Taking Kids Camping for the First Time
The making of a little camper and hiker. Pro tip: find hikes with water features for young kids. Photo by Krista Dooley.
A couple of years ago, my New Year's resolution was to spend more time with my nephew and introduce him to hiking and camping.
He is a pretty active kid. He plays soccer, takes swimming lessons and rides his bike, but I thought we could have some special aunt and nephew time together getting outside in the woods.
My plan: prepare, camp, capture memories
- Spring: Make a special invitation for his 5th birthday, give him a book about camping and a headlamp.
- Summer: Schedule a night to set up the tent and sleep in the backyard.
Send a packing list and map of the campground in the mail.
Go camping and hiking at Mt. Rainier – take a lot of photos
- Winter: Create a photo book about the trip (Christmas present)
Pre-trip practice: setting expectations and getting kids excited
The practice night in the backyard was not just for my nephew to get use to sleeping outside, but also for me to get use to sharing a tent with a five year old.
We practiced setting up the tent and established a bedtime routine. We talked about what we could do while camping and what it would be like setting up a tent in a campground vs. the backyard. We talked about snacks that he might like to eat while we hiked and what animals we might see. We read a lot of books.
A week before our trip, I wanted my nephew to get excited, so I created a packing list and mailed it to him. This also included limiting the number of books and stuffed animals that would be making the trip with us.
Camping trip: choosing a spot and keeping things interesting
Camping day finally arrived. I was nervous. What if he didn’t want to go? What if he hated camping?
What if he got hurt? What if he didn’t fall asleep or cried and kept all the other campers awake? Why did I think this was a good idea? After having second thoughts I called my sister in the morning to check in and see if my nephew was still interested in going. She said they had just finished packing and he was making the final decisions on what books to take.
“Okay, I can do this,” I told myself and starting driving to my sister’s house. I got to my sister’s house to see my nephew ready to go with the hiking stick my dad had made him. He was ready!
I decided we would go to Tipsoo Lake for our first hike, I had heard that there was still some snow, but thought it would be good to find a hike near water. Kids love water so it was a for sure win. We got to the parking lot to find several feet of snow. I hadn’t checked the recent trip reports before our adventure began. Rookie mistake. We still had fun playing in the snow.
Then we headed to the Ohanapecosh campground to set up camp, have a snack, then take another short hike. Within ten minutes of arriving at camp, my nephew tripped and fell. He scraped up his hands and legs. Tears were flowing pretty freely, even after I applied a couple band-aids and offered some fruit snacks to distract from the pain.
The words, “I hate camping” were mumbled a couple times among the tears, and I almost wanted to cry too.
Rather than sticking around camp and feeling blue, though, we set out to explore some forest giants on the Grove of the Patriarchs Loop. My nephew enjoyed hiking along the huge trees and playing in the water. When taking kids hiking: seek water.
After spending some time on trail, we headed back to camp to make dinner and s’mores. Then, we headed to the interpretive program at the campground amphitheater, which turned out to be educational and very kid-friendly.
The next morning we packed up and explored a few more trails in the park. We hiked at trails at Paradise and finished with a quick stop at Narada Falls.
Post-trip: capturing memories and getting kids back out there
For the holidays, I made a photo book of our camping trip and gave it to my nephew to help keep the fun memories of spending time together outdoors fresh. Unfortunately, I think the memories of scraped up hands and legs are still very much fresh in his mind.
Despite his boo-boos, in the end I think my nephew had a good time. I hope that he's interested in going camping and hiking with me again. I'll find out soon as he is coming to stay with me in August and will be going on a hike with me to celebrate Washington Trails Day, August 3.
- Make reservations well in advance, some campgrounds fill quickly in the summer.
- Setting up a tent with kids ahead of a camping trip is a great idea. It keeps them engaged at the campground.
- Research trail conditions prior to heading out on your adventure, check trip reports.
- Band aids are essential in a first aid kit and snacks are key for helping the owee to go away fast.
- Water is a great way to keep kids occupied for a long time.
- Taking pictures along the way is a fun way to document outdoor memories.