Camping Grub That Kids Will Love: Kid-Friendly Camping Food

Cardamom donut holes

Cardamom donut holes

Recently, I had the good fortune to interview Emily Trudeau, a veteran camper and one of the three cofounders of the camping-food blog Dirty Gourmet, along with Aimee Trudeau and Katherine Kwan. She encourages first-time campers to get out there — even if you’re not typically comfortable with sticks, dirt and bugs. “Being outdoors is a healing experience,” she says, whether you’re sitting around a campfire, counting stars in the night sky or watching your kids play (with sticks, dirt and bugs).

Camping doesn’t mean you have to leave the comfort foods of home at home — particularly with kids. Yet, if you’re sick of hotdogs by the summer’s end, I’m with you. With Emily’s help, here’s a quick rundown of popular camping meals for families that everyone will enjoy.

Dirty Gourmet Girls

Dirty Gourmet Writers

Kid-friendly camping meals (links to Dirty Gourmet site): 

Great kid-friendly camping snacks:

Camping with kids in Washington, Oregon and BC

Prepping for S’mores

Top this! New twists on s’mores: 

Emily Trudeau calls S’mores the “all-American quintessential campfire delicacy.” That doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun, though. Stack your s’more in a new way:

  • Pepperidge Farm Geneva cookies, marshmallows and dulce de leche
  • Shortbread cookies, marshmallows, chocolate and raspberry jam
  • Graham crackers, peanut butter, chocolate and marshmallow
  • Graham crackers, marshmallows, bacon, chocolate
  • Graham crackers, fresh strawberries, chocolate, marshmallows

Don’t forget:

  • Your awesome cooler
  • Cooking oil
  • Foil
  • Dish soap and cleanup
  • Cooking utensils
  • Mixing bowls
  • Silverware
  • A sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Plates & silverware
  • A knife for kids to “help” (you could bring bananas, etc).
  • Easy snacks for the kids (goldfish crackers, pre-sliced fruit, Trader Joe trail mix etc)

For more fun recipes, check out the Cascadia Kids “Camp Cuisine” board on Pinterest. Do you have a favorite camping snack or recipe to share?

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?

***

BC Okanagan with Kids: Camping, Parks, Restaurants & More

Jennifer Kossowan is a mom to a 2.5-year old daughter, blogs at her delightful site Mama. Papa. Bubba and lives in Vancouver. But both she and her husband grew up in the Okanagan, part of BC’s sunny central interior that offers warmth and long, lazy summer days. Where would Jennifer send a friend who’s visiting the Okanagan for the first time. She’s most familiar with the Vernon-Lumby-Winfield-Kelowna area, so that’s what we’re covering here.

Family at Echo Lake Fishing Resort

Kossowan with her daughter at Echo Lake Fishing Resort

1. What’s your favorite Okanagan destination with kids?

It’s hard to choose as there are so many wonderful places to visit with children in the Okanagan. That being said, if I had to pick just one it would be Davison Orchards Country Village, near Vernon, BC. It’s been a favourite of mine since I was a girl, and with each year, it gets better and better. On top of being able to pick your own produce (or buy it pre-picked in the market), the orchard includes a small kid’s playground with horse-shaped tire swings, a large grassy knoll perfect for picnicking, hourly tractor tours, a café serving delicious homemade food, a petting zoo that includes chickens, goats, bunnies, sheep, and a donkey.

Family at Davison Orchards

In the Crazy Cow Corral

Even more enticing than all of that though, is the Crazy Cow Kid’s Corral, a huge play enclosure that includes a ride-on tractor track, rubber duck races, giant slides, a tree house, corn bins to play in, a mini golf course, and a huge sandbox, complete with vintage truck and tractor. When you visit, be prepared to stay for the better part of the day – the kids will love it that much.

2. What are some of your favorite Okanagan parks and things to do with kids and why do you like those spots?

Visiting some of the plentiful parks and beaches is an absolute must when visiting the Okanagan with kids. Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park and Ellison Provincial Park, both located in Vernon, are wonderful for biking, hiking, and swimming adventures, while Kal Beach (Vernon), Skaha Beach (Penticton), Hot Sands Beach (Kelowna), Paddlewheel Park (Vernon), and Canoe Beach (Shuswap) offer an array of swimming areas, playgrounds, water parks, and water sports rentals.

