Camping with a Toddler

We finally went camping over Labor Day weekend. Even though we had thought out exactly how we were going to Introduce Bea to Camping, we threw our carefully scaffolded ideas out the window, tossed more gear than we needed into the car, and headed up to Wyoming for three days of rainy camping.

Even though it was chilly, rainy, and we only saw one bison in all of Yellowstone, Bea had an amazing time, so I count it as a success. She loved our campsite, she loved sleeping in the tent, and she loved the caldera of Yellowstone. (An obsession of the moment is volcanoes, so Bea was thrilled to spot the geothermal activity in bubbling mudpots and steaming geysers.)

Checking out Dragon's Mouth mudpot
Checking out Dragon’s Mouth mudpot

We stayed at Flagg Ranch, which is located between Yellowstone and the Tetons. It was the perfect spot to visit both parks easily. After a day in Yellowstone, we went down to Jenny Lake in the Tetons, took the ferry across the lake and did a half mile hike up to Hidden Falls. Bea was able to do most of the hike herself, and loved being on a boat for the first time.

Even though we are nowhere near experts in the field of camping with kids, here are a few things we learned:

1. Bring Squeezes
Before becoming a parent, I hated fruit and veggie squeezes. Now, I appreciate their ease on park trips and playdates. On a long road trip, they are a necessity! We often drove through lunch, eating peanut butter and jelly or even stopping at a fast food restaurant. Giving Bea a veggie squeeze, while not an ideal replacement for actual fruits and veggies, made me feel a bit better about our lax diet.

2. Audiobooks
We wanted to limit screentime anyway on this trip and poor reception in the Tetons and Yellowstone made this goal easy. We turned off our phones and relied on imaginations and spotting animals for entertainment. During the long stretches across the fields of Wyoming, a selection of audiobooks from the library came in handy. (Our favorite was Bad Kitty.) I know in the future, we may change our goals on road trip screentime, but for now, I’m glad we set the precedent of audiobooks and conversation.

Bad Kitty during a long drive
Bad Kitty during a long drive

3. Ice Cream Stops
Bea comes from a long line of ice cream connoisseurs. We try to limit our dessert intake at home, but finding a daily ice cream stop became a fun event and a special camping treat. National Parks are filled with lodges carrying special ice creams and having a huckleberry ice cream fix made hiking and constant activity more fun.

4. Pack n Play
For Christmas, we bought a gigantic tent that has a room divider and space to set up Bea’s pack n play. This helped immensely in keeping bedtime routines at the campsite! Though bedtime was pushed back to sunset, having a familiar space helped Bea go down and get a good rest. Even though she ended up with us every morning, she started out on her own and stayed in her bed for a good portion of the night. Bea won’t use her pack n play next summer, but I’m glad for a tent with two “rooms,” as it makes it easier for us to come in later without disturbing her.

5. Finding Adventures
As soon as camp was set up, we went in search of the amphitheater near our site. For some reason, we couldn’t follow directions and between a walk with me, with Frank, and with our friend who joined us for the weekend, we didn’t find the actual amphitheater until the last day. I think this turned out to be a good thing because it gave us an adventure and a goal each day during a key time – dinner prep, packing up, or other times when it was easier to have Bea away from camp.

Finding the amphitheater
Finding the amphitheater

We are definitely still novice campers! What advice or tricks make road trips and camping easier for your family?

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