging a “pit trap” at almost every camp site.

Columbia River Gorge Camping with Kids

Jumping into the Columbia River Gorge

7. Any favorite camping foods?

I usually plan for one night of very easily prepared food — sausages and raw fruits and veggies — for every couple of nights of food that takes a bit more effort. We still get to enjoy the fire, but it allows for more flexibility to stay longer at the beach or hike an extra mile or get the tent up before dark.

I tend to keep it fairly simple, but I cook anything that I could make on the stove or grill at home, using a cast iron pan, foil on the grate, or roasting forks. I haven’t taken my cast iron dutch oven recently, but in the past I’ve taken that along to make stews, soups, and cobblers. (An example of a Dutch oven: Esschert Design USA FF117 Fire Pit Dutch Oven)

One important camping tip: Put a big pan of water on to heat while you cook and you’ll have hot water for dishes and for a post-marshmallow washcloth.

Jenni Pertuset and Meg

Jenni and Meg

Thanks, Jenni & Meg!

Readers, what would you bring on a long family camping trip?

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About Lora

Lora Shinn writes about travel for regional and local publications, including AAA Journey, National Geographic Traveler, Bankrate.com, Natural Health and Whole Living.

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