Other than beaches and parks, the Okanagan has several really unique spots geared towards families. One of our favourites is Rawhide Ridge Ranch, a working ranch run by passionate owners and filled with wild animals – buffalo, turkeys, and zebras included! Also on the unique animal front, Kangaroo Creek Farm in Kelowna offers the opportunity to learn about and interact with kangaroos and wallabies in a completely non-commercial setting.

Another great spot is the Enchanted Forest. Situated in a gorgeous old growth forest in the Monashee mountains between Revelstoke and Sicamous, the forest is a world of fantasy brought to life. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, Atlantis Waterslides in Vernon is the place to go. With kiddie slides, a popular river riot ride, large hot tub, and slides of all sizes, there’s fun for all ages.

Okanagan splash park

Playing in the splash park at Polson

Lastly, Polson Park, also located in Vernon, is not to be missed. Home to a floral clock, beautiful gardens, duck ponds, a lawn bowling club, a space and science centre, plus a skate park, water park, and children’s playground, you can definitely make a day of your visit.

3. Do you have any favorite restaurants to go with your child in Okanagan?

Though we don’t eat out a whole lot, Friesen’s Country Tyme Gardens in Vernon would definitely be somewhere I’d recommend taking the kids. With hearty, homemade food reminiscent of Baba’s cooking and lots of outdoor seating, wee ones can take in the fresh air and enjoy a delicious meal all at once.

4. Can you recommend any preferred family-friendly hotels or rentawhls? If someone were visiting the Okanagan for the first time, where would you suggest that they stay?

Though it can be a bit of a splurge in the summer months, staying at Lake Okanagan Resort is an Okanagan adventure in itself. Rentals range from studio apartments to 3-bedroom suites, and include gorgeous balcony views and kitchen facilities, which is very convenient when travelling with kids. The resort includes a spa, golf course, multiple pools, various courts, a kid’s playground, an interpretive trail system, horseback riding, and summer kid’s programs, so mom, dad, and the munchkins are sure to be happy.

Echo Lake Fishing Resort a place to stay with kids

Echo Lake Fishing Resort

If you prefer the complete opposite – something small, quiet, inexpensive, very outdoorsy, and not at all commercial, we really enjoy staying at the Echo Lake Fishing Resort. Located outside of Lumby, Echo Lake Fishing Resort has seven small, rustic cabins that line the lake. The cabins come equipped with electricity, propane-operated fireplaces, kitchenettes, cold running water indoors; there are personal outhouses, fire pits, and wharfs outdoors. A small kid’s playground is onsite, along with endless nature to observe and inexpensive boats for rent, which makes for a serene family getaway.

5. Any favorite hikes or camping spots in the Okanagan?

Ellison Provincial Park in Vernon, mentioned before for its beaches and hiking and biking trails, is a very family-friendly spot to camp. In addition to a playground that is almost always filled with kids, it boasts a huge waterfront picnic area, a volleyball court, and designated swimming areas. Haynes Point Provincial Park, located on Osoyoos Lake, is very popular and sometimes difficult to get into, but most would say the ultra warm water is worth the fight. The combination of warm water, lakefront sites, and it being in Canada’s only desert area makes for a special experience.

Also on the popular but worth the effort to get into list is Shuswap Lake Provincial Park. It offers hiking and biking trails, great scuba diving experiences, a large adventure playground and big grassy knoll, as well as horseback riding, parasailing, bumper boats, go carts, and water sports rentals very nearby. The last one is actually a campsite I’ve yet to visit, but always hear great things about. Cedars Campground, just east of Sicamous and the Shuswaps, is known for its river setting, indoor pool, jacuzzi, and elaborate playgrounds.

6. Any toy stores, clothing stores or small-biz shout-outs — somewhere to pick up a new plaything while staying in the Okanagan?

I’m probably a little biased towards Vernon businesses, as that’s where we spend the majority of our time when in the Okanagan, but Vernon Teach & Learn on Main Street is an amazing store that started out small and has grown into a one stop shop for teacher resources, quality children’s toys, and unique learning materials. It also includes a cute ice cream and sweets shop now too! Equally awesome is Chicken Little, a barn-shaped store on 29th street. It’s the best place to buy children’s clothes, baby basics, and innovative kid’s items that aren’t carried anywhere else in the city. They also have a small but wonderful consignment section, and great end of season sales.

