Camping With Little Ones – Helpful Tips For Camping With The 0-3 Year-Olds

Camping for the first time with kids can be downright scary.  How will you get them to sleep?  Will sleeping in a tent be safe?  What if they put a rock in their mouth?  And oh, the dirt!  How will you keep them clean?  Even the most seasoned camper can be stricken with fear when faced with the challenge of camping with young children.

Camping with young kids can be so much fun.  It just takes a few adjustments and a little patience.  Here are a few things we have found to be very helpful.

1.  Do Not Forget The Baby Wipes.  And if you do, stop and pick some up on the way to the campground.  These things are lifesavers.  And the best thing – they get marshmallows off of sticky fingers and faces and clothes and chairs and….

The Boy and His Smore

2.  Wash Them Down Every Night.  We use a warm bucket of water,  soap, and a washcloth for a quick wipe down.  It works wonders.  I have heard of others bringing washtubs.  Whatever works for you! And when my parents are with us, we will use the shower in their camper. Bonus if you stay at a campground with showers.  Just be sure to bring shower shoes and quarters.  Many of the public showers are pay showers.

3.  Don’t Overdress Your Baby At Night.  You might worry they will be too cold and decide to dress them in two onesies, socks, footed pajamas, and a hat.  Don’t laugh.  We did it.  All it results in is being woken up at 2 in the morning with an overly hot, grumpy baby.  Our advice, stick with what you do at home for that particular season.  If you find they need an extra layer, then you can add the onesie.

4.  Pack More Clothes Than You Will Think You Need.  Kids collect dirt and they blow through clothes.  Especially if you are camping near water.  Not to mention if you have a newly potty trained kiddo.  They get so excited and are having so much fun that they forget to stop and go potty.  We have found that the more clothes you can bring the better.

Dirty Kiddos

5.  Bring A Portable High Chair.  Or don’t and red neck it like us.  We would use our stroller.  Sometimes we would plan ahead and actually remember the high chair.  They have ones that attach to the table or a chair.  High chairs are so great because you can actually get your kid to settle down and eat.  But the best part – they give you a chance to eat, too.

Stroller Feeding

6. Bring Your Pack N’ Play.  These things are life savers.  We dragged our pack n’ play around for four years.  It gives your kiddos a safe place to play (no rocks in the mouth to worry about) and they can fit in your tent for a safe place for your baby to sleep.

Pack N Play

7.  Invest In A Good Carrier.  We love to hike and we found that a good backpack worked wonders for lengthening the distance we could hike.  When our little ones wanted to walk they could and when we needed to pick up the pace, we had the backpack.

8.  Let Them Explore.  Don’t be afraid to let your little ones explore.  You will be surprised how excited they get and what great opportunities their explorations provide for learning.

Bear Box

9.  Embrace The Dirt (or sand).  You’re camping.  They are going to get dirty.  As long as we go in with this mentality, we have found that we can get passed the dirty fingers and faces and enjoy our children in the great outdoors.  Dirt and all.

Dirty

8.  Bring An Extra Tent.  It provides a great place to play.  It can also offer a place to get out of the sun or to just settle down for a nap.

Extra Tent

9.  Don’t Let Potty Training Detour You.  We actually potty trained They Boy camping last fall (you can read about that here).  We took the potty with us and went with it.

Potty Training

10.  It’s Ok To Resort To Bribery.  We carry Jelly Belly’s with us.  When we have really whiny kiddos, we have been known to entice them with a few Jelly Belly’s.  Happy kiddos, happy parents, right?

Jelly Belly Bribes

11.  Make It Fun.  We have done a lot of things over the years to help guide our children to the realization that being in the great outdoors is fun. Glow sticks, special chairs, fun flashlights, bug catching kits.  Anything that helps keep them engaged.  We tend to break these kinds of things out when the kids need a little boost.

Have we forgotten anything?  What tips do you have for camping with the 0-3 crowd?

Chasing Waterfalls – Yosemite in the Spring

Last fall we lucked out and snagged a last minute camping reservation at Crane’s Flat.  We had a great time in Yosemite but really missed the waterfalls.  Yosemite Falls rarely flows in the fall, and we really wanted the kids to see it after winter.  We were on top of it this year, and we booked reservations early.  We stayed in Lower Pines Campground.  When you have a chance to stay in the Valley, you realize how super convenient it is.  You don’t have to drive anywhere.  There are shuttles that will take you all over the Valley floor or you can walk/ride bikes.  The weather was still pretty cool and we had rain on Sunday.  Overall though, we couldn’t have asked for nicer spring weather.

