Category Archives: Camping

Sometimes You Just Gotta Let Loose

Check out this toddler dance party!  Ever full of energy, Grace and her little buddy Kenna got down while four exhausted parents packed up the cars after 5 days of family camp.

Can Kids (and Parents!) Sleep Well While Camping?

Well-rested little camper, Grace

Well-rested little camper, Grace

I grew up camping for every family vacation. I’ve talked my husband into venturing out a few times each summer, including last week over the 4th of July. One of the biggest reasons I hear from others with little ones to not camp is the sleep issue. How do you get a baby or toddler (or even older kids for that matter!) to nap and get enough night time sleep with only a thin tent to block out noise and light?

We just returned from a five day campout with our church. Thanks to a few tricks Grace napped longer than at home (2 1/2 hours some days) and slept well at night too.  That made for a more restful trip for me and Steve and Grace had more energy to give to the rest of each day.

Our tricks are really very simple, similar to what we do in hotel rooms.

  1. We keep the same bedtimes and naptimes as at home. It’s tempting to let her stay up later to play with all her friends but it comes back to bite us in the long run. She was in the tent headed to bed at 7pm. The downside of this is we had to stick close by once she was in bed. Since we were camping with friends that wasn’t a big deal. We enjoyed games, snacks, campfires and reading by flashlight after she was in bed.
  2. We keep the same bedtime and naptime routine as at home. We read a few stories, sang songs, said our prayers and put her to bed. The first day she yelled for a while when we put her down for her nap. We tried to be as consistent as we are at home (hard in a public campsite). We went to her a few times told her gently but firmly to lay down and go to sleep. After about 45 minutes of fussing on and off she did, and every day after that we had no problems.
  3. Bring the pack n play. For as long as we possibly can we’ll be using the pack n play for Grace, maybe even after she’s transitioned to a big girl bed.  That way she’s contained and not tempted to play around in the exciting new tent or in the very fun suitcases.  When she does fuss she eventually gets bored with it and falls asleep whereas if she were out of it I could imagine her unzipping her way out of the tent dozens of times.
  4. Bring a white noise machine. It may seem silly while camping but IT WORKS. We were camping with lots of other families so besides the usual sounds of campsites (birds, cars, people walking by) we had the sounds of lots of noisy kids having a great time after she was in bed.  We use the Marsona white noise machine which we love because its internationally adaptable plus has an optional (sold separately) battery pack, which was perfect for camping. I loved seeing the looks on people’s faces as they’d walk by our tent while Grace napped. What is that noise? I’m sure they were thinking. Is someone vacuuming in there?
  5. Use black sheets strategically. This solved the light issue for us and I wish we’d thought of this sooner in our parenting life.  We used binder clips to clip the sheet to seams in the tent and put them around the pack n play, sort of like a tent within a tent.  We draped a second sheet directly onto the pack n play after she was asleep at night. These two combined helped her sleep until 6:30am or even close to 7 a few days, much later than she would have had the sun blazed in when it rose at 5am.

We use these same tricks when we’re staying other places too, like hotels or with friends or relatives. Our sleep is pretty important to us and these tips keep us all happy travelers.

Do you have a trick you use when camping or traveling to help your child sleep better?  Share it with us. Any ideas how to get your child to sleep in until 8 or 9am, even when she doesn’t do that at home?

Exploring Oregon: Taking Over Fort Stevens State Park

What happens when 13 families show up to camp at Fort Stevens State Park? A loud, crazy, incredibly good time, that’s what!

For the third year in a row we camped with an expanding group of friends, a group that has added a few families each year.  This September our numbers reached 26 adults and something like 18 kids under the age of 6! Camping truly is more fun the more people you have, although our unsuspecting neighbors in the yurt village may have begged to differ.

Fort Stevens is an ideal park for a large group, especially with kids. First of all it’s huge at 3400 acres, with over 500 camping spots and 15 yurts (a cross between a cabin and a tent, pictured at right), the ocean and beach, a freshwater lake, biking and hiking trails, an historic fort, and access to the Columbia River.  There is so much to do within the park that we never even left, apart from a few members of our group who couldn’t live without their mochas. Various members of our party came and departed at different times but our family spent three nights and four days exploring this park and its surrounds.