Thanks so much, Jennifer! Readers, where does your family eat, stay and play when visiting the Okanagan? Please leave a comment.

Camping Reservations with Kids in Washington, Oregon and BC

How long in advance should you make camping reservations? Now is the time to reserve your camping spot for many Pacific Northwest locations. Don’t wait until late spring or summer, if you want a prime, secluded tent site or one of the much-desired yurts, cabins or fire lookouts. Here’s a quick guide and how-to.

Camping Reservations in Oregon

Half of Oregon´s state park campgrounds accept campsite reservations; the other half are first-come, first-served. Whether you call or go online, you may make reservations 2 days to 9 months in advance of your first night´s stay. “Nine months in advance” counts back to the nearest business day.

You can make Oregon campsite, yurt, cabin and teepee reservations with a Visa or MasterCard through ReserveAmerica’s Oregon page. You can make reservations for national forests, like Mt. Hood National Forest and Siuslaw National Forest at Recreation.gov, but there aren’t many listed.

Read more about Oregon Campground Reservations.

Camping Reservations in Washington

At the campgrounds that accept reservations, you can reserve Washington campsites, yurts, cabins and houses through the Washington State website. Right now, they’re accepting reservations about 10 months in advance – so they’re taking reservations up until the first week of October. You can use a Visa or Mastercard to reserve.

You can make reservations for over 100 National Park Service and US Forest Services destinations, like Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest at Recreation.gov.

Or make Washington State camping reservations at Reserve America, which includes listings from KOA, Thousand Trails, USDA Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.

The county parks system is more challenging to navigate — you’ll need to research the specific county you want to stay in. Popular camping destinations in Washington State include San Juan County Parks, Salt Creek Recreation Area and Dungeness Recreation Area in Clallam County, Snohomish County Parks and Recreation and Wenatchee River County Park.

Camping Reservations in British Columbia 

Frontcountry reservations open at 7:00 am (PST) on March 15. Reservations for family campsites can be made up to three months in advance of your arrival date, and you can make up to three reservations per transaction. Book your tent site at the BC Parks website, read about backcountry camping at Recreation Sites and Trails,  and about Western camping destinations at Parks Canada. Here’s a quick rundown comparing all the BC camping options.

Ew, Camping! Alternatives to tent camping to reserve NOW

Camping isn’t for everyone.  These options will get you out into nature and the outdoors — but you won’t wake to mud sloshing around your tent.

Alternatives to tent camping in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia:

Yurts. At Washington’s 412-acre oceanfront Grayland State Park, sleep in a 16-foot-diameter heated yurt outfitted with a queen-size futon, an end table and heater (a fine choice for a first camping trip with a baby or toddler). Or try Cape Disappointment’s yurts, which offer bunk beds that sleep three, a heater, floor lamp and an end table — and you’re never far from spectacular Washington Coast views of the Pacific Ocean. Read more about renting a Washington State Parks yurt. Or research on the BC Parks yurt page and the Oregon State Parks homepage. Renting a yurt on the Oregon Coast is the best of all worlds, and locals know it — these round-a-bouts are booked up fast.

U.S. Forest Service cabin, cottage, guard station or lookout. Some are more like mountainside or prairie chalets, complete with running water and flush toilets (but look carefully — some of the running-water perks are only available in summer). Others are more vintage-Victorian or pioneer days (complete with outhouse) but offer propane cookstoves, fridges, heat and light.

Airstream trailer. Silver Cottages offers a unique (although expensive) stay. Prices start at $849/three nights but includes delivery, setup, sleep spots for four occupants (i.e. two adults, two kids or one adult, three kids) in 31-foot silver Airstream trailer, complete with kitchenette, fridge, microwave, dinette, heat and air. Sleep in Bellingham, San Juan Islands and Lakedale Resort.


Officers’ Quarters. Take shelter in one of the dozen homes lined up in a row, tidy and upright. As they were once officers’ quarters of the early 1900s, you’ll find lovely crown molding, bannisters and loads of vintage touches. Read more about Washington vacation houses on the Washington State Parks website, which also lists lighthouse keepers’ quarters.

