Camping with Toddler

First, let me get this off my chest. I’m afraid my mother-in-law thinks I’m trying to kill her (I’m not). She and my father-in-law come over once a week to spend time with Gabriel and join us for dinner. She has an allergy to mammal meat. A few weeks ago, I made a stir fry with rice. The stir fry sauce recipe I adapted called for chicken broth, and then I used some of the same broth to make the rice. We quickly realized something had gone awry, and I realized after dinner that I had used beef broth, not chicken broth. The following week, I baked chicken thighs. I even used a thermometer to check the temperature of the meat (which I don’t usually do when it’s just my family, but when I have people over, I more often do). But my mother in law cut into hers, and asked if we thought it was done. Everyone, including me, agreed it looked fine – and it did. It had a little color which I chalked up to it being dark meat and having some BBQ sauce mixed in, but I suggested she cook it a bit longer if she was worried (which she did). Part of the way through my own thigh, I realized that part of it was NOT cooked through. And the remaining thigh in the dish was also NOT cooked through. Sigh. I chalk it up to the fact that they hadn’t totally thawed when I put them in the oven, so they cooked unevenly. Word to the wise. Anyway, MIL – I promise, I’m not trying to kill you.

Whew, ok. I previously wrote a post about Camping with Babies, which I’ve shared with several people recently. But in doing so, I realized that the considerations when camping with toddler are different than they were when we were camping with baby. So I thought I’d write a new post with new information. And to just record these fun trips.

We’ve been on three camping trips since my camping with babies post. Gabriel has been a walker for all of them, and while not officially a talker, is increasingly capable of making his thoughts, feelings, and preferences very well known. In general, we’re still car camping. I’m afraid we’ve missed a window for backpacking. We still have the backpack carrier for him, and we’ve used it for lots of hikes, but he’s getting quite big for it. He likes it still, but also wants up, then down, then up, then down. I don’t know that we’ll be able to use it much longer, with him so heavy and mobile. So if we’re not using it, then we’re limited by how far he can walk, which isn’t far. Dunno. Maybe we’ll just have to wait a few more years.

Without further ado:

Trip #4 (with kiddo): Sherando Lake in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, Virginia

This trip was a good 3.5-hour drive from Baltimore. We again planned to meet our friend who’d camped with us in Wolf Gap in the spring and his wife, who were driving from Knoxville, TN. It was much further for them. We went for two nights, but they could only join us for the second night (which turned out to be extra unfortunate for them). My parents were visiting us in Baltimore at the time, and my father came with us on the camping trip and drove. I don’t remember much about the drive or setting up camp, but I do remember that the first night was quite cold. We went in mid-October. The next morning was also quite cold, and Gabriel was in reasonable spirits until he realized how cold his hands were because he refused to wear his mittens, and then he literally cried for an hour for the entire campground to hear. I held him and walked around with him for a long time, to no avail. He was just cold and uncomfortable. Once he got over that, everything else was fine for the day.

Dan and I took Gabriel with us on a hike in the morning. We were able to start on the trail from the campground, and it was pretty steep up for the first bit. We lost Gabriel’s hat and the dog’s leash along the way. Looking at this map, I believe we hiked the west part of the Blue Loop trail and then west on the Torry Ridge Trail. We had planned to have my father meet us where the trail intersected with the Blue Ridge Parkway, which actually worked out well, despite general lack of cell service (but good pre-planning!). My dad actually backed quite a ways up a gravel road (I think Slacks Trail in that maps) and met us partway. The hike was 5.45 miles overall for us. I was a little concerned about the length and nap time and all that, which is true of every hike we try to go on with Gabriel. I always feel like we bite off more than I think we should try to chew. But of course it was fine.

I assume Gabriel napped just fine, but have no memory of it. Our friends finally arrived that afternoon. They and Dan went back up the same hike to look for our dog’s leash, then came back another way to arrive at Sherando Lake, and I met them there on the far side of the lake with Gabriel. I think that hike for them (up the steep bit of Blue Loop Trail, east, down the other side, around the lake, and back to camp) was probably about 2.5 miles. Then we all had dinner and hangouts together around the fire, which was lovely. Then we went to bed.

