Experiences, anecdotes, tips, how-tos, hiking, nature, motherhood, memories.

Adventures in Camping with Kids

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

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wet and Wild: Riding the New River Part 1

Rafting the New River in West Virginia
Now let’s get back to some camping adventures.  The thrill of whitewater rafting.  Ever try it?

            If you’re an experienced paddler, late spring is a great time to go whitewater rafting as the spring thaw in the mountains feeds the streams with thundering whitewater.  Children need to be at least 14 years of age to raft in spring.    

Although my husband and I rafted before and we took the children on smaller rafting trips, everyone wanted to try rafting the big water.  So our summer camp trip revolved around rafting the New River in West Virginia.  We camped in the New River Gorge area and took a full day guided river trip with the Appalachian Wildwater outfitters on the Lower New River.  In the summer, the water isn’t as high and children can raft at 12, our youngest the twins’ age.  

            Rafters are required to wear helmets and life vests to take on the New River.  And the rafting guides came along to check and tighten these vests once we put them on. 

            I didn’t know that as my husband and I checked our children’s vests to be sure they were properly closed.  Then a lady came by and yanked on everyone’s vest straps.  My eyes started bulging as did the children’s.

            “Is breathing important?”  I squeaked to the woman.

            “Not nearly as much as being able to find the body in the river,” she quipped.

            I rushed over to my husband.  “I’ve changed my mind.”

            “You’re getting hysterical,” he whispered as our guide Seth demonstrated the paddle commands and moves.

            “It’s because the blood’s cut off to my brain,” I croaked.

            I glanced at the children.  Seth’s authoritative voice held their attention as they copied his motions.  If they can function in tight vests, so can I.      

All seven of us went on one 14 foot raft—plus our guide, who sat at the back of the raft.  We put in at Thurmond and planned to come out right before the New River Gorge Bridge. 

After the first rapid—Surprise, yes the rapids are named—the adrenaline started pumping.  Roller coaster waves!  Water in your face waves!  Hold on to your tube—and paddle—waves!  I kept shouting to the children to tuck their sneakers under the huge outer tube they sat on to paddle.

Seth was correct.  Did we ever doubt him?  We had calm periods on the water between the rapid series. 

            But then Seth shattered my calm, deep-breathing float in the raft after a few rapid series. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How to Plan a Camping Trip Part 2

One of our campsites
When planning any road trip, it’s important to remember driving distances and travel times.  Time zones or ferry schedules need to be considered in addition to the amount of driving time per day if you have a long haul to make.  Rest stops are crucial for tired drivers as well as children who need to use the restroom.  Don’t forget to enjoy an unhurried picnic lunch.  It’s a vacation, and vacations need to be somewhat restful for all involved. 

Once you have a vacation plan and have settled on some dates for the trip, begin reserving your campground site(s).  This is important, especially if you plan to camp in popular vacation areas.  They fill up quickly. 

If you are camping in several places during your vacation, remember to consider the time needed to break camp and travel to your next campground.  Everything takes longer in the field.  Inform the campground if you will be getting in late, so they hold your campsite for you.

What you bring with you on your camping trip depends on where you stay and what you camp in.  Primitive or commercial campgrounds.  Tent, trailer, camper, or cabin.  If there is no barbeque grill or fire ring available at the campsite, you’ll need something to cook on.  We use a Coleman camp stove that uses propane.  Propane is available at campground stores.  Wood is available as well at the camp stores for campfires.  Bring cooking pots and utensils.  We refrain from using disposable cups, plates, and plastic ware to help the environment.  Then pack appropriate bedding and towels, in addition to personal items. 

            Get everyone involved in packing to build excitement and family experience.  Make check lists for kitchen, bedding, clothing, food, and toiletry.  Don’t forget the bug spray, sun screen, hats, and raincoats.  Load the vehicle and/or camper prior to the day of departure, except for perishables.  Bring any reservation material you have made, a global positioning device [GPS] and maps.  Always bring current maps of the areas you will be driving through or staying in. 

Then enjoy your family camping experience.  Make the memories that last.      

Monday, January 20, 2014

How to Plan a Camping Trip Part 1

Camping at a Primitive site
Start planning your trip before the campgrounds open for the season.  Meet with the family to get everyone’s input.  Determine the type of camping experience your family wants.  Are you trying to get to certain places or spend time at various campgrounds or enjoy the local area?     

Remember finances.  A good reason to camp is because it is an economical way to travel. The cost of campgrounds hinge upon the number in your party.  Commercial campgrounds usually have all the amenities; electricity, water, and sewerage hookups, playground, pool, arts and crafts, activities, game room, bath houses, and store.  They cost more than the primitive campsites with no hookups or amenities.

