The Outdoorsy Side of Summer: Family camping

April 2017 | by rebecca stewart

Carving out solid family time can be a bit of a challenge during the school year. Okay, so the “lazy days of summer” are often not an actual thing, but having the kids out of school definitely leaves the door open for opportunity. Isn’t it lucky, then, that we live in this great state that is practically begging us to take the kids and explore its wide open spaces; to experience the outdoorsy side of summer?

Whether you’re an outdoorsy kind of a person or not (for some of us the patio is about as outdoorsy as we’d like to go), odds are your kids are a fan of the great outdoors – especially after a long, rather indoorsy winter (seriously, I think indoor recesses outnumbered outdoor). Regardless of what your particular jam is, there are options, and, if you let yourself, good times to be had by all.

First of all, no one ever said that you couldn’t test drive your camping skills literally in your backyard. Or maybe you ease your way into the great outdoors with some day trips that could include easy hiking trails, tours of ghost towns, digging for crystals, or dropping a worm in the water. The point, ultimately, is finding ways to connect with our families differently than we do in our everyday. Giving us unlimited opportunity to be genuinely present with our presence. That whole disconnecting to reconnect line that’s the standard lament throughout this latest age of technology we’re living.

For one local family, escaping to the campground during the summer is as much about the adventure of exploring new places together as it is an awareness that their family time is slipping by all too quickly. Amy Goltz, mom of three, shares that “Camping is that time when we can get away from everything, spend precious time together as a family, and be completely disconnected from everything going on around us.” Not to mention the added bonus of being active together as a family. She notes that as their children get older (ages 12, 11, and 9), finding the time to schedule in family time only gets more challenging as they get busier, making these moments all the more treasured.

If time is more difficult to come by, a bonus to the kids getting older is that it allows mom and dad to relax a bit more than when they were camping with toddlers/preschoolers. However, if you’re feeling deterred because your little is, well, so little, we snagged a few tips from Missoula mom, Jacole Johnson, whose family has regularly camped and hiked with their daughter her whole life (now 3).

  • Use your words – Talk about the trip beforehand so they know what to expect.
  • A taste of home – Bring items that help them feel close to home, like books, small toys or stuffed animals (no media/digital items), special blankies.
  • Dig deeper! Bring little shovels and buckets. (Maybe even bring a few gems/cool rocks/plastic dinosaurs to bury and then let them sift through the dirt to find the buried treasures).
  • In general don’t forget the bug repellant and bear spray!
  • But most importantly just relax and have fun. Camping can be stressful if you allow it to be (since everyone is out of their element), but when you stop caring about the time or agenda, it’s a peaceful getaway!

Favorite Spots?

For the Goltz family they generally prefer State campgrounds, with favorite campsites at Greenough Lake in Red Lodge and the Lewis and Clark Caverns Campground. However, they’ve mixed it up summer-to-summer staying at State Park campgrounds all over Montana, Wyoming, and both the Dakotas.

For the Johnson-Cole family it’s Glacier National Park, Woodbine, Gardiner area, Lolo Pass area, Philipsburg area, and the Big Hole (Wisdom, Jackson, Pioneer Mountain scenic byway).

What to do now that you’re out there in the wide open spaces?

So you’ve figured out whether you’re a tent or camper family or if you’re more of a let’s-rent-a-cabin kind of crew; you’ve planned, packed, and picked a location…What’s a family to do once they get there?

  • One of the most obvious camping musts, has to be, making S’mores over the open fire (assuming there are no burn bans and it’s allowed at your particular campground of choice).
  • Floating the river on rafts and trail hiking (especially trails that lead to waterfalls) are favorite activities for the Goltz family.
  • Want a water adventure with tubing or water skiing (or, you know, fishing), but don’t have a boat? There are plenty of places where you can rent boats across Montana. Two that spring immediately to mind are at Canyon Ferry near Helena and Flathead Lake near Polson.
  • Hiking and listening for and identifying various bird calls are a family favorite for the Johnson-Coles.
  • Known as a banana bike to my family (but is really a trike) - Google says it’s actually a Trailmate Fun Cycle - is always a hit for the kids (and kids at heart).
  • Don’t forget to pack plenty of rainy day activities, advises Amy. (Cards, board games, etc.)
  • And if you’re going to be spending time under Montana’s Big Sky, then hitting the pause button to take in all of that brilliant gorgeousness is an awe-inspiring must.

In the end, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to…

Expect the Unexpected

The Goltzes learned the hard way to “Dress for the weather, but pack for rain!” Amy recalls one of her family’s most memorable moments when they were hiking around Lake Jenny in the Grand Tetons on a gorgeous, sunny day (dressed accordingly), when lightning struck and down poured the rain…And they were still three miles out. Soaked, freezing cold, with nearly everyone in tears: lesson learned. You may not be able to plan for every last possibility, but there’s truth to the old saying, “Luck favors the prepared.”

To help you plan – and to avoid having to reinvent the wheel of creating your own checklists - check out Bring the Kids’ Ultimate Family Camping Checklist. It would seem that plastic totes will be your best friend in terms of packing and keeping things organized during and between trips. Once you do the initial work of getting organized, rumor has it, it’s smooth sailing moving forward.

You’ve also gotta eat, right? For that, snag SFM’s free printable for Family Camping Meal Planning.

Whether everything goes exactly as planned, or not, it’s all about making the memories. And if we’re being honest, those moments of unexpected – the ones that might seems like sheer misery at the time – well, they often make for the best stories, don’t they? Have fun enjoying the outdoorsy side of summer!

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s April 2017 issue.

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