And it started raining. Pouring, in fact. And our friends’ tent started leaking. And we heard them pack up at 3 in the morning, get in their car, and drive away. They’d spent maybe 10 hours total at the camp site, and had at least 10 hours of driving total. Sigh. It continued pouring into the morning with no sign it would abate any time soon, so we quickly took down camp around 8 or 8:30, put everything (including ourselves) soaking wet into the car, and drove away. Sigh.

The logistics:

  • Sleeping: We again used the mansion tent, and Gabriel slept in the Guava Lotus pack and play inside. Since it was cold, I think he slept in the navy Columbia puffy onesie (as the outer layer of possibly several) you see in the pictures below.
  • Food: He eats what we eat. So, hot dog. Oatmeal. Clif bars. Crackers, cheese. We probably had several fruit/veggie pouches as well.
  • Eating ‘stuff’: Still highly recommend the bib with pouch (seen in pictures – this one is BabyBjorn but there are lots of options out there). And we brought his silicone bowl.
  • Milk: We brought a cooler with milk and his sippy cup. We were still giving him milk at night at that time in his sippy cup (for the record, we stopped that when we potty trained him at the beginning of May, so about 23 months).
  • Hiking: Deuter Kid Comfort child carrier.

Trip #5: Owens Creek Campground in Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland

We spent a night at Owens Creek Campground in mid to late June, when Gabriel was about two years and one month. This trip was originally scheduled for the weekend of May 1 and had been scheduled for months. We were going to go with another couple and their daughter who is around Gabriel’s age. Coronavirus through a wrench in those plans, though. Maryland state parks cancelled all reservations in May (or at least that early in May… but I think all of May). As the date neared, we looked for other options and were actually able to make a reservation for Caledonia State Park in Michaux State Forest in Pennsylvania… but it was also cancelled a few days before the trip. We considered doing an airbnb somewhere (like the quarry one we’d been to the previous year), but ultimately decided to spend that weekend home potty training. Fun alternative.

We ended up finally getting a reservation at Owens Creek Campground for later in June, as did our friends (they may have gotten theirs first, in fact). Strangely, their reservation was cancelled on them, but ours wasn’t. So they found a different site in Cunningham Falls State Park, which is nearby (which, also strangely, I’m pretty sure I had looked at before booking Owens Creek and there hadn’t been any availability).

We drove up on Saturday during nap time and met our friends at their campsite at Cunningham Falls State Park. After their daughter woke up from her nap, the kids biked on their Strider bikes for a bit, then we drove down to the lake in hopes of a swim. But right as we got into the water, there was a bit of thunder, so we all had to get out. We never got back in and went on a short hike to the waterfall instead. The kids ran or biked the whole way, they had a blast. After that, we left the state park to go to Owens Creek, set up camp, had dinner, and all that lovely stuff. We had a great fire. The next morning, we met our friends again for a four-mile hike from the Catoctin Visitor’s Center to Chimney and Wolf Rocks and back to the Visitors Center before driving back to Baltimore. The snake (pictured below) was at Chimney Rock, and was actually further away than it seems from the picture, below us, under a rock we were on.

The logistics were essentially the same, except:

  • We didn’t bring the backpack carrier (we did a lot of carrying Gabriel on the hike, though)
  • We did bring the Strider bike.
  • No more milk at night, and no more silicone plates.
  • We brought his BabyBjorn potty! He went either in there or in the campground restroom when we went and brought him with us.
  • Our little guy is growing up!!

Trip #6: Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland

Have I said before that I hate the beach? Well. I do.

I have been interested in camping on Assateague since I moved to Maryland. Wild ponies, seashore, camping, what’s not to love? Well, in July: 95-degree weather, having to lug all your stuff across very hot sand to the ‘walk-in’ beach camping spot, mosquitoes, and… well… the beach (and salt and sand). That’s what’s not to love. Also a toddler who didn’t nap and woke up every hour over night.

Sigh.

I had no idea what to expect on this trip. It wasn’t this. Dan’s colleague had reserved the spot and had raved about camping there earlier in the season. We drove 3.5-ish hours to get to the island and then sat in a single-file traffic line for an hour to go less than a mile to enter the National Seashore via the entrance booths. Which put us past Gabriel’s nap time (we were hoping to arrive and have camp set up for nap time, and had been on track for that, until we actually got there and had to wait in that line). Then we had to haul all our stuff to the walk-in spot and set up camp, which took another hour-ish. And it was effing hot, and moreso in the tent where we had planned to have Gabriel nap. So we set up his pack n play on the sand under the shade canopy by the picnic table. He was not interested in napping, but seemed like maybe he was getting closer until Dan’s colleagues arrived and had to lug all their stuff to the site, and with all the commotion, a nap was just not in the cards.

