Enjoying the outdoors as a family

by Johanna Kennedy

After months of being indoors and entertaining little ones with creative games using toothbrushes and soup pots it is time to be outside!  What better way to enjoy the outdoors than taking a family camping trip!  There are few things to love more than sitting next to a cozy campfire, staring at the stars and smelling crisp, clean air.  Why not add the scent of baby diapers and bug spray to the mix?  If you are considering partaking on such an adventure with your little ones in tow, here are a few things to consider before loading up the sippy cups. 


     Keep in mind everything you pack will return smelling like camp fire and probably be covered in dirt.  With this in mind, here is a list of the basics.

Clothing.  Pack grubby, “tough” clothes and pack extras as they will inevitably get wet and dirty.  Leave the adorable outfits at home.  Although a picture of your darling in her favorite princess dress roasting her first marshmallow is priceless, the ash holes from the fire will render that cute little dress a has been.  At night the temperature can drop significantly, especially in the mountains.  Consider pulling out the winter footy pj’s and  hats for everyone.

Toys.  Dirt, trees, bugs, water-for what else could one ask?  Pack toys that encourage them to explore the great outdoors.  A shovel, and a bucket, a bug catcher’s net and a few books to read by the fire before bedtime should be enough to entertain.

Nighttime. Extra blankets are always needed in the woods.  Be sure these aren’t the household favorites as at least one will be left out by the campfire by mistake.  Pillows and basic toiletries are desirable as well.

Outdoor Protection.  Sunscreen and bug spray are a must.  Be sure to read the labels as many of these are not recommended for infants under 6 months.   Visit www.cosmeticdatabase.com to find a great resource for all skin care products.  Click on the Skin Care tab at the top and research away!  Load up the tennis shoes, socks and hats to block the sun as well.

Food.  Here is where you can have a blast teaching your kids how to cook over a fire.  Translation: they watch you in awe as you do all the cooking.  Besides whatever you plan on cooking for your meals, be sure to include a lot of finger foods.  This will keep them happy and you free from having to prepare something each time they are hungry.  Last, but not least, water, water, garbage bags, garbage bags.

Tarp.  It’s a great cover for the tent when it begins to rain and a wonderful play area on the ground for your infant.


     With many of us living in towns or cities, the great outdoors is like a beautiful symphony in comparison to our backyard which is more like a kindergarten recorder.  We have been blessed to live in such a beautiful state where the mountains and woods leave little left to be desired.  Taking our little ones camping fosters from a young age a love for the simplicity and purity of nature.  Here are a few activities that will tire your kids out for nap time (yes, nap time is permitted even in the woods).

     Hike. Pick a campsite that is near a trailhead.  Consider your level of fitness when choosing a trail, especially if you are packing junior on your back.  Have your toddlers walk.  When his face starts to register only blank stares, it was time to turn back about twenty minutes ago. 

     Scavenger Hunt. See how many new items junior can pick up and bring back to show mommy.     

      Rain.  Graham cracker boxes, when turned inside out, make great drawing pads.  Have your toddler trace the items found on her walk.  Scavenger hunts done in the tent are fun as well.  When all else fails, what better time for naptime?

      Dirt.  For once, let them play as much as they want in the dirt.  Build muddy towers, dig trenches, draw pictures, design things with rocks.  The possibilities are endless!

     Sleep!  There is something about fresh, mountain air.  My toddler and baby sleep so well a bundled in their warm clothes and blankets while we are camping.



     This is the Official State Travel Site.  It list hundreds of campsites in detail.  Their number is 1-800-847-4868


     This is the Campground Owner’s Association of America’s website.  It is also full of helpful information. 

Keep in Mind

     Animals.  The bears are awake as well as the skunks.  Be careful with your food.  Before retiring at night, be sure to do a thorough job cleaning up and storing all of your food so as not to attract unwanted visitors.  Bring along a can of bear spray or other protection with you as a precaution. 

     First Time Campers.  Camping doesn’t require a lot of skill, but it does require work.  With the addition of little ones it doubles one’s work and possibly one’s caffeine intake.  Keep it simple.  Plan a trip for two or three days max.  Stick close to home, four hours max.  It is supposed to be fun for the whole family, including the parents.  Don’t stress yourselves out over a long road trip, coupled with packing in all your belongings for miles.  Once you are comfortable with a few short trips, assess what works and doesn’t work for your family and plan a big, end of the summer trip.

      Lastly, at one point the kids will be sleeping and you and your honey will be alone.  Bring along something that would be relaxing for mommy and daddy as well.  Consider taking a book that is of interest to both of you and read it aloud to each other in front of the crackling fire.  However, this might be the first time you have been able to look at each other since you arrived, maybe just take a moment and enjoy that look before you fall asleep. 

Johanna Kennedy lives in Billings with her husband and two daughters.  She has worked with teen girls for ten years, loves the outdoors, her life and good coffee.