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Tips for camping with kids for the first time in a while

We planned our vacations this year and, not sure how it happened, but all our trips are camping trips and we've never taken our kids camping...heck, we've not gone camping in almost a decade!  This could be short sided 😂  They are 6,8,11 so not too young and well used to day hikes and the like.   I'm curious what made your camping trips successful with kids.  What did you discover you needed vs really shouldn't have packed?  Our trips are planned all over, one near Mt. Hood, another in San Diego, and the next in Yellowstone.  Two are tent camping and the other is RV.

 

We have all the basic items...I think.  Tent, bags, stove (new and need to test run), etc.  I have vague memories of needing a tub for washing dishes, but what soap do you use?  My dad used to have whistles on a string for the kids to wear around their necks...where do you even buy whistles these days?   

TY for your help and advice!

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Hopefully they do have fun, I know I greatly enjoyed camping at their ages.  My kids are all younger than that, but they enjoy it too!  I don't think it is short sighted and it sounds like your have the basics taken care of though. If you are camping with electricity, the occasional use of tablet or DVD player may not be too bad.  Especially in the larger parks like Yellowstone where it can be a couple hours to drive between campground and attractions.  Some would say electronics are a no go, but I find they are a fun distraction at night, bad weather days, and in the car.  Toys, coloring, and board games can work too if they like them.

Kids generally love the outdoors, but may be a little weary of some of the odder things about camping if they are new to it.  Bugs, pit toilets, camp showers, the sounds at night, wildlife, etc. can be a foreign experience for first timers.  My kids (and me at their age and older) can spend/have spent hours collecting leaves, throwing rocks in a creek, hiking trails, finding sticks for the campfire, playing in the water (beaches and streams, not geysers or other thermal features which you should never approach off the boardwalks aside from Boiling River which is the only one you are aloud to go in), and watching the wildlife.

Soap is regular dish soap, think Dawn, not dish detergent like for your dishwasher.  Have another tub to rinse off and then a clean towel for drying.

Some daypacks have whistles built into the top clips otherwise you can buy a whistle from REI and many other online retailers.

Yellowstone specifically has some amazing things to see, but make sure you keep your food inside the car or bear box as not to attract bears.  Be prepared for slow foot and car traffic in the summer and early fall.

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You have some awesome trips planned. I’m sure your kids will have wonderful memories. 

When in San Diego check out Mission Bay Park, it’s prefect for a picnic and family bike rides and for an great meal Lucha Libre taco shop. 

Yellowstone gets deceiving cold at night so make sure you have extra blankets. Also some campsites offer restrooms with a sink specifically for dishes. We use Dr. Bonner Castile soap for just about everything when we travel.  Depending on your route you may also be able to squeeze in the Grand Teton National Park for some nice hikes. Jackson Hole is a very cute town with an Elk preserve along the way. 

Have an amazing time!

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On the topic of Yellowstone, I highly recommend an app called GyPSy. The $10 you spend on the Yellowstone tour will be the best $10 you have ever spent on an app! It connects to the Bluetooth in your car and gives you an audio tour through your phone's GPS (bring your charger!). My kids (now 7 and 13) have learned a ton about the park, its geological features, wildlife, history, and it helped us from blindly driving around the park. 

 

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Love Gypsy Guides! Used on Maui and it was the best! Do you know if there is one for Glacier?

Yes, I am going to Glacier in a couple weeks and already bought the one for Going To The Sun Road 🙂 They changed the app recently, so now you download the one app and then all the guides are stored right in the one app (when I first got the Yellowstone one, you had to download each individual tour as a separate app). Once you log in they all get bundled within the one app which is lovely! 

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I've been camping since I was 3 years old. I have memories of holding my infant youngest sister and feeding her while camping.

One piece of advice from my experience of how my parents worked with us:

The kids have been cooped up in the car for a long time. They need very much to move their bodies vigorously to burn off some of that pent-up energy. We were always charged with some specific task like: gather firewood, go to the country store and pick up something, find out how long it takes to walk to the beach. Something to just get us out of his hair while he was setting up.

In other words, set them free.

Bring lots of snacks.  Almost any issue can be solved with snacks.  And don’t forget a first aid kit.  

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Awesome! I'm going to just start writing and letting my thoughts on this flow, so forgive the lack of structure:

  • They're old enough to be involved in and take ownership of some planning and packing pre-trip, and getting hands-on during the trip. Let them be an active participant. My son, 10, loves helping with packing checklists, planning meals, and setting up camp. It teaches discipline, attention to detail, safety, good communication, and so much more.
  • Let the kids set the pace when hiking. Learnt o step back and let them explore, let them try things. If they're struggling setting up a tent or stuffing their sleeping bag into the compression sack, let them get through a little trial and error before offering to give them a hand.
  • Some small luxuries will add ounces but be totally worth it. Think snacks and entertainment. Those campfire colors packets you toss on a campfire to make colored flames are really cool. Glow sticks and necklaces are a lot of fun after sunset (and they help you keep track of the kids in the dark). Let them get used to headlamps. They might burn up a few batteries so pack a few extra sets. It's OK. They'll learn and they're having fun.
  • Teach them Leave No Trace principles. This is a big one. Start them early with the mindset to be responsible when enjoying natural spaces.
  • Teach them the Ten Essentials, plus the eleventh one - a trash bag. Make sure they always check their gear before going out into the wild so they know they have the basics to survive. SAR with always tell you the most dangerous hiker is a day hiker. And teach them how to use the gear, not just pack it. The compass and map are useless unless you know how to find your way with them. Same for the firestarters. Practice with ferro rod or lighter, and always under supervision of an adult.

That's all I have at the moment. Let them get confidence in trial and error, have ownership over the adventure, and be safe, responsible explorers. Do that and you can't go wrong. Lots of good family memories ahead.

https://lnt.org/
https://mountainstoseatrail.org/
https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/ten-essentials.html

#1 advice is, let the kids get dirty.