That went mostly okay until bedtime. With the rest of the afternoon, we all went in the water, which Gabriel loved, wearing his life jacket for the first time. Over a month after this trip, we took a family trip to Lake Powell where we knew he would have to basically live in his life jacket. Life jackets are apparently made for infants up to 30 lbs and then toddlers 30-50 lbs. Gabriel was right at (or a pound or so under) 30 lbs, but it didn’t make sense to get an infant life vest. So we got the bigger one, and it was a little too big. But still, it was fine. Dan did all the research before selecting one. I forget what it is. O’Neill something? After that, Dan’s colleague, his girlfriend, Gabriel, and I did a short walk along a boardwalk to a nice view. We also made dinner (hot dogs of course for us… Dan’s colleague and his girlfriend had fish and potatoes, yum), shared wine. Then we put Gabriel to bed. And he cried for a really long time in a way he hasn’t cried since he was like six months old. It took an hour or so of going in there to soothe him before he finally settled down. And then, seriously, woke up every hour over night, and I comforted him back to sleep. Ugh.

All the same logistics, plus the fan that I’d purchased for his stroller when he was an infant in 95-degree Baltimore summer. It was essential. Oh, and the Coleman shade canopy and sandbags (for weighting it down) that I purchased specifically for this trip when I saw an image of the campsite and realized for the first time that there would be no trees or shade of any kind. And it was July.

I am never camping in Assateague in July again. Maybe April. Maybe October. Maybe not ever again. Gabriel will, though. Despite the sleeping issues, I think he had a blast.

And that’s that. We are going camping again in early October for one night at Gambrill State Park. Another couple and their son are also coming. We just purchased a sleeping pad and sleeping bag for Gabriel, so I think we’ll leave the pack and play behind and see how that goes! We’ve laid it out for him and had him get in his sleeping bag (and I got in mine next to him). He’s sort of into the idea. We’ll see.

Camping with Babies

Having a kiddo changes almost everything. My social life revolves around nap schedules and a 7:30 bedtime, and it generally includes multiple individuals under age two. The books in my living room mostly max out at ten pages and are made of cardboard. ‘Kid’ has taken priority in my fiercely prioritized life over everything else. (If you’ve read my other posts or know me well, you know that ‘ everything else’ includes at the top: 8 hours of sleep, work, working out, eating well, husband, and friends, usually in that order.) Getting outside (that is, getting away from civilization) always fell somewhere on my list of priorities, albeit below all those other things, which is why it only happened a few times a year. And while having a kid has changed my priorities in unexpected ways (for example, it didn’t occur to me before having a kid that I would want to prioritize time with him over other things like working out or sleep, even though I knew I would often need to), it didn’t change that I still want to do all the things I used to do. Like travel. Like trying new restaurants. Like going camping and getting outside.

Those are still priorities, so we’re figuring out how to make them work! As my husband put it, camping with a baby is harder than camping without a baby, but being at home with a baby is also harder than being at home without a baby, and the difference is about the same.

So far, we’ve taken three camping trips, when Gabriel was 7.5 weeks, 5 months, and 12.5 months. Here’s how we did it:

General:

  1. Car camping. So far, we’ve only camped in campgrounds with baby. We used to backpack and backcountry camp, and we are looking forward to getting back to that someday. People do it with young kids, but not us, yet. Car camping, especially if you can find a good campground with reasonably quiet and secluded spots, scratches the itch of being outside, getting dirty, and enjoying nature. It also allows you to be reasonably well prepared for most eventualities. You can bring extra diapers, extra warm clothes, extra food, whatever, in the event that you might need it (but probably won’t). You can leave if you absolutely have to if disaster (or just extreme unhappiness) strikes. You can still rough it… but with a safety blanket.
  2. Length: Just one night. So far, we’ve only camped for one night at a time. We’ve got our confidence now and are considering a two-night trip in the fall. But this has felt manageable and not too intimidating.

Here’s more info about each trip – sleeping arrangements, food, etc.

