Two summers ago I packed a tent and sleeping bags into the car, and spent a total of 56 days camping...just my 4 boys and me. Moving every 3-4 days, I quickly started putting together a mental checklist of what details made a campsite most suitable for camping with kids. By the end of the summer, this checklist was ingrained in my brain and eased many of the parenting stresses that come with having the kids away from home.
Oftentimes after a long day of sightseeing and driving, it was tempting to just pull into the first empty campsite and let the kids finally pile out of the car. This would put us close to the fee station, to the camp store, and possibly even the campground pool or game facility. Unfortunately, it also meant that every camper arriving after us would be traveling past us. The kids were forced to stay close to me for fear of getting in the way of a wide-load motorhome or other weary travelers.
It is far better to take a drive around the campground, or ask where the least congested areas are before choosing a site. Choose a loop far away from the entrance, and then enjoy the stroll together as a family when you want to visit the communal amenities. It will be much safer for kids to ride their bikes, or chase a wayward ball, and there will be much less chance of having persnickety neighbors who get upset if your toddlers and teenagers aren’t quiet as a church mouse during quiet hours.
Natural Play Areas
The best campsites inspire imagination and creativity. Here, again, it pays to drive around the campground before deciding on a place to sleep. Let the kids help you decide. A gigantic hollow tree can become a fort, a hill on the backside of a site might be a great place to roll around, and a rocky bluff will transform your kids into modern-day explorers. Find them a site that’s interesting, and you’ll never hear them say, “I’m bored!”
During our summer of camping, there were a few times when the basic drawn out grid of rectangular campsites was unavoidable. With no natural features to capture their attention, I learned to choose an area near the park’s playground. It was difficult to always be ready to take the kids to play. Choosing a site within in hearing distance and in full view of the playground helped the kids feel they had some freedom, and allowed me to set up our outdoor home or prepare a meal while the kids were occupied. It takes an increased dose of caution and awareness, but it’s worth it to let the kids run and play and meet new friends without having to wait for Mom.
~Near the bathroom is a big bonus for kids~
Being near the bathroom is never on the top of anybody’s list. Not in a restaurant, not on an airplane, and not in the outdoors. I learned to put aside my dread, though, and look at the benefits of being near the loo. Similar to the playground, dropping what you’re doing every time a child needs to go to the bathroom can become very time consuming. Packing up all the shower towels and toiletries and tromping halfway across the camping loop isn’t fun, either.
We implemented a buddy system and I quickly grew most fond of camping sites directly across from the bathroom entrance. With full sight of the door, I tried to stay aware of who was coming and going and when the bathroom might be full or empty. There were times when I would walk over and wait with them for a little added protection, but the boys quickly became familiar with who and what Mom was watching for and learned when would be a good time to go or not go.
Our summer of camping was amazing! The boys loved not having a boring normal routine and it brought us so much closer as a family. With this checklist in mind, choosing a campsite became part of the adventure and we all benefited from it!