Westy

Half Dome

On Saturday, we jumped on the shuttle and went to the Visitor’s Center for a Jr. Ranger talk.  Our kids love these and we take advantage of them whenever possible.  Afterwards, we were wandering around and stumbled right into the most awesome ranger program we have ever experienced.  It was run by a descendent of the Miwok Indians.  He showed us all ton of edible plants and let the kids hold different toys the Miwok children would play with.  The best part though – he taught us how to throw darts.  We had such a blast.

Dart

Darts

The Girl Throwing Darts

The Boy Throwing Darts

Later that day we hiked to Mirror Lake.  The Boy complained the whole time and The Missus had to keep feeding him Jelly Belly’\s to get him to walk.  He was driving us crazy.  The lake was gorgeous but we dreaded the hike out.  Complaining kid and all.  It turns out his hiking boots were too small.  Poor guy’s feet hurt.  The Missus felt horrible!

Mirror Lake Trail

Jelly Belly Bribes

Mirro rLake

 Mirror Lake Duck

We saved all the waterfalls for Sunday morning.  The shuttle dropped us off right at Yosemite Falls and we made the short walk in to the base.  No big hiking – not with The Boy and his sore feet.  The falls were gorgeous.  Even with the drought, they were still amazing.  The Mister wasn’t feeling so great on Sunday.  He felt like he was coming down with a bug, so we packed up camp early and headed home.

Yosemite Falls

For our next trip to Yosemite, The Missus wants to carve out time to hike to the three groves of Giant Sequoias.  We think they will be pretty amazing.  Especially because they are off the beaten path.  Have you made it to all the Giant Sequoia Groves?  This is becoming one of The Missus’s must dos.

Hot Bananas (with Chocolate)

One of our favorite desserts when camping is hot bananas.  We love to slice them open and stuff them with mini-marshmallows and dark chocolate chips (we like the Enjoy Life brand).  This is such a great camping treat because they can cook while you are eating dinner.  It is also a great alternative to S’Mores.  And I know this sounds like a completely bizarre recipe.  But give it a try.  It really is good.

MeltedMarshmellowMaddness

Hot Bananas

Ingredients
Bananas (one per person)
Chocolate Chips
Marshmallows (we like the minis for this)
Foil

Directions
1.  Peel the bananas.
2.  Make a slice down the middle of the banana (long way), but do not cut all the way through the banana.
3.  Stuff with mini-marshmallows and chocolate chips.
4.  Wrap in foil.
5.  Place on the barbeque.  Indirect heat is best.
6.  Cook until heated through and the marshmallows are gooey.

