Family anecdotes, camping tips, how-tos, hiking with children, nature, motherhood, memories.

Adventures in Camping with Five Kids

Camping with kids is like pitching a tent upside down. Both are bound to fill with laughter and raindrops.

--Victoria Marie Lees

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Camping with Five Kids in Autumn

            Autumn is my favorite season. I love the crisp air and the host of brilliant color on deciduous tree leaves. It’s the best time to go camping. For one thing, the kids—and parents—don’t complain about the heat. It’s a perfect time to spend a long weekend camping with the family in the mountains or forests. Most of the crowds have thinned out at state or national parks. It’s quieter. Peaceful. And fun!
In the Catskill Mountains in New
York, we found an interesting

            Now it’s true that the Lees crew usually makes their own fun, both at camp and hiking in the forests, but campgrounds and park rangers offer much to see and do in autumn. We’ve learned about the changing of the season in nature; trees, fish, mammals. We’ve made apple dolls and painted pumpkins. Just because the pool is closed up doesn’t mean the fun’s over at family friendly campgroundsMany campgrounds offer crafts, haunted mazes and hay rides, and costume parades. Remember to talk to your children about the haunted stuff, that it’s fake and just meant to scare people, to be sure there won’t be any nightmares. I waited until my twins, my youngest, were about 9 or 10 before we participated in the haunted stuff as a family.

Overlook Mountain trail
had a surprise, an abandoned
hotel with golden birch trees
growing in it.
Campfires are more inviting in autumn because of the warmth they bring. Weenie roasts and s’more toastings abound at campgrounds. It’s important to begin a campfire before everyone gets too tired after a day of adventure hiking or horseback riding or playing at parks. And you want to allow the kids to assist. Always monitor children around fires. The reason to start a campfire early is because it takes time for the fire to get to coals which make it easier to roast hot dog pieces, I always cut them up in hunks, or marshmallows.

            Then there’s that beautiful night sky! Autumn is a great time to watch the stars pop out at night. There are fewer bugs around because of the cooler temperatures. We usually dress warmly with sweatshirts and long pants and lay out under the night sky with blankets in fields or at the playgrounds, wherever we find the wide open sky. Now we have those star apps the kids like to look at to understand the constellations. I use Star TrackerLite. We recently watched the International Space Station come into view for a few minutes as it headed northeast across the night sky here in New Jersey. 

            Like any camping trip, you need to remember to pack for the weather. Dress in layers for warmth when hiking; wear bed clothing designed to retain body heat at night and sleep in sleeping bags appropriate for cooler temperatures. We have both 20 degree and sub-zero sleeping bags; good in 20 degree or zero degree weather. And always bring rain coats. The quilted ones are great for cooler temperatures.            

            The whole reason to go camping with the family is to enjoy each other’s company while traveling and seeing this beautiful world of ours. Have fun on your next camping adventure, no matter the season. Feel free to share your favorite season or family activities. Just leave a note in the comments section here at Camping with Five Kids. It would be truly appreciated. Enjoy your adventure! 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Follow the GPS: It Knows Where We Are!

            When you plan an unfamiliar road trip with the family, how do you find your way? I’m sure we all agree that you need to know where you are going even if you haven’t visited the area before. When we first began our camping journey with five kids in tow, we used physical maps and TripTiks from AAA, our automobile association. Do you remember them?
We started every Camping
journey with a pile of maps
and Tour Books.

            My husband is amazing with directions and somehow knowing where he is and the way roads and highways work—even in states we haven’t visited before. However, he literally will not ask for directions if for any reason we get off track of our destination. And I’m about as helpful with directions as the children when they were very young. I keep saying, “Shouldn’t we be there by now?”

            What usually happens in these instances is that I irritate my husband so much he finally stops at a convenience store. I run inside with the children and the map to see if anyone can help us find the waterfalls or a hike in the area we’re looking for. But sometimes it’s not this simple. Remember those five children? Well they’ve been sitting in the van wondering when we “get there” too. So they are hyper and want to buy snacks, and I have no sense of direction. None! In other words, we’re not much help to my husband.

            So I made my husband come in with us and stand near me to hear as I ask for directions. I told him to leave once he understood where to go, and then I’d thank the person and leave with the children. This will work, but the children and I decided to go one step further. We bought my husband a TomTom GPS, a global positioning device, for Father’s Day. He was ecstatic! While I realize today the iPhone and the Android phones can become GPS’s, my husband prefers his TomTom.

