Our family of 4 recently arrived from our annual 3 week camping trip in our Subaru wagon. We toured through Northern California and Oregon. My boys ages 9 & 11 are the assistant navigators and help me either find the next camp site or get lost. I often kid around and tell them they are both fired when I get lost. I usually get lost at least once each year and I am so happy that my boys can now read maps. It sure helps to get them involved in the navigation and planning phase of our camping trips. My wife on the other hand has a hard time navigating beyond a straight road with no turns.
Is camping with kids really more fun than a trip to the amusement park? Ask yourself this question. Do you like going around circles and loops with G forces so great that a trip the chiropractor cannot undo the damage to your back? I get dizzy just thinking about a roller coaster ride. My kids love trips to amusement parks. But at the end of the day, they have enjoyed playing with bugs, chasing lizards, and throwing rocks into streams more than a trip to our local amusement park.
Camping with kids is such a pleasurable experience because they are so thrilled with doing little things. When we first started family camping trips 9 years ago, my wife brought along 2 clear bug catchers that she purchased for 99 cents each. The bug catchers were the highlight of the trip. They caught grass hoppers, bees, beetles, butterflies, ants, and even a small lizard! Every year she packs along a little bag of toys called "treasure bags" for the boys. As they have gotten older, they have taken it upon themselves to stuff their own treasure bags. I donated an 85% 6 oz.cacao chocolate bar to each of their bags this year thinking that they would like the dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is my favorite and certainly they must love what I love! I ended up eating both bars of chocolate myself. Sometimes giving kids the wrong item has it's advantages.
Periodically, I ask my boys what they have liked about the camping trip. I half expect them to tell me that they like how beautiful the scenery is and that they have learned so much about the wild life, history, and nature. True to my real expectations, I listen to each explain why the campground with the cool play ground was the best. Additionally, the more kids that were around to play with, the higher the campground rating is for them. I learned years ago that if you want to have a fun family camping trip, do things the kids like and not what you like to do. My boys love going to campgrounds and city parks with that have play grounds filled with other young children. When we are traveling from one campground to the next, I usually try find the local city park to each lunch at and let the kids unwind some of their pent up energy playing on the equipment and running around.
We hit the jack pot several times over the years and were able to camp in city parks for either free or a nomimal fee that included playgrounds and showers. These were exceptional experiences for us. The first city park that we stayed in was in Lander, Wyoming. The park was free and had hot showers and a playground. However, for my kids, it was the incredible playground with a complete miniature western town to play in. This summer, we stayed in Brownsville Oregon city park for $10 complete with a play ground. After this park, we camped at the city park in Dufur, Oregon that had a playground and a swimming pool. My wife and I enjoyed the hot showers. The kids enjoyed hours running back and forth to the swimming pool and playground. When asking the campground manager where we could purchase farm fresh eggs, he made a few phone calls and we had 2 dozen fresh eggs delivered to our campsite!
I am sure that like many parents, you wish that your kids could stay little forever. Camping with kids is just as much fun for the parents even though it takes a lot of effort to keep up with your bustling little one. When I become old and wrinkled, I will never say that I wished that I spent more time camping and playing with my kids because I spend my entire vacation with them.