National and state park primitive campsites can have ranger stations and some give talks and tours of the nature area.  Some primitive campsites may have flush toilets, but not many.  At commercial campgrounds, hookups are charged by which you use.  Having a pop-up trailer, we never needed a sewerage hookup.     

Your travel vehicle should be in good working order.  A good idea is to go over the basic maintenance of your vehicle before leaving on vacation or have a mechanic look it over.  Oil change, tune-up, fluids check, sensors [oxygen or engine coolant temperature], exhaust system, air conditioning.  New tires aren’t a bad idea if you plan any far distances. 

Also consider everyone’s abilities at this early stage planning your camping trip.  Remember that everything takes longer when camping; set-up, meals, cleanup.  Plan events that everyone is interested in, like hiking, rafting, horseback riding, town festivals, and amusement parks.  Gather details about things to do in the states, parks, or areas that you plan to visit; brochures, websites, and tour books from travel clubs. 

Don’t forget to include the ability to travel for long distances in a car/van when deciding where to go.  We’ll talk about that next.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Filling the Heart with Memories

Our children at the Pocono House
Although we never camped outside in the wintertime, we would take the family to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania seeking snow.  Usually we’d leave December 27th for a short respite after the Christmas rush.  We rented a small home and needed our camping skills to make it work.  

            Sleeping bags for the children tucked into a loft.  Sharing food preparation and clean-up.  Yes.  It takes longer, but how else can Mom find a break.  Hide and go seek with a flashlight at night.  Star gazing in a crystal clear night sky.  Snow gear and sleds crammed into the van, tobogganing and sledding down the local hill.  Ice skating and sliding on the frozen lake.  Check to see how long temperatures have been below freezing before venturing out on a lake.  Also check for cracks on the ice surface.  

Yes, we hiked in the wintertime, snow covering the mountainside of Hickory Run StatePark, ice coating the tree branches, icicles clinging to waterfalls.  Keeping feet dry is a must when hiking in winter.  Snow/ski pants, thick socks, and waterproof boots are not just for skiing.  When hiking in winter use layers of clothing and wear a hat.  We lose most of our heat through exposed heads.  Gloves are a great idea, too.  

For just a few days, we had no computers or cell phone checking.  It’s a good idea to attempt this kind of break at some time.  A chance to rediscover what it means to actually be a family.  

Merry Christmas to everyone.  May you all have a healthy and happy 2014.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Towering California Redwoods

California Sugar Pine, Sequoia,
and Redwood pinecones
No search for the massive in California is complete without visiting the coastal Redwood trees, the tallest living thing on earth.  These Christmas tree evergreens reach into the very atmosphere, parting the clouds and tickling the California sunshine with their tassel tops.

Camping in Sequoia, Yosemite, and Redwood National Parks as we oooed and aahed our way through the magnificent forests, I became obsessed with discovering these massive trees’ pine cones. 

We had just set up camp at Sequoia National Park when five children and I wandered off in search of pine cones.  I thought I’d use this opportunity to teach them about nature.    

“All pine trees have pine cones,” I told the children as they followed in my wake down one of the paths at the campground.  “That’s where their seeds are.”  I glanced back at them.

They nodded while excitement danced in their eyes.

“Now, since these trees are so massive,” I said, all knowingly.  “Their pine cones must be huge.”

The children nodded again.  They looked up.  The sunlight filtered through the towering pines and covered their faces in lace patterns.

“Let’s see if we can find some to show Daddy.”

Further down the path, we came to a group of pines amid huge ferns, rocks, and fallen branches.

“Stay around here and bring back what you find,” I instructed.  They dropped away from the mother tree faster than the pine cones we were searching for.

Carefully, I searched through the underbrush at the base of a huge pine, working my way further from the tree.  Then I discovered it behind a rock in the thick ferns, a huge pine cone thicker and longer than my forearm. 

“Look, look,” I cried to the children, holding the pine cone aloft with both hands.

The children scrambled out of the brush.  Some had New Jersey-sized cones but sturdier and thicker.

“Let’s show Daddy,” they all shouted.

But as I gazed at the vastly different cones, I realized I was no expert.  “Let’s take these over to the ranger station, so we can tell Daddy exactly what they are.”