Teepee. Fields Spring State Park offers the only two teepees in Washington State, and one even offers an indoor/outdoor carpet floor. Yes, you have to bring your own sleeping bags and pads, but you don’t have to set up the tent! Oregon offers teepees at Owyhee park.

Log cabin. Sleep pioneer-style in a real log cabin — right on the Oregon Trail. Read more about the Emigrant Springs Totem cabins.

Beach house. Once a 1930s fishing resort, the Cama Beach cottages are now rented out by the Washington State Parks. Snore inside a retro cedar bungalow that overlooks the Puget Sound and Whidbey Island. Only a 90-minute drive from Seattle, this is a sweet nearby getaway. However, unless you book a bungalow rental, you’ll still cook outdoors. The upside from your kids’ perspective? That means s’mores for sure.

Treehouse. Want to sleep IN the trees, not under the trees? Check out Vertical Horizons Treehouse Resort for a B&B in a tree. Parents of teens (16 and over) can look into Free Spirit Spheres on Vancouver Island — these orbs float in the trees, like little alien pods. Pretty cool. Here’s a YouTube video about staying in a sphere treehouse.

Camping in the Rain with Kids

You’ve got your reservations in hand, but the forecast is for rain. Should you go?

Alaska-based mom Jennifer Aist, author of Babes in the Woods: Hiking, Camping & Boating with Babies and Young Children, has plenty of experience with family camping in the rain. “Last summer we had 43 days in a row of rain, “ she says. Instead of getting wet and miserable, Aist got prepared.

The first hint? Bring drop-proof rain gear. Aist specifically recommends Oaki Wear clothing: “It is well built and holds up beautifully to lots and lots of rain and puddle stomping,” she says. If it’s chilly out, she brings rainboots for the kids, along with extra socks. “Nothing dries out well in rainy conditions,” she says. Stuff sacks (example: Granite Gear Toughsack)help keep a change of clothes protected from the elements.

If you’re car camping near pavement, Aist suggests packing sidewalk chalk. “It looks cool on wet pavement,” she says.

Those handy blue tarps offer respite from rain, plus a dry(ish) place to cook, read or play board games. Aist recommends that parents learn the knot best for tying tarps: the taut line. (here’s a YouTube link on how to tie the knot — love this guy’s moustache). On a sloping site, sure your tent’s opening faces downhil, not uphill, as you don’t want rain to flow into your tent.


It might seem counterintuitive, but Aist suggests avoiding the tent, at least during the day. “Tents are for sleeping,” Aist says. “Everything gets wet when you are in and out all day. It gets a bit claustrophobic too. Embrace the rain, because it can really be lots of fun to play in — just keep moving. Even hiking in the rain isn’t so bad.”

Michelle Tice would agree. Tice, a Vancouver-based mom who blogs at savvymom.ca, booked a stay months ago for Vancouver Island’s Parksville, along with friends. A total of 14 kids and 25 adults had planned the weekend, and weren’t going to be deterred by rain in the forecast.

The downpour set in.

“We had to shower the kids each night,” Tice says, but it was worth a little extra work. Croc-style shoes let water pass through, so feet got dirty and wet, but not cold (no waterlogged socks). They brought lots of extra clothing, and bikes for mud-puddle splashing.

“Exploring beaches, forests and puddles, can be done in the rain too.” They also explored local-area kids’ activities for “a change of scenery,” she says, including Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and Coombs Country Market.

“The kids did not care about the rain, only the adults did,” Tice says. “So the faster the adults cope, the better for all.”

With a mug of steaming hot chocolate in your hand, could you really disagree?

More tips for setting up camp in the rain:

Your-Camping-Guidebook.Com (funny name, good site).

A good video on setting up a tent in the rain, made by TrailPeak.com.

Family Travel! Bobbi Sue camps with kids in British Columbia

bobbisue2Bobbi-Sue Menard kicks butt at camping. This Kelowna-based freelance journalist and mom of five kids knows a LOT about camping in every type of weather and condition. She goes on 10-day camping trips, she’s experienced 12-hour drives, she copes with torrential rainstorms, she’s even gone canoe camping. Wow. Sort of puts the one-night outing in perspective. Let’s hear more:

Why do you love camping with your kids?

I love camping with my kids because we do it together with abandon.  Once we are out there, while we might have adventures, and it might not work out, life is kind of simple.  We’re camping and that’s it.