MarshmellowMaddness

Exploring New Places – Lava Beds National Monument 

We decided to take a long weekend a head to Lava Beds National Monument. Located in the Great Basin Desert, it can get mighty hot there in the summer and freezing in the winter.  It’s one of those places a spring or fall visit seems the best bet for happy campers.
LavaBeds
It is a pretty long haul, so we stayed in a KOA in Shasta City Friday night.  The campground was super cute.  Dirt roads with camp sites set back in the pine trees. Flushing toilets and hot showers.  This is definitely someplace we will stay again.  We were in a rush Saturday morning to get to the Lava Beds, so we grabbed breakfast on the road.  Black Bear Diner is a chain of restaurants that have pretty good food. We stopped there for eggs and the kids dug the bear decore.
KOA
The drive into Lava Beds is pretty awesome.  You pass Mt. Shasta and cut across the Kalamath National Forest Wildlife Refuge and drive past Tule Lake.  There were so many birds in this area.  We saw three bald eagles and a ringnecked pheasant, not to mention a ton of waterfowl.  On your way into the park, you drive through ancient lava flows.  Scattered throughout is Great Basin Sagebrush, Rabbitbush, and various grasses.  It is a harsh but beautiful environment.
The campground at Lava Beds is set in a juniper-brushland.  Hands down, this is one of the prettiest campgrounds we have ever stayed in.  The juniper trees and scattered shrubs are so pretty and the campsites are set right under the trees.  There are cool picnic tables built into the rocks and fire rings at each site.  The campground really favors tent campers, but you can find a place for an RV.  The bathrooms are updated and really nice here and they have potable water.  One of the best things –  every morning deer would come through camp.  The kids loved seeing them up close.
Campground
MuleDeer
The Missus’s parents joined us on Saturday.  We spent the afternoon exploring the visitor center and Mushpot Cave.  It was a great introduction to the over 800 caves you can find in the park and it set the kids up for what to expect Sunday.
KidsBackpack
Sunday we borrowed flashlights from the ranger station.  The caves a dark – really, really dark.  Our little headlamps were not going to cut it so we took advantage of the flashlight loaning program offered at the ranger station.  The caves were amazing. They varied so much. Some were steep and deep and required you to walk along metal staircases (Skull Cave).  Others were wide and narrow and you had to duck down to avoid hitting your head.  The caves vary in difficulty so we tried to pick those that weren’t overly challenging for the kids.  I think the coolest thing about the caves was that you would walk right up up it and never see it until you looked down. They were so different from the caves we explored at Pinnacles National Park back in February.
Caves
CavesMetalWalkway
InCave
After lunch back at camp and a little quite time, we took off to explore Captain Jack’s Stronghold.  The Boy was really into Captain Jack.  The Girl and I were not so into the hike.  We were both suffering from post traumatic Snake syndrome.  The trail was perfect snake habitat; rocky and sandy.  I think we were flashing back to Pinnacles.
CaptainJack
Stronghold
Monday we loaded up into Papa’s car and took off for Glass Mountain.  It is a mountain covered in obsidian rock.  Unfortunately there was still snow on the road about three miles left into the drive so we didn’t make it to the mountain. Definitely something we will have to plan for our trip back to the park.  We ended up having lunch in Papa’s camper on the side of the road.  The kids played in the snow and we played the Jelly Belly Beanboozled game.  It turned out to be a really fun day.
Us
GlassMtn
Tuesday we woke up to cloudy skies.  Rain wasn’t in the forecast, but it sure looked like rain to us. We packed up quickly and just in time, too.  Just as we were finishing up, a wet snow started to fall.  Boy did we luck out there! With one last cave visit and a stop at the Ranger’s Station for a magnet souvenir, we were ready to head home.
What out of the way National Park or Monument do you enjoy visiting?

Cleaning Up Our Cast Iron – Major Camping Fail

We have two cast iron Dutch ovens we use when we are camping. We usually store them at The Mountains but we realized our storage method was subpar. We were storing under our outdoor stove, covered with a tarp. We thought they would be protected from the rain and snow. Umm. Yeah. Not really. They got super rusty.

Cast Iron Rust

Using Southern Living Magazines 11 Cast Iron Commandments and a lot of elbow grease, The Missus cleaned up the smaller if the two in time for Thanksgiving.

Before

Here is how she did it:

1.  Wash the cast iron with soap and water.  We know soap and water are a no-no in cast iron, but we needed to do this do remove some of the dirt and rust.
2.  Using steel stool pads, scrub the pan.  I like the steel wool that comes with the blue soap on the pad (S.O.S brand).  It seems to help remove the rust a bit better than just water.
3.  Rinse.
4.  Scrub the pan with water and coarse salt.
5.  Rinse.
6.  Repeat the above steps until the pan is rust free.  For really tough spots, we used a steel wire brush.  This helped in those really tough spots.

Miracle Brush
7.  Once rust free, coat the entire pan with vegetable oil and bake upside down in the oven at 350 degrees for one hour.
8.  You can repeat step 7 until you feel the pan is seasoned to your liking.  Once it is finished, you want to avoid any soaps when cleaning.