I was glad we did.  The huge pine cone I found was not the mighty sequoia pine cone.  It was a sugar pine cone, a huge tree yes, but nowhere near as massive as the sequoia.  That cone was the egg-shaped, woody cone my son found.  And the towering redwood?  Its pine cone is the size of a quarter, thin and spidery. 
What I taught my children that day was to check with an expert when they’re not sure of something.  As much as we parents would like to have all the answers, many times we don’t.  The best thing a parent can do is help find knowledgeable resources for their children and then learn along with them.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Real Live Giant: The Mighty Sequoias

On the Trail in the Valley of the Giants
Peak your children’s interest in family vacations with attention-grabbing questions.  Like a math equation, you need to factor in the age of all children present.    

             “How would you like to hug a real live giant?”  My husband asked his eager children during one of our vacation planning sessions. 

            It was the 7th grader, the realist, who finally rolled her eyes.  I saw her considering my husband’s words first.  “Dad,” she said.  “There are no real live giants.  That’s just pretend.”

            The young twins, on the other hand, were holding their breath, their blue eyes eager for some real giants.

             Then that familiar twinkle crept back into my husband’s eye.  “Oh yes there are,” he said, and I could see the excitement rise in our children’s faces, even the realist’s. 

            “And they’re in,” he hesitated long enough to pop the children out of their seats to surround him.

            “Where, where, where?”  They chanted.

            “In California.”

            Squeals of delight filled the dining room as the children danced around the table.  Then our son suddenly stopped the parade.

“I don’t think I want to hug one,” he said, the twins bumping into his back.

“You’ll want to hug this giant,” I told him.  “You’re a tree hugger, like me.”


“These giants are trees, the mighty Sequoia trees,” I informed all the children.

               Once you get the children hooked, have them do a bit of research because sometimes with children, seeing is believing.  In the old days this meant a trip to the library.  Not any more.  Now we just pull up the internet and search for Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park.

            “The largest living trees in the world,” our oldest daughter read.

“These trees are thousands of years old,” the realist told us. 

            “That’s right,” I said. 

            Once the children saw these massive evergreen trees in real life, these broccoli-topped giants; their mouths hung open nearly as wide as the tree trunks.  The children did in fact hug the soft cinnamon-colored bark of these gentle giants, even though they could only reach about four feet of the 68 foot circumference.  

One trip to these magnificent National Parks is not enough.  In the cacophony of life, it may be that nature is the only place to find the peace needed to turn inside oneself to reflect on what’s important.  What do you think?  Peace and inspiration can be found in many places.  I could spend a lifetime in the Giant Forest and never be bored.  
Let’s hope those in charge of the United States government come to an agreement soon so that visitors may enjoy the beauty of our national parks.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Colorado Rockies: Here We Come!

Snowball fights in July at Rocky Mountain National Park
During our long cross-country drive to Rocky Mountain National Park from New Jersey, after many a camp side sunset, we kept the children’s interests peaked by discussing around the campfire the Rocky Mountains.

“These mountains are taller than any other mountain you children have been on,” my husband told them.

Their eyes widened in awe.

“There won’t be any tall trees on the top,” I informed them.

“Mom,” our 5th grade boy scout informed me, “all mountains have trees.”

He’s a tree-hugger, like me.  “This time,” I told the children, “we will be hiking in the tundra.”

“A tundra,” the children repeated.

“What’s a tundra?”  One of the twins asked.

“We’ll be hiking above the trees,” my husband said by way of explanation.

“Not only that,” I said, “but we could be playing in the snow.”

“Mom.”  It was my 7th grade daughter’s turn to correct me.  “It doesn’t snow in July in North America.”

“No,” I agreed.  “But it’s colder up in the tundra, and snowfields could be tucked here and there on the mountaintop.”

The chatter increased.

“I forgot my boots.”

“I don’t have my snow pants.”

“We don’t have gloves.”

“I didn’t bring my sled.”

I raised my hand to stop the flow of chatter.  My husband was laughing.

“Sledding, son,” I said looking at him.  “On mountain tops?”  I looked at the girls.  “We’ll just have to make snowmen or have snowball fights in sneakers and shorts.  That’s all.”

            The excitement rose to a fevered pitch as we moved inside the tent and attempted to prepare for bed.  Nobody slept with the children firing questions at me and my husband all night long.

Luckily the next day the Rockies loomed up ahead along the roadway into Estes Park and our campground.  We were there. 

            Many times, camping with the family entails much driving.  Keep the children excited about their destination by feeding them small bits of interesting information while around the campfire or at dinner.  We didn’t tell the children about the snow until we were almost at Rocky Mountain National Park. 

            My prayers are with those navigating the floods in Colorado.