The other day I wrote a review of Bon Echo Provincial Park. In general we had a great experience, but there were some challenges. I complained a bit about the park management, but most of the challenges were related to the difficulties when camping with young children.
This was our first camping trip with two kids. We've gone with our oldest daughter around 18 months and then again at 3 years. This time we had both girls - one is 22 months, and the other will be 5 next week.
The walk-in site was tough with young kids. If you're planning a walk-in, or a canoe/portage trip, I would strongly recommend giving it a second thought. We had to carry all of our stuff - two tents, one kitchen tent, two coolers, one giant tarp, all of our bags, shoes, jackets, toys etc. over a 5 minutes rocky trail to get to our site. I'm all for "backcountry" or "real" camping, but I think I'll enjoy it a lot more when my kids are old enough to carry things themselves. Obviously you'll pack less if you're canoe camping, but it will still be a tough slog with little people who are learning to walk!
Another challenge is sleep - young kids who are used to a quiet/dark room will have challenges falling asleep and staying asleep, especially if you are unlucky enough to have loud neighbours (which we did). Expect to be tired, and perhaps consider bringing along ear plugs for your own comfort (we found the white noise app on our phone to work really well for my youngest, and we charged the phone in our car each morning!)
Here are some other tips that worked really well for us, and made the experience fun:
- tarp your site - try to cover as much ground as you can. If you experience torrential rains (which we did!), your children will still have some dry space to do crafts and read books
- If you're car camping, consider purchasing a kitchen tent. It gives you some great space to cook, do crafts and play games, and if you keep it zipped up, will ward of the bugs!
- Pack a huge tote full of markers, crayons, stickers, playdough etc. We brought this out every day, and the girls spent hours colouring and crafting.
- Also consider packing sand toys, Kidnoculars (or just regular binoculars will do!), bikes, and containers for collecting leaves, rocks and other things kids love to pick up
- Blowup mattresses are amazing - I know Thermarests are smaller and easier to pack, but blow-up mattresses make a huge difference for comfort.
My last piece of advice? Let go of control - yes, it will be messy. It will be dirty. You might be a bit tired (at least for the first couple of nights). But it's worth it. You'll have lovely campfires, see shooting stars, swim in a cool/clean lake, go for nature walks, and watch your children delight in the outdoors.
Our oldest started the trip complaining about the "stinky" toilets, being afraid of bugs, and getting upset over her feet being dirty. By the end of the week she was picking spiders off her legs and saying "oh, hello there Daddy long legs!" The transformation was amazing!
What are your tips for camping with young children?