Few things can be as endearing as a child’s first family camping trip.
Roasting hot dogs over perfect campfires, splashing or fishing in a lake and falling asleep to the nighttime sounds of hooting owls and the breeze in the trees can lead to cherished memories that last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, things such as sun-blistered kids, tick-infested parents and a night spent trying to unsuccessfully go to sleep on a bed of jagged rocks can lead to “I’ll never do that again” tales told for decades.
Following are some tips from avid campers on how to make sure those first family trips to the campground send people, especially kids, home with smiles.
• No matter the age, first-time campers will benefit from having a complete dress rehearsal at home.
For adults, that can mean setting up the tent in the backyard and trying everything from lanterns to camp stoves before the first trip afield. You’re better finding out that the new cot is missing a piece when you assemble it in your garage than after dark at the campground.
For kids, a practice run of sleeping in their sleeping bags, in a camper or tent, at home is a logical step before they do it in the great outdoors. Plan on sleeping out with them and limiting their amount of trips indoors that night.
• If you or the kids are true beginners, it might be a good idea to go camping with an experienced family the first few times. The adults can save you a lot of possible headaches with camp preparation. Their children could put yours at ease when they see them having fun outdoors.
• Another great option for the first time or two is to rent a cabin at one of several Kansas state parks. Some are fairly rustic, while others offer most of the comforts of home. All, though, will get families outdoors and let them see how others are faring throughout the campgrounds.
Go to www.kdwpt.state.ks.us for more details. Reservations well in advance are highly recommended.
• Keep in mind that not all campgrounds are created equal, and some offer much more than others.
Money spent on state park camping fees will usually provide better sites and services. Most offer maintained hiking trails, playgrounds, beaches, kids’ fishing ponds, showers and campsites with assorted utilities.
• If possible, take an afternoon ahead of time and scout a few camping areas to get a good idea of where the best campsites might be to suit your needs. Stop in and visit the state park office, meet the staff and see what the specific park offers. Also check to see if they have any special events planned for when you’re planning your trip.
• Keep in mind that the big three holiday camping weekends – Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day – are when campgrounds are at their busiest. Such crowds can bring complications like added noise, long waits for showers or toilets and high competition for good campsites.
Some of the nicest camping conditions are in the late spring and early fall, before and after the holiday weekend crowds.
• Let children help as much as possible in the pre-trip preparation, including picking the camping site. As well as packing their own clothing and equipment, let them make some things they can use on their camping trip.
Several online sites show how to make lanterns out of peanut butter jars and other useful tools and toys they can use during their time afield.
• Keep kids involved with all aspects when you arrive at the campground, too. Even it takes longer, allow them to help set up the tent and help prepare meals.
Also, look for unique ways to cook things that work especially well while camping. Foil-wrapped dinners are great, because kids can add their own ingredients, like chicken or ground beef, and any of a number of pre-chopped vegetables. Go to http://allrecipes.com/recipe/campfire-foil-packs for the basic recipe.
A little online snooping can provide more fun ideas, like omelettes cooked in a plastic bag or potatoes baked in an old vegetable can.
• Bring plenty of snacks. Kids and adults are going to burn a lot of energy, and hunger can lead to grouchiness.
It’s a great idea to bring snacks in pre-measured plastic bags that hold an individual serving. That makes for faster distribution and keeps grubby fingers from dirtying an entire box or bag of treats.
• Scratches, bruises, sunburn and bug bites are going to happen, so go prepared. As well as a basic first aid kit, take along sunscreen and insect repellant. If the kids are small, make sure both are appropriate for that age.
Go online before the trip to see how you should handle things like an imbedded tick, and don’t panic if you find one. Millions of ticks are removed from people every year, but you’ll want to be aware of how to look for possible complications.
• Ditto for going online and making sure you can identify poison ivy. All longtime campers can tell you the easiest way to treat a case of poison ivy is to avoid it in the first place. Still, learn in advance how to treat a case of poison ivy, and take the needed medications.
Remember that the oil from poison ivy can attach to clothing. If someone walks through it, place the clothing in a plastic bag and don’t let it near people or other clothing until it can be thoroughly washed.
• Pack plenty of extra clothes, then pack some more. Everybody, no matter their age, is going to get dirty – often, very dirty. It may be wise to go to second-hand stores and purchase some cheap camping clothing.
• Ditto for extra footwear. People are going to step in puddles and get shoes soaked by dew-drenched grass.
Inexpensive, slip-on water shoes are a good investment. They clean easily and can protect feet from assorted scratches and pokes.
• At most Kansas lakes, confine swimming and wading to maintained, sandy beaches. Other areas could be mined with things like sticks and sharp rocks. Zebra mussels attached to such things can cut skin easily, too.
• It’s also almost impossible to take along too much water for drinking, doing dishes, wiping off grubby hands.
One cooler specifically for washing hands, with a towel attached, works great.
• Freezing water in bottles is a cheap alternative to bags of ice and doesn’t leave food floating in ice water in a cooler. As they thaw, the bottles provide ice water for drinking.
• Limiting the number of indoor toys, like hand-held video games, can encourage kids to spend more time exploring the outdoors while camping. Still, a few things like playing cards, board games and books can come in handy should rain force the family into the camper or cabin.
• Even though nobody likes to cut a campout short, give yourself plenty of time for unpacking and cleanup when you get home.
Remember, too, that all clothing taken on the trip should be washed right away, even if not worn, to clean it of possible dirt, insects or poison ivy oils.
• If the kids are tired, don’t make them work too hard with the unpacking chores. Let them take a quick bath or shower and go to bed or relax. If you like, leave them a few chores for the next day, like possibly writing down what they liked best about the camping trip and what they would like to do during the next one.
End one camping adventure on a good note, and the next will probably begin the same way.
Contributing: Lori Buselt, Seth Turner, Wendy Bowles, Todd Lovin and Christopher Smith