Finished

Oh Snakes! – Pinnacles National Park

Fourteen years ago, when the Mister and I were dating, we spent a summer weekend camping in the then Pinnacles National Monument.  Fast forward through a wedding, two kids, and new National Park status and we felt it was time to return.  The Missus’s parents met us there and we were excited to hike and explore the caves in the cool spring weather.  It was great way to spend Valentine’s Day Weekend.
Valentine
Westy
We hiked five miles the first day to Bear Gulch and Bear Gulch Reservoir Lake.  We were so impressed with how well both kids hiked.  The Boy out grew the backpack over the winter, so he had to walk the entire way.  He did so great.  The caves were a lot of fun and we enjoyed exploring them.  There were lots of fun staircases and little nooks and crannies.  We had a snack at Bear Gulch Reservoir before heading back to camp.
 Stairs
TheBoy
LakeII
Papa
On Sunday, we decided before we went home we wanted to hike to the Balconies – another group of caves – because we had so much fun Saturday.  The hike was six miles round trip.  The caves were a bit more difficult than those at Bear Gulch, but the kids still did great.
PinnaclesII
TheGirl
The last mile of the hike, The Boy finally pooped out so The Mister went ahead of the rest of us and carried The Boy back to the car.  On our way out, The Missus met up with a rattlesnake.  She was coming around a narrow curve in the trail and when she stepped down she heard the hissing and rattle.  She looked down and saw the snake, coiled and ready to strike.  It was very close to her foot.  Of course, she freaked out.  Screaming she ran the other way and ended up falling down a few granite steps and knocked The Girl down in the process.  The Missus knee was tore up pretty good.  The snake was annoyed and would not move off the trail.  We tossed a couple rocks at it (I know – dumb) and the snake decided to move toward us rather than away.  It eventually moved off trail and boy was it mad.  We hightailed it out of there as fast as could. Not our finest moment.
ThatHurt
Funny thing is that with all the hiking we do, we never run into rattlesnakes UNLESS we are at Pinnacles.  Both visits have resulted in a rattlesnake sighting.  Not cool Pinnacles.  Not cool. This did make us realize however, that we really need to beef up our first aid kit and have a better understanding of what to do when we do encounter wildlife on the trail.  The rangers surprisingly had little in the way of first aid and the cut was really deep.  We ended up taking a trip to the ER once we got back home.  A deep cleaning and a round of antibiotics made a big difference.
So do you carry a first aid kit? What are you essential first aid items?  We would love to hear what you carry as we build the ultimate first aid kit.

Thanksgiving at El Capitan

Everyone in our extended family is having babies. Lots of new cousins. And a lot of changes in how we will spend the holidays this year. We are usually at The Mister’s parents for Thanksgiving, but this year they were flying to Hawaii to see his sister and their newest addition. We were super sad not to spend the holiday with them but excited for the prospect of a long camping trip. We love Santa Barbara and thought that by heading that far south, we might have good weather. The Missus booked reservations at El Capitan State Beach. Her parents were going to meet us there.

Sunset

The Westy was loaded when we took off early Wednesday morning! We put firewood on top, a 9’6″ surfboard inside (we really need racks), two ice chests, beach toys, and hoards of other stuff. It was a bit tight. On our way down we stopped in San Luis Obispo for lunch and Pismo to grab the kids a few wet suit rentals and a boogie board. Both were a good investment. The kids loved the boogie board and the wetsuits kept them warm.  Why stop in Pismo and not rent in Santa Barbara?  Why not?  Just another reason to slow the trip down and enjoy the coast.

Loaded

The West in Pismo

We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. It was in the 70’s and we didn’t have any fog until Saturday night. We totally lucked out and missed the huge storm hitting Northern California. We had some rain on Sunday morning but it was more if a slow drizzle. Not a big deal.

Gorgeous

The kids loved playing at the beach. It was a short walk from our campsite, but not too far. Our site was okay. It was pretty close to the freeway and train tracks. Although we would have preferred an ocean view, we realized those sites had their own issues. Who wants to manage a three year old and unfenced coastal bluffs?

The Girl

We spent time at the beach everyday, had down time back at camp, and the kids loved playing with their grandparents. Grandma was actually a lifesaver.  With the sun going down around 4:45 pm, The Boy wanted to go to bed at 5:00 every night!  Grandma kept him up with arts and crafts in her trailer.  The kids had such a blast.  The made place cards for the dinner table and decorations to hang around camp.  They even made the table runner.

NameTags

Thanksgiving was a lot of fun.  We had a leisurely breakfast, spent the late morning at the beach, and came back to camp to make our Thanksgiving feast.  We stuck to simple, classic dishes.  We used a lot of cast iron!  The food was amazing.  We aren’t sure why it was so good this year, but suspect his has something to do with being outside in the fresh air.  You can read about what we ate here.

Dinner

The Mister took a few days off work so we were able to extend the holiday from Wednesday to Sunday. It all made for great family time and an epic Thanksgiving. How did you spend the holiday? Ever camp your way through Thanksgiving?