Our first afternoon, a Thursday, was spent settling into the yurt and exploring the campground itself with other early arrivers, Son and Heidi. Heidi and Beth took the little ones, Josh and Grace, on a walk on some of the campground’s trails. We were trying to make it to Coffenbury Lake, the pristine lake perfect for boating and swimming in warmer weather, but with two pairs of very short legs accompanying us we only got a glimpse of the lake in the distance. Still we enjoyed wandering around a bit and had a nice campfire that evening while the rest of our friends trickled in into the late hours of the night.

The next day, Friday, most of the other families had arrived and a quorum decided to explore the remnants of the historic Fort Stevens, a short drive (or long walk) from the campground itself.  Fort Stevens was the primary military defense installation for the mouth of the Columbia River from the Civil War through the end of WWII. It even saw a little actual fighting when a Japanese sub fired into the vicinity of the fort during WWII.

Grace (dark hair, middle) with three of her little friends resting during our hike around the Fort

At the fort itself we took a short hike around the periphery, which led us to a reconstructed Native American longhouse. The trail then took us through grassy wetlands and beautiful views of the Columbia River. We then explored what is left of the gun batteries, including some dark underground tunnels which the kids thought were cool and the parents thought were kind of creepy. There are still some big cannons and other military paraphernalia which helped visualize what the fort would have been like in its heydey. During the summer there are live tours offered which probably offer much more insight into the fort than we were able to glean on our own but it was still an interesting spot. At the end of the hike our loop brought us back to the small historical museum, which provided some background on the fort as well as an old (out-of-repair) model train which the kids would have loved had it been working! Since it wasn’t, they settled on temporary tatoos from the giftshop instead.

That afternoon the kids enjoyed riding their bikes around the yurt neighborhood, playing in the sand pit near the yurts, and avoiding the intermittent rain that fell on us. The great thing about camping with lots of other families is there is always someone else able to keep an eye on your child while you take a shower, make dinner, etc.

Speaking of dinner, another great benefit of camping with our huge group of friends is each family only has to cook once! We split up all the meals for the weekend and each family, usually paired up with at least one other family, is responsible for one meal. It’s a big task for our one meal but it’s wonderful to not even think about meals the rest of the weekend!  The food was great too. Dinners included taco salad and a chicken sausage/hot dog roast. One gourmet breakfast involved homemade (i.e. not instant) oatmeal and homemade banana bread. Lunches were build-your-own sandwich bars. Needless to say, we didn’t suffer for want of good food.

Saturday was a bit cloudy but that’s what we got for camping in early September in Oregon. That didn’t keep us from heading down to the beach, which at Fort Stevens State Park is about 3/4 mile from the actual campground. Those of us with little ones drove down, others with bikes got there with their own power. There’s an old shipwreck on the beach at Fort Stevens which is fun to explore. It’s getting filled in with sand more and more every year but the hull of the boat still sticks out enough play in (watch for rusty metal though!). We flew kites and dug big holes and buried each other’s legs, all the usual beach things but a little windier and chillier than we would have preferred.

Following the afternoon nap-rush, most of the kids and some of the adults took part in a Camping Scavenger hunt. It seems to now be a mainstay of our annual camping trip and Beth is trying to make it a little harder each year as the kids grow up (and the parents get smarter!) The favorite task on this year’s list was the required “digital photo of your team crammed into a bathroom stall!” The girls team won, of course. Better luck next year boys!

That night we had a giant campfire complete with the above-mentioned sausage/ hot dog roast, s’mores and hot cocoa. After the kids went to bed we adults sat up talking and laughing until late into the evening. Another great thing about camping with kids – the adults can hang out long after bedtime and no babysitters are required. If you’re a parent to a young child, you know how huge this is.

Sunday was departure day but that didn’t mean we didn’t cram as much in as possible! Following the incredible homemade oatmeal, sausages, and banana bread breakfast, some of us parents played board games while kids played in the sand. Eventually we got around to packing up our cabins, eating a hasty potluck lunch with all the leftovers (mainly chips!), and then most families headed down to the beach one last time before the two-hour drive back to Portland.

Our family skipped out on the beach as we were the only family not heading back to Portland. We still had another week of yurt-camping stretching out before us, this time in southern Oregon. We hit the road that afternoon and we’ll tell you more about the rest of that trip in a forthcoming post.

An RV Plus Toddler Plus Canada = Unforgettable Adventures!