My husband's pride and joy, his
TomTom GPS.
The good thing now is that many “places of interest” offer coordinates to plug into GPS’s—even trailheads and waterfalls in rural areas. The kids think this is magic, and many times it is. However, you need to remember two important things when planning a route on a GPS to spare you from a car full of “are we there yets.”

            Update your maps regularly. With all the roadwork going on in the United States and the creation of new highways or the re-naming of old ones and roads popping up in rural areas where we like to hike, updating your GPS maps will help you avoid traffic jams and road closures. In other words, any new highway or street sign you find will match your GPS.       

            Always check the settings for each trip you plan on your GPS. If you don’t check your settings each time you plan a trip, you could add miles and miles to your trip simply because you still have “avoid tolls” set from the last trip and you need to cross a bridge for your current route. And whatever you do, please remember that “shortest route” actually means shortest—to the foot. Sometimes the map of our route on the GPS looks like the tangled rope we try to set up our tarps with at camp. All to save maybe two feet off our journey. And the “fastest route” means every minute counts.

            New technology can be great if you remember to update your machine regularly. But I’m still old fashioned. I insist on carrying a map of the area we will be visiting just to be able to see the whole area at one time. It also verifies that you are heading in the correct direction. I like helpful machines, but I don’t mind a second opinion. How about you?

            So enjoy each other’s company while traveling and have fun on your next travel adventure. Feel free to share any tips you may have about finding your way in unfamiliar areas. Just leave a note in the comments section here at Camping with Five Kids. It would be truly appreciated. Enjoy your adventure! 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Entertaining Kids When Camping in the Rain

Sometimes it can rain all week when you’re camping, and you can feel like moist potato chips: limp and yucky. But you don’t need to pack it all in and head for home—or a hotel. Even if you didn’t bring along the Legos, board games, coloring books, or cards, you can be creative and entertain the kids when it’s raining while you’re camping. Here are five suggestions for you.

            Bring raincoats and rain boots and hike anyway. As long as the weather is not severe, just don your boots and raincoats and take a walk in the woods or along a beach. There’s no need for sunscreen or bug spray during a light rain. My kids love the squishy mud. Splash through puddles. Have a contest to find the biggest puddle at the campground. Discover what kind of animals or bugs come out when it rains. If you find worms, go fishing.
Hiking in the clouds
and rain in Maryland.
However, never hike or fish during thunder storms, especially on mountaintops or in open areas. Never invite danger, only adventure. While hiking in the Colorado Rockies, we were told by the park rangers to be off the mountaintop by 3 p.m. because thunder storms happened almost daily at that time in July.

            Find campground or park activities under cover. Depending on where you’re staying, there are activities for children to enjoy. Adults too! Some are supervised or led by experts. At state or national parks, my kids have made dried apple dolls, learned about geology from park rangers, and watched nature videos at Visitors’ Centers or even movies provided by campground personnel in their activities’ center. Most parks offer activity guides including indoor and outdoor things to do. Most family friendly campgrounds have activities for campers to do, too. Just check at the office to find out.
Dried apple dolls made
inside the hut.

            Create games inside. If you’re stuck in the camper or tent, play charades. My kids love this game. A player tells the participants the topic; a song, movie, or book title or an object or person and how many words there are, all without speaking. Then the player acts out the words.          You could sit around the table and make up stories with each person adding to the story. These can be a lot of fun. Remember the stories do not need to make sense. You can choose a genre; adventure, fantasy, or science fiction. And then let your imagination go. It’s okay if your story starts to sound like a movie the children like. I like to bring a battery operated tape recorder along just for these types of situations. The kids love to listen to the crazy stories we all came up with after our camping trips.
            Play “guess what it is.” Give one person a paper bag. Make everybody else close their eyes while the person puts something in the bag from the camper, tent, or one their possessions. Then that person needs to give clues to everyone about what’s in the bag. Whoever guesses it is the next person to put something in the bag.
            Or build something with things that are available in the camper and have everyone else guess what it’s supposed to be. Set a timer to rush the builder. We’ve used marshmallows and colored pencils or crayons, bent paper plates, cups, spoons. Be creative!

