Helen Olsson is the author of The Down & Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids, which includes everything from planning tips and safety information to recipes for kid-pleasing meals in camp and ideas for campsite activities.
A former executive editor at Skiing magazine, she grew up camping in upstate New York and currently lives in Boulder with her husband, Jeff, and their three children. Having camped often with her family in Colorado and elsewhere in the West, Olsson has made plenty of mistakes along the way.
While pre-parent camping meant just throwing stuff in a bag and leaving, with little concern for schedules or forgotten items, she says, camping with kids is a whole different animal.
“You have to be a lot more strategic when you camp with kids,” she says. “But it’s all completely worth it to me. It’s the best way that we bond with our kids. We”re creating memories for them that they”ll remember the rest of their lives.”
To ensure you’re creating happy memories on your outdoor excursions, learn from these common camping mistakes.
- Not writing a list and checking it. There are so many details to consider when kids are involved, such as binkies, blankets and diapers. Even if you forget seemingly trivial items like ketchup for hot dogs or marshmallows for s”mores, you’re sure to incite a childhood tantrum, a miserable experience for the whole family.
- Planning an inventive menu. Want to test a new recipe? Don’t try it on a camping trip. Instead, plan a menu of food your kids have endorsed at home so you know they”ll eat it at the campsite. Then after developing your fail-safe menu, go through each ingredient and kitchen utensils you”ll need to guarantee a successful mealtime.
- Not considering a campsite’s geological features. Particularly for parents of toddlers, it’s a real danger if you camp near fast-moving water. You certainly can camp near bodies of water, but you have to commit to watching the kids every minute. So consider a safer option that allows kids some freedom and parents some peace of mind.
- Arriving late to the campsite. Many families pack up the car in the morning and drive all day, getting to the destination when kids are hungry and tired. And if it’s dark, it’s all the more challenging, not to mention potential dangers. One of Olsson’s friends, for instance, arrived at a site late enough that she didn’t realize until morning they”d camped near a cliff. Rather, pack up the car the night before, hit the road early, and set up camp in the safety and serenity of daylight.
- Discounting sleep routines. If your kid needs a bedtime story and nightlight at home, you”d better have both at the campsite. To simulate the latter, consider stashing a flashlight or headlamp in one of the tent’s interior mesh pockets. Or if your child sleeps in a pack-n-play, make sure your tent is large enough to accommodate that. While it may seem like a hassle to lug all that gear, it’s a familiar routine that signals to the child, “It’s time for me to go to sleep.”
Favorite Camping Spots
“As far as Colorado favorites, we love the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s not crowded and it’s gorgeous. Another favorite is Molas Lake near Silverton. The campsites are right on the lake and very private. Helen Olsson, author of The Down & Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids