I think we have finally figured out this camping with young kids thing. Really, we figured it out last year, but after doing it twice, I know that it wasn't a fluke.
First, location! When we've tried to do the kind of camping trips that Thatboy and I used to do before kids we found that being in the middle of nowhere with just wilderness wasn't going to work anymore. The kids just got too bored. So now we go to a place with trails right off the campsite. Near a town for exploration.
Thatdog is not a morning dog apparently. Too cold. But he definitely keeps an eye out anytime one of his pack needs to leave the tent and go to bathroom.
The boys love being in their sleeping bags, and it makes for sweet morning cuddles.
Pro tip #2? Bring a ton of activities. When we've had absolute fails of camping trips its because I let Thatboy talk me into the "the kids should just sit and enjoy nature" school of thought. My kids are too young to just sit and enjoy nature. So instead or success depends on me bringing a bag of fun stuff for the kids to do. Slime kits for while we set up the site (bonus since I don't allow them to have slime in our house - it gets everywhere), beads to make necklaces, journals to write or color, and foam dart arrows to keep them occupied in the morning.
We also make use of activities in town, instead of just hanging out at the campsite. This trip we went to explore an honest to goodness goldmine dating back to the 1870s!
Thatbaby was a little nervous about going in. I don't blame him, the idea of going down into a mine brought out a little of my claustrophobia. I convinced him to take a couple steps into the entrance and once he saw it wasn't dark, he was okay with venturing all the way in.
They also got to try their hand at goldmining. Even though they didn't get to take home the gold they found, they really enjoyed the actually mining process and seeing the gold in their pans.
They much preferred their gem mining experience though. So much so that this was a repeat from last year.
Their favorite campsite activity is making their walking sticks. I bring a bunch of washi tape and they wrap it around the walking sticks they find. This also helps with splinters and cuts from sharp pieces of stick.
Then we use those sticks, along with a scavanger hunt I print out, when we go for family hikes,
The trail we picked this time was so cool and shady. We got into a big fight with the boys when we suggested a 1 mile hike and they wanted to do a 3 mile hike. I knew my kids would not make it on a 3 mile hike, and Thatbaby was complaining towards the end of this hike, so I know we made the right choice.
I picked up some color firewood packets to place in our fine. It made for a really pretty fire at nights.
The most important tip I found to keep kids happy when camping is the food. It needs to be made quickly. Gone are the days of slowly cooking food over the open flame, or throwing packets in to be cooked and eaten later. Of course, they always have patience for s'mores.
But everything else is precooked. I make ham and cheese croissant sandwiches, freeze them, and then reheat them on our camp stove while I heat up water for hot chocolate.
Same with foil packet dinners. They're made with cooked chicken, frozen, and then just reheated, which takes less time than cooking the chicken.
And the new trick from this trip was making macaroni and cheese. If you bring the noodles with you, precooked, then it doesn't take long at all to make the sauce. I use evaporated milk instead of regular milk because it comes in a can for easy packing, and you don't need to worry about refrigeration. I also prepackage all the dry ingredients together in a little ziplock or tupperwear so they can just be poured in together.
My family likes breadcrumbs on their macaroni and cheese - I love the little crunch it gives, but since you're not baking it, your best bet is to toast it and bring it, stirring it in at the very end.
Camping Macaroni and Cheese
1 can evaporated milk
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 lb macaroni, cooked
1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
toasted panko breadcrumbs
- Combine flour, milk, salt and mustard over low heat, stirring.
- Stir in the macaroni.
- Stir in the cheddar cheese and continue stirring until the cheese is melted.
- Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with panko.