Discover what’s around you. Take a scenic drive in the area where you are staying to see the sights. The mountains are still impressive; forests lush, waterfalls full. The ocean or river or lake may be peaked in whitecaps from the wind; beaches are windswept.
The drive will help you find indoor activities in the area, too; museums or discovery centers to visit, indoor playgrounds. 
            Whether you’re camping with kids in the rain or sunshine, be creative, enjoy each other’s company, and by all means, have fun. I hope you found these few suggestions helpful about what to do when camping in the rain. There are many more; like, hang-the-man using trip-specific sights or sentences. Please share any experiences you may have about entertaining children when it’s raining outside. Just leave a note in the comments section here at Camping with Five Kids. It would be truly appreciated. Enjoy your adventure! 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Take Time to Enjoy Nature with Kids
This is a milkweed seed
pod with wishies.
            The old adage “the only constant in life is change” is never more present than in nature. Children should witness nature changing firsthand whenever possible. The changes don’t need to be dramatic; like the Colorado River carving out the Grand Canyon. No, changes can be as simple as the yellow dandelion flower turning into white, puffy, “wishy” seeds for a child [or adult!] to make a wish and blow into a crystal blue sky.
A walk at Wissahickon Creek in Pa.
showed us tadpoles in a puddle. 
Parents don’t need to be botanists or geologists or even a biologist who understands the mechanics of how a tadpole becomes a frog. No. We can just be parents watching alongside our children the tadpole’s transformation in a puddle we discover on a nature walk in the woods. 

But as parents, we need to understand that nature is fascinating to our children. We should allow them time to make discoveries. Let the kids feel the difference in the grit of rocks in the desert or on a mountain and think about the smoothness of stones lining a streambed. Help them to understand the power of water to tumble and smooth sharp jagged rocks. Add a pebble to a cairn, a small marker of stones or rocks on a trail.
We added a pebble on top of this
           cairn when we passed by it on a trail.

Show your children the difference in a tree’s flaky bark or the shape of its leaves. Help them to smell the scent of pine trees in the mountains or the brine of the ocean beach at low tide. Point out the sea creatures trapped in a tidal pool or a moose cooling himself in mud along a forest trail in the summer. Never approach wild animals in their natural habitat, but merely observe them and ask questions. Then discover the answers together from a park ranger or at a nature museum or even take out a book from the town library or research online. 

You don’t need to go any place in particular to observe nature. My children and I love to lie on blankets on the lawn or in a field and watch the clouds puff by. We use our imaginations and “see” animals and objects in the cloud shapes. Take the time to walk around the neighborhood. The key words in that sentence are “take the time” to walk around. Don’t hurry the children. Allow them to notice acorns from oak trees or the various sizes and shapes of the “helicopter” seeds from maple trees.
Kicking through brown oak leaves,
we found a purple mushroom.

Watch the bees pollinate the peonies or hydrangea flowers or search for a four-leaf clover in a patch of clover. Pluck a buttercup blossom to hold under your child’s chin to see if he “likes” butter by looking for a golden reflection on the flesh. Crackle through a pile of dried, leathery brown leaves together to discover what’s underneath. Watch a centipede or a salamander wiggle along the path. Any season can be an adventure when you take time to notice the change in nature.
Centipede on the Appalachian Trail

            Whether you’re hiking or camping with kids, please remember to take your time to notice your surroundings. I hope you found this more reflective post helpful about spending time in nature with kids. Please share any experiences you may have about exploring nature with children in a comment here at Camping with Five Kids. It would be truly appreciated. Enjoy your adventure!
Little orange newt!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Some Useful Tips When Camping with Kids
Notice the small sturdy lamp on the
deck. It has a nightlight.

            My family didn’t start right off with a month-long camping excursion. Not with five kids in tow. Nor did we have all the camping gear we have now when we started. We began camping with the kids on short camp trips to get them ready for longer excursions. And we camped locally first in case the kids really, really, really didn’t like sleeping in an old canvas tent trailer.  

            If you search the tabs at the top of this blog, you’ll find many tips for camping with kids. While I provide some information about camping equipment and how to begin camping with kids in a post entitled “Is Camping Gear on Your Christmas List,” I wanted to talk about a few things parents might not think about when starting to camp with children. 

            One of the most important things we realized with young kids camping was how they didn’t like to pee in the woods and they didn’t like the port-a-john booths. They wanted “a real toilet,” they said. “You know, Mom, the ones with water in them.”

            “So who doesn’t,” I told them. “Think of it as an adventure.”