Do you have a favorite BC family camping spot?

We were at Shuswap Lake Provincial Park three weeks ago and loved camping in the middle of a cedar forest, just beautiful.  The sites seem like they are set up in a fairy glen forest.  We also have fond memories of the Lakes District around Burns Lake.

What’s the longest camping trip you’ve been on in British Columbia?

We did 10 days in two stages. The first spot was in Syringa Provincial Park, which we loved, although it doesn’t have showers. We were there for three days before moving on to our true destination, Waterton Lakes National Park.

We looked at the map and despite the fact we are experienced mountain drivers we estimated the second leg of the trip to be 7-8 hours drive; we were wrong about the travel distance, it was closer to 12 hours with traffic, plus we had a late start as we had had truck problems so we left late.

When we arrived at 11 p.m., we set up in Waterton at our reserved site on the flats at the end of the lake. It was the pitch dark, with the torrential rain driven by 60-90 km/hr wind gusts.  We pitched the brand new, 8-person dome tent in the shelter of our Expedition SUV, yet the wind was so strong, the tent would inwardly flex so the roof would touch our faces.

The next morning we tore down camp again and waited in line at the non-reservable campsite on the mountain side where the wind was still strong but bearable. After a morning blessedly free of rain, it turns out it was just saving up…it sheeted rain for the next two days.

Eventually it eased off into a steady drizzle for the remaining two days of our trip and we got in some hiking and went paddle boating. Nonetheless we considered the trip a triumph.  The kids were aged 9, 8, 5, 3 and 1 — and none of them were sick, everyone kept good spirits and we were able to tell some really fun stories.

Wow, that is hardcore. Is there a point at which you know you need to pack up the tent, call it off and go home?

Serious vomiting or diarrhea, significant equipment failure that we can’t reasonably replace and puts us in real discomfort or possible danger. For example, when the last kid to go pee doesn’t shut the tent properly and the sleeping bags at that end of the tent get wet beyond reason with no way to dry the bags — we go home.

We have canoe camped with young kids, despite tons of planning, the right gear, and short trips, it generally sucked.  Time in a canoe is rarely fun after the first half hour or so with small kids.

Any general tips on camping with babies or toddlers?

With babies or toddlers, divide and conquer. Take turns with the kid(s) while the other parent accomplishes the basic tasks.  Bring the portable play pen, put the toddler in it whenever necessary.  If you aren’t too tired, use your child backpack or baby carrier liberally.

If you are hiking to the most gorgeous waterfalls you’ll ever see and they are at the end of a 7 km trail, with a 7 km hike back, make certain you have had toddler in a backpack for a 14 km hike more than once.

Love the environment, but don’t be a fanatic, bring stacks of baby wipes, STACKS. (Lora says: And bring even more baby wipes! An unending supply of baby wipes! Or 1000 cloth washcloths, if you must).

I am in awe of anyone who manages cloth diapers on a camping trip.  Make certain you have a good system, because those diapers will either be locked in your vehicle overnight because of bears or in your hard sided, possibly un-air-conditioned car with you.

Invest in a box of large Glad freezer bags, they’ll fit a wet, soiled outfit perfectly and keep the mess safely stowed until you get home to your laundry.  When I said invest I meant it, handling liquids on a camping trip can be a hassle, with kids you could be relying on the sealing power of quality bags more than you think.

What’s the most difficult thing, in your opinion, about camping with infants and toddlers? How do you overcome that problem?

Accepting how infants/toddlers sleep schedule is going undergo a big shift and you will be at its beck and call.  Depending on your kid, day two or three could see a parent quietly sitting in camp while your darling naps away an entire afternoon while the other parent takes older siblings on an outing. Plan to keep your child well rested; that will cut down on accidents (trips and falls), keep the hot afternoon whining down, and your child’s eating more regular.

So, what’s your never-leave-behind item that you feel like every family should pack on a camping trip? Anything special when you’re camping with toddlers?

Never leave behind prescription meds, a photocopy of ID, emergency contacts and medical insurance, and $100 cash. That’s the civilized list.  For physical emergency, never forget a first aid kit, or rain gear.  Bring pull-ups/overnight diapers for any toddler night trained for less than a year.  It gets cold in a tent and when kids are TIRED, accidents are more common than you would like to believe.