Every adventure-loving family needs some good adventure-loving friends. For us, those friends are Son and Heidi plus their adorable two-year-old, Josh. We’ve traveled domestically and abroad with these guys (Canada, Honduras, many a camping trip) but for some reason they didn’t invite us along on this one. Go figure? At least they shared their story with us though. Read on for their adventures exploring Canada this summer in an RV.

Written by Son Cao, world traveling dad

It sported a full kitchen, full bathroom, a slide-out bedroom, and eight cylinders of Detroit’s finest to grind up mountain passes. It had a TV, an antenna and possibly its own satellite. Hungry for both food and adventure, we secured our toddler son into the carseat, cranked up the ipod, and peeled out of the RV rental parking lot. Just two hours before, we had landed in Calgary airport, were picked up by a driver from AlldriveCanada.com and delivered to our new home for the next two weeks. After stocking up at Safeway, we pointed Beast westward and lumbered toward the Canadian Rockies.

Interior Configuration

In the Canadian Rockies, an RV was an ideal way for us to travel, allowing us to take in many of the contiguous national parks while still providing a consistent environment for our toddler. Accommodating for small children may take some creativity but it’s possible. Some lessons learned about reserving an RV when traveling with kids:

Before you book, spend a few minutes on the phone with the rental agency to get a clear understanding of the floorplan and seatbelt configuration. Unlike the passenger car market, the RV market is very segmented and a wide variety of floorplans exist. Information on websites only provide a brief description and often leave out information important to parents. Ask where a carseat could go during the day and where a pack-and-play could fit in the evenings. Even though our RV was a 2005 model, it had seat belts a la 1964 lap-style in the back. We secured the carseat to the bench seat but it was not within reach if we wanted to hand our son a snack. In the evenings, we set up a pack and play on what would have been a twin bed (we slept in the fold-down couch that turned into a queen bed).

Ask about the specific model of RV and if time allows beforehand, visit an RV dealership to check it out. This helps you plan and also gets the kids involved in the anticipation of the trip.

If you plan on parking your RV at the site and not moving it until you leave, then the size of the RV is less relevant. We wanted to drive to trailheads each day so we opted for a smaller vehicle that can pack up quickly and that was not a nightmare to park. Another option for those who like to leave the RV and take excursions is to rent a truck and trailer combination, also available from most RV rental places.

When you pick up the RV, a technician will spend about 20 minutes going over the operation with you. Unpleanstries like emptying the sanitation tank are discussed. As far as I can tell, all RVs have the same type of hookups – electrical, water, and sanitation. If you get confused while on the road, ask a fellow camper at the site. The main systems on an RV include the fresh water tank, the sanitation tank, and an electrical system you can plug in at a site. The tanks lasted about 3 days before needing tending.

Traveling with children inevitably means traveling with an abundance of “stuff”. Since the RV doesn’t have much storage space, we unpacked into the RV while at the rental lot and stored our empty suitcases at the agency, saving us lots of room in the RV.

My son is used to 3-hour drives in his carseat but even he was starting to fuss toward the end of the trip. Fortunately, my wife had the foresight to pack a bag of surprises, which she doled out every few days to keep his interest. It can be anything from small books to toy cars or trucks that he hasn’t played with in a long time. A DVD player also helped pass the time as a last resort.

The Canadian Rockies

If you’ve been to majestic Glacier National Park in Montana, you got a glimpse of what the Canadian Rockies are like. However, in Canada, this scenery expands over a couple hundred miles. An RV is ideal because it allowed us to take in 6 national parks in the vicinity within a two-week period. When not parked at the camp-site, we searched out trails to enjoy the incredible scenery. Here are some things that worked for us.

We used an Ergo Baby Carrier that Beth and Steve lent us. It was incredibly comfortable and, best of all, easy to pack. Our son quickly grew attached to it.

We got into a routine of downing a quick breakfast and getting to the trailhead no later than 10am, for two reasons. 1) We beat the crowds and tourbuses and 2) we could get back to camp in time for a mid-afternoon nap. Seriously, the trails we recommend below were popular (and rightly so because they were beautiful) and an early start made a real difference in the enjoyment of the hike. It was also easier to find a place to park the RV.

We used the Moon Canadian Rockies: Including Banff and Jasper National Parks (Moon Handbooks)as our guide. While it pointed out some great hikes, specific hours and prices of amenities were not reliable. Whatever book you use, confirm information at the visitor center.