They didn’t want that kind of adventure. They were convinced that a snake or bear would get them.
This is like what we have, a Century
6210 5-Gallon Portable Toilet. It’s
currently out of stock on Amazon. 
So while I was able to get the kids to use the trees to pee when we hiked, if necessary, giving them a bag to put their used toilet paper trash in, we did buy a free-standing port-a-potty that sat on the camper floor. We kept it simple; two plastic tanks, one for clean water and one for waste water. They were connected in the middle with an open shut valve. You pump a little clean water into the toilet bowel, use it, and then open the valve to allow the waste to fall into the bottom tank while flush/pumping some clean water into the bowel. Then you close the valve. There is a gage that turns red when the waste water tank is full.  

The toilet tanks are self-contained and come apart, so you can dispose of the waste water tank at appropriate waste stations at the campground or wait until you return home—if you aren’t far and the potty is not full—to dump the waste into your own toilet. We cleaned the waste water out after a day or two but always before we traveled to another campground or back home because we covered longer distances. We only used the potty at night or when there were no flush toilets available.

We bought our potty years ago, but when I looked online, I found two styles that are like ours and aren’t too expensive, the Dometic 2.6 gallon portable toilet and the XIMENG Portable Toilet. Both sit on the ground. You can find more information about camping potties here.   

Another thing parents should be aware of is that it is usually very dark at campgrounds. If you have electricity available, bring a small nightlight to plug into an outlet in a camp trailer if you’re using one or a small sturdy lamp that can sit flat on the ground and has a low light to leave on during the night in a tent.

If you do not have any electricity available at your campsite, simply provide each child with a personal flashlight. Small flashlights seem to be available at most stores. You should narrow down the choices, as in brightness, size, LED, etc., and let the kids choose their own color or style from the approved selections. My kids had fun with this step. With five kids, they chose the slender, push-button lights in a rainbow of colors. Only give the kids the flashlights at nighttime. Store them away during the day.

Children usually feel more in charge of any situation at night if they can choose to turn on a flashlight when necessary. The important thing to tell the kids is to keep the flashlight pointing down at the ground when they turn it on at night. Explain how their eyes get used to the darkness, and they could temporarily blind someone with the brightness of their lights.

Of course, the kids will take longer to settle down at night if they have flashlights, no matter how much hiking you did that day. At least ours did. From flashlight beam tag to shadow shows on the ceiling of the tent, our kids entertained themselves—and kept my husband and I up—for hours when they were supposed to be going to sleep. With five kids, it got to look like the search lights of old Hollywood premiers in the tent. Oh, and the kids can find your bunk in the middle of the night to ask if you heard that owl or those tree frogs. And many times, they don’t have that “only flash the light on the ground” concept down pat. So be ready!  

            I hope you found these little tidbits helpful about camping with kids. Please share any experiences you may have about camping out with children in a comment here at Camping with Five Kids. It would be truly appreciated. Enjoy your spring! 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park, California

            What do you do when you get nervous? When I get nervous, I laugh. A lot! And my whole family knows it. They also know that I’m a bit nervous around sheer heights—especially with my five children in tow. Now I can climb a mountain with the best of them. Through a forest, along a rocky trail. Surrounded by trees. Or at least huge boulders to hem you in. On the East Coast of the U.S., most times when you hike the mountain trails, you feel pretty much protected. Oh, we’ve scrambled up boulders in our mountain climbing on the East Coast. But it’s not as frightening as out west where there appear to be more cliff ledges—with limited railings and way too much open air space to be swept off the edges. Hence all my giggles when we visited the Sequoia National Park and Moro Rock in California.    

We were camping at Dorst Creek Campground inside the national park area and the children heard the park rangers’ talk about a stunning valley view that was only a half mile hike, roundtrip, from the parking lot in the Giant Forest area. Now my kids know they can entice me to do almost anything when there is a “stunning valley view” attached. 

            “Mom,” our oldest daughter opened her argument. “We can’t come all the way across the continental United States and not see this view.”
            “It’s above the Sequoias,” the twins added.
            “It’s the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Mom,” our second daughter, Miss Know-It-All, said. “And Moro Rock is made out of granite.”
            I looked at my husband. He wore a big smile. “I’m convinced, guys,” I said. “Let’s go!”
            On the way to the trail parking lot, my son shared the fact he remembered.

            “Mom, we’ll be able to see the Great Western Divide mountain peaks up there.”