Two Yosemite Lessons Learned

Yosemite was a great trip but it made us realize two things.  We needed to find a better way to tote water around for the kids and we are seriously lacking in good music.

1. The kids needed bigger water bottles. They officially outgrew their little kid bottles. We were constantly refilling bottles at Yosemite and the water issue limited how far we thought we could hike. The Missus found these CamelBak Eddy’s at Target. They seem to be doing the trick. They doubled the amount of water we were carrying for each child.  Plus, they are easy to clean, don’t seem to leak, and were inexpensive.  The backpack style CamelBak’s might be a good investment when the kids are a bit older and can carry their own water.

CamelBak Eddy

2. We need a better music solution. The radio and tape deck are not cutting it. The speakers in The Westy are not that great and you literally have to turn the volume to the max if you want to hear any music in the front of the van.  The Mister looked into different devices we could use in The Westy and settled on the Jambox. He found it on sale on Amazon. It can stream music from our phones – both Pandora and our own playlists. It has been a nice addition to our camping gear.

Jambox

 

Disneyland – Yes, We Camped

We had been promising the kids a trip to Disneyland for some time. They had been saving money in their little Disneyland jar and when we had enough money socked away for tickets we started looking into accommodations. Wow. It was so expensive. The Missus had heard about a campground near the park. Anaheim Resort and RV Park. She looked into it and the prices were right. The reviews were good, too. People might think we are crazy but we decided to camp Disneyland.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Disney

The RV park was one mile from Disneyland. The shuttle stops right at the RV park and is about a ten minute ride. They run frequently so we never had a very long wait. The bathrooms at the RV Park were amazing. Recently remodeled, each bathroom was its own self contained unit. They had a sink, shower, and toilet. They were clean and we didn’t find they were all that busy.

The park itself was very parking lot like. Lots of sites and cement. But it is an urban campground that primarily serves huge RV’s. What do you expect? It was really clean and we felt extremely safe. We had hook ups (which turned out to be awesome for charging our devices) and a picnic table which was great for quick breakfasts.

Westy at Disney

The staff was incredibly friendly and they were super accommodating. We had originally planned this trip for September, but then the kids got sick. When I called to change our reservations they were so helpful and didn’t charge us a fee. Really great service.

We would totally camp Disney again. It was a great experience. We maximize our time at the park (we have never spent much time at the hotel) so this really worked for us. Have you camped Disney?

Yosemite – Chasing Fall

The kids were finally better. We were so happy to get back on the road. We had reservations at Yosemite National Park. We hadn’t been since The Girl was two.

Half Dome

We stayed at Crane Flat Campground. It wasn’t in the Yosemite Valley but beggars can’t be choosers. Especially when you plan horribly and get reservations late in the season. The campground was actually really nice. Lots of trees and fun rocks. A little bit on the hilly side. Well, a lot on the hilly side. We really need to invest in some leveling blocks. There is nothing like figuring out how to sleep on a hill.

The fall colors were pretty elusive. We were a few weeks early. We did find one or two trees beginning to change but nothing notable. But really – you are in Yosemite. It is always gorgeous. Even the Rim Fire damage – although devastating – was beautiful in its own way.  The falls were a trickle but still magnificent. Just another reason to plan a spring trip. The Missus should get on that soon. Yosemite reservations are notoriously hard to get; especially in the spring.

Vernal Falls

We hiked to Vernal Falls with the kids. We didn’t make it to Nevada Falls. It got really steep and although we were pretty sure the kids could do it, we didn’t feel like we had enough food and water to combat any whining we might have encountered at the end if the hike. The kids had fun though and the falls were gorgeous.

Hiking

The weather was brisk during the day and just plain cold at night. We realized that if we were doing any winter camping, we were going to have to get the kids better gear and figure out a way to keep The Westy warm at night. The Mister was looking at heater options but safety is a big issue. We are also reluctant to spend a lot of money on gear for the kids. They grow so fast. Thermals are something we should really look into though.  Warm kids equal happy parents for sure! {Update:  We ended up getting the kids thermals for Christmas from REI.}

Bundled Up

Yosemite is one of those places where the beauty is extraordinary and every trip brings new things to see. Every time we go we wonder why we don’t frequent the park more often. We are already planning a trip back. Who knows, The Missus might even make reservations ahead of time!

The Westy in Yosemite