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Setting up Camp…with a toddler

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I have been pretty adventurous with my toddler son—we had him in the Ergobaby and hiking by a month, did our first flight by four months, let him do an overnight with grandparents at six months.

But camping … the idea of camping with him made my stomach clench. What if he screamed all night? What would we do with all the diapers? What if he became a delicious amuse-bouche to a bear? What if, horror of horrors, he hated s’mores?

toddler1Still, I vowed to try it this summer. I booked two spots for camping in June and July, started making lists (the relaxation technique of Type A people everywhere), and mentally prepared. The thing is, we’re city people raising a city kid. We love to hike and be outdoors … but we love having a coffee shop on the corner even more. Yet, it is so important that our son is comfortable in both the city and the country.

So we packed up the car and hit the road. The first stop: Rocky Mountain National Park. We stayed in the Aspenglen campground (try to book site 4—it’s large and well-shaded), and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It was the perfect spot to try out camping with a toddler for the first time—there was a river nearby to explore, good space between sites, and flush toilets.

My fears that my city kid wouldn’t take to camping were assuaged within ten minutes when he’d thrown off his shoes, smeared dirt all over his face, and was digging with a stick. He’d gone full Dickensian street urchin, by the looks of him, but he was having so much fun.

And that fun continued. Over the weekend, we cooked over a campfire, hiked, devoured more s’mores than our dentist would like, and just explored. By the time it was over, I couldn’t wait to get out there again. And neither could my son. He talked about the campfire for days after we returned home, and he got really excited when I told him we’d be camping again. Our second camping weekend took us to Difficult Campground outside Aspen, and we had a fabulous time.toddler

If you’re thinking of trying camping with a young kid for the first time, here are a few tips:

  1. Consider bringing a sleep sheep or some sort of noise machine for the night. My son is used to city noises, so the extreme quiet of nature can take some getting used to. And that bedtime? Prepare for it to be late. My son normally has a 7:30 pm bedtime, but the summer sun made it more like 9 pm. But don’t worry, your kid will still wake up just as early as normal ….
  2. I put together a special “camping adventure” backpack for my son to dig into once we got to the campsite. I included things like a bug catcher, special outdoor-themed books, and binoculars. Make sure to bring a few favorite small toys from home too.
  3. Kids get tickled by having “matching” things, at least mine does. We got him a kid-sized camp chair to match ours, and he loved sitting next to his dad in their matching chairs watching the fire.
  4. Make activities special by giving them a theme. We hunted for s’more sticks on one hike and looked for animals with our binoculars on another. I like to get his imagination going by telling stories about what we’re seeing—we’ve got a whole thing going with gnomes now and bring a little traveling gnome on all our outdoor adventures to search for gnome homes.
  5. Skip the individual sleeping bags and opt for bedding from home. It might be more of a hassle, packing-wise, but that way you can all snuggle together if your kid has a hard time sleeping at night. And let’s be honest—no one wants a toddler shoved into your sleeping bag at two in the morning.

Jenny lives in Denver with her husband, son, and two fat tabbies. She’s a mom by day, a writer by night, and a traveler whenever she gets the chance. Follow her on her blog or on Twitter.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amber Johnson August 15, 2016

    I’m so glad you had a great time! I really think it depends upon the kid how your camping experience goes. We’ve had our share of disastrous camping trips when the kids were young (documented here http://www.themilehighmama.com/the-johnson-familys-shortest-and-worst-camping-trip-ever/) but I’m happy to report things are going much smoother now!

  • comment avatar Eva August 15, 2016

    We love camping! My biggest tip is just be flexible with toddlers. Let them explore at their own comfort level and bring lots of wipes and water to clean them up–they will get dirty.

  • comment avatar Jenny August 15, 2016

    Oh my gosh–SO many wipes!

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