            The Great Western Divide? Mountains and valleys? Everything’s taller out west, I thought. My breathing increased, and I wasn’t even out of the van yet. The kids did say it was a short hike, Vic, I reasoned. Calm down.

            Oh, it was a short distance compared to other hikes we’ve taken. But it was almost straight up! Moro Rock rises 6,725 feet above sea level, according to the information literature. We only had to climb the last 300 feet of that elevation. It was enough!
Death grip on railing!
            As we climbed up the staircase, there was nothing but air on either side of us in some places. My laughter filled that empty space. The children went first. I wanted them where I could see them. In some places, the trail was so narrow that only one hiker could climb the section at a time. And while it was incredible to be above the mighty sequoia trees, I couldn’t help wishing there was something a little more solid holding us onto the dome rock besides gravity. While my children scrambled up the trail almost hands free, I stared at the rock under my feet and clung to the warm metal poles hammered into this granite dome wherever I found them.

            The websites I provide here offer much information about Moro Rock, both its geological history and present conditions and the surrounding national park area and Dorst Campground. The view is definitely worth the short climb if you are in the area. However, just be aware of the open space and grand heights. Please keep an eye on your children here. To me, it looks very easy to slip off that cliff.

            Spring is finally here in New Jersey. Why not start planning your family summer adventure? Oh, and please feel free to share whatever makes you nervous in a comment here at Camping with Five Kids. I won’t tell anyone! Enjoy your spring holidays!  

Friday, March 1, 2019

Seeking Slick Snow for Sledding

            Yes, the Lees family is a little bit odd. We actually like snow. We even enjoyed snow in July in the Colorado Rockies! Our enjoyment of snow is probably because we live in New Jersey and don’t get a lot of it. Therefore, we seek out places where snow can be found. Like the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. It’s just a few hours’ drive from our home to find a great sledding hill and a house to rent for a weekend visit.
The Lees crew is ready to go sledding!

            Snow is actually one of the beauties of winter. It’s one of the things that make winter so much fun. With five children, it’s tough to afford skiing for the entire family. Besides, not all of us want to go skiing. We’re at different ability levels for sure. It is intimidating barreling down the mountainside by yourself on skis. Instead we grab a sled and head for the hills.

            While there are many places to pay for sledding in the Pocono Mountains, Camelback and Split Rock are just two, the Lees crew tries to seek out the less expensive, less crowded, and quieter type of sledding hills. We rent a home in the Arrowhead Lakes area of the Pocono Mountains and tote our own sleds and tubes to the bottom of an old ski slope with other residents of the area to enjoy an afternoon of sledding. True, we need to lug our own sleds back up the hill, but everyone is respectful of others and cautious of the children.

An old ski run makes a great place for sledding.
We all take turns barreling down the steep hill so as not to crash into each other. The hill is wide and has a flat lip at the top where we can set up our sleds. The children like to sled down the hill trying to hold hands, five abreast. Their sled train usually falls apart about halfway down the slope. They either pull each other off the sled or lose mittens to their siblings as their grips slip apart. It’s hilarious.

            Everyone using the sledding hill knows to get off the hill as soon as possible, especially if they wipe out mid slope. They simply grab their sleds and trudge to the side of the slope where people climb up. My family has a contest to see who goes the farthest at the bottom of the hill, where it levels off. We all try to make it to the baseball field. It’s not really fair, of course, because my husband and I are the heaviest, so we go the furthest.    

            You don’t need to own ice skates to be able to enjoy a frozen pond. My family enjoys slipping on the ice. We can spend hours trying, once again, to see who can slide the farthest on the ice. Our son and the twins discovered that if they use their backsides to slide on instead of their feet, they usually go farther.
Slipping on the ice at Lake
Arrowhead in the Poconos. 

            It’s very important that you make sure the ice is frozen. You can do this by asking the residents how long the temperature has been below freezing, or simply check the weather reports. You also want to look at the ice and take a few tentative steps on the ice along the edge of the pond. It’s always best to have the heaviest member of the family do this. For safety’s sake, we usually stay close to shore and not venture out to the middle of the pond or lake. Never allow children to walk or play on ice when no one is with them. Just like hiking, winter fun is always best to enjoy with others.

            Spring will be here before you know it. So be safe and have some fun with your family in the snow and cold temperatures, if you’re lucky enough to have any. Please feel free to share any wintertime adventures you’ve enjoyed in a comment here at Camping with Five Kids. It would truly be appreciated. Enjoy the approach of spring!