If you plan on spending more than a week in the national parks, consider purchasing an annual family pass at the first gate you enter for about $140. This pays for itself after about 6-7 days.

Banff

Tunnel Mountain Campground has full electrical, sanitation, and water at each campsite. This was by far the toniest campsite we found. Ask for a spot in the 100 row for a view of Mount Rundle. Avoid taking the RV into town after 10AM because parking will be difficult to come by. We recommend hiking the Hoodoos Trail and also stopping by the Fairmont Banff Hot Springs to view a real luxury hotel. The town of Banff is super-touristy but has any amenity you might need. We also recommend the Johnston Creek Canyon Trail if you get there early. If you pack a lunch and start early, take this trail to the Ink Pots for a gorgeous 360-degree mountain valley view.

Tea House at Lake Agnes above Lake Louise

Lake Louise

From Banff, we drove to Lake Louise along the Bow Valley Parkway, which is much more scenic than the TransCanada Highway. Odds are high that you’ll spot bighorn sheep, elk, and bear along this stretch.

Our favorite hike experience by far has to be the Lake Agnes hike starting at the famous Fairmont Lake Louise Hotel. The climb is steady enough to deter the D&G-sunglass-toting crowd spilling out of the tour busses. A few kilometers up the trail is a tea house overlooking a waterfall and Lake Agnes. Plan your hike to arrive at 11AM when they open their doors. Sure, you pay more but how often are you going to have soup and tea in the midst of gorgeous mountain peaks next to a glacial lake?

 

Maligne Lake

Jasper

Heading to Jasper from Lake Louise takes you over the Icefield Parkway. We visited the Columbia Icefield, home to 5 (shrinking) glaciers that empty into the Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. Standing on the shrinking icefield brought home the impact global warming on our water supply.

Jasper itself is a vibrant small town in the same vein as Bozeman, MT and Boulder, CO. Dining options and greenspace for kids are widely available. Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park offered incredible scenery. Here you can spot elk and even herds of caribou. An additional bonus is that most of the crowds encountered at Banff and Lake Louise do not make the trip north to Jasper.

Overall, we had a great time absorbing unbelievable scenery of the Canadian Rockies. Our son loved the mountains and waterfalls and came to expect them daily. The RV added to the adventure, while providing comfort and consistency.

Kids Make You Slow Down

My typical pre-trip pace is frantic. I make lists, I wake up in the middle of the night, I nag my husband to do his tasks. This whole process starts long before the trip so by the time departure day arrives, there actually isn’t that much to do. I just like to get going as early as possible!

Adding a child to the mix has forced me to slow down. Recently we were set to leave for a week-long camping trip. That day Grace decided to take a longer nap than usual. The car was packed, the errands were run, the mail was on hold but Grace was still napping. I found myself with NOTHING to do. My first thought was panic – we need to GO!  But then I realized no, we don’t. There was no plane to catch. We still had plenty of time to get to our campsite before dark. I could start my vacation at home and just relax. What a concept.

Now I just feel thankful to Grace for that longer nap and those few peaceful moments. They remind me of yet another reason we travel with our child. Because she teaches us so many important life lessons, without even meaning to.

Helping Your Child Sleep Anywhere

Imagine this: 3am in a tiny, two-bedroom Seattle apartment. Steve, Grace and I are all sleeping in one bedroom. Our friends Son and Heidi are asleep on their sofa, having graciously given us their bed for the night. Their 2-year old Josh is just a thin wall away from us in the other bedroom. Grace wakes up with a whimper, which is normal as she’s 11 months old at the time and still nursing once in the night. I get her up, feed her, and put her back in her bed expecting her to fall back asleep. Instead her whimpers escalate to inconsolable wails. I try nursing again, rocking, cuddling. Steve tries walking her. Nothing calms her longer than a few minutes. After an hour of fruitless efforts to soothe, Son and Steve decide to take her for a drive. She finally falls back asleep in the car while Steve and Son drive from one end of Seattle to the other for two long hours. Truly Sleepless in Seattle.

In going global we hope our children will sleep peacefully in strange, new environments. After a long plane, train or car trip the whole family is exhausted and no one wants to stay up with a sleepless child. We were truly bewildered that night in Seattle as Grace had never had trouble sleeping before. A few days later we discovered she was teething, which probably paid a large part, but it also made us determined help her adapt to sleeping in new places.