Is there anything that you think a family COULD leave at home?

You COULD leave home your dog on the first trip ever.  The first time can be a bit overwhelming and a dog can be a lot of stress.  You could also leave home everything electronic. Try the trip without a DVD player — play ‘I spy’ or ‘Simon Says’ in the car.

Any tricks for preparing for a camping trip with five kids?

For me the big thing is to think through solutions to situations before I leave so that my expectations are managed.  Then I tell the family how we are going to handle things when they go wrong.  For example: We now bring on board game for vehicle breakdowns.  We laugh about it, “This trip Monopoly only gets played it the truck dies…” etc.

For little kids we go over our expectations each day, “We are camping, we are here to have a good time, but as a person although you are small, you must remember please and thank-you, no whining and you wash your hands with the baby wipes before you eat anything.”

Writers’ Round-up: Camping in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia with kids

Reading a first-person online camping story is excellent way to feel out a possible campsite – before you’ve even arrived! Here’s a quick round-up of sites (and sights) around the blogosphere, along with great takeaways. If you’d like me to include your camping related-post, leave a comment.

Northwest Cheapsleeps: I love this Seattle-based mom’s car camping checklist.
Takeaway: StingEze takes the bite out of mosquito nibbles. You don’t know how badly I needed this information.

Weelife: What’s a roof-top tent? Let BC-based camping expert weelife tell you all about this new way to camp, then let her tell you about kid fun on camping trips, and then how her hubby MADE A CAMPING SHOWER (yes, that deserves all caps). I think she married MacGyver, but without all the explody parts. After that, check out all her posts under the “wee camp” tag for recipes, crafts and more.
Takeaway: I’m going camping with Weelife.

Royal BC Museum: How did families camp in the olden days? Check out these photos. As archivist Ann ten Cate says of one photo, “This group seems to be the living embodiment of the phrase ‘happy campers’… they’ve got a guitar, a fiddle, a paddle and a rifle. What more do you need?”
Takeaway: Name your tent or RV. Artist Emily Carr named her caravan … “The Elephant.”

PDX Family Adventures: Learn about camping near Portland at Oxbow State Park or camping the Oregon Coast at Cape Perpetua.
Takeaway: Our region has become a confusing morass of day-use fees and annual passes, and the rules change all the time. Call your campground in advance to see what you need to bring with you – or pay up.

Growing Up Green: Vancouver-based mom Tovah from Gumboot Adventures tips us off to natural bug protection, a holistic first-aid kit and even solar-powered heat for your tent trailer.
Takeaway: A little research reveals worthy green alternatives to traditional camping equipment.

Kids in the Woods: Camping with a baby at Rialto Beach in the Olympic Peninsula.
Takeaway: “Bring plenty of burp cloths.  Staying dry is a worthwhile effort on the trail, and spit up is just as wet as (and much more predictable than) rain!”

Calico Garden: Inspired by tales of kid-friendly Washington State campgrounds? Check out Calico Garden’s photo-rich post on Penrose Point (one of our family favorites) and Middle Fork.
Takeaway: Don’t let a little rain scare you away from the campground.

Mad Hatter Mom: There are 10 Reasons to Camp with Kids from this Oregon-based mom.
Takeaway: Even if you don’t like camping, camping with kids is fun.

Sunset Magazine: Not a blog, but this story on car camping on the Oregon Coast is told from a mom’s perspective.
Takeaway: Don’t leave the French press at home, and don’t book a campground next to a highway.

The Travelling Mom: The best campgrounds in British Columbia.
Takeaway: Book BC spots up to three months advance at Discover Camping.

Sillimanians in British Columbia: A photo-only post about camping at Cultus Lake, BC.
Takeaway: Camping is more fun with music.

Otownmommy: Camp in Revelstoke, BC alongside the amusing Otownmommy and then read her “Rules of Camping.”
Takeaway: If you’re in bear country, wear “tent clothes” and “day clothes” so the bears don’t think you’re dinner.

Play Outdoors: Survive tent camping with kids in Central Oregon.
Takeaway: Embrace dirt!

Life with the Boo: Find out what it’s like to stay at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Campground with a toddler.
Takeaway: Bring a bike or ride-on toy for little ones’ entertainment.

Savvymom: Sleep peacefully at Alice Lake with Michelle.
Takeaway: Book a campground near enough to civilization to make a marshmallow run if you forgot yours at home.