Trip 1: 7.5 weeks, Cunningham Falls State Park

We went on our first camping adventure with baby in July, which is not normally a time of year in Maryland that I like to go camping. But it was lovely. We stayed in Cunningham Falls State Park.

We arrived in the afternoon, set up camp, and then hiked down to the Hunting Creek Lake and back. The lake was part of the park and had a beach and amenities. I wore Gabriel facing me in the ergo. We put him in a long-sleeve footed onesie outfit, I think because we were worried about bugs and sunshine, but it was a bad idea. Too hot. It was like 90 something degrees out. He was sweating. I was worried about him being dehydrated. But of course, everything ended up fine.

  • Food: I was breastfeeding at the time, so we didn’t have to worry about food for him. He was still up several times over night (I think at least 3 that night). I brought my boppy breastfeeding pillow to use as my sleeping pillow, and then just used it sitting in the tent to breastfeed when the occasion arose.
  • Tent: We only had our two-person backpacking tent that we’d used for years. Clio, our dog, always slept with us as well. So… it was a tight fit.
  • Sleeping place: This one has caused the most consternation. People want to know if we co-slept, but don’t ask directly because they’re worried about sounding judgy or permissive. We did not co-sleep. We brought the Uppababy bassinet attachment, which we’d also been using a lot for naps around the house, and set it at the foot of my sleeping bag. (Note, this picture was taken several months after the camping trip, and no, there was no blanket in the bassinet when G was sleeping in there.)

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  • Crying/fussing/noise: There was a family at a campsite nearby, whom I spoke to upon arrival and told we had a 7.5 week old. I apologized in advance for any noise. They were very impressed we were camping, had kids of their own, and were totally understanding. Gabriel was mostly fine during waking hours. He did have a bit of an extended fit at one point overnight when we had to change his diaper. Well, so. He did. Maybe the neighbors woke up. Maybe they didn’t. I don’t know. I would obviously prefer not to bother them at 3am, but if I did, I’m sure we’re all over it by now. He was a bit fussy the next day, too, but it was during the day, and so what.
  • Diapering: We used our diaper changing pad either on the picnic table or in the tent. We put used diapers in wet bags. We threw them out (we used disposable) when we were at a trash can.

I don’t think Gabriel had a ‘bedtime’ yet then, but we put him to sleep at some point before I went to bed. I wasn’t doing that that often then – staying up past when he went to bed. But I did that night, and I sat in a camp chair and enjoyed the fire and the stars and just thought it was totally worth it. And that’s what I remember, not being tired.

I also remember sneaking out of the tent at 5am, hoping to get some me time. This is a feature of my past camping experiences that I really hope to retain. I’m often the first one up, and I have time to make myself coffee, sit by the fire pit, and just enjoy – alone. I was hoping to get to do that on this camping trip. I think I got far enough to have made coffee before Gabriel woke up. Alas.

We went for another hike from the campground. Gabriel mostly slept, if I recall (again in the ergo, facing me).

Then we drove home, feeling very accomplished. If I remember correctly, though, Gabriel screamed for almost all of the 1.5 hour drive from the backseat. Sigh.

Trip 2: 5 months, Kearneysville, WV

Our second camping trip was at the end of October, when Gabriel was five months old. We stayed at this historic nature preserve that Dan found on airbnb. It was actually totally bizarre. You can rent this whole, huge… space. Overlooking this water-filled quarry. So we did. It wasn’t a traditional campsite near hiking, but we were able to take a 1-2 mile walk around the quarry, which was nice.

Dan’s sister came with us. She slept in our backpacking tent, and we slept in a borrowed four-person tent. The weather was pretty cold and windy. We had to stay pretty bundled up the whole time. In general, I did not enjoy this trip as much. Gabriel was pretty fussy the whole time and was not ever content to not be held. This was generally true at that point in his life, and I also think he may have been cold. I did most of the holding of the fussy baby and didn’t get to do much else.

  • Food: Still breastfeeding. I have no recollection of how many times he woke up over night, though I do know he’d only slept through the night once in his life by that point, so I know that didn’t happen.
  • Tent: We borrowed a four-person Kelty tent-mansion from friends for the occasion. It worked great! Much more space than our previous tent.
  • Sleeping place and clothes: We brought our Guava Lotus travel crib, which fit perfectly well in the tent-mansion. But it was pretty cold. We bundled Gabriel into a onesie, footed pajamas, a footed fleece thing (the orange one in the pictures below), and then another footed and hooded fleece thing (the blue one in the pictures below). Plus a hat. He seemed okay, and slept. I can’t remember if we had to change his diaper overnight. I think we did! Oof, that must have been a task (though I don’t have a clear memory of it, obviously). You can see I left his right hand uncovered, though, since he likes to suck his fingers. Seemed to be the best choice, though I did perseverate over it.