Grace napping in Argentina on a bus, in the Ergo

For us the answer to relatively peaceful transitions to new places has been sleep practice. Yes, practice makes perfect when it comes to taking kids global. From our experience and that of friends with kids, children who practice sleeping regularly in all kinds of environments do better each time they find themselves in yet another new place. On the flipside, kids who rarely venture away from their crib or bed may have a hard time relaxing when faced with something new. This reality is ironic because the temptation is to stay home if your child has a hard time sleeping while traveling. We think the antidote is to keep on going.

Here are a few pointers, some our own, some borrowed from traveling friends:

  • Move it around. Practice sleeping outside the child’s crib or bed on a weekly basis. For us that means naps at Nana’s on Fridays and at a neighbor’s on Wednesdays. If your child is always at home with you, have nap time in the pack n play in a different room once in a while.
  • Have the luvvies but try not to get hooked. A familiar stuffed animal or blanket helps a child feel at home, but addiction to one particular item can mean big trouble if you lose Gerald the Giraffe in an airport. Grace always sleeps with a blankie and/ or multiple stuffed animals, but they’re not always the same ones. Maybe we just got lucky that she didn’t get attached to one, as we weren’t particularly proactive on this one.
  • Use white noise. Any constant, soothing sound drowns out other sounds making unfamiliar night noises a non-issue. A fan, a loud air conditioner, a radio tuned to static or a portable white noise machine all work wonders to drown out disturbing sounds. It’s probably a good idea to use it at home as well as while traveling so your child is used to it. Grace slept, well, like a baby last weekend while camping with the white noise “shushing” right by her head.
  • Keep a regular routine. At least as much as you can. Sometimes on the road you just have to miss a nap or push bedtime back a few hours but if you can, adjust your schedule so naptimes and bedtimes are at similar times to at home. Overtired kids have a hard time settling down at night. You might feel cheated of sightseeing time by going back to the hotel for naps, but the return of a restful night is so worth it.
  • Have an alternate place for your child to nap. If you are going to be out and about when your child wants to sleep, have a carrier (like the Ergo) or a stroller that reclines handy so your child can snooze on the go.

How do you help your kids adjust to sleeping in new places while traveling? Do share!

Kids Were Made for Camping

Camping involves all things children love – the outdoors, dirt, food, sunshine, freedom, bugs, campfires plus time with family and friends. Camping is inexpensive, can be done close to home and, if you were a camper pre-children and have the gear, is fairly easy. We live in the verdant state of Oregon where beautiful, well-maintained campgrounds abound so taking Grace camping was a given, although one we ventured into with some trepidation.

Last summer we eased ourselves into camping as a family by renting a yurt, which is essentially a canvas-sided cabin. Inside are basic furnishings (beds, futon sofa, table and chairs) plus heat which is great for cool summer nights. It allowed us to enjoy the best parts of camping (outdoor cooking, nature, campfires) with the ability to still be indoors at night and sleep on beds.

Over 4th of July weekend this year we ventured on our first tent-camping experience with Grace. We joined 80 others for our church’s annual camp-out, which turned out to be ideal. Whatever we needed (dish soap, toys, even lunch) someone else had extra of and was quick to share. There were gaggles of kids everywhere and plenty of willing grandmas to help out.

We were most concerned about how Grace would sleep in the tent, especially at night with us right next to her. We took along her pack n play, favorite blanket and stuffed crocodile as well as a battery-operated fan to create some white noise (and keep her cool while napping in a warm tent). Napping was a little difficult but when she couldn’t fall asleep in the tent, we popped her in the Ergo and took a long walk around camp and POOF she was asleep. She slept great at night, probably since she was so exhausted from full days of activity and sunshine, although she woke up early with the sun. Overall it was a fun weekend and we’d do it again! In fact we are later camping again later this summer, in a yurt at the Oregon Coast with friends and then in southern Oregon as a family.

Our best tips for camping with kids:

  • Camp with friends or family, especially those with kids. You’ll appreciate the company and your kids will love having other little ones to run around with.
  • Bring your baby carrier, such as your Ergo. You can use it to walk around the campground, take hikes and keep little curious ones away from campfires.
  • Bring toys that can get dirty or lost such as buckets and pails and inflatable beach balls.
  • Just as with any kind of travel, bring your child’s most treasured items (blanket, stuffed animal) to help him feel comfortable and ready for bed.

Do you camp with your kids? What’s worked well for your family?