The Urban Momtographer: Another Alice Lake Post, with a set of wet-weather pictures in documentary style. You can almost taste the Jiffy Pop and feel the rain.
Takeaway: Don’t leave your camera at home!

The Pleasants: Beach camping might be the best of all worlds for kids – see this family’s post about camping in Long Beach, Wash.
Takeaway: When going to the beach, plan for every type of weather.

Bike Portland: Combining camping with a 41-mile family bike trip? Why not? (Great photos!)
Takeaway: After a 41-mile bike trip, you may want to sleep in a cabin.

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?

Families Travel! Okanagan with Kids

Amy and Mike Sztupovsky live in semi-arid Oliver, British Columbia (about halfway between Pentiction, BC and the US-Canadian border). This couple are real travel aficionados – something made easier by the fact that they unschool their two kids, Lan (5) and Kayden (3).

“When our oldest was coming closer to school age we started to research homeschooling options,” Amy says. “I had never heard of unschooling before but when I started to learn about it, the method really spoke to my heart.”

So this family doesn’t need to worry about pulling the kids out of preschool or school to travel, and travel becomes part of the kids’ schooling. Naturally, Amy’s own website is called Worldschool Adventures. Let’s find out why unschooling and traveling fit together, and what to do in the Okanagan with kids.

(All photos courtesy Amy Sztupovsky: at right, Tuc-El-Nuit Lake)

How did you decide to unschool? What is unschooling?

Unschooling is best described as interest-led learning. We watch for the sparks of curiosity in our children and then we expand upon their interests so that they’re always engaged, involved and curious.

Mike and I have been planning on doing long-term traveling with our children since before they were even born!  The more I read and learned the more excited I became about the unschooling philosophy and I started to attend homeschooling meet-ups in our area.  I questioned mothers who were already doing it and began to get more and more comfortable with how it would work with our family.  We dove into unschooling head first and haven’t looked back since!

Like any type of homeschooling approach, unschooling allows us to take advantage of the off season (and off season prices!) We also like to do many of our outings on weekdays when things are less crowded.

What’s it like to live in Oliver, British Columbia and unschool?

Oliver is a very rural area, which offers both pros and cons for unschooling.  One of the cons is that our town is just too small to offer many of the amenities and programs that a larger center would offer.  But of course, there are many advantages to growing and learning in the rural Okanagan community.  We know where much of our food comes from and take an active roll in the process by supporting farmers markets and u-pick orchards.

Oliver has a fabulous paved pathway along the Okanagan River and we can ride our bikes into town and to Oliver’s fantastic water park, Kinsmen Water Park, near the Kinsmen Playground. We attend local festivals like The Festival of the Grape held every September.

Riding bikes in the Okanagan

Much of our learning stems from observations in our environment and the South Okanagan provides ample opportunities for hiking, biking, and swimming in the summer, and in the winter Mount Baldy Ski Resort is only a half hour drive away where one can ski, snowboard, snowshoe or cross country ski.

Do you go camping with kids in the Okanagan, in British Columbia?  How early do you have to reserve a spot?

There are so many campsites in the Okanagan. The summer months see many tourists passing through and camping on our many beautiful lakes and rivers.  We, however, like to head for the hills when the camping season starts.  Our best resources are a Back roads Map and a Camp Free in BC book.

Almost every mountain lake will have a forestry campsite on it with groomed sites, picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets.  They are beautiful and best of all they are free!  Most can be reached within a half hour to an hour drive of the towns but try to get there early as many will fill up on a Friday night. Our favorites are Isintok Lake and Idleback Lake near Penticton.

Do you have a favorite kid-friendly restaurant (or restaurants) in the Okanagan region?

Our favourite restaurant in Oliver is the Fire Hall Bistro.  This old converted Fire Hall has memorabilia and photos of its glory days. What kid wouldn’t want to eat in an old fire hall?

When is the best time to visit the Okanagan?

Many tourists come for skiing in the winter but most of our visitors come in the summer months.  We get very hot weather in July and August and people flock here for our lakes and beaches.  If I were to recommend a time of year though, I would say come in June or September.  Things won’t be so crowded but the weather is still great!

Read more about Oliver, British Columbia at the Oliver Tourism website.