  • Other items: The plastic-y picnic blanket you see in the pictures below is nice to have for floor time.
  • Crying/fussing/noise: No one was around, so nothing to worry about here.
  • Diapering: Same as before. We use disposable diapers and threw them away when we could.

Trip 3: 12.5 months, Wolf Gap Recreation Area

Our final trip with a baby (he hadn’t started toddling yet, so I think ‘baby’ is still appropriate) was to Wolf Gap in the George Washington and Jefferson Forests. It is in West Virginia, but right on the Virginia state line. It was about 2.5 hours driving time for us, and I was nervous about that. At the time, that would be the longest car trip we’d taken with Gabriel to date, and he’d been increasingly mobile and discontent to sit still (still true). But it actually went fine. We timed it well with naps, and he mostly slept. Our trip there took a total of about four hours, which included a detour into Shenandoah because we were there and also lunch in… Woodstock, VA, I think. Wolf Gap only has 9 sites, and I was a little worried about getting one, but there were a couple left when we arrived. We stayed in #8, I think.

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A friend we’ve often camped with (both since being in Maryland and when we lived in Atlanta) drove up from Knoxville to join us. He brought his small dog, so Clio had a friend as well.

Before this trip, we purchased our own tent mansion, and this was our first use. It worked great. We also brought what I lovingly call ‘the cage’ – one of those six-sided plastic gate play pen things. We didn’t use it a ton, but Gabriel was occasionally content to be in there for a few minutes at a time when we all needed our eyes and hands to put up the tent, wrangle the dogs, or whatever else. The dogs got more use out of it, though.

After setting up camp, we went for a hike from the campground up to Big Schloss peak. I think it was two miles each way. I wore Gabriel in the ergo on my back. It was my second time doing so, and it works okay, but it definitely convinced me that I want a real child carrier for hiking (just ordered, arriving this week, hooray!). He tolerated it okay, but couldn’t really see over my shoulder. He was pretty fussy by the end and wanted to get out.

  • Food and accessories: First, we bring a structured silicone bib with the pouch that catches things whenever we eat out with Gabriel. One lives in the diaper bag. Brought that. We also bring one of his silicone placemats with attached compartments or bowl. Brought one of those. Gabriel mostly eats what we eat, so he had a (cut up) hot dog and bun for dinner like we did. For breakfast, he had packaged oatmeal like we did. We also had lots of snacks. String cheese, apple wheels (these Gerber teething things), pouches (at least to get in some fruits and veggies!), bananas. I think we were still feeding G pouches with a spoon then, but we have since moved on to letting him feed himself pouches. We had just transitioned to cow’s milk, so we brought milk in the cooler and his sippy cup. And we brought one of his 360 cups that he drinks water out of.
  • Tent: We used our newly-purchased REI Base Camp 4. Perfect. Plenty of space, easy to set up, nice vestibule, good windows.
  • Sleeping place and clothes: Again, the Guava Lotus. I think I had footed pajamas and a sleep sack for him. It was pretty warm but cooled off a bit at night. Nothing crazy, though. OH. We also have a portable white noise machine. I turned it on when G went to bed (before us, at 7:30), but turned it off when we came to bed because my husband (rightly so) wanted to hear the nature. I can’t remember if we used this for the earlier camping trips. But it always comes on other trips with us.
  • Other items: The same plastic picnic blanket was useful, especially in the cage thing.

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  • Crying/fussing/noise: Gabriel was sleeping through the night by this point and doesn’t have major meltdowns during the day, though I’m sure he cried at points.
  • Diapering: Same as before. We use disposable diapers and threw them away when we could.

 

So. That’s how we’ve made camping work, so far.

I also still want to do the things I used to want to do, but never made time for. Like… kayaking. Like… a lot of mountain biking. Like… a daily yoga practice. But if I never (or rarely) made time for them before, I’m definitely not making time for them now. But I will keep finding a way to do the things at the top of my priority list. Next camping adventure: October.