This spring, however, we were itching to go. The girls were finally both potty trained and self-sufficient enough to enjoy it. So we replaced our tent, reconfigured our gear so it would take up less space in the Subaru and off we went on our first adventure this Father's day weekend in Banff and, despite one ginormous tantrum on our first hike...it was a smashing success.
So, we did it again and took the girlies east to the badlands just north of Brooks for a weekend. The mosquitoes nearly carried the girlies away...but they made so many new friends and had so much fun that now we are planning a longer trip at the end of the month.
So with two camping trips under our belt with preschoolers and zillions of other trips with other people's kids...I figured I could share some of the things we've learned in case you wanted to try camping with your own.
- For a first trip - make it a cross between truly roughing it and home. We chose Tunnel Mountain because of the flush toilets, running water and showers.
- If you can - pre-reserve a site near the washrooms. While you will need to contend with the lights from the bathrooms all night, you will also be more comfortable sending them to use them on their own if the building is within sight.
- Ditto goes for finding a site with large grassy common spaces. Having large areas to run around will be much greater peace of mind for you when it keeps your midget off the road.
- If you are camping with other people, try to book adjoining campsites. Fewer road crossings are a good thing when it comes to little ones who might not always remember to look both ways.
- Make the tent as comfortable as you can for them so they will actually sleep - yes - it might mean sacrificing car space to bring along air mattresses and pumps...but kids who have slept well will be happier kids when you go adventuring
- Let them bring their favourite stuffie or blanky...but tell them that the rule is that it stays in the tent
- Show them that camping can be special snuggle time. For us, it meant hubby gets to sleep on a separate mattress while momma gets to be zipped into a sleeping bag with the midgets..but they love it. And Cancerhound is enjoying having hubby all to himself for his own special snuggles.
- Feed the kiddos before you attempt a hike. Full tummies make for happier and more energetic bodies...and fewer tantrums.
- Buy a nature guide (we got a good one for $12 at Costco) that shows the plant and animals of the area. We find we refer to it constantly as our curious little girlies bring us new bugs or flowers and want to know what they are called. It is a good way to teach them about the world around us.
- You may not want to drop big money on good hiking boots, but at least make sure the kids bring their running shoes so their feet will be protected. Nothing ruins a short hike faster than a rock in a sandal.
- There are many great kid-friendly hiking guides. Pick one up so you can refer to it when picking a short hike the whole family can do.
- Know your kid's limits. If that 3k hike you planned looks like it might go south - turn around and head back. You can always try again later when they are in a better mood.
- Teach them the boundaries of the campsite early in the trip. Show them the safe places that they can play and make sure they know how far they are allowed to wander.
- If it is a popular family campground, make sure they understand that they need to tell you before they head to their friends campsites.
- Bring a small rubbermaid box filled with toys. Things like bug catcher kits, an inflatable beach ball, small sketchbooks and pencils - are easy to carry and help kids pass the time.
- A box of party-sized bubbles is awesome. Not only will it help them make friends at the campsite - you won't need to worry about them dumping the whole trip worth of bubble solution and each container has it's own wand. Save the empties and you can refill them when you get home so they are ready for the next trip.
- Keep the sugary treats to a minimum. Kids are energetic enough and not likely to heed your safety warnings the first time they are said...the last thing you need is a kid to be hopped up on sugar and bouncing off the CANYON walls as you are trying to teach them the safe way to do something.
- Chop up a ton of fruit and pack along toothpicks. You might not be able to get veggies into them for the weekend, but they will eat their weight in fruit when they can eat it with toothpicks! Luckily things like applesauce can also be bought in a squishable bag now so no need for a spoon and you get extra fruit in.
- Pack some "safe" meals just in case they refuse to eat your campfire creation. A box of KD doesn't take up much space but may save the day when your burgers turn out different that they would look at home
- Try to plan meals and snacks with fewer necessary eating utensils. Chances are you won't want to keep washing the utensils that get dropped in the dirt while you are trying to enjoy your own meal.
Pests and Owies
- After spending a weekend in Alberta's Official Mosquito Feeding Ground - we really wish we'd thought to invest in mesh bug jackets. It would have made the whole trip much more enjoyable..and they pack down really small. Plus - then you don't need to think about what all that deet is doing to your little one's body...
- Make sure your first aid kit is well stocked with tough fabric bandaids. They may not be as fun as the Disney ones, but they will stay on and keep out much more dirt.
- Pack the pain killers and allergy meds...and the anti itch cream. It is much cheaper to bring your own than to try to acquire it at the convenience store at he campground.
Hopefully these tips will help you make the most of camping with your kids. I wish you many happy adventures.
Also, I plan to start adding in some family friendly Alberta campground reviews soon...Stay tuned.